House of Stairs by William Sleator

Each week for Paperback Throwback, I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in-between— you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.

Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.

For this weeks Throwback, mind your step.

William Sleator is one of the most unique voices in Young Adult Science Fiction. The Angry Moon, a picture book with illustrations by Blair Lent, was first published in 1970, and from there his career spanned over twenty books. Looking at some of these first works, it’s immediately apparent why he enjoyed so much success with teen readers. Though his plots are often dark and bizarre, Sleator maintains his characters in a grounded realism and the results are compelling books that explore complicated ideas in a simple way.

And that’s the basis for perhaps his most famous book, House of Stairs. In it, five teenage orphans are thrust together in a strange building. There are no walls, and seemingly no ceiling or floor. Just stairs, endlessly progressing up and down. There’s also a small sink with water and a machine that randomly produces food … or is it really so random? As the group of five rely on each other to navigate their new world, they’re forced to play by the rules of the machine, even if it forces them apart.

At its core, House of Stairs is a survival novel— and there are some comparisons to Lord of the Flies because of this. However, Sleator dials up the horror, in that these teens have no real idea of where they are or why they’re there. There are brief mentions of a dystopian outside world, and the underlying idea is that these kids have been plopped into their predicament by some outside force.

And as that force watches, Sleator explores just how quickly humanity can break down. Chilling and believable.

Title: House of Stairs
Author: William Sleator
Publisher: Puffin Books
Publication Date: 1991
Classification: Science Fiction, Young Adult



  1. I’m not familiar with this author, but the theme of an outside being or force creating an artificial situation and then toying with the subjects reminds me of some Star Trek episodes, both the original and the Next Generation.


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