Impossible Story ID
February 23, 2009 5:10 AM   Subscribe

What story did I read in or around 5th grade?

Here's one thing I can say for sure: It is not House of Stairs by William Sleator.

Unfortunately, that's the only rock there is to cling to in this ambiguous, faulty-memory-powered AskMe. Here's the amorphous description:

The story involved at least one but I think no more than two kids. They are in some kind of institutional setting. They have to find their way out and, IIRC, do eventually make it outside. ISTR that they don't see anyone else during all this time, although maybe there are others outside when they get there.

I remember visualizing my own school when I was reading it and then the playground in the back as the area they emerged into. I don't know if that means the institution was actually a school or if I just had a very unfertile imagination. I also remember thinking that the kid(s) couldn't have gotten lost in my school, which was very small, so I guess the institution was very large.

The story was very Twilight Zonish. (Remember the one about that guy who wakes up in a completely empty town? That resonated with me later. Does that mean the kids woke up in the institution?) There was no explanation of what was going on. In fact, that's the reason I remember the story. I remember being very frustrated that someone would write such an incomprehensible story and then not explain it afterwards or at least have some clear moral. It was just a bunch of weird stuff that happened.

This is definitely not enough to ID the story, but I do have some other clues to seed into the mix.

1) I'm pretty certain the story was in one of the "readers" I had some time between 3rd and 7th grade inclusive (may also include 8th grade books but almost certainly no higher). Because of the odd nature of the story and the way our grades were separated, I'd say 5th to 7th is more likely.

2) The school I was attending at the time was fundamentalist Christian (at least by today's standards--this would have been in the early 80s). Our books were probably A Beka. The sample page of the 7th grade reader looks familiar to me, but that would only prove that I had the book, not that the story is in there. A Beka wouldn't give me a ToC to check nor could I find one online. (A good sub-AskMe would be for an online resource of A Beka readers so I could check the ToCs myself.)

3) My most recent thoughts of this story were prompted by the Blue post on Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. This is a shot in the dark, but it's possible that my mystery story and Lottery were in the same book. I have a vague memory, possibly interpolated from reading this question over, that they were. (On the other hand, it seems like it would be a little ironic for a story about ritualistically religious conformism to be featured in an A Beka book...)

4) Two things have made me wonder if maybe the story I'm thinking of was actually an excerpt from a longer work. First, the inexplicability could be the result of a lost context. And second, I really thought that House of Stairs was going to be it. All the elements were there for the last chapter to be the "story" I was thinking of. But when I read it last week, there was zero recognition. That said, the tone, setting and "feel" were all very similar. Maybe it's different work by William Sleator?

I hesitate to add any more "memories" to this question because I'm probably fabricating them.
posted by DU to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not any more Sleator that I know of. I've been over most of his stuff, both in my childhood and going through it testing novels for "appropriateness" before passing them along to a friend's teen.

This sounds a bit like This Time of Darkness, by H.M. Hoover. Starts off very, very dystopian, they emerge from underground into the wilderness, etc.
posted by adipocere at 6:34 AM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: The description sounds promising, but apparently published in 2003? Way way too late. Has to have been published before I was in 3rd grade, which would be around 1980.
posted by DU at 6:42 AM on February 23, 2009

According to the Library of Congress, This Time of Darkness was originally published in 1980.
posted by dmd at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: I guess the 2003 is a reprint. Nice of the book sites to make that clear. :(

I'll see if I can find this one, as well as any others people think of.
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2009

The Giver by Lois Lowry kinda sorta fits your description. One boy and his baby brother escape a future communistic community. But the escape doesn't happen until the end of the book. Most of the book is about the main character coming to realize how screwed up his community is. When they escape they wander through the wilderness alone without encountering other communities. Better synopsis on the link.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:51 AM on February 23, 2009

A few possibilities:

This Time of Darkness - Hoover
Children of Morrow - Hoover
Journey Outside - Steele
Outside - Norton
The City Under Ground - Martel
posted by iconomy at 8:14 AM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Stab in the dark, but it takes place in an institution and it was assigned to me in middle school...
I Am the Cheese
posted by cloeburner at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: I Am the Cheese doesn't sound the least bit familiar until I saw the part about the "mental health facility". That part definitely rings a bell--could be what the institution was. I'll throw it on the pile of possibles.
posted by DU at 10:41 AM on February 23, 2009

You know, I Am the Cheese leaped immediately to mind, too, and I couldn't let it go. There are so many elements that don't match up, so I didn't mention it at first.
posted by peep at 10:41 AM on February 23, 2009

Another book you might look into is by the same author - The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Robert Cormier.

And if you read either of these books at age 11, it makes sense that they'd be pretty damn inexplicable.
posted by peep at 10:51 AM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: If it's any book at all it's going to explain the inexplicability, because I know for a fact that I read it as a short story in a collection. Any excerpt is going to be hard to figure out, let alone the Twilight Zone one I'm talking about.
posted by DU at 10:57 AM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: Not I Am The Cheese.
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on March 4, 2009

This may be from left field, but have you tried contacting your teacher from that time and asking what text they used?
posted by merelyglib at 4:32 PM on March 7, 2009

« Older laid off + credit cards   |   Can you recommend a temp agency for me? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.