Many years ago, when I was a wee lad of ten, I came across this book. At the time it registered as nothing more than a really good book, but later in life, I realized that House of Stairs was the first book that took my pinhole sized window of decent human normalcy and opened the blinds to include all the lovely dark fringes into view.
This book, while being strictly a kid's book and friendly to a wide range of young readers, is one of the most sinister lessons of base human nature around. The "experiment" which makes up the story, is a pretty stark look at what happens to society (or 'cliques,' since we are dealing with kids), when the external influences of the familiar world are stripped away, and all that's left is satiating the animal instict of survival.
Sort of a post-modern Lord of the Flies. Instead of an island, it's a (see title). There is a definate two-pronged lesson to be learned by reading this book. The first is to witness the change in the children as the experiment wears them down into little more than animals performing for sustenance. The second is the realization that the authority behind their situation is the true evil--subjecting the kids to severe psychological torture for no more cause than scientific whimsy.
Teachers, you want your kids to grow up as free, clear thinkers? Stock this and every book Sleator has ever written.