House of Stairs
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House of Stairs

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  2,392 ratings  ·  331 reviews
One by one, five sixteen-year-old orphans are brought to a strange building. It is not a prison, not a hospital; it has no walls, no ceiling, no floor. Nothing but endless flights of stairs leading nowhere ?except back to a strange red machine. The five must learn to love the machine and let it rule their lives. But will they let it kill their souls?
Paperback, 176 pages
Published April 1st 1991 by Puffin (first published 1974)
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Singularity by William SleatorHouse of Stairs by William SleatorInterstellar Pig by William SleatorThe Boy Who Reversed Himself by William SleatorOthers See Us by William Sleator
Favorite William Sleator Books
2nd out of 12 books — 22 voters
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Let the (deadly) games begin!
19th out of 94 books — 220 voters

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As a kid I was addicted to this book, which is fairly impressive given that at eight years old I doubt I understood half the words Sleator was using. ("Eventually we will have techniques to deal with individuals even as intractable as you"? Not so much.)

But seriously. I loved the cover, with the kids flinging themselves in all directions. I loved the semi-dystopian description of the future--never quite explained, but just *there* enough to be creepy. I loved the terrifyingly endless maze of st...more
A chilling and suspenseful tale that stick with the reader for years to come.

This book is recommended for 9-12 year olds, however, I think it might be a bit intense for the younger side of this group, and I, as an adult, thoroughly enjoyed Slater's treatment of this psychological horror.

Personal Note: I read this book as a tween, and it stuck with me all these years. I remember not being able to put it down, and upon revisiting it, it is still just as fascinating to me. I read many of the Amazon...more
After googling different phrases for a while, I finally found the name of the book I read when I was around 12 that catapulted me into my interest into psychology and the human mind. The story of five teenagers locked in a place that consisted only of stairs and landings, the way they were trained like Pavlov's dogs to respond to the demands of a machine for food, demands that became ever more horrible. I remember reading this and being horrified by concepts I couldn't quite yet really grasp, bu...more
Young adult fiction must be a really tough genre to wrap your head around, for a writer. You have a story that you want to tell, and you have to tell it in such a way that it is simple enough for your target audience to read, yet engaging enough to keep them reading. The themes have to be familiar enough for them to understand and relate to, yet unusual enough to be interesting for them. Go too far in the wrong direction and you have a failure. So how does a YA writer do it, balancing all those...more
Lee Davis
I think this is the last entry in my YA Sci-Fi kick, but it's a high note to end on. I've spent more than half my life searching for this book. Really! I checked it out from the Lawrence Public Library when I was 9 or 10 and read the first 15 pages, and then it got away from me. I remember everything about it vividly--5 teenage orphans in a near-future distopia find themselves, without explanation, in a gigantic white room consisting only of endless staircases and a machine that irregularly disp...more
Diana Welsch
I read this because it is the #1 answer to "What the hell was that crazy book I read 20 years ago?" questions. House of Stairs has showed up on LibraryThing's Name That Book group three times in the past year. Half of the YA books in that group turn out to be William Sleator. We got a Contact Us question the other day that turned out to be 2 William Sleator books. So I figured it was high time I read something by this mysterious man.

Jesus. There's a reason people remember it. This book was crazy...more
My, my, my, what a chilling book.

Five strangers - all orphans, all sixteen years of age - are released, blindfolded, into a mammoth gleaming white room full of stairs. They find each other and congregate around a machine that dispenses food upon correct behavioural patterns. Soon they are slaves to this machine, searching for the correct patterns, doing whatever they have to do to be fed. What follows is your classic deterioration of human nature.

Reading it, I was reminded a lot of the Maze Ru...more
A bit dated more than 40 years and with a dedication which hints at the climax, but still....a very effective creepy tale and a parable which ought to leave the reader wondering: just why do I do things the way I do?

William Sleator was perhaps the perfect young adult author. He originally set out to write for adults, but shied from using excessive profanity and other elements "required" by publishers in adult novels. So....he wrote adult stories (for the most part) and populated them with teenag...more
I am insanely addicted attracted to stories about "the group in peril", when people are thrust into an alien setting absent of any social rules and obligations. Under such circumstances, it usually doesn't take long for humans to throw off the shackles of civilized conduct and resort to a more brutal "survival of the fittest" approach. That’s not just the pessimist in me coming out, but the realist.

What we become in extremis is both fascinating and frightening in the heroic heights we reach and...more
Several years ago, I saw a movie called The Cube. It's a sort of low-budget thriller/horror movie about a group of strangers who find themselves trapped in a maze of cube-like rooms full of traps. As I watched it, I found myself having a strong sense of deja-vu. Where had I seen this before? Why was the premise so familiar?

