Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #3: Forbidden Secrets

For what I’m sure are racist reasons, the narrative surrounding the Civil War has been moving a retelling in which the Confederacy was a group of well-meaning people trying to fight for their land and states rights. When I was a kid, school taught us that narrative. It wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights! Yeah, states rights to have the right to own human beings, but sure, “states’ rights.” 

Unfortunately, this deviation from the plain truth that the people who fought for the Confederacy were fighting to own humans, pervaded my young adult fiction. I briefly discussed the Civil War in my review of Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers, wherein the topic of the Civil War is more of a brief mention. However, in the next book in the Fear Street Sagas series, #3: Forbidden Secrets, the topic of slavery and the interactions between slaves and slaveowners is an important plot point. And all this is done with any actual black people (well, except for one coded one – we’ll get to that). 

So join me as I read this book that was the product of an attempt to make the Civil War less about blatant racism and more about some vague idea of “states rights.” A book about using black culture without any black people. A book devoid of shame.

a white lady hangs out with a bleeding rose and broken doll - she doesn't have many friends
She has trouble finding a gardener who is okay with the nightly rose bleeding and won’t track the blood into the manor.

We start in Blackrose Manor with an old woman telling her story, not unlike the beginning of Titanic. Unlike the movie, the woman in this story is not telling the story to her son so he can grave rob. The woman in the book is telling her story to no one in particular and refers to all the events in the third person. Oh good. She’s a crazy lady.

The story shifts to 1861 in Whispering Oaks, Georgia. Savannah Gentry is looking over her father’s plantation and she tells us that it’s a special day – her birthday. And because it’s her birthday, her father has given all the slaves the day off. Great. He owns people as if they are sofas, but at least he gives them his daughter’s birthday off. That makes up for the whippings, I’m sure. (This article contains sarcasm, in case you’re a Texas politician who doesn’t understand satire.)

Anyway, Savannah has an older sister named Victoria, and Victoria has been picking up some “strange habits” from the slaves. Do we learn the names of any of these slaves who have been teaching Victoria these “strange habits?” The ones who get a day off to help celebrate Savannah’s birthday? No, of course not! Do we get any black people? Maybe – we’ll get to that.

Anyway, Savannah finds Victoria in the middle of one of her “rituals.” The narrator never explicitly says what Victoria’s doing, but I think we all know what she’s doing.

After Savannah gets her sister’s attention, Victoria asks her where Tyler Fier, their brother Zacariah’s new friend, is hiding.

“At the party. I came here because I wanted to talk to you.”

Victoria narrowed her brown eyes. “I don’t trust Tyler.”

“Did you think you could hurt him by killing little pigs?” Savannah asked.

“I thought I could learn something about him through performing this ritual.” Victoria smiled triumphantly. “And I did.”

Savannah fumed. “You have no right-”

“I have every right,” Victoria insisted in a rush. “I’m older than you are. I have to protect you.”

“I don’t need you to protect me from Tyler.” Savannah spun on her heel and began to walk away.

“You’re wrong!” Victoria cried. “Tyler Fier comes from a cursed family.”

“I’m worried about you. You must stay away from Tyler Fier!”

So Savannah agrees to marry Tyler.

But there’s a problem! War has broken out! A guy literally rides by on a horse and yells, “War has broken out!”

Tyler says he’s going to fight for the north. Savannah is irate because she loves owning people. Well, she’s not explicit about it, but we all know why a lily-white delicate slave owner’s daughter doesn’t want to “turn her back on the south.”

So Tyler leaves, but not before shouting, “You will regret choosing the South over me!” Great northern representation there, Stine.

Anyway, the war drags on and Victoria and Savannah find themselves eating worms because their slaves ran away. My empathy meter ends for people who own other people who were kidnapped and forced to work on land stolen from another group of people. The most I can muster for them is, “You had to eat worms, huh?”

In the middle of the night, Savannah hears some strange sounds in the doorway of the plantation they still own and live in.

Savannah’s eyes widened with recognition. “Zachariah!”

Gunpowder covered her brother’s tattered gray uniform, his face, his hair. The odor burned Savannah’s nostrils.

Zachariah’s ashen face was grim. His once-vibrant green eyes were dark and vacant. His blonde hair matted with sweat and dirt.

And blood!

He opened his mouth, opened his mouth to speak.

And deep red blood spilled from his lips.

Then she wakes up! Oh, it was all a dream! Or was it? There’s blood where he was standing! There is only one explanation: bleeding dream ghost come to provide a scare in between worm-eating and not repairing the house. But what happened to Zachariah?

Well, Tyler sends them a letter.

Dear Savannah,

Zachariah is dead. I am so sorry. We were both fighting in Gettysburg. I saw him fall. Later I learned of his death.

As I watched the soldiers bury your brother, I imagined myself in the grave beside him – dead. Never seeing you again. Never holding you again.

Forgive me, Savannah. All the deaths in the war made me realize people are more important than North or South.

Wait for me. I will come back for you.

I promise.

Tyler

I don’t know if we need that stinger after “in the grave beside him.” What else would you be in a grave? “I imagined myself in the grave beside him – doing the Charleston and exploring the wreckage of the Merrimack.”

Also, I’d say that not treating people like objects is more important than geographic location, but that’s just me. I am not letting up on this. This book is a tone-deaf encapsulation of the Boomer rewriting of history to make it more palatable for white people. 

Speaking of white people, Savannah asks Victoria to use her “dark arts” (just say “voodoo,” Stine, we know what voodoo is) to see if Tyler is okay. So, Victoria scrounges up some chicken feet and dark liquid to start the ritual. Savannah squirms when Victoria asks her to kiss the chicken feet.

How about this, girls – instead of smothering the dilapidated house in “dark liquid” and eating worms, you eat the chicken feet, pick up a hammer, and do some home repairs. Also, Savannah, you ate worms and you’re squirming at the thought of kissing chicken feet? Better yet, use magic to help their station in life? A spell for food perhaps? These idiots deserve no sympathy.

Well, instead of using magic for something practical, Victoria discovers that Tyler Fier is evil and bad luck follows his family. Cool “discovery.” Are you also going to “discover” that water is wet? I wish you would “discover” that black people are humans.

Anyway, Savannah wrestles a sheet and just like that, the war is over. I’m not sure if the sheet wrestling and the war are related, but that’s what it seems like.

And then Tyler shows up! He’s all, “Hey, I know you were on the other side, but I still want to marry you and I have a big house in the north that has a pretty cool name and I’m sure it’s better than living in this house that you don’t have the skills to maintain.”

Savannah agrees but only if Victoria comes with, to which Victoria acquiesces but not before saying

“If we go to Blackrose Manor, one of us will be buried there before the year is out!”

And we’re at the manor and we meet Mrs. Mooreland, who is weird, and a random thirteen-year-old girl named Lucy, who is not only weird but she thinks flames are pretty and she likes how they “dance.” There’s also a woman named Hattie who has a cat. She’s pleasant enough and the only black person, even if the depiction is coded. The cat is a cat and is no weirder than other cats.

Savannah doesn’t like how dark the house is and so she spends her time trying to add color to the decorations. She also spends time with Lucy, who collects weird dolls, like a proper girl in a horror novel.

Savannah spotted a doll lying on its side on top of the dresser bureau. Its profile was perfect: a small nose, a ruddy cheek, thin lips, a large, shining black eye.

I’ll pick this doll, Savannah decided. She lifted it up and gasped.

The other side of the doll’s face was smashed in. Tiny bits of jagged china formed a gaping hole where the eye had been.

“What happened to this doll?” Savannah asked Lucy.

“I killed her.”

That’s pretty good and creepy. I’ll give it up to Stine for that one.

Meanwhile, Victoria is spending her time yelling and giving Savannah hawk’s eyes and pouches full of grave dirt. Y’all, this is getting wacky. In addition to her usual spouting about evil, she reveals that Lucy may look thirteen, but she’s actually seventeen. Lucy is super weird.

The cat gets attacked and we think it’s dead, but it’s not really. Unfortunately, a horse bashes Hattie’s skull in. The only pleasant character – a helper – is killed off. She was the only character of color in a book featuring slaves and voodoo. Fantastic. 

Then Mrs. Moreland dies. Savannah finds her crumpled up in the oven. Then Savannah hears Tyler and Victoria arguing. Victoria is doing her usual ranting about evil. Tyler reveals that Victoria made the horse freak out with jimson weed, set fire to Savannah’s curtains, and poisoned the cat, and then Victoria tries to stab Tyler. Instead, Victoria falls on her own knife and dies. Despite dying, she has to let out one last uttering about evil.

“You have let the evil live.”

At Victoria’s funeral, the ropes snap as they’re lowering her coffin and she falls out. At this point, it’s all so wacky it belongs in a British comedy sketch show. I’m sure a scantily clad nurse and a policeman chased each other around the gravestones and Cyprus trees.

Anyway, it turns out Lucy killed her parents in a fire and while she’s off red-herring-ing all over the house, Tyler pushes her down some stairs and we’re finally at the big finale.

Tyler is already dead. He’s been dead since Gettysburg and he killed Savannah’s brother. You see, Victoria isn’t the only one appropriating culture – Tyler is also dabbling in voodoo! Well, he doesn’t expressly say the word “voodoo;” like Victoria, he says “the dark arts.” 

For Tyler to continue living, he has to kill humans and feed on them – a sort of zombie/vampire hybrid. A Zombire. He wanted Savannah to be the last, but she doesn’t let him consume her and throws grave dust and other magical bric-a-brac to stop him. Eventually, he just rots away, leaving Savannah to tell her story to Tyler’s skeleton, who is sitting next to her.

You can’t set a story in the 1860’s south without addressing the Civil War. You also can’t have a likable protagonist who owns people. At least, I can’t like someone like that. Maybe times have changed since this book was published (1996). However, that would mean that as recently as the ‘90s, people could read a book and forgive slavery. Unfortunately, as I wrote that sentence, I thought, “Yeah, I don’t think much has changed after all.”

There’s an interview with Octavia Butler (one of my favorite writers) regarding a trip she took to a plantation. The tour guide referred to the slaves as “helpers.” This blatant attempt to relieve white people of their sin pervades the writing of this book. Even though Savannah’s family owns slaves, it’s okay because Victoria hangs out with them? What is that? That’s not better. The ramifications of slavery still affect the black community to this day and we can’t fix the institutional racism against their community unless we teach the cruelty and dehumanization of the practice. They weren’t “helpers” – they were slaves. And it doesn’t matter if a slave owner was kind or spent time with the slaves – they still owned people and all slaveownersdeserve condemnation even to the discomfort of white people. No matter how much discomfort a white person feels, I guarantee, slaves felt worse. And slaves were people, deserving of dignity, freedom, and their own narratives.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins

Mallory watches over the Arnold twins at their brithday

My sister and I are only separated by a year and because we are so close in age, sometimes relatives gave us matching gifts, particularly for Christmas. One year we each received a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers stuffed doll, and in a different year, we received matching baskets of goodies. We even had matching furry white coats that made us look like Frosty the Snowman’s illegitimate children with a She-bear. 

