What the hell is homecoming? Who is coming home? Is there a home involved at all? If yes, which home? I went to an American high school. Did we even have homecoming dances? To be fair, the only dance I ever went to was my senior prom, which could be the subject of its own RMC (Rereading My Childhood), but I think I would have heard about some formal that seems to spring up at random times throughout the school year. Did my school even elect homecoming queens? Who were they? And how are they elected? If she’s an elected official, does that actually make her a “queen” is the purest sense of the word or is it more of a relic from a time when the homecoming queen was passed down through a family sent to us from God to rule over homecoming?
R. L. Stine doesn’t answer any of these questions, but he did answer the question, “Who killed the homecoming queen?” The answer will be revealed through the following twenty-nine paragraphs (not including excerpts) – one paragraph for each chapter in the book. Let’s get to it!
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Eva Whelan loves pep rallies, something the two of us don’t share. Besides loving pep rallies, she loves her psychic powers, which are more like Peter Parker’s Spidey-senses without the reliability or plot relevance. She also loves her best friend’s stepbrother, Jeremy. Oh, and at the end of the first chapter, the aforementioned best friend, Tania Darman, is pushed down the stairs.
Another student named Leslie Gates accidentally bumped into her. Tania considers Leslie her “rival,” so Tania skeptical about the perceived accident. They are both vying for homecoming queen to Jason Thompson’s homecoming king. During the crowning ceremony, there is a gunshot.
It’s just a soda can. I wonder if I wouldn’t be so angry if I read this book during its publication year, 1997. A school shooting is a very real and traumatizing thing that happens seemingly every week, so using it as some bullshit cliffhanger for the end of chapter two is distasteful. This isn’t Stine’s fault, 1997 was a relatively innocent time, years before Columbine and Active Shooter Drills. Still, I still had a strong personal reaction to that fake out. Let’s get back to the book. Leslie makes a grand entrance. In the audience, Eva spots Jeremy talking to his friend Keith, who is an amateur filmmaker.
Keith shook his head. “Leslie is desperate to be an actress. She’s applying to every acting school in the country. If she’s in the video, then she’ll have something to show. I’d be doing her the favor.”
“Sounds like a good deal for both of you,” Jeremy commented. “Is Leslie any good?”
“Sure,” Keith replied with a shrug. “But I’d much rather have Tania – especially if she’s Homecoming Queen?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Eva asked. “I mean, what’s your video about?”
Keith’s eyes glittered again. “It’s called Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?”
That’s the name of the book! Tania wins homecoming queen and immediately passes out!
It’s just her low blood sugar. Gurl, lay off the insulin. Out of view of Tania but in front of Eva, Leslie expresses her anger at Tania’s constant winning and calls the new homecoming queen “The Golden Girl of Shadyside High.” The girl who is clearly our red herring sees something and gasps!
This time, there is something to actually gasp about. Leslie and Eva see Tania’s boyfriend, with the very ‘80’s name Sandy, making out with a girl, with another very ‘80’s name, Cherise. Because that’s what we need. More characters. Leslie says, “This will kill Tania.” and she runs away.
The next chapter starts with Eva watching a vicious argument between Tania and Sandy regarding his cheating. She breaks up with him and he does not take it well. He violently shakes Tania, and Eva panics.
It was just a part of Keith’s movie. Cool movie, Keith. This book has not aged well. High school domestic violence is no longer something hushed into shadows and used as a plot device in a pulp teen horror novel. It’s morphed into a pervasive problem that literally kills kids during History class. The domestic violence, even if it’s for a terrible movie, just made me feel gross.
Tania passes out from her blood sugar thing, again, and Eva agonizes over telling her best friend about her boyfriend’s cheating. That’s right – she still hasn’t told her best friend. Way to look out for your friend, Eva. Then someone yells they’re going to kill Tania.
It’s just Leslie, our brightest red, largest of large herrings. Our crimson whale.