By the end of the movie, I was convinced that I had not seen it before, but had, instead, read something that was extremely similar. I was sure that The Cube was basically a...more
William Sleator's suspenseful, almost sci-fi, novel is pretty old (even older than me, but don't tell anyone), but I think its lack of specific details means that it holds up pretty well. I also think that it's a good companion read for one of my favorites, The Hunger Games. Both books have a similar tone, although The Hunger Games is more tightly written, fast-paced, and suspenseful. What Sleator's book has is a really thought-provoking setup that asks you to think about humanity and how easily...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Another solid story by Sleator. Turns out this little horrifying SF is one of his first - he went on to write a lot of creative SF for children but this might be the most literary. Way before Hunger Games, but way after many other stories with a similar trope - what do you do when brought together with strangers, with survival at stake, and with minimal resources?

Would you lose your soul? Would Abigail and Oliver have reacted differently, were it not for the machinations of Blossom? Does it matt...more
Mary JL
Aug 31, 2010 Mary JL rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Any reader over age 15
Shelves: main-sf-fantasy
A gripping psycholgical tale. Five orphans caugt up and manipulated in a terrifying experiment.

I cannot say I liked it--in the sense it is not meant to be liked. It is meant to make one think and that it does.

To me one disturbing thing is--in no way did I feel "This could never happen". Knowing what inhumane things HAVe been done, nothing like this 'experiment' actually happening would surprise me.

In only 176 pages, William Sleator delivers an unforgettable tale.

Btw, although often recommended...more
Taut juvenile fiction novel. It's a Lord-of-the-Flies-esque tale of a group of orphans who find themselves mysteriously left alone in a bizarre prison of endlessly interlocking stairs. Slowly they're turned against each other by a Pavlovian "food machine" that rewards violence. I won't give away the ending, but alas, adult readers will probably quickly figure out what's going on. As a teen, though, it made a real impression, and its message is maybe more relevant now than ever.
Lizzi Crystal
Not 5 stars for my enjoyment of the story, which gave me nightmares, but it was a perfect telling of the story. I would not have changed one thing. Stories of this genre are often told in crass, even vile ways, and I so much appreciated how the author treated this story about base humanity with dignity and respect, allowing me to focus on the characters and psychology rather than gruesome details. A definite 5 stars for the storytelling!
Amanda Coppedge
Probably the first dystopian novel I ever read. Because of this book, near the beginning of season one of LOST I was already predicting the cages and fish-biscuits that would show up in season three.

UPDATE: Reread in 2013 after reading multiple times from ages 10-20. It has held up really well for a book written in the mid-1970s, besides some unfortunate stereotyping that was more common at the time.
This is an intriguingly creepy, even chilling, psychological science fiction story. In it, five 16-year-old orphans find themselves in a three-dimensional maze: The House of Stairs. Endless white stairs climb in every direction, with no exit. They gradually learn that the only way to get food is to perform specific actions in front of a machine that responds, sometimes, with a tasty reward. The main dramatic tension arises from the machine's changing responses that shape their behavior in a dire...more
I remember loving the mad weirdness of William Sleator's books when I was a teen. I have particularly fond memories for Interstellar Pig (a book I still want to revisit, but am slightly hesitant because I don't know if I'll be able to embrace the bizarre as well as I did when I was 14), so I'm glad that KC forced me to read this with him!

KC and I decided to read it out loud together, which was an excellent choice. This book started out feeling a little like The Maze Runner, or even the movie Cub...more
Lately, I've been re-reading books that I had read as a teen, and I'm happy to say that thirty years later, I still love this book. The amazing thing (to me) is that House of Stairs is just as current today as it was back then. It is set in an unspecified, futuristic setting, yet now its seems very contemporary.

House of Stairs, like the Hunger Games series, is a story in which teens are pitted against teens. HoS is much simpler than HG, both in terms of setting and plot, but the four characters...more
Feb 12, 2013 Ethan added it
House of Stairs was a good science fiction book by William Sleator. Five 16-year-old orphans are separately blindfolded, driven somewhere, put on an elevator not knowing which direction it was going, taken to the house of stairs, and left there. The first two people are a girl named Lola, and a boy named Peter. They don't know why they are at the house of stairs or how they will get out, but they want to find out. They go searching for an escape and find a girl, named Blossom who is eating food...more
I was probably about 10 the first time I picked this up. Then I read it a squillion times. Now I just read it again, as an adult, and I'm pleasantly surprised how well it holds up. 5 teens thrown into a room with nothing but stairs, as far as they can climb in any direction, plus one landing with a little machine on it. The machine will dispense food occasionally, if the teens do exactly what they're supposed to--a series of coordinated movements, from a complicated dance to assaulting each othe...more
Tony Bertauski
MC Escher meets Lord of the Flies.

