Y’all remember Lois Duncan? She was the suspense queen of the 80s/90s and her books were my jam. Her most well-known work is probably I Know What You Did Last Summer, which spawned the 90s-licious horror film starring pre-Lifetime Jennifer Love Hewitt, pre-Buffy SMG, and pre-obscurity Freddie Prinze, Jr. A lot of her other books are pretty famous within YA circles, too—Stranger With My Face and The Third Eye, for example. However, I’m recapping one of her lesser-known books, called Locked In Time.
This isn’t the cover my edition had (I lost it a long time ago and now have an ebook), but it is the closest one google images gave me. There’s a slightly more classy-looking b/w cover on amazon, but it’s in the current minimalist YA cover style and I am nhft. Give me ’90s YA covers with paintings of teens who look about 35, kthx.
This book is actually one of my favorites. It’s also interesting rereading it today b/c the subject matter is so popular within current YA—eternal youth and beauty. Unlike most current YA, however, LiT takes a very different approach to it.
The bare bones of the plot: seventeen-year-old girl leaves the relative security of her childhood home to reunite with her estranged father in some po-dunk town in the middle of nowhere. In said town, she comes into contact with a beautiful, wealthy, mysterious family who seems to be living the dream, but is actually hiding a dark secret. Said family includes a dreamy teenage son and Designated Love Interest™ (DLI) with whom the heroine shares some romantic sparks. Matters are further complicated when a hunky townie comes along who’s also sweet on the heroine. Sound vaguely familiar yet?
Now, I ain’t accusing anyone of copying anyone else. Despite the surface similarities, the two storylines are actually markedly different (fun fact: while google image searching the cover, a Twilight movie still came up). This is why I made the comparison. In Twilight and its knockoffs, eternal youth and beauty are the ultimate fantasy, the fairy-tale ending. Sure, the immortal undead brood attractively sometimes, but for the most part, their unlives are exciting, dangerous, glamorous. In contrast, the immortal Bergés of LiT have some serious issues to deal with. They might not be bloodsucking creatures of the night, but rather mere humans who’ve discovered the secret of eternal youth, but death is an essential part of their survival, as you will soon see.
The Bergés’ story is filtered through the eyes of the novel’s rather beige seventeen-year-old heroine, Eleanor “Nore” Robbins. She’s a cipher, an “everywoman” narrator and audience stand-in, basically. I suppose she could be seen as a self-insert, but this story isn’t really a fantasy the way Twilight and its ilk are supposed to be. I don’t know why you’d want to insert yourself onto Nore, given what happens to her. Her love interests are sufficiently dreamy but the romances aren’t idealized, and they certainly aren’t the centerpiece of the story. This isn’t a narrative about Nore and the undead who love her. The real stars of the show are the Bergés, and to a lesser extent their ancestral Louisiana home.
The first thing I learned about Nore is that she suffers from Katniss Everdeen Syndrome—her first-person narration makes her sound about 35 instead of seventeen. I especially enjoyed the bits where she talks about how much older and wiser she is now than at thirteen, and I’m like, “bitch, that was five years ago.” Haha. To be fair, Nore does do a lot of teenagey things during the narrative (and pays for them), she makes mistakes, and she’s not a Mary Sue. She’s pretty, but no one really makes a huge deal of it, and she doesn’t do the whole faux-modest “golly gee how could anyone think I was anything special?” routine so typical of YA Mary Sues. She just admits she’s pretty and that’s that. Can’t fault this girl for self-awareness.
Nore comes into contact with the Bergés when her single father marries Lisette Bergé, widowed mother of two teenage children. Charles “Chuck” Robbins is a bestselling author who recently hit it big with a TV adaptation of one of his novels. Now he’s rolling in the dough. You know what duo I instantly thought of:
Sadly, Charles “Chuck” Robbins is not nearly as perceptive as Richard Castle (or as funny, for that matter). If he were, then Nore wouldn’t have to spend most of the novel playing plucky girl detective and they would’ve gotten out of dodge before the shit hit the proverbial fan. He spends most of the narrative being completely out of the loop and infatuated with his gorgeous new wife. Lisette is basically Helen of Troy reincarnated, too beautiful to be real.