However, not all the gifts were so innocuous. One year, my grandmother paid someone in her retirement community to paint our faces on sweatshirts – and she gave him our school pictures. And not just any school picture – the school picture in which I braided my hair into tight curls and wore a cowboy-style shirt with fringe. Utterly mortifying. If only I had the sense of humor I have now. I’d save the sweatshirt and eventually turn it into a throw pillow. 

I imagine this problem would be worse for twins. Not the horrifying picture of my own painted, curled visage smiling awkwardly from my chest – but the identical gifts. It seems to imply that you’re not two separate people but one duplex of a person.

In The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins, the BSC has a new client who is aggravating the club, but Mallory is up to the challenge. Or is she? (Of course, she is, but let’s pretend to have some suspense, huh? It’s a kids’ book from 1989, calm down, dude. Sheesh.)

Mallory watches over an identical set of twins at their birthday party
What if the secret is that they’re not even twins, but Mrs. Arnold told them they were twins so she could have matching kids?

Mallory Pike, the ginger-est, blindest, and braces-ist of the Baby-Sitters Club, wants to get her ears pierced. This seemed to be a common plot point of late-’80s to early-’90s culture. The sheer act of getting your ears pierced seemed to signal some serious maturing for parents. There’s an episode of Full House wherein Danny Tanner doesn’t want her daughter, Stephanie Tanner, to get her ears pierced, so she lets Kimmy Gibbler do it and it gets infected. And there’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gets angry after Bart gets an earring. Now, as I am doing a rewatch of every Degrassi episode, Ellie comes in with holes all over her body and Sean has both his ears pierced. I remember getting my ears pierced when I was, like, five at the Claire’s. It seems that ear piercing is not the direct stripper pole straight to hell after all.

But I digress. Mallory wants pierced ears and her parents think she’s too young. Or, she assumes her parents won’t allow pierced ears – she hasn’t asked them.

After the obligatory pages describing each babysitter (including referring to Claudia as “exotic” with “almond-shaped eyes” – oof), and pages explaining how the club works, we have a meeting. And surprise! Logan is there. It makes the girls nervous as if they’ve never seen Logan before. I feel like he’s been around enough that they should be used to having him there. I remember the boys I was friends with in middle school – at some point, they’re barely visible.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arnold, the mother of twin girls, Carolyn and Marilyn, needs a steady sitter while she works on a fundraising campaign for Stoneybrook Elementary. Of course, our favorite redhead takes the job.

Mallory arrives at the Arnold household and the twins are dressed in identical outfits – down to the haircuts. They are wearing bracelets with their names on them, but the bracelets match (except the name printed on them). Mrs. Arnold herself is quite a fussy woman, wearing matching bows in her hair, shirt, belt, and shoes. There will be no pattern mixing in her house!

When Mrs. Arnold leaves, Mallory offers the girls her Kid-Kit. Carolyn chooses to play with some puzzles while Marilyn chooses some books, including a book called Baby Island, which is real and not just a bad sitcom with one season from the ‘90s.

Mallory remarks that the twins are cute and “look like bookends.” This prompts the twins to speak to each other in their “twin language,” which is just nonsense and they try to trick Mallory by removing their name bracelets. However, it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano and Mallory is finally able to tell which one is Marilyn until the end of her job.

It’s another day and Mallory is back at the Arnold residence. This time, Mallory plays hide-and-seek with the girls. When Mallory finds one, she asks for a snack. Mallory obliges and goes to search for the other one. She finds one and Marilyn-or-Carolyn asks for a snack. Mallory obliges again and asks where the other one is. It seems she either hid again or is still hiding. Mallory finds another one and they ask for a snack. Mallory declines.

“There are two of you and I gave out two snacks. That’s it. No more.”

“No more? No fair!”

“It’s very fair. Two twins, two snacks. I think you guys just fooled yourselves.”

Then they go into their twin language. When it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano, Carolyn reads a Paddington book and they both ignore Mallory until their mother comes home.

Now it’s time for a different sitter to confront the Arnold twins – Claudia. This time, Mrs. Arnold has some special instructions.

“Marilyn’s piano lesson is at eleven-thirty,” Mrs. Arnold told Claud. “Her carpool will arrive at eleven o’clock. She’s going to be in a recital next week, and today is a special rehearsal and lesson. It’ll last an hour and a half. She’ll be dropped off here around one-thirty. While Mariyln’s gone, Carolyn should work on her project for the science fair. Carolyn just loves science, don’t you, dear?”

Claudia can’t tell the difference between the twins, but one of them leaves with the carpool. A few moments later, Claudia gets a phone call. It’s the music teacher and she has “a very tone-deaf Arnold twin” and asks if Claudia can get the other one there. Claudia can’t drive, so Carolyn just has to stay there until the carpool can bring her back.

When Mrs. Arnold comes back, she scolds the girls for playing a prank on their sitter, but she also scolds Claudia and Claudia has to go without pay. Okay, Mrs. Arnold, it was your horrid twins who played a prank – it wasn’t Claudia’s fault. You should have to pay her double. 

The BSC has a meeting, but before they can discuss the twins, Mallory obsesses over everyone’s clothes. Claudia dressed surprisingly toned down – a t-shirt she painted herself and come capris. Dawn is wearing an oversized blue shirt and if a girl from the ‘80s thinks it’s oversized, it must be able to house a small family and guinea pig. Mary Anne is the one whose outfit is, well, quote-worthy.

Mary Anne was wearing a short plum-colored skirt over a plum-and-white-striped body suit. The legs of the body suit stopped just above her ankles, and she’d tucked the bottoms into her socks. I don’t know where her shoes were. She’d taken them off. The neat thing about her outfit was that she was wearing white suspenders with her skirt. 

So a mime, basically. 

After that, they talk about the Arnolds, but nothing that we didn’t already know. They speak in a twin language. They look identical. But Carolyn likes science and Marilyn plays the piano, so they’re not completely the same.

Another day, another adventure with the Arnold twins. This time, whenever the twins speak in their twin language, Mallory responds with Pig Latin, which confounds the twins. Their minds are blown. Mallory promises to teach them if they stop speaking their twin language around her and put their name bracelets on – properly. They strike a deal.

In a moment of verisimilitude, the twins lament that no one can tell them apart. They show Mallory their one key difference: Carolyn has a mole under her left eye. Marilyn’s mole under her right eye. 

At the end of the sitting job, Mrs. Arnold asks if the BSC would be willing to watch over the twins’ birthday party. Mallory promises to bring it up at the next meeting. As she’s leaving, the girls call “Ood-gay eye-bay!” instead of their twin language, and Mallory is pleased with herself.

We switch to Kristy watching over her siblings Karen, David Michael, and Andrew. The chapter starts with a long explanation of what an estate sale is because we couldn’t leave it at “Mrs. Thomas and Watson are gone.” They’re going to an estate sale! Promise! Just a plain ol’ estate sale. What is an estate sale? Let me tell you in excruciating detail. I know all about those sales because I’m going to one. I’m not going to a secret island where we hunt the poors for sport! I’m going to an estate sale, which is something I know all about.

Karen and David Michael invite the Papadakis kids over. Meanwhile, Andrew needs to learn lines for a school play about a circus. However, Andrew doesn’t want to be in this play.

“But I don’t want to be in it,” replied Andrew, and his lower lip began to quiver. “I don’t want everyone looking at me and listening to me.”

“But you know what they’ll probably be thinking while you’re doing that?”

“What?”

“They’ll probably be thinking, What a good bear that Andrew makes. He knows his lines so well. I bet he worked very hard.”

“What if I forget my lines? Then what will they be thinking?”

“They’ll be thinking, Oh, too bad. He forgot his lines. Well, that happens sometimes. He still looks like a very nice, smart boy.”

Sure, Kristy. That’s what they’ll be saying. If you wanted to motivate him, you should have told him the truth: if he remembers his lines and just says them, the second he’s done, they’ll pay attention to the next kid; if he forgets his lines, they’ll remember him and use him as an example of why you should learn your damn lines.

While Andrew works on learning his lines, David Michael reads “Basho-Man” comics with Linny Papadakis. I think it’s lovely that the kids are getting into a comic book series about an Edo period Japanese haiku poet. Instead of reading poetry, which I’m assuming these comics are about, Karen and Hannie dress up identically and say they’re twins because the kids in this town are suspiciously in tune with the A storyline. 

As for the party, of course, the BSC helps with the Arnold twins’ birthday. Although, I guess it’s just Mary Anne, Dawn, and Mallory. When Mallory discovered the mole difference, she started noticing other differences between the twins. Marilyn’s nose is rounder and Carolyn’s cheeks are fuller. She also noticed the personality differences between the two. 

After the games, they open presents and every gift the twins receive comes in a pair. A pair of Raggedy Ann dolls. A pair of stuffed elephants. A pair of the complete second season of Designing Women on DVD. The girls are not particularly happy. That is until they get to Mallory’s gifts.

They were not the same size or shape. They were wrapped in different paper. The twins looked intrigued.

“Is this a mistake?” asked Carolyn.

“Who are they from?” asked Marilyn.

“Me,” I replied. “Go on. Open them.”

So they did. I’d picked out a tiny pin in the shape of a piano for Marilyn, and a book of simple science experiments for Carolyn.

“Boy, thanks!” cried the girls enthusiastically. They absolutely beamed at me.

But the twins are only allowed to be individuals momentarily because the cake has their identical faces on it and they blow out the identical candles at the same time. 

The next time Mallory sits for the twins, they show her some of the other gifts they received. Despite their sets of identical dollhouses, socks, and jumping sticks (I didn’t make up that last one), their favorite gifts were the ones from Mallory because they were different.

Mallory tells them about her triplet brothers. She says that they don’t dress the same, they act differently, and they don’t get three copies of everything. Mallory apologizes for calling the twins cute bookends when they met. The twins apologize for antagonizing Mallory and the other sitters. 

The twins, with the support of Mallory, speak to their mother when she gets home.

“Different,” spoke up Marilyn. “But we look alike and dress alike, so everyone treats us like one person – the same person.”

“And we aren’t one person, Mommy!” said Carolyn desperately. “We’re two. Only no one knows it. At school, the kids call both of us ‘Marilyn-or-Carolyn.”

I cringed, remembering that that was how I used to think of the girls.

“We hate it!” added Marilyn.

“The girls do look sweet in their matching outfits,” I said, “but,” I added quickly as Carolyn poked me in the ribs, “they’ve told me they think they’re old enough to choose their own clothes. They have different tastes.”

“If we went to school looking different,” said Marilyn, “maybe the kids would get to know who we are.”

Their mother agrees to let them use their birthday money to get new clothes and haircuts. Before we get to the shopping montage, bolstered by the twins’ success, Mallory has to speak with her parents.

After a lengthy explanation of negotiation, Mallory asks for a new wardrobe, her ears pierced, a new haircut, and contact lenses. They say she’s not old enough for contacts and they don’t have enough money for a new wardrobe (she didn’t really want those two – they were tokens for negotiation). She can get her ears pierced as long as she pays for it herself and she does the aftercare so they don’t get infected. She can get her hair cut as long as she doesn’t get a “green mohawk” and she has to go to a “salon downtown.” A green mohawk can be adorable, but I guess I’m biased as a member of the blue hair club.

