I don't remember exactly how I got this copy of Just Dial a Number by Edith Maxwell (1971), but I know it was sometime in junior high. It seems like my aunt gave it to me when she was cleaning out her books, or maybe I got it at a garage sale somewhere. Either way, I kept it unread on my shelf for many many years, and then brought it home to Austin the last time I was at my parent's house.
When I got this book, I was on a major Christopher Pike jaunt (closely followed by an equally excessive Stephen King fascination). I think I thought this book, with its evocative title, dark cover illustration, and declaration that "a prank phone call leads to terror" on the front cover would be a teen horror book along the lines of Chain Letter.
Instead, the "terror" in Just Dial a Number is more on the lines of a guilt-riddled adolescent girl than a creepy horror fest. Cathy and her friends are seniors in high school who recently put on a play in which her only line was "Someone tried to kill me" -- which she whispers into a phone before dying. Back at her house after the show and fooling around, the four friends decide to dial a number at random and have Cathy say her line from the play. Unfortunately, their joke is taken seriously by the woman who answers the phone -- she and her husband think the caller on the other line was their daughter and rush home to help her, dying in a single-car accident on the way.
The book does a nice job of contrasting Cathy's reaction to the accident with that of her boyfriend and her other friends. Her guilt is focused into an obsession with the orphaned girl, a sophomore at their school. As she becomes more and more involved in the girl's life, an eventual outing of her involvement in the parent's death is inevitable.
This young adult novel was published in 1971, and although many of the teenage issues still ring true today (popularity, boyfriends, parents, etc.), some are rather dated (lots of "should I or shouldn't I" over pot at parties, gender roles -- particularly in the character of the mother, a climax set in the turn-on tune-in drop-out community of San Francisco). Although it didn't deliver the teenage horror promised by the title, I found this book to be quite enjoyable, particularly if you are a fan of young adult fiction for teenage girls. And if you aren't, brother, I don't want to hear it.
[Back cover available here.]