Yeah, can’t say I blame him.
Lisette, however, is not as badass as Kate Beckett, though she’s definitely as fierce. More on that later. Nore plans to spend the summer with her father, his new wife, and new family. They’re staying at the Bergés’ ancestral home, a plantation house called Shadow Grove. Nore compares it to Gone With the Wind’s Tara. Shadow Grove is almost a character itself, with its rich descriptions and haunting past revealed gradually throughout the narrative. Duncan excels at ambience in this work, exuding the mystique and beauty of the novel’s locale in a style that borders on magic realism.
We soon meet Lisette’s seventeen-year-old son Gabe, who is a total ‘90s teen wet dream. He’s not much taller than Nore, but he’s definitely got the whole dark and handsome bit down. I’m picturing a younger version of MBLAQ’s G.O:
Yeah whatever, Gabe ain’t Korean. But he’s got the whole vertically-challenged-but-so-damn-fine-you-don’t-care thing going, so close enough.
And then we have the youngest Bergé, thirteen-year-old Josie. She’s all awkward and out of proportion although Nore believes she will grow up to be as beautiful as her mother. I’m thinking Anne Hathaway circa The Princess Diaries:
Eventually we meet the other corner of the love triangle, beefy and hunky townie Dave. ’90s-licious!
Nore soon starts noticing all this weird stuff about the Bergés—references to past events and relationships with details that don’t add up, etc. Nore also has prophetic dreams in which her late mother warns her about Shadow Grove. She doesn’t listen, of course, since if she did there’d be no story. Nore, like many of Duncan’s heroines, also has a special ability–an uncanny awareness of time. Basically, it just means Nore doesn’t have to wear a watch. Much is made of this ability at first, but it is disappointingly irrelevant to the actual plot—it never plays a crucial role in the proceedings, nothing that couldn’t have been gotten around easily without it. Mostly, it’s there as a tagline, and a reason for Lisette to feel threatened by Nore (and that doesn’t even really make sense, either, since Nore’s awareness of time doesn’t contribute to the sleuthing that eventually reveals the Bergés’ secrets).
Nore forms a sort of big-sisterly relationship with Josie, who reminds me a bit of Dawn on Buffy. She’s whiny, moody, and insecure, so basically she’s a typical pre-teen. Yet you can’t help but feel sorry for her, as Nore notices a deep-seated anguish and despair beneath her teen angst that just isn’t normal. Gabe isn’t the faux bad-boy that most YA DLIs of this kind of narrative are, but just a normal guy who seems alluringly broody and mysterious. There’s an undercurrent of tension between him and Nore that Lisette notices immediately. She makes every attempt to cockblock the young couple, but what ends up putting the kibosh on that is actually an incident Lisette has no part in.
This incident occurs a night when she, Gabe, and Josie sneak out to a dance club. They run into Dave, who flirts with Nore and makes plans to stop by Shadow Grove. Gabe finds out in the car on the way home and gets pissed, argues with Josie, and proceeds to drag-race down the highway. They get pulled over by a cop who booked them at “almost ninety.” Yeah, not that impressive to this L.A. driver, but I guess in the middle of nowhere it’s a big deal. Before the cop sees them, though, Gabe cons Nore into switching seats with him, claiming his license expired. Later on, he feeds her a convoluted excuse which, like many of the family’s other stories, doesn’t add up.
The incident kills any budding romance between them, and things only go further downhill when Gabe tries to kill her. Granted, trying to kill someone will put the kibosh on any romance, unless of course you’re Bella Swan. But I digress. Gabe tries to drown Nore by faking a boating accident in the river, but Nore (who can’t swim) miraculously survives and makes it back home. Lisette goes to find Gabe, and they concoct a cover story that Gabe was knocked unconscious in the accident. This isn’t true, obviously. Nore tries to explain, but everyone chalks it up to trauma from the accident and no one believes her.
