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Ransom    by Lois Duncan order for
by Lois Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 1984 (1966)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

It begins as an average day as a substitute fills in for the usual school bus driver. Still aboard for the last stop are: Glenn Kirtland, captain of the football team and president of the student body; Bruce Kirtland, who worships the ground his older brother walks on; pretty, pert, and popular Marianne Paget; loner and intellectual Jesse French; and sensitive, shy and withdrawn Dexter Barton. What the five have in common is living in the wealthy Valley Gardens complex, in New Mexico.

The driver's excuse for going past the last stop: 'I'm taking the long way 'round. I have to stop and pick up a friend of mine.' The bus slows down and 'a swarthy man in a leather jacket climbed aboard', sporting a gun. The bus heads off the highway onto a dirt road, as Glenn comments that it looks like they're being kidnapped. The driver stops again for a man and woman who transfer the students into a station wagon, and head for a chilly cabin in the woods. Five young lives are at stake, waiting for ransom demands to be paid by parents, as the clock ticks away.

Marianne's parents are divorced, and she does not accept her new stepdad, no matter how hard he tries. In her mind Marianne plays out a scene that Dad will be distraught, pay the ransom, return to Mom, and the stepdad will be out of the picture. Dexter is self-sufficient and lives with his Uncle (since the death of his parents) - they're on different schedules like ships passing in the night. Jesse is from a military family on a low budget as Dad's on a tour of duty, whereabouts unknown.

Distraught parents are concerned as to why their children have not arrived home. Then phone calls begin with a male voice demanding $15,000 from each family. Dexter's uncle is not reachable as he arrives home from work in the early hours of the morning - unaware of his nephew's absence, he unplugged the phone for the night. He leaves town the next day for a trip to LA, again missing the kidnappers' call.

The five victims know they have to escape - somehow - as they may not be freed even after the ransom is paid. A plan is formulated - if only Jesse can jump start the station wagon, they can escape while the kidnappers sleep. In the dark of night, a pistol is fired and a figure crumples to the ground - 'Marianne opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came.'

A major kidnapping builds to a high crescendo as readers gasp oh no and Lois Duncan's genius weaves a hypnotizing story. She presents the possibilities of a real-life nightmare, portraying the interaction of the five students (mostly strangers even though they attend the same school and live in the same complex), their parents and family life, and inserts powerful zingers just when events seem copacetic.

Author of numerous YA bestsellers including The Third Eye, They Never Came Home and A Gift of Magic, Duncan paints vivid pictures of characters, settings, and events, allowing readers to see from different perspectives. Ransom is an attention-holding read.

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