Most of my teachers had some kind of twenty minute quiet time after lunchtime recess. At around 11:30, my entire class and I piled into the hallway and stood in line (if you wanted hot lunch). We paid the lunch lady our $0.75 each at the front or used one of those punch cards the kids with pre-paid lunch had. We grabbed our food, sat down, and ate as fast as we could so we could get outside and run around like little idiots as quickly as possible. After a full thirty minutes of mindless laughing and cavorting with our fellow classmates, the bell rang and forced us back into the green walls of the school, away from the sun and into tedium. Then our teacher made us read. At least we got to choose the book.
“Read one chapter of a book,” she demanded.
We had a book. We had a popular book. It wasn’t cool to read unless you read R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps.
“Read one chapter of a book.”
I see why these books were popular – there are 128 pages in Monster Blood and 29 chapters. That’s an average of four pages a chapter.
“Read one chapter of a book.”
That was easy and only took a minute.
Of course, I wasn’t that child. I had cold lunch, so I had to sit by myself on the other side of the cafeteria. The school separated “hot lunch” students (those who paid money) and “cold lunch” student (those who brought their lunch from home). All my friends brought money to school (eventually, I started asking my mother for money just so I could sit with my friends), and we had to sit in specific seats that a fifth grader designated for us (it wasn’t a bully situation – the school lunch ladies bestowed onto them that power). I enjoyed the thirty-minute recess because I could read whatever I wanted, instead of what my teacher wanted me to read. When the bell rang, it was more of a relief for me. It was time to get up from the ground, brush off the dirt, and read inside – a minor location change. I didn’t mind a long chapter and I never stopped reading after only one chapter. I read until I was the last one still reading and my teacher had to ask me to come back to the boring real world.
I don’t remember the small chapters of Goosebumps, but I remember the cliffhangers. For a while, I was convinced that every horror book had to have a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter and each book. Some writers haven’t grown out of this, as evidenced by adult novels with knives and guns and scantily clad women victims on the covers. R. L. Stine’s cliffhangers are on full display in Monster Blood. There are some good ones with genuine danger – mostly at the end of the book. However, the most prevalent ones are the frustrating ones where it turns out to be a someone making a sandwich (really) or a dream sequence. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t going to like this one until I reached the end. Everything goes bonkers. The cliffhangers involve actual danger, and the short chapters are a minor inconvenience, rather than a jarring interruption.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
We start with Evan Ross and his dismissive mother. Mrs. Ross is dropping off her son at his Great Aunt Kathryn’s spooky house. Aunt Kathryn is a deaf septuagenarian who raised Evan’s father. Evan doesn’t want to stay with her because he thinks she’s “weird.” That’s no reason to not want to stay with someone, but I guess Evan’s apprehension is not unfounded – she does pose a danger to our young protagonist. What this book says about weird people is not particularly hopeful, especially for weirdos like me. (I didn’t call myself a weirdo. I accepted my weirdness. I was proclaimed a weirdo when I wanted to read instead of play tag and enjoyed the quiet time after lunch recess.)
At the end of the first chapter, a mere seven pages later, we have our first cliffhanger:
And as she said this, facing Evan with her back to the house, the front door was pulled open, and Aunt Kathryn, a large woman with starling black hair, filled the doorway.
Staring past his mother, Evan saw the knife in Kathryn’s hand. And he saw that the blade of the knife was dripping with blood.
End of chapter one. Even a child wouldn’t be fooled by this obvious cliffhanger. Stine is not going to kill off the protagonist and his mother in a brutal stabbing at the beginning of page eight. Although, if that did happen, it would be surprising.
“I was slicing beef,” she said in a surprisingly deep voice, waving the blood-stained kitchen knife.
I’m reminded of a slasher flick from the early aughts whose name escapes me in which a yellow-haired lady was spooked by a coat rack. She literally bumps into a coat rack and screams. I don’t remember anything else about the movie, but I remember that coat rack. I think I audibly cried, “Oh, come on!” when it happened. I felt the same way at the end of these fake-outs. As bad as the beef slicing is, there is another one later that made me want to put down the book and go back to the Baby-Sitters Club, where Martin doesn’t try to fake me.
I don’t see as many fake-out scares in horror movies anymore. The fear comes from an actual threat. I just want to take a moment and tell modern horror movies that don’t do bullshit scares that I appreciate their efforts.
While Mrs. Ross speaks with Aunt Kathryn, the old woman grabs Evan’s arm and jerks it around. Evan complains that she hurt him and Mrs. Ross completely dismisses her son’s concerns. I get that Evan is a whiny kid, but if he thinks the woman was rough with him, she should listen to him and admonish Aunt Kathryn. If Aunt Kathryn is worth anything, she’d apologize and promise to try to be softer with her nephew.