This is the kind of book I love. Drops you right into an unknown, in this case surreal, environment and unfolds from there. Sleator does a great job unveiling his characters through dialog. Each personality is revealed in what they say, how they say it and what they're doing. He wastes few words on back story, instead focuses on the nightmarish reality of the present which contains endless stairs and a food-spitting machine that keeps them dancing for more. Whi...more
The writing style is not so great, and the plot is -by now- quite outdated: from the mystery (which has already been played out many times with way more interesting variations) to the frankly unnecessary final explanation.
The real question is: why does Sleator hate fat people so much? Not only is Blossom the most vicious character - her meanness seems to be underlined, and increased, by her size. The fact that she is fat makes her repulsive, not only to the other characters but to the writer hi...more
I read this book in 2 days! House of Stairs is like The Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games meets A Clockwork Orange!

Five teenagers find themselves blindfolded and suddenly wake up in a giant room with no walls, ceiling or floor, just endless amounts of stairs and a machine that will randomly give them food... for a price!

It's hard to believe that this book was written in 1974! I've read one of Sleator's recent books and it was nowhere near as awesome as this masterpiece! check it out!
I read this book when I was a child and never forgot it. But, I did forget the title of the book. So, I scared the daylights out of a large group of people at a bookstore in Southern California when I happened upon it there as an adult. They probably thought I was mentally unstable. Nope. Just overjoyed to find a book that I thought was forever lost to the memories of my childhood. If you like young adult literature, it's worth a read. It's an interesting parable on not succumbing to peer pressu...more
Marian Perera
If you are ever forced to choose which futuristic dystopia you’ll live in, that of The Hunger Games or that of William Sleator’s House of Stairs, please, please pick Panem. Even if you’re chosen as a tribute, the worst that will happen is that you’ll die.

And what’s really scary is that Sleator’s book was written in 1974.

The story begins very simply. Sixteen-year-old Peter, an orphan living in a state home, is blindfolded and taken elsewhere. When he’s allowed to see again, he’s in a vast white r...more
The Hardcover Honey
Twitter: @jbrivard

Way way back in the hazy days of middle school, I read a YA book called "House of Stairs" by William Sleator - it stayed with me through the years, to the point that I remembered the closing lines (very unusual). Now, approaching 40 (holy shit) I thought I would give it another read and see if it's held up. Spoiler alert, I liked it even more this time around.

Coming in at a tight 166 pages, House of Stairs kicks off quickly as 16-year-old orphan Pe...more
Julie Decker
Five kids, strangers to each other, are shut without explanation into a house of stairs--rather, a huge, seemingly never-ending chamber that has stairs leading up and down forever. After conversing and realizing they all have no family--and therefore, no one will miss them--they conclude that they are being experimented upon and attempt to outsmart whatever this system is. But they soon become desperate for food and happen upon a machine that distributes nourishment . . . with a catch. It begins...more
Deborah Markus
A modern classic. I read "House of Stairs" frequently as a child, and was happy to see this speculative novel from 1974 stands the test of time.

That's because Sleator wisely keeps the "futuristic" science fiction touches to a minimum. There's a very '70s reference to air pollution, but it isn't pivotal. The rest of the book is about what doesn't change: human nature.

I'm handing this to my son to read now. I have the feeling he'll be as riveted by it as I was at his age.
Well, that was disturbing.

I felt like I was going back in time to my first year as a freshwoman in college with my first Psychology class. Conditioning and Skinner is basically what that class is about and it was all over the place in this very small but seriously intense novel. Kudos to Sleator for doing his research and for making this one so disturbing and thrilling. I am suddenly very glad pigeons and rats were no longer allowed to be used for my Experimental Psychology class.
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William Warner Sleator III was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland on February 13, 1945, and moved to St. Louis, MO when he was three. He graduated from University City High School in 1963, from Harvard in 1967 with BAs in music and English.

For more than thirty years, William Sleator thrilled readers with his inventive books. His House of Stairs was named one of the best novels of the twentieth cent...more
More about William Sleator...
Interstellar Pig (Interstellar Pig #1) The Boy Who Couldn't Die Singularity The Boy Who Reversed Himself The Boxes (Marco's Millions #2)

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“But really, that is kind of silly,' Abigail tried to explain. 'I mean, a book is much less personal than a programmed screen that can respond to you according to your needs, and concentrate on what's hard for you, and go fast on what's easy. A book stays the same no matter *who's* reading it. And anyway, I don't see how anyone could read a whole long book, it must be so boring!'

'But...but it wasn't,' Peter said faintly. 'I...almost forgot I was reading it. The...the whole story was going on in my head.'

'I still don't understand,' said Oliver. 'I mean, watching a real-life hologram right before your eyes is better than anything you could *imagine.*”
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