We finally get our shopping montage with the twins and Mallory. They talk about how expensive clothes are and I wondered why they didn’t go to an outlet mall. Too good to be a Maxxinista?

Mallory buys matching book earrings for her and Jessi. I guess we’re not done with the identical gift motif. In the end, the girls show off their new looks to their mother, who is surprised but open-minded.

A few days later, Mallory is back at the mall with the rest of the BSC. Not only is Mallory going to get her ears pierced, but Jessi is going to get pierced ears also, Claudia is getting a third hole, and Dawn is getting a second hole. The lady at Claire’s just puts them on a lazy Susan and shoots their ears as they spin around in a circle. Just kidding. She does it normally. And the book doesn’t explicitly say it’s a Claire’s, but we all know it’s a Claire’s.  So in the end, both the Arnold twins and Mallory get to show off more of their individuality. Every kid has to go through this – when you have to convince your parents to give up some of their autonomy so you can pick out what you want. Even though every kid can relate on some level, being twins exacerbates the situation. If every Christmas my sister and I got the same gifts, I’d go insane also. Especially since her gifts were more of the Barbie variety and all I wanted were books about hostage-level parental negotiations and estate sales.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: A Shocker on Shock Street

a giant grasshopper on a suburban street

I love a good dark ride. Strap me into that little car and guide me through that pretzel-shaped track, thank you very much. And it doesn’t have to be the level of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Give me that State Fair cheese ride – either a tunnel of love or a haunted ride featuring copyrighted characters with modified names so no one gets sued. 

Speaking of haunted rides, in A Shocker on Shock Street, two kids go on a prototype horror movie ride with all their favorite horror movie monsters. This sounds right up my alley – rides and horror movies. But by the end of the book, I was annoyed. It’s going to be one of those reviews. 

Burt I. Gordon is suing…

Erin and her best friend Marty are watching the sixth installment from the Shocker on Shock Street (minus the “A” from the book’s title) cinematic universe. Erin’s father owns the theater and has worked on the Fantasy Films Studio Tour making animatronics. Unfortunately, when the kids go to see him, he has some bad news.

Not really. It was a gag! He has some good news! However, there is some bad news – the whole book is going to be like this.

Anyway, Erin’s father says that he’s been working on the new Shocker Studio Tour and he wants the kids to test out the ride before they open to the public. I’m sure nothing crazy will happen and the book will just end with their pointed yet helpful criticism.

On the way to the ride, Marty pretends to bite Erin. Totally normal. Yep. There’s nothing weird or off-putting about that.

They arrive and see a row of tramcars and a tour guide named Linda. The kids ride in the front and Linda explains one of the features of the ride: the Shocker Stun Ray Blaster, which can “freeze a monster in its tracks from twenty feet.” Marty aims the gun at Linda and fires – and she freezes.

“Linda! Linda!” I screamed.

Marty’s mouth dropped open. He let out a choked gurgle.

I turned to Dad. To my surprise, he was laughing.

“Dad – she’s – she’s frozen!” I cried. But when I turned back to Linda, she had a big smile on her face, too.

It took us both a while, but we soon realized the whole thing was a joke.

“That’s the first shock on the Shocker tour,” Linda announced, lowering the red blaster. She put a hand on Marty’s shoulder. “I think I really shocked you, Marty!”

“No way!” Marty insisted.

Cool shock. 

Anyway, the tram moves on its own and Linda doesn’t go with them, so she’s gone forever and inconsequential to the plot. This isn’t a joke. She’s gone now. No more Linda. She was there to explain something that the Dad could have and do that stupid freezing thing. 

The first stop is a Haunted House. The tram barrels into the house and there are some spooky house shenanigans. Erin looks around and Marty is gone!

Not really – it’s just really dark. Seriously. She couldn’t see him in the dark. 

A skeleton talks to them as the tram takes off. Erin equates the ride to a rollercoaster, which makes me wonder if they’re wearing seat belts and if this ride should have shoulder harnesses. 

Then some monsters climb on top of the tram, but they’re just characters from the Shocker movies and this is the photo op part of the ride. This is a strange thing to put in the ride. I don’t mean that it’s weird to have a photo op on the ride – this sort of thing would be great at the end. I mean it’s weird to do it in the middle of a ride. It hurts the momentum and will destroy the ride capacity. Already there are clear problems with this ride. And I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Capacity and Safety Expert by a panel of me.

The tram takes off as the kids wonder why they didn’t see any zippers or seams on the costumes of the monsters during the photo op. 

Later, worms crawl on them and they go through a spiderweb. How Erin’s father thought this would be great for a ride, I have no idea. The kids are convinced they are robots, which makes even less sense. The cost associated with robotic worms and spiders crawling over people would be astronomical. And not just with development – people would take these things or accidentally destroy them. I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Development and Maintenance Cost Expert by a panel of my sister’s dog.

Anyway, Marty disappears again during the cave sequence.

Not really, of course, but he does get out of the tram. Before every ride I’ve been on, they tell you in at least three different languages to stay inside the car and keep your hands, legs, and feet inside the car. In fact, because of the safety measures like seat belts and harnesses, you can’t even get out. Somehow, this tram allows people to get out. In fact, it’s encouraged! Because the kids get out, confront a giant grasshopper (the one on the cover, I’m assuming), shoot it with the blaster, and continue on the ride on foot.

Marty pretends to be caught by something and yells, “APRIL FOOLS!” I didn’t know it was April Fools Day and the kids just continue to a creepy street that is home to the Mad Mangler. They don’t encounter the Mad Mangler, but they do end up in a cemetery and fall into some graves. 

Again, how would this ride work with actual riders? You can’t have them falling into holes – you have to account for people in wheelchairs and people who have limited mobility. And this ride is days from opening? The ride designers are either blatantly neglecting the ADA or are bad at their jobs. And I should know – I was voted Miss Accessibility by a panel of imaginary experts.

Just when you think the ride couldn’t be even more of a logistical nightmare, Something pulls the kids out of the graves. Unfortunately, they are not there to help the kids. Erin and Marty narrowly escape their captors. Again, if this were a ride, there is no way you can allow people to be touched by actors.

Or maybe there’s another explanation. Marty suggests that the animatronics have gone haywire, not unlike what happened to the Simpsons at Itchy & Scratchy Land.

The kids end up in quicksand, an issue I thought would be a bigger problem in my adult life. Luckily, Wolf Girl shows up and saves them. However, she growls at the children, even as the children ask for help.

“That’s enough!” I shrieked. “Stop the act! Stop it! Stop it!”

I was so angry, so furious – I reached up with both hands. I grabbed the fur on the sides of Wolf Girl’s mask.

And I tugged the mask with all my strength.

Tugged. Tugged with both hands as hard as I could.

And felt real fur. And warm skin.

It wasn’t a mask.

The kids run away and climb up a wall. If the ride has come to life, that would explain all the weird things happening. It’s not that the designers are negligent – it’s that the ride has come to life and they can’t get the kids out.

They run away and see the tram zoom past them, but Erin and Marty jump on it. The kids aren’t in the clear yet, however. They don’t know where the tram is taking them. They jump off the tram just before it careens into the wall, and they are surrounded by gray faces that are closing in on them.

And then I heard a man’s voice, shouting over the wind: “Cut! Print that one! Good scene, everyone!”

It was just a movie, huh? They were filming the kids’ reactions, huh? And now it’s time to wrap up. And the kids have to just find Erin’s dad, who’s behind this door, huh?

Well, Marty runs through the door.

And falls while Erin has a meltdown.

Jared Curtis, one of the studio engineers, came running into The House of Shocks. “Mr. Wright, what happened to your two kid robots?” he demanded.

Mr. Wright sighed again. “Programming problems,” he muttered.

He pointed to the Erin robot, frozen in place on her knees beside the Marty robot. “It had to shut the girl off. Her memory chip must be bad. The Erin robot was supposed to think of me as her father. But just now, she didn’t recognize me.”

“And what about the Marty robot?” Jared asked.

“It’s totally down,” Mr. Wright replied. “I think the electrical system shorted out.”

“What a shame,” Jared said, bending to roll the Marty robot over. He pulled up the T-shirt and fiddled with some dials on the back. “Hey, Mr. Wright, it was a great idea to make robot kids to test the park. I think we can fix them.”

Jared opened up a panel on Marty’s back and squinted at the red and green wires. “All the other creatures, and monsters, and robots worked perfectly. Not a single bug.”

Are you kidding me? The kids were robots? And the Dad character didn’t just program both of them his kids and just made one some kind of electric orphan? What would be the benefit?

And, even worse, this is how the ride is supposed to go? It completely disregards the ADA, it’s dangerous, there’s no clear path, the ride capacity is shit, there’s no flow. Imagineers they are not. 

Honestly, I was fine with the ride going haywire and the kids being trapped, but I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to think that a studio would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into realistic animatronics that go with the movies and take photos for a ride with such a low ride capacity that is bound to be the subject of a lawsuit. 

And remember – this ride was days away from opening. There was no oversight? No lawyers running in yelling, “You can’t open this ride!” After years of development and $150 million, no one thought everything about this was a terrible idea? I’ve done school projects with more planning. This book should be up my alley – horror movies, dark rides, and haunted houses – but it’s just too stupid. Universal Monsters, the obvious real-world allusion to the Shock Street movies, can be scary and work as an attraction. The problem lies in the overreliance on the twist ending, especially when it comes at the expense of a coherent story.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Haunted Mask

The year 2020 was tough on everyone for many different reasons. One of the biggest casualties for me was Halloween. Sure, the pop-up stores in vacant K-Marts still managed to appear without warning, but their merchandise was lacking. The costumes and the pop culture apparel were dusty. The decorations were from last year. The displays were noticeably absent. And who could blame them? 2020’s Halloween was nonexistent for those of us who wanted to be responsible and keep others safe. Sure, we knew people who still went to Halloween parties because their kids were whining only to catch Covid. (I say “knew” because I’m not going back to my waxer who did exactly that. She told me after I said I was afraid of getting Covid and that’s why I was basically Robin Williams in Jumanji.) Most of us didn’t buy candy, we didn’t decorate our lawns, and we kept our porch lights off. We lost something.

This year’s Halloween might not be the same as our halcyon days before the pandemic, especially if those anti-vaxxers keep holding us back, but there might be some sense of normalcy for the spooky time of year. At least, that’s what I hope. Trick-or-treating has been on the decline, but maybe I can fall into a nostalgia trip with a rereading of a classic Goosebumps book: The Haunted Mask. So let’s remember a time when kids wandered around on the night of October 31st without parents. A time when you wore a terrible mask that obstructed your view and neighbors gave out homemade cookies that may or may not have meth in them.

Let’s be honest: you’d be scared if some kid with this mask growled at you. Don’t lie.

Our protagonist, Carly Beth, is a real scaredy-cat. For some reason, that seems to bother her friends, Chuck, Steve, and Sabrina. They put a worm in her sandwich. She gets scared, which is understandable, both for her and the worm, and her “friends” make fun of her. For not wanting to eat a worm. How unreasonable of her not to want to eat a worm in her PB&J. Right away we have a Goosebumps trope – terrible non-friends. Our schools are overcrowded. You’d think kids could find friends who are actually nice, but I digress.

