Jun 23, 2023 | Pulp Horror

Stranger with My Face
by Lois Duncan

© 1981 by Lois Duncan. Cover Art not credited.



Spoiler-Free Review:

Stanger with My Face was more or less exactly what I expected from Lois Duncan. I really appreciate the way that she writes characters. All but one of the characters felt really well-developed. The story itself was a slow burn. There was a really creepy concept at the core of this book. All of these are things I typically love, but I still found myself struggling with this one at times. I was never bored or disengaged, but the slow pacing did become tedious after awhile. I should point out that this book is notably longer than your typical Fear Street or Point Horror. The small print at 240 pages would probably run close to 400 if printed like a typical YA book today. So when you take that into consideration alongside the pacing, you can see how someone who is used to breezing through these books might get a bit frustrated. Then there was the one character I took issue with, whom I will refrain from naming due to spoilers. This character had the unfortunate effect of making the main character seem more naive and oblivious than was necessary for the plot. It also made it way too easy for me to figure out what was really going on. I may not have guessed the specifics, but I accurately called a certain villain’s true motives very early on. Having a main character that doesn’t even have suspicions about the obvious was almost enough to take me out of the story. What kept me in was Lois Duncan’s attention to detail, the richness of the minor characters, and the excellent use of the setting to create isolation. Isolation is the key to great horror and she really nails that one. Overall, I liked it more than I didn’t. Even with all of the issues I had, Stranger with My Face was a solid read. 


Score: 3.5


If you enjoy my blog, please consider liking my reviews on GoodReads.
It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!


Observations & Spoilers:

Can you imagine my excitement when I found out there was not only a movie adaptation of this book, but a Lifetime Original movie? Fortunately for you, I included a bullet review of it at the bottom of this post.


The book opens with Laurie Stratton getting hot after puberty. She went from the weird quiet girl on her small New England island to the girl Gordon Ahern wanted to date in the course of one summer. Then she gets sick the night of the big end-of-summer party, only to find out later that people saw her on the beach. She knows she was sick in bed, but her supposed friends won’t believe her. Then she comes home from school and can tell that someone was in her room; she’s not sure how but she can just tell. Her father thought he saw her come home early from school, her little sister Megan saw her standing outside her second-story window, and then Laurie herself sees her own reflection smile at her. All of this kicks things off in a very creepy and ominous tone. So far so good.


Laurie lives with her parents and two younger siblings in a house up on the cliffs on a small island off the coast of New England. She and her siblings take the ferry to school on the mainland. Her father is a science fiction writer and her mother is a painter. She has a good life. She makes friends with a new girl at school named Helen. Helen in many ways becomes the true using hero of this book. When Laurie has Helen stay overnight at her house, Helen has an encounter with the other Laurie. Only she knows right away that it’s not her friend. There’s something off about the girl’s eyes. Helen had grown up on a Navajo reservation and told Laurie about astral projection. She rightly warns Laurie to be careful engaging with whomever this person is. Who wants to take bets on whether or not Laurie heeds this advice?


After doing some digging, Laurie finds out that she was adopted. Her parents had thought they couldn’t get pregnant and adopted her out in the Midwest. She is half Navajo and half white. She had a twin, but her mother felt something was off about the other girl. She couldn’t articulate what, but they opted to only adopt Laurie. Against Helen’s warnings, Laurie starts talking to her twin. She learns that her name is Lia. Lia’s life had been hard, but their birth mother taught her to astral project. As Laurie spends more time with Lia, she drifts apart from her other friends. She is shaken by this when Helen is badly injured and left in a coma. Helen’s parents blame her friend Jeff, who had been out with Helen. Most of the people on the island treat Jeff like shit because his face was badly burned in an accident the previous summer. Laurie and Jeff grow closer after Helen’s attack, and eventually, he is the only one who believes Laurie’s story about her astral-projecting lost twin sister.


For some reason, Laurie never suspects that Lia was behind Helen’s accident. Lia really wants Laurie to Astral Project like her, but Laurie can’t seem to make herself do it. She also doesn’t find Lia’s insistence to be even a little suspicious. Helen’s parents move her to a hospital out of state for her recovery. Her parents leave Laurie with the gift Helen had intended to give her for Christmas. It’s a necklace with a Navajo protection stone. Make note because this will be important later. When Laurie invites Jeff over for Christmas Eve, but he never shows up. Laurie has a blowout fight with Lia that same night and finally begins to think that maybe Lia isn’t a good person. Just maybe. The next morning, Laurie finds the book Jeff had been planning to give her discarded on the rocks by her house. She walks out by them and falls into a crevasse. Jeff is down there too, freezing cold with a broken leg. In a moment of desperation, Laurie finally astrally projects and is seen by her brother Neal. The necklace from Helen breaks, but they are rescued shortly after.


Laurie and Jeff begin to strategize (finally) about how to figure out what Lia is up to. They realize that she never comes around in the morning, so they guess that is the best time for Laurie to astral project and go find her. Laurie does this and finds herself in a strange house with two empty bedrooms. It’s still dark, meaning she’s not on the east coast. A glance through the mail tells Laurie she’s in Albuquerque. She sees a couple that seems distraught and having trouble sleeping. When she returns, she looks the couple up and calls them. She explains that she is looking for her twin sister Lia. The man is very reluctant to talk at first. He tries to tell Laurie she should stay away from her twin sister. He eventually caves and tells her that Lia is in a hospital and not allowed visitors. A storm conveniently cuts them off before he can say more.