Mrs. Ross doesn’t do anything. She’s a terrible mother. There. I said it. She drops her kid off with this woman she barely knows so she and Mr. Ross can look for a house. I think Evan should have some say in the house they choose – after all, Evan is going to live in it also. Of course, if she were a better mother, we wouldn’t have this book.
She leaves and Evan explores his temporary living quarters. He finds a library of science books and assumes Aunt Kathryn was once married (hey, Evan, women can like science, too, buddy). Then a demon attacks him at the end of the chapter. No. Not a demon. No actual danger. It’s a cat – Aunt Kathryn’s cat named Sarabeth. At first, I read that as “Scarabeth.” I wish it was “Scarabeth.”
Evan takes his dog (Trigger) out for a walk and a hand touches his shoulder. End of chapter. The hand belongs to a neighborhood girl named Andrea, but she hates that name and prefers “Andy.” I liked that she went by Andy and liked to joke around. Evan quickly sexualizes her and describes her clothing every time he sees her, but as a character, I found her bravery and sense for adventure interesting. This stark difference between the two made me wish the book was about her instead of Evan. Intrepid Andy and her new-kid-in-town sidekick Evan.
Andy takes Evan to a toy store run by a misanthrope who seems to especially hate children. Hey, guy, if you hate children, don’t open a toy store. When a child expresses interest in something, he won’t sell it to them. Evan finds a container with the words “Monster Blood” on it. He is willing to buy it, but the owner says it’s “not good” and won’t sell it to the boy. If he knew there was something cursed with the monster blood, that would make sense. It would force Evan into theft or some other plot point. However, the owner acquiesces and sells the container to him without much coaxing. I don’t know why the man didn’t just sell it to the kid. I don’t know why R. L. Stine spent some much time with this man. The store closes later in the book and we never see this guy again. It’s no surprise to me why the store shut down.
Evan takes the monster blood and Andy to Aunt Kathryn’s house. He shows his old Aunt the container. She rolls it around and gives it back to him without any troubles. They pop it open and it falls out like Flubber. It bounces around and they take it outside to play with it some in a charming scene that ends with Trigger swallowing a large chunk of it. They wonder if it’s poison.
The next chapter starts three days later, so I guess Trigger is okay and the monster blood isn’t poison. Evan brushes his hair and thinks obsessively about a phone call he received from his parents sometime between when Trigger swallowed monster blood at the end of chapter eight and nine. I honestly thought his parents weren’t going to return and used “house hunting” as a ruse to lose the kid and start new lives in Europe as jewel thieves.
Later, Evan meets the neighborhood bullies – two hulking twins named Rick and Tony. Andy intervenes before the twins can attack Evan, but they steal her bike. They go back to his house and find Trigger suffocating. He rips off the dog’s collar and the kids notice that Trigger has doubled in size.
Chapter thirteen starts with Trigger running after Rick and Tony as Evan tries to catch up with his dog.
Suddenly, as Evan watched in horror, the dog raised up on his hind legs. He tilted his head to the sky and let out an ear-piercing howl. Not the howl of a dog. A creature howl.
And then Trigger’s features began to transform. His forehead burst forward and enlarged. His eyes grew wide and round before sinking under the protruding forehead. Fangs slid from his gaping mouth, and the uttered another howl to the sky, louder and more chilling than the first.
“He’s a monster! A monster!” Evan cried.
Oh, boy, this is getting good!
And woke up.
A harmless dream. Except that something still wasn’t right.
The bed. It felt so uncomfortable. So cramped.
Evan sat up, alert, wide awake now.
And stared down at his giant feet. HIs giant hands. And realized how tiny the bed seemed beneath him.
Because he was a giant now.
That makes sense. The monster blood made Trigger larger, so, logically, it would make him bigger. I see wacky giant-child shenanigan afoot.
Because he had grown so huge, so monstrously huge.
And when he saw how big he had become, he opened his mouth wide and began to scream.
Oh man! A cliffhanger! Is Evan now going to wreak havoc on his crazy aunt? Will he get revenge on the bullies? I can’t wait for the next chapter.
His screams woke him up.
This time he really woke up.
Oh, fuck off! Slams book down. Walks out the door. Leaves her life free from dream sequences. Starts a new life book-free in the mountains of Oregon. Is a lumberjack now.
I was livid. Something interesting was finally happening and I was interested to see how Evan deals with his new demon dog. It was all a dream. Fine, whatever. Then I wanted to see how Evan acclimatizes to his new size in what would be a wonderful, yet obvious, allegory for puberty. Maybe he could overcome the neighborhood bullies and stand up to his mother (“how could you leave me with a crazy woman and not ask for my input regarding a house – I live there, too!”) – it’s all part of growing up.