Carly Beth goes home humiliated and she’s greeted with a plaster-of-Paris bust of herself, which also scares her.

“It’s just creepy, that’s all,” Carly Beth said. She forced herself to look away from the replica of herself, and saw that her mother’s smile had faded.

Mrs. Caldwell looked hurt. “Don’t you like it?”

“Yeah. Sure. It’s really good, Mom,” Carly Beth answered quickly. “But, I mean, why on earth did you make it?”

“Because I love you,” Mrs. Caldwell replied curtly. “Why else? Honestly, Carly Beth, you have the strangest reactions to things. I worked really hard on this sculpture. I thought-”

“I’m sorry, Mom. I like it. Really, I do,” Carly Beth insisted. “It was just a surprise, that’s all. It’s great. It looks just like me. I-I had a bad day, that’s all.”

Carly Beth took another long look at the sculpture. Its brown eyes – her brown eyes – stared back at her. The brown hair shimmered in the afternoon sunlight through the window.

It smiled at me! Carly Beth thought, her mouth dropped open. I saw it! I just saw it smile!

No. It had to be a trick of the light.

Guilt trip much, Mom? Also, weird thing to do, Mom. But it is sweet that she thought of her daughter. It’s like British candy – weird and sweet.

Carly Beth goes up to her room to inspect her duck costume for Halloween, but it springs into motion! It’s alive! 

But don’t worry. It’s just her little brother, Noah, who also reminds her that she’s a scaredy-cat and then asks for her costume. Cool family, Carly Beth. Do you also have a father who likes to pretend to murder you every night? An uncle who leaves threatening notes in your mailbox?

The next day is the school’s Science Fair and everyone is buzzing about Martin Goodman’s project since he’s the school genius. He built a computer from scratch, which is, apparently, impressive. I’ve built a computer or two in my lifetime. It’s really a matter of buying the parts online and making sure to wear shoes so you don’t fry the motherboard with static electricity. And using the thermal paste properly. And not pressing down too hard on the CPU. Maybe it’s more complicated than I originally thought, but a Science Fair is for science and experiments. What is the variable for building a computer? “I tested building a computer and my variable was not building a computer. Building a computer allowed me to play The 7th Guest, and not building a computer made me play Candyland with my little brother. I came to the conclusion that I should build a computer and lock my little brother in the closet.”

Carly Beth and Sabrina built a model of the solar system. What is with these Science Fair projects? I thought they had to follow the Scientific Method? Which step in the Scientific Method is “go to Michaels and buy balls and paint?”

Anyway, Steve yells, “Where is my tarantula?” and sends the auditorium into a panic. Guess who thinks a tarantula is on them? Additionally, guess who pinched the aforementioned person to make them think that a tarantula is on them? Did you answer “Carly Beth” and “Carly Beth’s terrible friends?” Then you’ve won the book.

Not only do Carly Beth’s terrible friends laugh, but the other kids as well as the teachers laugh at her. What is with this town? Carly Beth should pack her bags and move away the second she graduates and never look back. This is why I have no sympathy when people lament about how small towns are dying. Small towns are filled with teachers who will willingly laugh at their students, homophobes, people afraid of minorities, men who keep women in their basements, and cults. I guess some of those are worse than others.

Carly Beth finally decides to give them a “good scare” and she needs a scarier costume than a duck. 

What’s really scary are her ideas on transgender people and how she doesn’t consider them people. Also, stop giving that man money.

She decides to go to the Halloween store that is open late on Halloween. To her surprise, they are not open! Did they advertise that they’re open late on Halloween and then close at six? It doesn’t matter, because this is a Goosebumps book, and she’s going to get into that store to further the plot no matter what.

The shop owner allows her in, but somehow he gets distracted and Carly Beth wanders into the back room, where she finds the perfect mask.

It had a bulging, bald head. Its skin was a putrid yellow-green. Its enormous, sunken eyes were an eerie orange and seemed to glow. It had a broad, flat nose, smashed in like a skeleton’s nose. The dark-lipped mouth gaped wide, revealing jagged animal fangs.

The shopkeeper returns and says that those masks aren’t for sale. However, Carly Beth promises to promote his shop on her internet TV show, so the shop owner gives her the mask and she rushes home to scare her brother Spencer, er, her little brother, who is named Noah. Excuse me. I think I’m getting some properties mixed up.

Carly Beth is finally ready for Halloween. She dons on her new mask and takes the bust her mother made and secures it to a broomstick. As she is heading over to her friend/bully-enabler Sabrina’s house, she spots Chuck and Steve. It’s time for revenge! She hides behind a bush and jumps out to scare them!

But it’s not Chuck and Steve. It’s just some random kids. Their mother runs over and says that Carly Beth should be ashamed of herself for scaring children on a holiday centered around scaring people. Carly Beth growls at the mother in a deep voice that is certainly not Carly Beth’s, prompting the mother to go full Karen and ask for Carly Beth’s manager/parents.

I’ll chew her to bits! I’ll tear her skin off of her bones! Furious thoughts raged through Carly Beth’s mind.

She sensed her muscles, crouched low, and prepared to pounce.

“Let’s go, Mom.”

“Yeah. Let’s go. She’s crazy!”

Yeah. I’m crazy. Crazy, crazy, CRAZY. The word repeated, roaring through Carly Beth’s mind. The mask grew hotter, tighter.

The woman gave Carly Beth one last cold stare. Then she turned and led the two boys down the driveway.

Carly Beth started after them, panting loudly. She had a strong urge to chase after them – to really scare them!

But a loud cry made her stop and spin around.

Sabrina stood on the front stoop, leaning on the storm door, her mouth open in a wide O of surprise. “Who’s there?” she cried, squinting into the darkness.

Carly Beth says that it’s her and she and Sabrina gush over the scariness of the mask before leaving to trick-or-treat. As they’re walking down the street, Sabrina asks how the mask is so warm and if Carly Beth is sweating underneath it. Carly Beth freaks out, yells at Sabrina, and wraps her hands around her friend’s throat.

Carly Beth quickly pulls away and pretends that it’s a joke. Again, Stine and his “great” jokes that involve assault. Don’t go to a stand-up show if this guy is the host. 

It’s not long until Carly Beth unleashes her inner demon again. However, this time, she runs away from Sabrina and goes full feral animal on the neighborhood. She scares kids and steals their candy. She runs around while waving the bust of her head around. Finally, she sees the actual Chuck and Steve and decides to mix it up a bit.

Carly Beth waved the broomstick. She pointed up to the head. “That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she told them. Her voice was a deep, throaty rasp.

“Huh?” Both boys gazed up at it uncertainly.

“That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she repeated slowly, waving it toward them. The painted eyes of the sculpted face appeared to glare down at them. “Poor Carly Beth didn’t want to give up her head tonight. But I took it anyway.”

And all three of them saw the lips move. And heard the dry, crackling sound.

All three of them saw the dark lips squeeze together, then part.

All three of them saw the bobbing head form the silent words: “Help me. Help me.”

Carly Beth hurls the bust to the ground. I would too! However, unlike me, Carly Beth runs off to continue her night of unleashed Halloween chaos and candy thievery.

Eventually, Sabrina finds her and the girls go back to Sabrina’s house. Carly Beth scared Chuck and Steve and she got to wreak havoc on this town. It’s time to take off the mask and settle in for the night.

But Carly Beth can’t get the mask off. There is no line where the mask starts. The mask has become Carly Beth’s face! Instead of running around town, Carly Beth runs to the store where she bought the mask. To her surprise, it’s closed! The store that was closed earlier that day is still closed! The audacity of some places!

Once again, the owner is there anyway. But he can’t take off the mask! The only way to remove the mask is through “a symbol of love.” 

Carly Beth figures out that the bust her mother made is a true act of love, but she threw the bust on the ground when it started talking. Luckily, the bust is still near the place she threw it, but not before we have pages of Carly Beth running. 

The mask comes off and Carly Beth goes home. Our protagonist spends the whole book wishing she was someone else and literally puts on a mask to become this new person. When that new person is a monster who causes distress and chaos, she finally learns that she doesn’t need to be a new person. What she needs is what she already has – the love of a parent who does nice things like turn you into art.

Then her brother puts on the mask and it’s like, great, now the mother has to make another bust.

The Haunted Mask is a classic for a good reason. The R. L. Stine formula works well here. We have a troubled kid with terrible friends and a way for them to overcome the defect that society (or their terrible friends) has placed on them. The kid has a little adventure. They finally learn that just because society says that a personality trait a defect, doesn’t mean that it is actually a defect or that is the only facet of life. And then a silly twist at the end.

While The Haunted Mask is a great Goosebumps book, it does have some problems. Carly Beth doesn’t embrace her timid nature, and her timid nature doesn’t help her in any way, and Sabrina, Chuck, and Steve aren’t admonished for treating their friend poorly. It’s also a bit repetitive. There are pages and pages of running. There’s a lot of running. Running to scare kids. Running to get candy. Running to find talking plaster-of-Paris busts. Clearly, the Stine formula isn’t the only reason why this book is a classic.

The other reason is the striking artwork on the cover by Tim Jacobus. The book covers are usually fantastic, but The Haunted Mask is something special. It’s memorable and scary. There are little details like the stream of saliva and the way the skin sits on the bones in the forehead that makes the mask look alive. It’s an unforgettable image, especially for a child wandering through the Scholastic Book Fair. This is truly one of my favorite Goosebumps book covers and it works in concert with the story to create something iconic.

I don’t know what Halloween will look like this year, but I hope it’s better than last year’s. Those of us who tried to look out for others and love spooky stuff deserve an outlet, whether that be a costume party or a good old Haunted House. Whatever you do, get the vaccine, stay safe, and have a Happy Halloween!

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #20: Kristy and the Walking Disaster

I do not come from a sports family. I had no interest and actively hated (and still hate) physical activity. My mother climbed our cherry trees to get the best fruits, but that’s about it. My father, the stereotypical member of the family to love sports, had even less interest than myself. My sister was the closest to a sports fan. And by sports, I mean sports entertainment. She even wanted to be a wrestler when she grew up. She’s a stand-up comedian, so she just made a lateral move. Luckily for me, because my family doesn’t care much for sports or forcing children into activities, I never joined a Little League team. My parents never made my sister or me join anything, and for that, I am grateful.

Kristy starts a Little League team in Kristy and the Walking Disaster, and this book dives into a world I never experienced. It also affirms why I don’t like sports, so this book is both an exploration and an affirmation! It’s like a self-help book for people who don’t like sports, but like Scholastic Book Fairs.

If you have a cursory knowledge of the kids of Stoneybrook, you know who the walking disaster is. However, I would be surprised if the walking disaster turned out to be the friends we made along the way.

The book starts a BSC meeting and the usual description of each and every BSC member. Kristy even tells the reader, “I am the president and I must look like I mean business.” After four years of the indignity of the Tr*mp Crime Family, I don’t think that’s true anymore. 

We get our lengthy explanation on club procedures, Kid-Kits, and the BSC notebook. All standard opening chapter stuff. Finally, the BSC starts their meeting and they get a call from the Radowsky family. Kristy takes the job while calling Jackie a “walking disaster.” Honestly, it’s a bit harsh, and even if the kid is accident-prone, he’s still one of the more interesting kids in Stoneybrook.

