cover image Gallows Hill

Gallows Hill

Lois Duncan. Delacorte Press, $15.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32331-4

Duncan (Stranger with My Face) delights in building suspense brick by brick until she has a whole creepy wall to collapse at the climax. This time, her mortar is an eerie crystal paperweight, the Salem witchcraft trials, hints of reincarnation and the unsteady alliances of step families. Sarah and her mother, Rosemary, have moved to a small, conservative town in the Ozarks because Rosemary has fallen in love with the hypocritical, still-married Ted. Sarah tries to fit in at the high school, but she has no friends--until the too-perfect Eric asks Sarah to be a fortune-teller at the Halloween carnival. Speed ahead in the predictable plot, and Sarah finds that she really can read future disaster in the crystal ball. Soon, frightened classmates proclaim her a witch, put a dead crow in her locker and lure her to a remote gallows to meet her fate amid a crowd of unbalanced teens and a blazing bonfire. While the characters are far too pat--the jolly fat boy, cruel cheerleaders, evil handsome class president, shrill ex-wife, bossy stepfather--Duncan nevertheless propels the reader along, dropping sinister clues on every page like bread crumbs in a forest. As in many YA suspense novels, the adults are unsympathetic and clueless, allowing their teens to run rampant into the alluring arms of evil. The real nightmare of being a teenager is having nobody believe you or help you conquer your demons, but in this book, Sarah manages through self-reliance to face her fears, both natural and supernatural. Ages 12-up. (May)