When I got my first job, in the marketing department at Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, the prospect of working with kids’ and teen books was exciting enough to have me giddy and nervous and delighted on a regular basis.
Then they handed me the key to the bookroom.
This bookroom, before the office moved a few months later, was a long, hallway-like space filled with tall industrial shelves. I could’ve spent days in there. It wasn’t ALL the books, but it was a wide selection of things we had on hand in case someone wanted or needed them. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, Katherine Paterson books I’d never even heard of before, books from authors I’d yet to encounter —
And a book I’d been looking for for years. I’d read it in elementary school. I loved it. It was like Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp, a book that stuck with me though I forgot the title and the author’s name for years on end. I found the Bond novel doing searches for Welsh mythology and young adult novels; I found William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig because it was sitting on a shelf staring at me. The cover was different, but I knew it was that book, the one about the kid at the beach house who starts playing a game with his neighbors, only maybe it’s not really a game, and maybe they’re not really his neighbors. Ominous, fun, totally engrossing, Interstellar Pig loomed large in the mythology of my young self’s reading life. I’d never had any idea the author had so many other books, or was so popular. You don’t come out of the Elmira Elementary School library with a grand sense of scale; you come out wondering if anyone else ever read that copy of Watership Down, or wondering why, of all the books in all the libraries, it was that one about Ben Franklin and the mouse that was assigned reading.
I never read any other William Sleator books. The Boxes came out while I worked at Penguin, and it sat on my at-work to-read-someday shelf forever. I knew I should read The House of Stairs. People always talked about it. There were other books, too. I kind of thought there would always be other books.
Publishers Weekly has reported that William Sleator died yesterday in Thailand. He was only 66, which is too young.
Go and read his books, if you haven’t already. You might also read this Nick Antosca interview with Sleator. Just read, and remember those stories — scary, thoughtful, sharply intelligent and wickedly fun — that you might’ve forgotten you knew.