That Saturday, Kristy is watching a few of the neighborhood kids play softball. 

Hannie really couldn’t hit. She never connected with the ball. Max dropped or missed every ball he tried to catch. David Michael was simply a klutz. He tripped over his feet, the bat, even the ball, and no matter how he concentrated, he somehow never did anything right, except pitch. Karen wasn’t a bad hitter. And Andrew might have been a good catcher if he weren’t so little, but he’s only four, so balls went sailing over him right and left, even when he stretched for him. Amanda and Linnie were no better than the others.

Yeah, how dare these kids play softball if they’re so terrible! Who cares if they’re four, when Joe DiMaggio was four, he had two World Series wins and had married and divorced Marilyn Monroe!

She gathers up the kids and gives them some pointers because these kids will never get to Koshien if they don’t get their shit together. Some of the kids express an interest in joining a team and David Michael informs Kristy of a kid in the neighborhood named Bart Taylor who coaches Bart’s Bashers. For those of you familiar with the BSC, that name should ring a bell. 

Anyway, Kristy goes to talk to Bart Taylor and she freaks.

Why did I feel so nervous? I’ve talked to boys before. I’ve been to dances with boys. I’ve been to parties with boys. But none of them looked at me the way Bart was looking at me just then – as if standing on the sidewalk was a glamorous movie star instead of plain old me, Kristy Thomas. And, to be honest, none of them had been quite as cute as Bart. They didn’t have his crooked smile or his deep, deep brown eyes, or his even, straight perfect nose, or his hair that looked like it might have been styled at one of those hair places for guys – or not. I think it’s a good sign if you can’t tell.

Do you mean a “barbershop,” Kristy? Since this is the eighth grade, I’m assuming she means “Fantastic Sams.”

Anyway, she tries to get six kids on Bart’s team, but he won’t because he can’t handle that many kids. It will become apparent that he can’t even handle the kids he currently has, but for right now, Kristy walks away having made two decisions – she’s going to start a softball team and she has a crush on Bart Taylor. 

So Mary Anne babysits for the Perkins’s and Jamie Newton and Nina Marshall show up. Gabbers sells Jamie four-hundred dollar water. They also end up playing softball outside, because the kids in Stoneybrook are psychically linked, and Myriah knows a lot about playing. Mary Anne tells her about Kristy’s softball team, making Myriah the first competent player on the team. 

Kristy sits for the Radowskys. Jackie drops pink lemonade while they are preparing a birthday party for the dog. Jackie’s older brothers are in Little League and that prompts them to play softball. His older brothers chastise Jackie for not playing perfectly. Even Kristy thinks about how Jackie is a worse player than David Michael. However, even though she’s awfully judgmental about a seven-year-old’s sports capabilities, Kristy still invites him to join her softball team, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a title.

Later that night, Kristy receives a bunch of phone calls about her team, mostly kids asking to join. Kristy ends with a list of twenty kids, their ages, and their problems, which range from “Gabbie Perkins – 2½ – doesn’t understand the game yet” to “Myriah Perkins – 5 – ?(probably just needs work)” and “David Michael Thomas – 7 – a klutz.” There are even a few kids Kristy hasn’t met yet – the Kuhns. That’s the suburbs for you – just kids and softball teams sprouting like Spirit Halloween Stores in abandoned Circuit Citys in October. 

Watson and Kristy determine that the team is meant “to coach kids who wanted to improve their playing skills, but more importantly, just to have fun.” Kristy also wonders if Bart thinks she’s cute. In fact, she writes it down on her list of considerations for the team. 

On the first day of practice, all twenty kids show up. Kristy is going to coach them for a while and then they’ll play a short game. She also reminds everyone that Matt Braddock is a fantastic player but he’s deaf so the kids can’t just yell stuff at him. 

Before they finally play a game, Mallory, who is there with Dawn and some other parents for moral support, suggests they come up with a name, and Jackie yells, “How about Kristy’s Crushers?”

“And we could spell ‘Crushers’ with a ‘K’,” added Margo Pike. “You know, to go with Kristy. Kristy’s Krushers.”

“No!” cried Karen. “That’s wrong. That’s not how you spell ‘crushers.’ You spell ‘crushers’ with a ‘C’!” (Karen takes her spelling very seriously.)

But she was voted down. Every other kid liked “Kristy’s Krushers-with-a’ K.’”

Dammit, Karen, lighten up. It’s a softball team not a United Nations Treaty. As long as it’s not “Kristy’s Kool Krushers,” I’m sure it will be fine. 

Also, Google thinks it should be “Kristy’s Krushers” also.

At the end of their first game, Linny calls Kristy, “Coach,” giving Kristy a confidence boost, and she declares the practice a complete success. 

While Claudia and Mallory are sitting for the Pikes, the triplets, who are in Little League, propose a game between the Little Leaguers and the Krushers. Matt Braddock is also there, so he is on the Krusher’s side. Matt is very good, as expected, and Nicky has a surprisingly sweet moment with his little sister wherein he encourages her like a proper teammate. In the end, the triplets win, of course, but the Krushers never give up and the triplets congratulate them on the game graciously. 

At the next practice, there’s a bunch of baseball stuff. Claire sings “I’m a Little Teapot.” Jackie trips over his feet. David Michael signs “monkey” to Matt, and he is confused. 

Finally, Buddy Barrett pitches to Jackie and the ball goes right into Jackie’s mouth. Claudia pulls out a tooth and Jackie exclaims, “I just love losing teeth.” Kristy calls for the end of practice.

After dinner, Kristy goes to walk Shannon (the dog, not the sitter) and finds Bart and his rottweiler. They walk their dogs together and we have our main conflict of the book.

“Hey,” said Bart. “I’ve got an idea. Just to show you that I think your team is as good as mine, even if the kids are younger, how about a game? Bart’s Bashers challenge Kristy’s Krushers.”

A game? A real game? Against Bart’s team? I didn’t know if the Krushers were ready for something like that, but I wasn’t about to say no. I couldn’t let Bart think I was afraid of his team. Besides, if we set up a game, I’d be sure to see him again – soon.

“Sure,” I replied. “How about two weeks from Saturday? Is that enough time for the Bashers to get ready?”

“Of course! But what about the Krushers?”

“Oh, they’ll be ready.”

I grinned at Bart and he grinned back.

How do these teams always find time to challenge other random teams? I never want to hear another parent say their kid is too busy with sports again. If they have enough time to challenge five-year-olds to games, they have enough time to finish their one-page report on Taft.

At the next practice, the team shows up in “Kristy’s Krushers” jerseys. Everyone except Karen, of course, who is the wettest of wet blankets and her jersey says, “Kristy’s Crushers.” We get it, Karen, you’re not fun.

The team gets excited when Kristy tells them about the impending game with the Bashers. Haley and Vanessa volunteer for cheerleading duty (with Charlotte coordinating), and the team plans to sell refreshments at the game. But before they play the game, they have to practice. This time, Kristy keeps the kids in one position, instead of having them switch around. 

The practice is going pretty good until Jackie hits a ball through Stoneybrook Elementary School’s window. The practice is over and the Radowsky’s have to pay for a new window.

Bart and a few of the Bashers show up to their next practice to scope out the competition. The Bashers make fun of the Krushers. The little jerks fat-shame Jake Kuhn, call Gabbie a baby, and call Jackie “Pig-Pen from Peanuts.” The absolute worst thing they do is call Matt dumb because he’s deaf. Kristy says she doesn’t think Bart can hear his team’s derogatory comments. 

What the hell, Bart? Get control of your team. What kind of environment are you cultivating wherein your team thinks it’s acceptable to say these toxic things? I don’t care if Bart couldn’t hear them, David Michael wouldn’t make fun of a kid in a wheelchair even if Kristy couldn’t hear him.

Luckily, if Bart wasn’t there to get control, Haley was not putting up with bullshit.

Haley charged over to the Basher who had just insulted her brother. She stood inside the catcher’s cage, nose-to-nose with the boy on the other side of the wire fence.

“That ‘dummy,’” she said with clenched teeth, “is my brother, and if you call him a dummy one more time, I will personally rearrange your face.”

The kid just stared at Haley, but she stared back until she had stared him down.

Well, I’m glad someone has some sense of decency. 

On the day of the big game, Kristy runs into a snag. Their best player and pitcher, Nicky, is sick and can’t play. David Michael will be taking over pitching duties.

The game is pretty chaotic. Matt hits a homerun. The Bashers cheerleaders chant “Strikeout!” as Margo Pike steps up. Vanessa and Haley cheer louder for Margo, and in a surprise move, the Pike triplets, who showed up dressed in their Little League uniforms, join Vanessa and Haley to drown out the Basher cheerleaders. Jackie accidentally throws his bat, “twists” his ankle, and Kristy calls a time out.

“Jackie,” I said, “I’m putting you back in the game.”

Jackie snapped to attention. “But-but I can’t play, Coach!” he exclaimed. “I hurt my ankle.” He began rubbing his right ankle.

“When you fell, you hurt your other ankle,” I pointed out.

“Oops.”

“Jackie, I know you’re embarrassed. I also know you’re a good player. And right now, we need you at first base. It’s either you or Jamie Newton, and you know what’ll happen if a ball comes toward Jamie.”

Whoa, slam on Jamie – a four-year-old. 

Jackie gets back in the game. Matt hits a home run. Charlotte Johanssen cheers even though she is incredibly shy. Hannie Papadakis hits a home run. Everyone is taking off their hats under the blistering sun.

In the end, the Bashers win, because they’re eleven-year-olds playing against four-year-olds, but the score is 16-11, which seems like a high-scoring game. 

We still have one more side-plot to resolve – Bart and Kristy. Does he apologize for his team’s behavior? No. He does not. It does pull Kristy out of the way of a zooming car, so that’s something. And for reasons I don’t understand, Kristy asks for a rematch. 

This is the introduction of Bart as Kristy’s primary love interest to the series, and just like Logan, I was thoroughly disappointed. Bart is passive while his team demeans younger children, and he doesn’t apologize for their behavior after the game. But I guess Kristy is only twelve – she hasn’t experienced how trash dudes can be. While this book did show me (in interminable detail) a few play-by-plays of several softball practices and one game, I still lack interest in sports and its appeal is still inconceivable to me. The extreme competition and hostility for no reason paired with the pep talks and time commitment have just reiterated why I have no interest in sports or group activities. My sister is correct when it comes to sport: at least professional wrestling has storylines and plot twists.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers

If you asked ten-year-old Amy what her favorite book was, she would say Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers. What was it about this specific Fear Street book that appealed to me? Was it the Civil War setting? Was it the rivalry between young sisters Hannah and Julia? The presence of three boys who exist for only a short scene and are never seen again? And speaking of boys, was it the love interest with a dark secret and an eyepatch?

Or, more likely, was it the use of Tarot cards, something I collect in my adulthood, as a plot device? Could it be the gore, something novel to a young girl just discovering death? While those last two contributed to my devotion to this book, the most obvious reason for my affection is that the main character is named “Amy.” 