No. I get a dream fake out.
I wanted to give up. I wanted to put the book down and give my review without having read the rest of the book. But I kept going. I kept reading. I recently read the first Goosebumps book Welcome to Dead House (long before I decided to write these, I’ll get around to it). I loved Welcome to Dead House. It was the kind of spooky book that got me into horror as a child. I had to give him a second chance. And, well…
The ending is okay. It’s an improvement over the dream fake outs, but my expectations were pretty low. Let’s get to the ending, but first, we have some quick events to get through.
Evan and Andy take Trigger to the veterinarian. I don’t know who paid for the visit. I can’t imagine the kids footing the bill and there wasn’t a scene where they abscond with the dog – like a vet visit and dash. Aunt Kathryn has nothing but disdain for Trigger, so she’s not paying. The vet says that Trigger is healthy, but he is a little large for the breed. Nothing to worry about.
The monster blood gets bigger and spills out of its container. The twins actually beat up Evan. Andy helps with Evan’s injuries. They knock over the monster blood. Andy goes home. Evan stumbles around the garage. He falls into a bathtub filled with the monster blood. Andy shows up. They haul the monster blood in a garbage bag back to the toy shop. The toy shop is shut down. They drag the monster blood back. Trigger is the size of a pony.
Got it? Now we’re at the end.
The monster blood spills out of the garbage bag and turns into a huge ball. It starts to move like it has a mind of its own and consumes everything it touches. As it bounces around, it swallows the bully twins, and corners Aunt Kathryn. We are treated to this twist:
Andy’s hands tugged at the sides of her hair, her eyes wide with growing fear as the seething green blog made its way steadily closer to Evan’s aunt.
“Get out!” Kathryn repeated shrilly. “Save your lives! I made this thing! Now I must die for it!”
What a twist! Although, if she made it, why didn’t she stop Evan when she rolled the monster blood container in her hands? Evan believes that’s when she cast a spell on the monster blood, but Aunt Kathryn points at Andy and says that the young girl made her do it. End of chapter.
She wasn’t pointing at Andy, but Sarabeth, the cat. Then something batshit happens.
All eyes were on the cat as it rose up, stretched, and grew. And as it grew, it changed its shape.
With shadowy arms and legs in the eerie darkness.
And then the shadow stepped away from the darkness.
And Sarabeth was now a young woman with fiery red hair and pale skin and yellow eyes, the same yellow cat eyes that had haunted Evan since he’d arrived. The young woman was dressed in a swirling black gown down to her ankles.
She stood in the doorway, staring accusingly at Kathryn.
“You see? She’s the one,” Kathryn said, quietly now. And the next words were intended only for Sarabeth: “Your spell over me is broken. I will do no more work for you.”
The fucking cat had control of Aunt Kathryn and was trying to kill Evan with her spell on the monster blood. Sarabeth orders the blob to kill the children, but the large and in charge Trigger pushes Sarabeth into the blob. It shrinks, throwing up the twins and the robin it swallowed.
The mother returns. I thought she was going to leave him there. Frankly, with how dismissive she is, Evan might be better off with his new and improved Aunt Kathryn. Then we are treated to this after Evan and Andy vow to keep in touch:
“Could I ask one small favor?” Andy asked.
“Yeah. Sure,” Evan replied, curious.
“Well, it’s going to sound strange,” Andy said reluctantly. “But can I . . . uh . . . can I have the little bit of Monster Blood that’s left? You know. Sort of as a memento or something?”
“Sure. Okay with me,” Evan said.
They both turned their eyes to where it had come to rest on the carpet.
“Hey-” Andy cried in surprise.
It was gone.
There are three more Monster Blood books in the Goosebumps series.
Most of the end of chapter cliffhangers are ridiculous. I understand making smaller chapters to accommodate a child’s attention span, but Stine does this in Fear Street also. I haven’t read his venture into adult novels, but I can’t imagine he’d stray from his unnecessary cliffhangers. Just make longer chapters, dude.
Despite the frustrating cliffhangers, I’m happy I finished the novel. Even though the ending comes out of nowhere, I enjoyed the fast pace and crazy twists. This isn’t as good as Welcome to Dead House, the first in the Goosebumps series. (Again, I promise I’ll get around to that one, which will be a glowing review.) I’m still looking forward to reading all the Goosebumps books, even if some of them aren’t the caliber of children’s literature that I remember.
And speaking of Fear Street, next time will be my first review of my favorite post-Goosebumps horror series. I’m reading Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine.