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House of Stairs

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  2,762 ratings  ·  372 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 Books (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
The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne CollinsMockingjay by Suzanne CollinsBattle Royale by Koushun TakamiDivergent by Veronica Roth
Let the (deadly) games begin!
19th out of 103 books — 234 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
This YA book, written in a simplistic style and old fashioned in tone, like an old Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery, had a complex story beneath the story, one of a sinister kind. This book reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode where a group of unsuspecting people are at the mercy of something or someone working against them. It's Lord of the Flies meets 1984 with a twist.

On the surface, not much happens as five 16 year old orphans are removed from their living situations, blindfolded, and aba
Wendy Bousfield
Jan 28, 2015 Wendy Bousfield rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Wendy by: Michele
Shelves: dystopia, young-adult
This young adult novel (1974) reflects Cold War paranoia: apprehension that the government will brainwash unwilling subjects into perfectly controllable weapons of war. Five sixteen-year-old orphans find themselves in a sterile maze-like environment, consisting entirely of stairs and landings. (Wikipedia notes that the setting is based on Escher’s (1953) lithograph: Relativity: Besides one pool of water (toilet, drinking water, and bath), a machine with ...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!
Sebastian H
As a Psychology mayor, I have studied and am versed in the risks, benefits and limitations of conditioned reinforcement. To say that the experiment plotted out by the scientist of the book is unequivocally unethical, is to merely state the obvious. But what other experiments have been performed on real-life human beings, with similar, devastating effects? What charades are being performed even now, controling the population through study and marketing, through communication and the control of in ...more
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Sean Costello
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
Jun 25, 2010 M. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010, fiction
I don't read much YA fiction, mainly because if I am reading fiction for the narrative, well, to be blunt, I like fucked up shit. Generally fucked up shit does not seep into YA fiction unless it's in a severely stunted fashion (from my experience). However, somebody on some lit blog (Nick Antosca? Is that his name?) mentioned this dude, and then I found out he was gay, and then I found out the plots of some of his stories are awesome, so I grabbed two of his books from the library while I was at ...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
Nov 25, 2014 Heather rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014, ya
Bizarre! I was fascinated by where the plot was going, but ended up a bit underwhelmed by the epilogue. I also didn't feel a connection with any of the characters, but maybe that's asking a lot out of a tiny 166 page book? Anyway, guessing at the "why" of the story, as well as watching their behavior and relationships develop, is all very interesting and quietly horrifying. This probably would've blown my mind as a young teen.
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
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What's The Name o...: SOLVED- YA fiction- Pavlovian science experiment with kids [s] 4 27 Oct 28, 2014 06:38PM  
house of stairs 5 53 Oct 23, 2013 08:41PM  
What's The Name o...: group of teenagers in a maze [s] 5 138 Sep 01, 2012 11:18PM  
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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 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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