Being the first in a series is difficult, just like being the new kid in a school. There’s a need to set a precedent, whether it be a cool exterior to protect yourself from peer ridicule or a tone for subsequent books. I have never been the new kid. I have never had to deal with the trauma of moving to a new place and everyone staring at you like a laboratory specimen. On the other hand, I never had an opportunity to reinvent myself. Even if I dramatically changed over the summer, I would still have the stigma of being the weird kid who reads all the time and tells scary stories (both of which were true of me).
I’m reading the first entry in the Fear Street series. R. L. Stine’s publishers didn’t think a teen horror series wouldn’t work. They even thought that there shouldn’t be too many scares, and the early books feature a low body count. Thankfully, the publishers must have figured out that teens love horror and the body counts increased. The first in a series is a difficult thing to be. I don’t care what people say, the pilots of The Office and Parks & Recreation, two shows I adore, are tough to watch. The New Girl has not changed my mind, unfortunately. I’m just happy that this new kid on the block was able to shed the terrible first impression he made when he told everyone, “My name is Jacob, but I go by J Cool Smooth.”
The book starts with a girl saying good-bye to someone named “Anna,” whom she murdered.
As quickly as that happens (a page), a boy named Cory is in love with the titular new girl. Cory is the star of the school gymnastics team and has a childhood best-friend named Lisa, who is apparently funny, but she never says anything funny.
I don’t know if I just went to the poorest school in the United States, but these teams that schools have are just ridiculous. A gymnastics team? A swim team? What are these? My school had a soccer team that won a lot, a football team that lost all the time, and an Academic Olympics team that also lost all the time. I was on that last one.
The new girl is named Anna and for the first twelve pages, I thought she was a ghost. Of course, that’s not it. That would be too obvious. Instead, it’s the second most obvious thing.
But not before we get gross making out between Cory and Anna! Because that’s what we get. Cory is strangely obsessed with making out with her. After they kiss, her little brother, our red herring named Brad, shows up staring at them angrily through windows and yelling that Cory is going to die if he gets close to his sister. He comes from a long line of brothers who are strangely obsessed with their sisters.
Anyway, there’s also a random neighbor with a large dog that provides more red herring shenanigans. His dog provides fake-outs in the form of jumping on Cory from behind.
Unfortunately, the only death in the book is a cat attached to Lisa’s locker. I would have rather seen one of Cory’s friends get killed. Have I not mentioned them? Yeah, their names are David and Arnie and I can’t tell the difference between the two. They’re such stock characters that they’re perfect sacrifices to raise the stakes. Friends of the main character, so it can bother him, and they have no personalities besides generic obnoxiousness, so the audience isn’t too upset at their demises.
But no. Instead, a random cat gets it and the friends are forgotten.
Eventually, Lisa and Cory run around the band room while chasing Brad. I’m sorry I can’t go into too many details about the book – believe me when I say not much happens. It’s mostly Cory trying to make out with Anna followed by a dog attack or Brad staring at them.
There’s a scuffle between Brad and Cory. Our main character subdues Brad and that’s when Anna picks up a knife and tries to stab her brother. Then she pushes Cory out the window, but Cory keeps himself on the ledge with his massive gymnast legs. Brad tells us what happened.
“She isn’t Anna. She’s Willa. She’s Anna’s sister.”
“When Anna fell down the stairs and died, Mom and I suspected that it wasn’t an accident, that Willa pushed her,” Brad said, rubbing the bump on his head. “She was always insanely jealous of Anna. Anna had everything. Anna was beautiful. She had a million friends. She got straight A’s without having to study hard. Willa coun’t compete in any way – and Anna never let her forget it.”
“But I couldn’t prove that Willa had killed Anna. And Mom isn’t well. I knew she couldn’t survive losing both her daughters. So I never did anything about Willa.”
“Shut up, Brad. You’re stupid. You’ve always been stupid!” Willa shrieked, still struggling to free herself from Cory’s grasp.
“Like I said, Willa actually seemed okay once we moved here,” Brad told Cory, ignoring his sister’s outburst. “At least, she acted perfectly normal at home. But when you started coming around, asking for Anna, I began to suspect what Willa was doing. I noticed that she started to dress like Anna. And talk like her. I tried to scare you away, Cory. I did my best to keep you from getting involved with her. I figured out that she was calling herself Anna at school, that she was trying to slip into Anna’s identity.”
“I’m going to kill you!” Willa shrieked, her eyes on the letter opener.
Okay, so Willa killed her sister Anna and started calling herself that when they moved to Shadyside. Instead of talking to Cory like another human being, Brad decides to stare at his sister and her boyfriend and yell hysterically that his sister is dead. That’s not a good idea, Brad. His age is not explicitly said, but I hope it’s not twenty-one. This is the plan of a ten-year-old.
If this were the first Fear Street book I read, I don’t think I would have continued with the series. The characters weren’t interesting enough to continue, the mystery wasn’t intriguing, and there wasn’t any blood. Anyone one of those three things would keep me reading, but the book lacks all three. The constraints on R. L. Stine did not work in his favor, and I’m glad he was able to finally cast off those shackles and write stories full of gore and horror because that’s what I remember about Fear Street.