Does this book hold up? Let’s explore ten-year-old Amy’s (the person, not the book character) favorite book and, maybe, along the way, remind me why I got a reputation for being creepy in school. 

a girl in a purple dress stares at the reader while a different girl falls out a window
Nellie was so excited to win a contest where a major publishing company steals your idea that she ran out the window to mail her entry.

In the fall of 1863, young Amy Pierce travels to live with her cousin, Angelica Fear, in New Orleans. That’s right, folks! We’re following the people who wanted to expand chattel slavery into the west! It’s not discussed in this book, but it does diminish character sympathy when I know they’re fine with people as property. 

The carriage driver warns Amy about the Fears and fulfills his role as the “Crazy Ralph” of the book. 

We meet Angelica Fear and her two daughters, Julia and Hannah. Julia is the timid one whom Amy immediately identifies with while Hannah is the more outgoing one. We also meet Nellie the Maid, who strongly resembles a slave, and it’s never addressed in the book, but the implication is there. 

It’s eleven pages before we have our first cliffhanger! I think that’s a record. Stine is exercising restraint in this one. It’s a face in the mirror! But it’s just Julia, who is coming into Amy’s room to be cryptic.

“Amy . . .” The girl hesitated for a moment. “I . . . Do not open your bedroom door at night when everyone is asleep.” Amy heard Julia’s voice crack. “No matter what you hear.”

“What? Why not?” Amy exclaimed.

“It is not safe.” Julia wrapped her arms around herself. “It is not safe.”

“I saw the shadows in the hall move,” Julia said. “They whirled into a black, smoky column filled with faces. Faces without eyes, faces without skin. Faces covered with oozing sores. Faces burned until they were black.”

That’s a pretty creepy thing to say, Julia. Cool, but creepy.

When Julia is finished creeping everyone out and leaves, Amy hears a noise behind her door. She ignores Julia’s warning ten minutes later and flings open the door.

There’s nothing. Of course, there’s nothing.

The next morning, Angelica invites Amy into the library and shows her guest tarot cards. When Amy picks up the cards, she shuffles madly as the cards take over her body. Angelica is super excited and says, “In every generation of Pierce women, one or two are born with a special power.” 

You’d think Amy’s mother would have told her this if it’s as consistent as “every generation.” 

Amy runs away because quick shuffling is too much for her. She would hate trick shuffling. In Vegas, she would just freak out and run screaming. She should do that now, but not for card-related reasons.

She goes outside to play with the children and we get to meet Angelica’s three sons – Joseph, Robert, and Brandon – and that’s a wrap on the boys. Let’s give them a hand for their hard fifteen minutes of work – they’ve been real professionals.

I’m not joking. Well, I’m joking a little. But that’s it for the boys. Later, it’s referenced that they’re playing war and none of them want to be “Yankees” so they all play the soldiers who betrayed our country because they wanted to own people.

Anyway, during a game of Hide and Seek, Amy gets lost among the greenery and trellises. She eventually hears a shrill scream from the garden next door. Amy finds an old woman and a snake. Amy kills the snake with a nearby garden hoe. 

The old woman, Clare Hathaway, is grateful and we also meet her son, David, who has an eyepatch and a sling. Angelica says he is dangerous and warns Amy to stay away from him. Apparently, he escaped a Union prison and has killed and will kill again. So, our romantic lead fought for the Confederacy. It’s becoming clear that I did not think about the issues that underpin this book. 

Amy joins Clare for tea and David is there. Apropos of nothing, Amy exclaims that she still wants to jump David’s bones even if some of those bones are brittle right now and he ain’t go no eye. 

While they’re flirting at an acceptable level for a ‘90s young adult novel, they hear a crash and a scream. Nellie has fallen out of the window.

The description of her mangled body and face is so graphic I don’t want to quote it for fear of demonetization (as if I did these for money). Morbidly, this is what I liked about the Fear Street Sagas over the mainline series. Stine didn’t shy away from the violence. There was no implication – no offscreen death. This is especially relevant now. PG-13 has all the violence of an R-rated movie but without the consequence. We don’t see the consequences of violence – just the violence itself. It’s crazy to read something in a book for thirteen-year-olds that would never be shown in a PG-13 movie.

Although, when I read these as a kid, it was more for bloodlust. As an adult, I can see the fun and humor in violence. I am, after all, a big fan of Friday the 13th, so much so that if a random person named a Friday the 13th movie and a name, I could probably tell them how they died. “Friday the 13th 6! Cort!” “First of all, it’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI and knife through the temple!”

However, there may be people who don’t understand the appeal of horror. And that’s fine. I’m not here to change your mind. And if I did want to change your mind, I wouldn’t do it with this book. 

Anyway, Amy figures out that Nellie fell from Angelica’s study. She talks to the cards and she keeps seeing the Death Card (not the Ten of Swords, for those of you Tarot-inclined folks who are about to tell me that the Death Card doesn’t usually mean actual death, don’t DM me, I know). David shows up and has the privilege of saying that Nellie’s death was “no accident.” Classic horror dialogue.

Just because a maid died doesn’t mean they can’t have a good ol’ antebellum-style ball! We meet some of the local women: Chantal, a blonde woman with the hots for David, and Bernice, a woman who is on fire. Well, she’s not on fire for a few pages of the ball, but once she’s on fire, boy, she’s on fire! Literally! Her skin melts and everything! She took fire burning on the dance floor seriously.

I’ll take my decade-old song references, and my insensitivity, and take my leave.

After seeing a good friend fall out of a window and an acquaintance on fire, Amy is understandably distraught. In the middle of the night, David shows up at her window. Of course, Amy sneaks out and they run off to the middle of the garden, far away from the house, and David tells her what happened during the dance.

“Everything she touched started to burn,” he continued. “I thought I knew every terrible way to die. But I did not. Bernice’s death was the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Amy put her arms around him. She hung on tight.

His breath went out in a long, shuddering sigh. “Amy,” he murmured, his voice low and intense.

He pulled his head back and stared down at her. Then he kissed her. His lips felt warm and hard.

“Oh man, I’ve seen so much death. I’m so broken. Let’s make out. Ughluhluhluh.” 

Then he says that Amy shouldn’t trust anyone, including him, because he’s our red herring and he has to say that. And it’s the end of Part One.

Yes, the end of Part One. On page 78.

In Part Two, Amy sees a vision of David shoving Chantal in the lake. Our protagonist finds her dead – drowned in the lake. Amy determines that David is the killer, even though he ran off at the end of part one for unknown, plot-based reasons and hasn’t returned yet. 

Amy consults the tarot cards, but for some reason, when she gets close to them, she’s completely frozen. She cannot move and she is slowly freezing in the middle of a mansion in the antebellum version of the suburbs.

She focused all her attention on that small glowing ember inside her. The cards called to her, even through the awful cold. If she could only reach them, she had a chance.

Oh, but she was cold, so cold. She did not think she could make her body obey her again.

She had to try. Either that, or give up and allow the cold to take her completely.

“I . . . will . . . not . . . give . . . up!” she gasped.

She forces her way to the cards, pushing through the cold, forcing her legs to move through sheer fire and willpower. When she reaches the cards, they give her the strength and warmth she needs. 

It’s beautiful. A young woman overcomes an obstacle with her innate strength. And it’s as much character growth as we’re going to get and I’m perfectly happy with it.

The cards tell her that David killed Chantal and is going to kill his mother next. Amy rushes over to the Hathaway estate next door.

She finds Mrs. Hathaway in a trance at the top of the stairs. David appears behind his mother. Amy thinks he’s going to push her, but he pulls his mother away from the stairs instead. She was sleepwalking. Because David saved his mother, somehow, Amy knows he didn’t kill the other girls (even though the cards and the visions tell her that he did – we’ll get to that). 

David finally divulges his sordid past. He promised to keep a fourteen-year-old soldier safe and the kid got killed. Where the Union prison comes in, I have no idea. Amy is reassured, and so is the reader because we’re finally at the climax.

David urges Amy to stay with him, but Amy says that if Angelica suspects something is amiss, she would take it out on the Hathaways. Amy goes back to the house and finds Angelica in the doorway. The lady of the house pulls Amy in and sends her to her room.

In the middle of the night, Amy’s doorknob turns. It’s just Julia. She gives Amy a letter she found in the ash pile behind the house. It’s a letter from Amy’s mother that Angelica intercepted and intended to hide from her (not very well if a seven-year-old found it). Amy tries to go to David, but Angelica is waiting for her and goes full-on World of Warcraft boss, complete with phases. (And all my WoW are pre-Cata, sorry.)

In the first phase, Angelica summons wind, and leaves swirl around her. Also, she puts a barrier of green eyes around the party, so, hunters, I know you’ll have some trouble. Rogues will try to stay behind her, but they’ll probably get hit with her leaf AOE. The healers should use their HOTs on the rogues.

There’s a cut scene before phase two wherein the party temporarily gets away from Angelica and meets up with David. He asks the party to trust him. Make sure to type /yes for the Trust Buff. 

In phase two, Angelica spawns an extra mob – the column of smoke. Angelica will explain the smoke monster as well as her motivations:

“That column holds my spirits, my friends, my guides. Some of them have been with me since I was very young. Once I was like you. Frightened of the power inside me. But not anymore.”

“I was so looking forward to having another powerful PIerce woman in the family,” Angelica explained. “We could have done so much together. You have missed an incredible opportunity by turning against me.”

“To be evil?” she asked. Amy knew the door behind her was locked. And if she tried to run past Angelica, the spirits could swoop down on her.

“There is great power in evil,” Angelica replied. “Oh Amy. You could have had anything you wanted.” … “Well, anything but David,” she added. “I am saving him for Hannah.” … “The Hathaways are very wealthy,” … “David will marry Hannah and bring that fortune for the Fears.” … “David will do what I tell him.”

“I know you killed them all,” Amy whispered. “Nellie, Bernice, Chantal-”

“Of course,” Angelica replied. “Death pleases my spirits. And it adds to my power.”

The column of smoke moves toward the party. We just have to heal through it. It engulfs everyone and we can see the faces of the people it had fed upon and their horrible distended faces. Once we gain enough strength, we’ll shoot white balls from our bodies, destroying the column of smoke and causing damage to Angelica, who will go into phase three.

In this phase, Angelica will bring in David, who is seemingly under her spell. If we all have the Trust Buff, David snaps out of his trance and shoots Angelica. When we escape the house, ivy will attack the party. DPS please free the healers after you free yourselves, as they have to focus on healing. We’ll get a loot crate when we reach the Hathaways.

David and Amy escape the mansion and we time jump forward to David, his mother, and Amy leaving New Orleans. Amy mentions that she feels empathy for Julia, and she doesn’t think they should have left her there with that evil family that has nothing but disdain for her. David says that since Julia is a Fear, she was doomed from birth. Great thinking, David.