So Nore gets her Veronica Mars on and through typical sleuthing–interviewing an elderly man who worked at Shadow Grove in the 1930s, breaking into the shed where Lisette keeps her records—she finds out the family’s secret. The Bergés were really born in the late 19th century, and Shadow Grove isn’t their ancestral home—it’s their actual home, presented to Lisette as a wedding gift when she married Henri Bergé. When Lisette found that Henri was stepping out on her, she went to confront the girl. The girl, part of a community of Cajun people who practiced voodoo, offered Lisette a deal—her husband for eternal youth. Lisette accepts, forcing her children to participate in the ritual as well.
As the years went on the Bergés found it harder to keep their secret. Since none of them have birth certificates, they couldn’t get jobs. Eventually, Lisette came up with a plan that they’ve used over and over again—she marries a rich man, fakes an “accident” and uses the money she inherits to support the family. They disappear to a major city for a long enough time that when they come back, they can pass themselves off as another generation.
Even without this grisly tradition, one of my favorite things about this story was just how fucked-up the Bergé children were. Not only the whole, you know, murdering Lisette’s husbands thing, but being trapped in adolescence for a century. Gabe and Josie’s brother, Louis, had it the worst, since initially he was the one who arranged the “accidents” that killed Lisette’s husbands. Louis died several decades ago in a riding accident, but the implication is that his death may have been suicide. To quote Gabe, “he thought that sixty-nine years of childhood was enough.” Perhaps the Bergé children might’ve avoided this fate if Lisette had been kind enough to find them mates and force said mates to partake in the voodoo ritual as well? One big happy incestuous immortal family!
Indeed, Lisette seems to be the only one in the story who actually desires eternal youth. Her children clearly don’t. Nore doesn’t. There’s never a moment when the notion holds any appeal for her, and exhibits no desire to be with Gabe forever. And why should she? As hot as he is, the guy’s a damn headcase. He’s so severely damaged from a century of adolescence, along with the fact that the job of killing Lisette’s husbands fell on him once Louis died. Josie, too, is all kinds of fucked-up, trapped in neverending pre-teen angst. Gabe doesn’t joke about how he and Josie “matriculate” often. He just seems so weary and broken, while Josie is filled with the impotent rage and frustration of knowing she’ll never grow up. Nore backs away from Gabe once she starts to see how fucked-up he is, which is how any normal person would react. She feels more sympathy to Josie, who definitely seems to be more of a victim in this, although that sympathy too starts to fade when she realizes the extent of the Bergés’ treachery.
The novel ends with Nore and Dave narrowly escaping another attempt on their lives, which occurs while Nore’s father is conveniently away on business. It is Josie, ironically, who saves them. Gabe and Lisette flee Shadow Grove and are both killed instantly in a car accident. It is implied that Gabe crashed the car on purpose, since Josie could tell from his goodbye that they weren’t coming back.
And so the story ends on a fittingly haunting note, with Josie now in the care of Nore and her father, who remains blissfully ignorant of the whole thing. Eventually he’ll figure it out, when he realizes that Josie isn’t growing up. Nore reflects on how the care of Josie will eventually fall to her descendants, and it’s a creepy and tragic thought.
The 90sness of this narrative is pretty hard to escape, since much of the plot relies on the isolation of Shadow Grove. No one has a cell phone, and there isn’t even a land line there (another one of Lisette’s machinations). Obviously, there’s no Internet. I also wonder how no one ever thought to get a good fake ID. But to be fair, Lisette was raised a Southern belle with no real skills to speak of, and I have a hard time envisioning Gabe pushing fries for minimum wage. But filling in the plot holes wouldn’t change the essential thrust of the narrative, that eternal youth ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
But who knows? Maybe things would’ve worked out better for the Bergés if they sparkled in the sun and Gabe found a dumber girlfriend.