Laurie’s astral projects to the hospital, too impatient to wait until the next morning. She discovers that it’s a mental hospital. She hears the nurses talking about how Lia sleeps all the time, and how she had killed her adopted sister. Apparently, Lia had been living with the foster family Laurie had visited and had staged a horse riding accident to kill their daughter. The girl lived long enough to tell her father everything. Lia had been deemed unfit for trial and placed in the mental hospital. Laurie notices a bit too late that Lia is in a deep sleep. Meaning she is projecting. Laurie returns home with quickness, but Lia has already stolen her body.


Laurie doesn’t know what to do. She’s not strong enough in her astral projection to make contact and warn anyone. Lia is a complete asshole, of course. She starts by being an ass to Jeff. Laurie’s sister Megan is the only one who knows for certain that her sister is an imposter. Even if she can’t explain how. Laurie watches this play out helplessly while her astral body begins to fade. Lia realizes Jeff knows too much and needs to be taken care of. She has him stay back when the ferry leaves to take them to school. Megan outwits her and stays behind as well. Jeff had brought Helen’s necklace that he had fixed after their fall. When it touches Lia, she is thrown out of Laurie’s body. Laurie sees her chance and takes back control. 


Months later, Laurie is happy to have her life back. She can still feel Lia from time to time, lurking like a creep. But they never speak, and she never sees her. She knows she will never astrally project again.


It is also randomly mentioned that Laurie’s parents decide to help pay for Jeff to get surgery and fix his face, which I get. It just bummed me out a little. The implication up until that point was that there was nothing that could be done, not that he couldn’t afford treatment. Or maybe I missed that detail, I don’t know. Obviously, a victim with burns like that should be able to get affirming healthcare. It just felt like an unnecessary narrative choice. I liked that Laurie liked him regardless. It spoke volumes about her character. It wouldn’t surprise me if this issue was forced by an editor, but it was also just a sign of the times. I mean, this book came out in 1982. It’s just a detail that I wish had been left alone.


  I really did enjoy the book overall. Aside from being long and slow-moving, my biggest complaint had to do with Laurie. It’s never fun to read a mystery where something is obvious to everyone except the main character. Laurie was not even the least bit suspicious of Lia for way too long. It got tedious. Lia needed to be way more manipulative, and Laurie a bit less naive. Then that dynamic could have made the tension between them even better. I wish Lia had played at being meek and apologetic. It would have fit with the title if she could change figurative faces with ease. I think there was an attempt at playing her off this way, but she mostly came off as angry and impatient. If Lia had more range, I would have had a lot more fun reading this. 


Score Card:

For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes


Concept: 2/2
The concept itself was simple and solid. It was almost too simple to be drawn out for the entire course of this deceptively long novel.

Execution: 1/2
I’m torn here because it was methodical and paced the way it needed to, but it was also slow. Too much of it relied on Laurie being oblivious to the obvious about Lia. That said, I was never bored.

Character: 1/2
The characters were all really well-developed. The biggest weakness was Lia being two obviously villainous from the jump. I wish she had been better at being duplicitous. Doing so would have made Laurie’s character seem a bit less naive.

Intent: 2/2
This was intended to be a slow-burn thriller, and on that it delivered. It used the setting to maximum effect and isolated our protagonist in fun and unique ways. 

Originality: 1/2
The evil twin trope is hardly original, but even at 40 years old this didn’t feel stale. What it maybe lacks in originality it makes up for in staying power.


Movie Adaptation:

There was a Lifetime Original Movie based on this book. You can stream it now on Amazon Prime.



• Imagine my delight when I found out that there was not only a movie adaption of this, but a Lifetime Original at that.

• They kill off Dad in the opening scene. Laurie has a vision of him while painting, and he tells her she called out to him. Then her mom comes in and tells her that her dad was hit by a car. Strong implications that Lia was the culprit.

• Casting Laurie as a blonde suggests that they dropped the native american heritage aspect altogether. That’s probably for the best.

• They changed Megan’s name to Alexis for some reason. They got rid of Neal altogether.

• Another departure from the book; the family lives in New York, Dad (not Mom) was the famous painter, and the house on the island is just their summer home.

• Lia tries to choke Alexis in her sleep; Alexis is convinced it was Laurie and is terrified for her.

• Helen is much more of a rebel. She likes leopard print and cutting class.

• Laurie knows she was adopted from the get-go, but she didn’t know she had a twin sister.

• Instead of being a burn victim, Jeff has a bad scar on his face and walks with a cane.

• They made Gordon less of a dick, at least in the beginning.

• I take it back, he’s a douche who doesn’t respect people’s boundaries.

• In the book, Laurie’s sister is the only one who knew the real Laurie from Lia. In this one, Alexis is terrified of her.

• They make Lia even more obviously evil in this one.

• They kept the bulk of the story intact beyond the character changes.

• It’s definitely low-budget effects, but so far it’s managed to be way less cheesy than I expected it to be.

• The ebb and flow of relationship dynamics had to be cut considerably. This makes sense and is a common problem when adapting books for feature-length movies. It still leads to many of the characters coming off as way more one-dimensional than they had in the book. This was true for Jeff and Helen in particular.

• The showdown scene with Lia brandishing the cane was kinda silly. It seems like they ran out of ideas for how to physically turn up the tension. 

• I did like the twist that Lia would rather die than let Laurie have her body back.

• The ending with Lia returning to her own body only to find that she died was pretty brutal.

• All in all it was not great, but still better than I was expecting.



Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
RL Stine’s The Beast 2


Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #15: The Prom Queen


Fair Use Notice