I had a great time with this book, however, it is difficult to forget that these people are from the side that wanted to keep and expand slavery into the west. If only this took place in the north, which is where I think Shadyside is located, and David escaped from a Confederate jail. If that were the case, I could enjoy this book with as much glee as I did when I was a kid. The setting puts a dark cloud over this book and makes it difficult to like the characters, especially David. The book never directly mentions slavery, nor is it an integral plot element, so there is no reason why the setting couldn’t be altered. In another world, one where the protagonists weren’t slavers, the book is stupid, morbid fun. Horror allows us to confront death and peril without actually putting ourselves in that situation. Tension followed by a scare gives us catharsis. Violence alleviates anger. Some of these things might not make sense to people who don’t understand horror, but those of us who can recite the deaths in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter know what I’m talking about.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #19: Claudia and the Bad Joke

Practical jokes are stupid. It’s a way for someone to be mean to another for no reason and then say, “Hey, it’s a practical joke!” as if those few words negate convincing your family is dead or whatever dumb joke they concocted. Granted, not every practical joke is like that. If the real victim is the joker, then I don’t think there’s a problem, besides, maybe, wasting time.

Maybe my thoughts on practical jokes have been skewed by the jokes gone wrong in R. L. Stine novels and terrible jokes on YouTube that are thinly veiled, monetized ways to abuse children or girlfriends. Maybe I’m a sensitive millennial who can’t take a joke. Maybe this next BSC book will show me some great practically-based jokes.

Or maybe not, given the title.

a girl lays in a hospital bed while two children look at her
My leg is broken, kids, I’m not getting a brain transplant. What are you trying to say?

The book starts with the entire town, including the BSC, at a free Slapstick Film Festival at the library. I don’t understand slapstick humor, but there’s no judgment here, given that this is my favorite video on the internet.

See? No practical jokes. Just punching. And it’s only eleven seconds long.

We have the obligatory rundown of every BSC member – including Claudia’s admission that she’s “one of the coolest-looking kids in Stoneybrook Middle School.” After that, Kristy lets us in on her life’s goal.

On the movie screen, a man dressed in a tux was holding out a corsage to a woman in an evening gown. The woman leaned over to smell the flowers and SPLAT! A stream of water got her right in the eye.

But just then, the man got hit in the face with a coconut cream pie.

“Awesome!” whispered Kristy. “That’s my dream!”

That’s a weird dream, Kristy. But my current dream is to read and review every BSC book, so I guess we’re even. It’s all about keeping your dreams practical and attainable. If the past four years have taught me anything, you shouldn’t dream beyond your capacity, or else 200,000 people die (hopefully it’s not as bad by the time this comes out – I’m writing this in September). (I’m editing and uploading this in February – yeah, past Amy, double that. It’s still pretty bad.)

The next chapter is a BSC meeting and Claudia explains club logistics. Then the club receives a call from a new client, Mrs. Sobak, who is looking for a sitter for her daughter Betsy. Claudia takes the job. At the end of the meeting, Kristy sprays ink on Mary Anne’s white blouse. It’s disappearing ink, but I bet Mary Anne’s blouse is still ruined. Also, that’s a stupid joke. Haha, I ruined your shirt. 

During a pleasant dinner and homework session with Mimi, Claudia receives a few calls. One is from Ashley Wyleth, one of the most onerous BSC characters, and the other is the Prince Albert in a can prank call. Because kids love jokes about tobacco. I had to Google what that is. It turns out, to the surprise of no one, most jokes are not timeless.

The next day, Claudia contacts two previous babysitters of Betsy Sobak’s – Diana and Gordon. Betsy is a practical joker and it became so bad, Diana and Gordon both refuse to babysit the child. Still, Claudia agreed to a job, and, dadgummit, Claudia is going to do the job.

She meets Betsy’s mother, Cookie, and we learn Betsy’s father works at Tile Corp. Claudia fails to find out if Tile Corp is a corporation for tiles or a subdivision of the army specifically for tiles. I will update if I find out more.

Betsy starts with the pranks almost immediately with a dribble glass. Then, Betsy tells Claudia where she gets all her pranking supplies.

“From McBuzz’s Mail Order. It’s a catalogue. All McBuzz’s sells is practical jokes. I spent most of my allowance on stuff from McBuzz’s . . . Well, I used to. Then Mom and Dad made me quit. But it doesn’t matter. I already had McBuzz’s best jokes.”

“Oh, good,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to miss out on a single instrument of torture.”

I’m with Claudia – I still think practical jokes are stupid and this book is not changing my mind. Claudia is not having it with the “jokes” and she tries to stop that behavior immediately. However, less than a page later, Betsy gets Claudia with pepper gum. Still, Claudia has a job to finish and she ushers Betsy outside to play. 

They swing on Betsy’s swing set. Just as Claudia starts to get some air, the chain snaps, and Claudia falls on her leg.

My leg certainly was broken. It was a truly disgusting sight. There was no blood or anything, but it twisted in a way that no leg should ever be twisted. I thought I’d see all possible disgusting sights from eating school lunches with Kristy Thomas. But this was much, much worse. I had to look away from my leg.

I turned toward Betsy. She was still swinging, but the expression on her face was one of horror. Then, in a panic, she began to slow herself down. The swing hadn’t even come to a stop when she jumped off it and ran to me.

“Oh! Oh, Claudia!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! I knew the chain was broken. That’s why I wanted you to sit down on the swing. I thought when you did, you’d just go – boom – onto the grass. But it didn’t break right away and I forgot and you said let’s have a contest and I still forgot and I didn’t remember until-”

“Betsy, Betsy,” I interrupted her. I had suddenly realized that my leg was numb. I could hardly feel it, which scared me more than anything. “I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. The thing is, I have to get to the hospital. And you’re going to have to help me. Can you follow directions?”

Claudia tells her to do several things: 1) Dial 911 and tell them that her babysitter broke her leg and needs an ambulance; 2) Call Betsy’s parents and tell them what happened; and 3) If she can’t reach her parents, call the Radowskys – Dawn and Mallory are baby-sitting over there. 

Betsy comes back with a pillow and a blanket. She was unable to reach her parents, but Mallory and Dawn are heading over. Sure enough, Mallory, Dawn, Jackie, and a bunch of Pike kids come riding up on their bikes like harbingers of death. That’s right. It’s not Four Horsemen – it’s the Pike kids on bikes come to gawk.

Mallory stays with the kids while Dawn calls Claudia’s parents and rides with Claudia to the hospital. While waiting at the hospital, Claudia remembers Mimi in the hospital and starts to cry. Dawn comforts her, but she doesn’t stop until she’s put under.

Claudia wakes up to her family surrounding her hospital bed. Her mother tells her that the break isn’t critical, but it’s severe enough to warrant a week-long stay. The Kishis must have amazing insurance to get that kind of top-notch care. 

Over the next few days, Claudia receives several visitors. Kristy and Jamie Newton show up, as well as Mary Anne, who sneaks in her cat, and lastly, Mallory, Claire, and Vanessa. Claudia’s roommate, Cathy, doesn’t have as many visitors. Claudia attributes her roommate’s unpopularity to Cathy’s childish behavior. Whenever the nurse shows up to do her damn job, Cathy cries and yells. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be around someone who screamed when I did my job. Also, Claudia is a more tolerant person than me, because I would request to transfer rooms the second Cathy screams when a nurse tries to take her blood pressure.

Even Stacey calls her, but it’s not a happy call. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” I told her. “I keep coming back to this one thing. What if I’d ruined my hands or arms when I fell? Baby-sitting can be dangerous, Stace. And there’s a good chance that when I grow up I’ll be an artist, not a sitter. I don’t want to lose that chance. So I’m thinking of dropping out of the Baby-sitters Club. Just to be on the safe side.”

And that’s it! Claudia quits the club and she has no more stories about her.

No, she doesn’t quit the club. But let’s keep going and see how she deals with her trauma.

Meanwhile, Mary Anne and Jessi babysit for the Pikes, who are, of course, going along with the zeitgeist of pranks in Stoneybrook. There’s a fake spider and even faker barf. Mary Anne and Jessi end the day by pretending there’s an elephant outside and that gets the kids. So, got ‘em? I guess?

It’s finally time for Claudia to come home. Her homeroom teacher calls her and has her homeroom class say, “Welcome home, Claudia!” Mary Anne and Kristy orchestrated the whole event and Claudia likes it. After the call, Claudia spends quality time with Mimi.

At the first BSC meeting since her return, Claudia announces that she’s thinking about quitting the club. It doesn’t help that Mrs. Sobak calls the club and asks for a sitter for Betsy. Claudia remarks that “If I were Mrs. Sobak, I wouldn’t have the nerve to call us again.” Honestly, yeah, Claudia, I’m with you there. Her daughter tricks Claudia into sitting in a broken swing and breaks her leg, and Mrs. Sobak thinks, yeah, sure, send another victim into Betsy’s clutches.

Mallory takes the job with the intent to borrow “tricks” from the triplets. Mallory and Betsy start with a prank-free snack and they bond over shared memorization of the poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” However, the peace is short-lived when Betsy disappears, prompting Mallory to search the house for her. Mallory gets her back when she tricks Betsy into rubbing sneezing powder on her face. Then Betsy pretends to sneeze out a tooth. That’s the beginning.

During the rest of the afternoon, Mal scared Betsy with the slug, Betsy scared Mal with a rubber snake. Mal scared Betsy with the rat, Betsy scared Mal with her cockroach. Just as Mal ran out of jokes, she heard Mrs. Sobak’s car pull into the garage.

Betsy and Mal looked at each other. They smiled.

And Mal knew something just from looking at Betsy then. She knew that neither of them would mention the jokes to Betsy’s mother. As a baby-sitter, Mal shouldn’t have been playing them on one of her charges. But Betsy shouldn’t have been playing jokes after what had happened to me.

A battle of the joke war had been fought, but nobody had won and nobody had lost.

It’s not the end of Betsy’s pranking though. Dawn is the next sacrifice at the McBuzz altar. Betsy puts slime in Dawn’s Kit-Kit. Dawn pretends to faint and scares Betsy. And then there’s shaving cream disguised as whipped cream. Honestly, the pranks have become so tired. This book has ensured that any fondness I had for jokes and pranks was eradicated by the end. Just stop sitting for this kid – maybe the total rejection of the entire Stoneybrook baby-sitting community is the only way to get Mrs. Sobak to get control of her daughter.

But there has to be an ending more suited to the BSC, right? Well, none other than our president and pie-throwing enthusiast Kristy Thomas ends the prank war.

Kristy takes Betsy to the movie. Betsy sees some kids she knows and Kristy ushers her to say hi. Betsy admits that the kids don’t like her very much. Can you at home guess why? It doesn’t take Blue and Steve to figure this one out.

Anyway, at the movies, Kristy hides in the theater, forcing Betsy to go up and down the aisle looking for her. After annoying the entire theater, Kristy finally waves and Betsy sits down for the movie. Then, Kristy puts her thumb into the bottom of the popcorn bucket and Betsy thinks it’s a severed thumb. She screams, of course, and the usher comes over to admonish Betsy. All this in front of her classmates. Betsy has been embarrassed and watches the rest of the movie in silence.

On the way home, Kristy tells Betsy that she needs to think about the consequences of her actions. While most of her jokes don’t hurt most people, Claudia was directly hurt by her irresponsible pranking. Also, she makes others feel the way she felt during the movie. 

They take a brief detour to Claudia’s house, where Betsy formally apologizes to Claudia. I still don’t trust this little maniac, but Claudia accepts her apology.

Later, at the BSC meeting, Kristy shows up early to speak with Claudia privately about leaving the club. Of course, Claudia doesn’t quit the club. However, she does have one condition: she doesn’t sit for Betsy. 

I have yet to see a joke shop in my life. I think they all burned down in the Great Joke Shop Fire of 1992 and no one bothered to open them again. Unfortunately, pranks have just found a new medium on the internet and it’s not better. The pranks are still rooted in a disregard for someone else’s feelings or property. They’re either trying to convince children that they’re going to be snatched by a murderous clown or dumping a girlfriend’s bath bomb with dye so you ruin both her skin for days and a bath bomb. All for fake internet cred. 

This book failed to endear me to jokes and Betsy. Sure, she apologized, but her future lies on YouTube, encouraging her children to beat their sibling in the name of a joke and views. If I never see Betsy again, it’ll be too soon.

And stop pranking each other. This is stupid.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Egg Monsters From Mars

an egg creature and its green shell sits in a carton

Saturday Morning Cartoons were weird. Normal ones, Looney Tunes, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and the like, existed. Properties for children, like G.I. Joe and, my personal favorite, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, were also common. And then there were the shows that had no business being a kids’ cartoon.

Robocop was actually turned into a Saturday Morning Cartoon, as well as Rambo. These were hard-R adult movies that were thrust in a timeslot between Dragonball and Sonic the Hedgehog. My bestest buddy and Super Saiyan, Goku, just beat Piccolo after a ten-episode power-up, and now, before I watch my blue furry buddy, here’s a cartoon about a killer for hire.

It wasn’t just action movies that were turned into inappropriate children’s cartoons. B-level horror movie creature features also had animated versions. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes exposed me to the concept of schlocky horror with strange creatures. It demystified the horror genre. Instead of something to be feared, horror could be goofy and fun. The show may have only lasted a few years, but I still have the theme song stuck in my head. 

The Goosebumps book Egg Monsters From Mars reminds me of any number of goofy creature feature horror movies I’ve seen – and it’s wonderful. There are no ghosts in this one – just a gooey egg and a kid scrambled up in laboratory secrets.

It starts with an egg hunt. Is it Easter? No. It’s a little girl’s birthday party. Our protagonist, Dana, has a younger sister, and “she always gets what she wants.” This time, it’s an egg hunt. However, much to the birthday girl’s dismay, the egg hunt boils into an egg fight.

“Egg fight! Egg fight!” two boys started to chant.

I ducked as an egg went sailing over my head. It landed with a craaack on the driveway.

Eggs were flying everywhere now. I stood there and gasped in amazement.

I heard a shrill shriek. I spun around to see that two of the Hair Sisters had runny yellow egg oozing in their hair. They were shouting and tugging at their hair and trying to pull the yellow gunk off with both hands.

Splat! Another egg hit the garage.

Craaack! Eggs bounced over the driveway.

Dana’s best friend, the next-door neighbor, Annie, prepares an egg to throw at Dana, who picks up his last egg. But there’s something strange about this ultimate egg. It’s veiny and impervious to damage, even when Dana falls on the egg. 

While Dana’s parents are wondering what happened and chastising their daughter for not stopping the egg fight, Dana puts his weird egg in a drawer in his room. In the middle of the night, Dana hears thumping from the drawer and discovers the shell is burning hot. 

Finally, the egg starts to crack, and after some onomatopoeic theater, a gooey, runny mess of yellow and green veins with two black, lumpy eyes hatches. Dana doesn’t know what to do and he goes over his options since his parents have been seemingly poached from the narrative. He decides to go to Annie’s house since she has a dog and is good with animals. He scoops the creature into a box and rolls it next door.

After some breakfast shenanigans involving a dog, the egg creature falls out of its makeshift carton and is almost sent down the garbage disposal. Dana grabs the creature just in time, remarking to the creature, “I just saved your life.”

He shows it to Annie, who suggests he goes to the friendly local lab to have them take a look at it. Dana scrambles away. 

At the lab, Dr. Gray, an old scientist, greets Dana and agrees to look at what he brought – most because Dr. Gray is already egg-sperienced with the creature.

“The eggs fell all over town,” Dr. Gray said, poking the egg creature. “Like a meteor shower. Only on this town.”

“Excuse me?” I cried. “They fell from the sky?” I wanted desperately to understand. But so far, nothing made sense.

Dr. Gray turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “We believe the eggs fell all the way from Mars, Dana. There was a big storm on Mars. Two years ago. It set off something like a meteor shower. The storm sent these eggs hurtling through space.”

Dr. Gray has something else to show him. He brings the boy to a window and shows him a mirror. 

A two-way mirror! Dr. Gray turns on a light.

 There are dozens of egg creatures in a refrigerated room. Dr. Gray says they’re relatively harmless and they don’t have mouths so they can’t bite. They also lack appendages so they can’t kick or grab or punch. Dana asks if he can come back and visit the creature. Dr. Gray says that Dana is not coming back because he’s not leaving.

“I have to study you too,” Dr. Gray continued. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “It’s my job, Dana.”

“Study me?” I squeaked. “Why?”

He motioned to my egg creature. “You touched it – didn’t you? You handled it? You picked it up?”

I shrugged. “Well, yeah. I picked it up. So what?”

“Well, we don’t know what kind of dangerous germs it gave you,” he replied. “We don’t know what kind of germs or bacteria or strange diseases these things carried with them from Mars.”

I understand keeping him under quarantine and observation, but Dr. Gray locks him in this freezing room with no food, no bed, and a countless number of egg creatures. When Dana’s father comes looking for his chick, Dr. Gray says that he hasn’t seen the kid.

Dana’s father asks if he could peek around the facility to make sure his son isn’t there. Of course, Dana is trapped behind a two-way mirror. Dana pecks at the window, but to no avail. His father can’t see or hear him. It seems that Dana is trapped there, and his father was so close to rescuing him.

That night, Dana has trouble sleeping. He’s too cold and Dr. Gray didn’t even give him a blanket. The eggs overtake him, but he’s too enervated to fight back. But instead of attacking him, they give him warmth. It’s kind of sweet.

Dr. Gray shakes him awake, enraged that Dana let the egg creatures touch him. What did you expect, Dr. Gray? You didn’t separate them. You didn’t give Dana food and a blanket. It’s your fault you clucked up. 

Luckily, the egg creatures and Dana have formed a bond. Even though the egg creatures lack appendages and mouths, they become a huge mass and attack Dr. Gray as Dana runs away. 

He runs all the way home to his parents. They all return to the lab and find the egg creatures, and Dr. Gray, completely gone. Of course, his parents don’t believe his story. 

Finally, we are left with this final passage:

I crouched down on the grass – and I laid the biggest egg you ever saw!

I enjoyed Egg Monsters From Mars more than I should have. I like creature movies, but I love creature movies where humans are the real villains. Humans like to believe that the threat to their livelihood is external, whether that threat is an immigrant, a gay person, or a woman. The real threat comes from looking within ourselves and recognizing the ugliness inside. Some people can take that reflection and try to alter their thinking to make the world a better place. We should encourage this behavior.

All too often, however, people look within, see that stain on their soul, and create a social pecking order that puts them at the top. They congregate with others who share that ugliness. They search for conspiracy stories to fuel their ignorance. 

The real monsters aren’t the egg creatures. They’re the ones who inflict pain on others under the guise of something noble – like science. Also, a kid lays a giant egg! That’s fucking crazy, dude. This is an eggcellent Goosebumps book.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #18: Stacey’s Mistake

stacey chastises a kid near a dinosaur

I have never been to New York City. I would like to visit someday, particularly the Natural History Museum because I love dinosaurs. However, I don’t have the same reverence that others have for the home of Central Park. I love the west coast. I’ve been to Los Angeles, which is kind of like New York City, but with better weather, impossibly beautiful waiters, and a sheen of friendliness that may be fake, but it really doesn’t matter for the three minutes you interact with someone. New York City seems cold and unfriendly and another city with skyscrapers — nothing to revere as the pinnacle of American ingenuity. (At least, not while sourdough was invented in San Francisco, which is my favorite city with an unsustainable cost of living.)

stacey chastises a kid near a dinosaur
Now apologize to the dinosaur’s butt for blaming your fart on it. Also, if Ms. Jewett needs the book back, just let me know.

The Baby-Sitters Club, and seemingly Ann M. Martin, disagrees with me. New York City is a treasure. It is a place to be heralded as a new Athens, a new Constantinople, a new Babylon. Many songs have been written about the city — and even whole musicals. And even though all that pop culture, I still think of New York City as a place that seems cool, but no more special than Los Angeles. Maybe our favorite New York Girl Stacey will change my mind about the city. Maybe I’ll come out of this book review with a fresh admiration for the east coast. I mostly want to know why everyone seems so grumpy on the east coast.

Even though Stacey moved back to New York and away from the BSC in #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye, Stacey is still baby-sitting. In fact, she’s the resident babysitter for most of her building.

The community announces a meeting to discuss Judy, a “bag-lady” and other people like her, and every parent needs a baby-sitter on the same night. This meeting is the social event of the year! Come have hors devours! Talk about a homeless woman with an obvious drug addiction! Gentrify the neighborhood and get her arrested!

Stacey comes up with a familiar idea — a day camp with her best-friends from Stoneybrook! And since the meeting is for only one day, Stacey can treat the BSC to a New York Weekend complete with a party.

However, if you read the title of this book, you know it isn’t going to be smooth sailing for the rest of the book. In fact, this book falls under the BSC trope of “infighting.” What are they going to argue about now? Let’s find out.

The second the BSC arrives, they’ve established who they’re going to be in this book. Dawn will be playing the part of “Scared Person,” Kristy will be “Big Mouth,” Claudia will be “Too Much Luggage,” and Mary Anne will be “The Tourist” (not the movie). The girls are excited to see their long lost friend, and after they drop off their luggage at Stacey’s apartment, which the Scared Person Dawn is thankful that Stacey has a doorman, they go to get lunch.

Mary Anne wants to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Dawn asks if it’s in a safe neighborhood. Stacey remarks that Dawn used to live in Los Angeles, to which Dawn clarifies that it was outside Anaheim, not Los Angeles proper. I’ve been to Anaheim — it’s not exactly Mayberry, but when the biggest building in the city is The Tower of Terror (now the Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!, because Star-Lord is better than Rod Sterling, for some reason I don’t understand) the 100-story skyscrapers of New York that loom over the dark streets are imposing.

The girls are impressed when Stacey says to the host, “‘Five for lunch, please.’” I guess girls in the ’80s didn’t normally go to restaurants by themselves. And I thought Reno was backward. I remember having lunches with my other thirteen-year-old friends at Applebee’s, and we all asked for separate checks. It’s embarrassing, I know. I apologize to every server to whom I’ve ever said, “Can we get separate checks?” It’s a shameful act and I have no excuse other than that I was thirteen and stupid.

During lunch, Kristy orders “fill-it mig-nun.” I ignored the obvious pronunciation error and instead wondered how much Kristy brought with her. Like, I know Watson is rich, but I wouldn’t send my thirteen-year-old to New York with enough to consider filet mignon for lunch.

After lunch, