My Life in Books: Summer of Fear

By the time I picked up this book – which I think I found in a library sale, because my copy was tattered and shabby and had an old library card pocket in the front – I was a fully-fledged horror convert. I think I was 15. Less than two years earlier I’d been arguing with Rob Vukovich, my geography class neighbour, that I didn’t like horror (he thought I should write more of it).

I picked up this book because I thought the title and the cover (the one shown) both promised a creepy thrill.

Rachel is 15, and lives a comfortable life with her brother and parents, and has a boyfriend who adores her but she can’t decide if she wants to commit to him or not. When news comes to the family that her mother’s sister and brother in law have been killed, along with their housekeeper, they decide to take in the orphaned teenage daughter, Julia.

Allegedly 17, Rachel thinks from the beginning that Julia looks older than her years. Initially she feels sorry for Julia, but after a while things start happening. Rachel’s would-be boyfriend starts going out with Julia (and true to human nature, as soon as he decides to look elsewhere, Rachel decides he’s the one for her after all). The family dog gets sick and dies. The brakes fail on her mother’s car, but fortunately she emerges from the accident unscathed. Rachel starts to suspect Julia is somehow behind it all. Everyone casts off her suspicions as those of a jealous teenager, usurped by an older, more glamorous girl taking all the attention.

Eventually Rachel becomes convinced that Julia is a witch. The truth eventually comes out. The third burned body in the car was not the housekeeper – it was the real Julia. It was the housekeeper who survived, and took Julia’s place. The question of whether or not she really was a witch is left open. There is an epilogue at the end of the book taking place years later, where an older Rachel, now married to the boyfriend, reflects on the fact that the things that had happened could have been a series of bizarre coincidences. It could be that the imposter (whose name was Sarah) just thought she was a witch. When her plan of seducing Rachel’s father, having first got his wife out of the way, is exposed, she disappears. Rachel is left reading newspaper headlines about an attractive couple who disappeared mysteriously while out walking, and wondering if Sarah is at work again.

There might be an argument, then, that this isn’t actually a horror book but a thriller.  If Sarah was actually capable of using magic, then that puts a supernatural slant on it, and I would argue that makes it horror.  If, however, Sarah was deluding herself and magic doesn’t really exist, and the things that occurred (cars going wrong, the dog getting sick, etc) were a series of coincidences, then there’s no supernatural element at all.

For the 15-year-old me, whether or not the magic was real was irrelevant.   I considered it a very creepy book regardless, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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