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House of Stairs

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  4,652 ratings  ·  662 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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Cindy Kelly I still think about this book fairly often from reading it in my teens and I am now close to 50. Thought provoking.

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Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,652 ratings  ·  662 reviews

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Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.5 🌟
Review: Five orphans, named Lola, Peter, Blossom, Abigail and Oliver, all aged 16, suddenly find themselves in a weird place where there are no walls, floor, rooms or anything normal. The only thing this place has is lots and lots of stairs defying gravity. All of them are scared to find themselves in such a place and want to get back to their lives. Slowly, they start discovering the place and knowing each other, when they notice a strange machine which gives them only a single pel
Diana Welsch
Oct 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
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
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
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first read the synopsis for this a few years ago and the concept immediately caught my attention. Set in an unknown but clearly dystopian future, we follow five kids in their early teens who are suddenly dumped alone on a never ending room of stairs. There is a machine that spits out food but only when the group perform certain actions which they have to determine by trial and error. When the machine starts rewarding violence of the physical and psychological types the kids are pushed to eithe ...more
Deborah Markus
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-classics
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.
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 B
Apr 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013, ya
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.
Lee Davis
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Wendy Bousfield
Jan 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Wendy by: Michele
Shelves: young-adult, dystopia
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
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
1. Things I wish: that I knew what happened to the fallout of the world, that I knew more about the characters’ previous lives, that I knew what happened to them after the stairs, we knew more of the characters’ inner thoughts.
2. Watch and readalikes: Labyrinth movie, stairs at Hogwarts, Maze Runner, Lord of the Flies.
3. I liked the symbolism of the stairs. The journey and survival of the kids.
4. I liked the dedication page: “This book is dedicated to all the rats and pigeons who h
Sebastian H
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: weird, nostalgia
"What if someone wrote 1984 for junior high school students, only made it creepier?" I read this book years ago, and have always remembered it because it was so disturbing. Guaranteed to give you a nightmare or two. ...more
Tony Talbot
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Five orphaned teenagers find themselves pushed into a strange room. There’s nothing but stairs that lead them eventually back to the only object beside a primitive toilet and a water source: a machine that delivers their food. But what do they have to do to earn that food?

This is a short book – only 166 pages for the paperback. I’d never heard of it until my wife sent me a message on Facebook (She found it while I was asleep and didn’t want to forget). As soon as I saw the premise, I ordered a c
I didn't remember reading this as a kid until I checked out the book and saw the same cover I'd stared at when I was younger. It's kind of funny because this book is about psychological conditioning and I had a strong recognition reaction to the cover even though, like Singularity, I didn't actually remember any of the plot. In both cases, I think I didn't remember so much as internalize them. In Singularity I identified with the main character's major shift to develop independence, and in this ...more
Emilee King
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
What would you do if you woke up in a seemingly never-ending space full of stairs?

I don't know about you, but I would freak out. And House of Stairs tells the story of five teenagers in this situation freaking out.

Do we know why they are trapped in a literal house of stairs? No. Do we know why these specific orphans were picked? Nope. Does it seem they will likely die since there are no places of sustenance or any kind of exit? Yep.

Lola, Peter, Oliver, Abigail, and Blossom could not be more diff
Jun 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, ya, suspense
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
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mary JL
Aug 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Erin Cataldi
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Dang! Where was this book when I was younger??!? For being a few decades old, it really hasn't aged much! This psychological teen read throws five 16 year old orphans into a weird uninviting alien environment filled only with stairs. None of them know why they are there or how to escape. They wander around and find a weird machine that will give them food, only when they figure out how to meet it's weird demands. It's the 5 of them against this weird environment, what will happen if they stop wo ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow ok, I didn’t expect this to be this good, it starts directly into the suspense, but I can’t believe that it built up so well. Every character was unique and memorable. It was just sooo good, easy 5 stars for me. One of the best reads of this year, I’m still surprised of how good it was!!!
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I also read this as kid.
That was an incredibly disturbing take on the psychological process of operant conditioning. Skinnerian theories taken to a dystopian extreme. Wow. Kids read this?
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don’t remember much about Lord of the Flies but this book feels like a mix of that and Hunger Games. Probably a 3.5
Deborah Ideiosepius
This was an intriguing, dystopian type, children's book based around a kind of ominous social experiment to see how far the five children in question can be programed by isolation, fear and food deprivation.

This is most certainly a children's book, though the protagonists are (all) aged sixteen this is a blank and naïve version of sixteen that is younger than the average sixteen year old in our society would be. This naivety is explained through the social conditions of the world, though we only
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
The concept was interesting but the reality of this book was that it was be polite. The characters were boring and the chances of this ever being able to happen would be extremely low if not impossible. What I couldn't figure out was why none of these 5 the absence of any adults...ever tried to escape. I guess you might view it differently if you were 13-15 years old. ...more
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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

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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.*”
“He reached out and took her hand. Neither cared that someone might see. They had been taught all their lives that the only deep feelings between men and women were sexual, but now they knew that it was a lie. They were friends and they loved one another, and their hand-holding was perfectly innocent. It was one more thing to rejoice in, one more way in which they had risen above the system, above the machine.” 4 likes
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