Leslie bared her teeth in a vicious smile. “First you get to be Homecoming Queen. Now you steal the role in Keith’s video. You knew I was counting on that role for my college portfolio! I can’t believe you stole that from me, too!”
“I could kill you, Tania!” Leslie clenched her fists. “I really could!”
“I have something to tell you, Tania.”
“After all, why shouldn’t I ruin your day, too?” Leslie said bitterly.
“Huh?” Tania frowned. “What do you mean?”
Eva’s heart sped up. Leslie is going to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, she realized. I can’t let Leslie do it! She’ll enjoy it too much. And Tania will be really embarrassed – in front of her biggest rival!
“What is it?” Tania asked Leslie.
“Not now!” Eva cried. “Leslie, come here.”
That’s why you should have told her already, Eva. She doesn’t even take that moment to tell Tania in private. She just pulls her away and we get a new scene. Eva gets a Coke with her crush and Tania’s brother, Jeremy. He expresses his desire to go to the mall and “check out the CD stores.” The fact that there’s more than one CD store, let along a CD store, in this mall that has not succumbed to online shopping and poor business decisions, is unintentionally funny. There’s a mention of Jeremy getting in trouble at his last school. This isn’t that important, but it sets up a second, lesser red herring. Like a marron minnow. Our maroon minnow sees Sandy and Cherise making out. Geez, Sandy and Cherise, get a room. Or at least come up for air. Or maybe don’t mack on each other at the most frequented locales of the Shadyside High student body.
Tania enters but somehow doesn’t see Sandy. The chapter switches to movie filming again, and, of course, they’re filming the domestic violence scene again. Keith is either getting off on this scene or he’s incredibly incompetent because this scene should be finished by now. This time, Keith yells, “Stop it!” as Sandy chokes Tania.
It’s his camcorder. They start rolling again. They stop after Tania is on the ground and not moving.
This time, it looks like she’s kind of dead. Sandy checks her pulse. When he can’t find it, Jeremy starts yelling and screaming. Then her body disappears.
The police arrive and are ineffectual, just like they always are in every teen horror from the ‘80s. Leslie is there but she books it after the police want to question her.
Chapter 14 is the obligatory scene in which everyone has a conversation about what happened. Sandy reveals his terrible sense of humor.
“It started out as a joke. Tania and I cooked it up,” Sandy explained. “The idea was, I’d strangle her for the movie. She’s pretend to be dead, and I’d go along with it. We just wanted to shake everyone up. For fun.”
“Huh?” Eva let out a shocked cry.
“You and Tania decided to lay game with my movie?” Keith cried.
“Yeah, for fun,” Sandy repeated.
Eva gaped at him. “That’s a terrible joke,” she declared. “How could you and Tania do something so awful?”
“Never mind that. Where is she?” Jeremy asked. “Where is Tania?”
“That’s the problem,” Sandy told him. “See after everybody got all crazy, Tania was supposed to jump up and yell ‘surprise!’”
“But she didn’t,” Eva reminded him.
Jeremy readies his choking hands and lunges at Sandy. Everyone gets a strangle!
The police separate them and conjecture that Tania just went home. Eva tries to call Tania’s home and just gets a busy signal – another relic of the ‘80s. Then she calls Keith to ask about the camcorder.
The camcorder “jammed” and didn’t record anything. Jeremy bursts in and says he heard Sandy and Cherise conspire to kill Tania. If this seems disjointed, I’m sorry, but that’s really how plot points progress in this book.
Eva encourages him not to call the police. I don’t understand that one. She goes to Cherise’s house and hears someone yelling, “I’ll kill you!”
Don’t worry, nothing interesting actually happened – it was just the television. Eva and Cherise chum it up, even though Cherise might have killed Eva’s best friend. Someone calls Cherise’s phone, asks for Eva, and tells her that she’s going to die next.
The next day at school, Leslie doesn’t even wait for Tania’s corpse to turn up before continuing her crimson whale activities. She’s been “bothering” Keith – she wants to be the new star in his movie. Remember, she really needs it for her college portfolio. You know, Harvard is always on the lookout for students who have been in high school horror films by students who can’t work a camcorder and takes months to film a terrible scene. Eva sees blood on Leslie’s sweater.
