The Seance

The SéanceThe Séance

by Joan Lowery Nixon

HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (March 1, 2004) Copyright: 1980

ISBN13: 9780152050290


Plot Summary

Lauren’s friends want to have a séance and when Lauren cannot talk them out of it, she finds herself locked in the room summoning spirits along with them when the lights go out and everyone screams. When the lights come back on, her friend Sara is gone even though the doors are still locked! Ghosts or a prank maybe? Or did Sarah have plans to run away and needed just the right moment to slip out – maybe with a little help from a friend?

When Sara’s body turns up in the thicket outside the sleepy Texas town a few days later, Lauren realizes she and her friends may be in danger too. Sara had planned to run away with her “true love” that night, but without knowing who that was, Lauren finds she cannot trust anyone, not even the sheriff or his deputy. If she told them about the man Sarah was running away with and it turned out to be one of them, they would come for her next. Lauren has to hurry to solve the mystery before the killer comes to get her too.

But Lauren is too late, another friend is found dead and this time she knows it was supposed to be her. Roberta did not do anything to help Sara with her plan to run away. Roberta did not pull out the light plug at the séance and she did not shut the door and lock it after Sara had run away in the dark. Lauren had done those things. It was not magic or superstition or ghosts or spirits, as some people in town thought.

When Lauren is finally faced with the real killer, she thinks quick and acts fast to save herself and the towns folk. Many secrets are revealed and some sad truths are learned by Lauren and her friends as the things conjured up by the séance are finally put to rest.

Critical Evaluation

This book is action packed and a thrill ride. One part Nancy Drew, one part Scooby Doo and one part scary slumber party story, The Séance has all the fun ingredients of a good murder mystery. With the urgency to solve the murder before the murderer comes for you, the main character Lauren must figure out who is doing the killing as quickly as she can before becoming the next victim. Written in 1980, this book is still a great read and the “creepy” factor still resonates today. 

Telling the story is the main character Lauren, whose voice is young and honest, at least as the narrator. She observes people and she remembers details that add to her understanding of events and relationships. Some of the pieces fit, like Sara riding in the Sheriff’s car to answer some questions he had. Some other don’t, like seeing Sara go off in the deputy’s car and not seeing her again for several hours afterwards.

 It is a fairly predictable plot but because details are revealed slowly, the suspense stays high throughout the story until the final chapters. Lauren is a character that appeals to readers and her honesty and naivety are charming. She faces her fears and tries to do the right thing and in the end, unravels more than one mystery.

Reader’s Annotation

Sara is dead and Lauren knows she had something to do with it. Did the séance really conjure up evil spirits or did Lauren’s friends die by the hand of a murderer? She will have to solve the mystery before the killer comes for her too.

Information about the Author

Joan Lowery Nixon was born in Los Angeles, California. She grew up in Hollywood, California. She majored in journalism in college, but later became more interested in writing fiction. She was a member of The Authors Guild and the Friends of the International Board on Books for Young People, as well as a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers. Joan Lowery Nixon passed away on June 28, 2003 in Houston, Texas at the age of 76.

Nixon was first published when she was 10, when a poem she wrote appeared in a children’s magazine. She sold her first article to a magazine when she was 17 and since then, she has published over 100 books. Her books for children and young adults range from picture books to mysteries to historical novels. She has won awards for her writing in all genres, but particularly mysteries. She has won the Edgar Award, the most important award in the mystery field, four times.

Genre: Fiction; Mystery

Awards: Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery (1981)

Content Area: Character and Values; Culture and Diversity; Friends and Friendship

Booktalk Ideas

Pgs. 76-77 Lauren is sitting in the kitchen with the sheriffs and learning the details of the discovery of Sarah’s body, which has just been recovered from the woods nearby. Lauren knows more than she is telling them because in her mind, everyone is a suspect – even the two sheriffs. This is the turning point for Lauren where she realizes she could be next on the hit-list if the killer thinks she knows more than she does.

Text Measures/Reading Level:

Quantitative: Lexile Measure®790L; ATOS Book Level: 4.7

Interest Level: Grades 7 – 12

Reading Level: Age Range: 12 and up


Violence and fear are a part of this story but there is nothing graphic or gratuitous about it. It is a classic murder mystery.

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Additional/Digital Content: N/A

Why This Book?

Recommended by a patron who loves creepy, suspenseful books and knows I don’t read them often. He promised it would be worth my time and he was right! As a lover of Nancy Drew back in high school, I found this book fun and well done.


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