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on July 13, 2001
Easily the finest of Sleator's works, this book is about five 16-year olds who are then subjected to Pavlovian conditioning in order to . . . well I don't want to spoil the book completely. It is set against a background of a futuristic world gone bad though virtually all of the action takes place in the creepy house of stairs with only the five teenagers present. An excellent morality tale that will make people of any age think. I've read it loads of times over the years and still like it. It might not be appropriate for younger kids of high reading ability (or should at least be discussed with them afterward). On the other hand, it is a work to be recommended precisely because it doesn't shy away from tough issues that many adult works grapple with.
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on September 1, 2006
I first read this book in junior high. I'm 42 year old now, and the themes of this book stand out, even today. It was one of the few books I read in those days that kept me thinking about it, long after it was completed. I believe that this book was what first led me to study psychology. For young readers, it can be quite disturbing, or quite boring...depending upon how much they "think" about it. If you read this book and want to know more about the psychology behind it, check out the entries in Wikipedia about the Milgram study or the Zimbardo Stanford Prison experiements. Another reviewer mentioned Pavlov conditioning, but I think the studies related to obedience and learned helplessness are equally applicable.

I recommend this book for young people over the age of 10. Another good book for folks who like this book is O.T. Nelson's "The Girl Who Owned a City" (ISBN: 0822596709 ).
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on July 17, 1999
Many years ago, when I was a wee lad of ten, I came across this book. At the time it registered as nothing more than a really good book, but later in life, I realized that House of Stairs was the first book that took my pinhole sized window of decent human normalcy and opened the blinds to include all the lovely dark fringes into view.
This book, while being strictly a kid's book and friendly to a wide range of young readers, is one of the most sinister lessons of base human nature around. The "experiment" which makes up the story, is a pretty stark look at what happens to society (or 'cliques,' since we are dealing with kids), when the external influences of the familiar world are stripped away, and all that's left is satiating the animal instict of survival.
Sort of a post-modern Lord of the Flies. Instead of an island, it's a (see title). There is a definate two-pronged lesson to be learned by reading this book. The first is to witness the change in the children as the experiment wears them down into little more than animals performing for sustenance. The second is the realization that the authority behind their situation is the true evil--subjecting the kids to severe psychological torture for no more cause than scientific whimsy.
Teachers, you want your kids to grow up as free, clear thinkers? Stock this and every book Sleator has ever written.
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on April 8, 2006
I read this book because the plot sounded very similar to the 1997 movie "Cube", a brilliant film about a group of strangers who wake up to find themselves in a huge, lethal maze. After seeing the film I instantly began looking for books with similar story lines, and William Sleator's "House of Stairs" fitted the bill nicely.

The characters are archetypes, yes, but I still cared about them, especially the quiet, reclusive Peter.

The setting of the story is one of the best elements in the book--just pristine white staircase after staircase, seemingly suspended in a equally pristine white void. The only piece of machinery is a small device that occasionally releases food--randomly at first, and as the story progresses, only when the characters are cruel to one another.

And cruel they become.

Highly recommended book. Short, but packs a punch. The darkly humorous ending is a kick too!
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on November 9, 2000
I read this book about 20 yrs ago. I can remember checking it out at the library. I can remember being totally engrossed. I can remember the stairs and the food machines. All of the details are gone, but I can remember exactly how it felt to read it. Whenever anyone asks me for a young adult recommendation I think, "I wish I could remember the title of that book.
I'm remodeling my home and I did a search for "stairs." There it was. It must have been a great book if I can still feel it 20 yrs later.
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on February 3, 2001
Possibly more than any other of Sleator's Books this one carries a very serious note with it. A note that after reading the final sentence in this book you find Completely Terrifying.
This books something that they should require in schools instead of Junk like Lord of the Flies they should give children a serious look into the human psyche. What motivates us, what makes us who we are, and what makes us what we we will become and forever be.
Once again sleator adresses scientific questions that have very scary answers. This book is always in a locked contest for favorite book, battling with my other favorite Sleator works that I think are #1, Intersteller Pig, Strange Attractors, and Singularity. DO NOT MISS THIS BOOK. IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT OTHER PEOPLE AND YOURSELF.
This is Pure Genius. Please Please Please read this.
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on January 10, 2000
I'm not a psychology major by any means, but when I read this book I couldn't help but think, "This book would be great for Psychology majors." After saying that..I gave the book to one of my psychology friends (I have sooo many) and she absolutely adored it. It's got everything a brain picker would love. Puberty stricken teenagers (is that an oxymoron?), crazy stairs that go no where and a food machine that possbily shoots out food if you do a crazy dance for it? Sound insane? Well it is, and that's what will keep you intrigued from page one...If you saw the movie "Cube" and enjoyed it wholeheartedly...you'll enjoy "The House of Stairs". Trust me!
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on August 31, 2007
This is nothing less than an alarmingly good book. I've read it twice and it seemed twice as good the second time. I read it outloud with my son, and some scenes are actually jarring to me because of the way they reflect how adults really are, and things they really do. Part of me wanted to stop reading and explain to my son that people aren't really like this, but they are.
And the motivations for such action is no loftier for adults in real life than they are for the kids in this book. Perceived survival.
Go read it.
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VINE VOICEon July 14, 2003
..This is a tight, fast-paced morality play about a group of five teenagers -- orphans, all -- thrown into a twisted experiment in conditioning.
I'd forgotten how little of this book is actually spent examining the gargantuan House of Stairs the characters find themselves in. Most of the book takes place on one landing in the labyrinth, near the food machine. It is here that the characters examine themselves and each other, and ultimately are faced with a choice between losing their lives and losing their souls. It's chilling...
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on November 24, 2004
This book still disturbs me, and I read it first in high school. Similar to Lord of the Flies, it demonstrates people displaying their true nature when placed in the situation of "survival of the fittest". Pretty harsh accusations regarding the nature of human beings... A terrific book. Read it as an adult if you didn't as a teenager.
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