Yeah, she just cut herself on a mirror. However, something finally happens! Sandy tumbles out of a locker. He has been stabbed! And we finally have a body!
Chapter 21 is another gathering, this time at Eva’s house. We are reminded that “This is not a movie plot. This is real.” Thank you for your service, fourth wall, but it’s time for you to break. Eva gets a phone call. The person on the end is, like, yeah, Imma kill you next.
Keith chooses to do a documentary instead and interviews Eva. She leans up against a rail and it breaks.
Keith pulls her up and says the railing was sawed. So, someone, in the middle of the night, came onto the school grounds with a saw and went to town on a railing. Not conspicuous at all.
In the next chapter, Tania shows up not dead. Cool. And what is your reason for leading us and where have you been?
“When Jeremy told me about Sandy sneaking around with Cherise, I couldn’t believe it. Once I stopped crying, I got so angry. And that’s when I decided to get even.”
“Where were you all this time?” Eva asked Tania. “I mean, were you just hiding at home?”
Tania shook her head. “That’s what I was going to do. But Jeremy had a better idea. He cooked up the strangling part. But he didn’t know I was going to disappear. Anyway, I went to stay with my cousins in Waynesbridge. I told Mom and Dad not to worry, and they told the police I was perfectly okay.”
“So that’s why the cops stopped the investigation,” Keith said. “No wonder they thought the whole thing was a joke. It was.”
“It was a horrible, sick joke, Tania!” Eva declared angrily. “How could you do that to us? How could you put us through all that just because your boyfriend was cheating on you?”
“I couldn’t help it!” Tania cried. “I was so hurt and upset. And I wanted to hurt and upset everyone else, especially Sandy. I wanted you guys to feel like fools, just the way I did!”
Ugh, teenagers in horror novels and their elaborate pranks that involve death and dying. I was a teenager for about a decade and the pranks I was involved in, witnessed or was the victim of never involved dying and bodies disappearing and they certainly never ended with an actual death. What happened to Sandy?
Eva’s spidey-scene shows up and the gang runs to Cherise’s house, where they find her in a stare-off with Jeremy, whom she says killed Sandy. Jeremy says Cherise killed Sandy and that’s she’s crazy. There’s a bunch of that for a while.
And more of that in the next chapter.
And it’s finally concluded in the next chapter.
“Tania already told us that it was Jeremy’s idea for her to pretend to be dead,” Eva explained. “That was his plan for Tania to get revenge – by playing a cruel joke on us.”
“So?” Cherise asked.
“So Jeremy wouldn’t murder Sandy,” Eva went on. “He knew that Tania was already getting her revenge.”
“Oh, please – drop the innocent act!” Cherise tossed her head, glaring around the room. “I hate you all! You think you’re so smart! Hey, let’s keep a secret from poor, dumb Cherise. Won’t that be a kick? The way you were laughing at me behind my back. Don’t think I didn’t catch on!”
“Catch on to what?” Jeremy asked.
“Keith’s other video project – the candid video project, as if you didn’t know,” Cherise sneered.
“Huh?” Tania asked. “What video project?”
“You all know that Sandy pretended to like me – just for the candid video,” Cherise went on. “You all humiliated me, laughed at me – just for a stupid videotape!”
So there ya’ go. Keith and Sandy were making some other weird video where he pretended to like Cherise so she killed him. Then she lunges at Keith.
The last chapter is the police dragging Cherise away and Keith’s camcorder jamming.
That’s it. One paragraph (ish) for each of the 27 chapters of Who Killed the Homecoming Queen? By R. L. Stine. This one was fine – standard pulp fiction fare. The cliffhangers are still frustrating, the herrings are huge, and the scares really aren’t scary, but I didn’t hate my time with this book. It was fine. Now excuse me while I try to figure out what in the hell “homecoming” is.