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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Hooke

Review of 'They Never Came Home'

By Lois Duncan, 1969, Bantam Doubleday Books, Mystery, Thriller

Rating: 👻👻👻 (3 out of 4 boos)

What is the book about?

“Is it better to assume they’re dead -- or hope they’re alive?

Joan’s boyfriend and her brother are missing. Everyone assumes they’re dead. Until the voice on the other end of the phone hints at terrible crimes. Could Joan’s brother have been involved? Could he still be alive?”

What’s the main character like?

As the back-of-the-book-blurb above suggests, Joan is more or less the main character. Lois Duncan successfully switches off among several points of view for a few apparent reasons: to foreshadow elements of the missing-potentially-dead-boys mystery, to enhance the plot, and to expand our understanding of important characters other than Joan. But I’ll focus on Joan here. She’s a good girl and a smart girl, on the verge of graduating high school as the book begins. She’s frequently described as tall and plain, or more specifically, “no glamor girl” (Duncan). She has lots of friends and is well-liked but is not the first choice for boys to date. In what feels like a bit of an archaic way, these qualities have an extreme importance in Joan’s world. This book was written, after all, in the late sixties. But her steadfast morality and care for her family will appeal to many readers. Some readers, however, may find her old-fashioned and a bit of a goody-goody.

How scary is it?

I loved unravelling the mystery, even if it was a bit simplistic. I was not, however, scared at any point. Although there are some mature themes, like teen parties and dating, I think many middle school readers, or even older readers looking for an easy-to-read mystery or something nostalgic or something with mild suspense, would find this book appropriate.

Who might like this book?

I felt in some ways like this was a baby-steps version of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. Both books have multiple narrators and deal with loss and family. Ng’s book is much darker and significantly more mature, but Duncan hits some important elements of loss that would give some young readers some food for thought. Others who might enjoy this book would be people interested in the sixties. It’s interesting to see how teens of Duncan’s time compare and contrast with teens of today.

What did I like best?

I love that this book was written in the sixties. It took me back to my younger years of reading the Nancy Drew books or the Sweet Valley Kids/Twins/High series. The plot of They Never Came Home was not very shocking, and some of the characters may seem too fuddy-duddy for modern teens who are used to everything, but that’s what I enjoyed. I went in observing the time period presented by Duncan, rather than feeling like I needed to judge the moral codes of characters written in the past.

What wasn't my favorite?

Some readers will find the plot too simple. I was okay with it.

What was my personal experience reading this book?

I found myself wanting to race through it, but not because I wanted it over with. I just wanted to know what happened. So I took a life break and hung out on my couch for long periods to finish it in a couple days. This book was a bit like a soothing

candle, calming to my brain. Sometimes I’m just in that mood. I wanted to zone, but I was reading a book, which made me feel productive and relaxed.

Do you have any favorite books or TV shows you love in spite of them being outdated? Let me know!

Next up, a book by an author with the last name E...

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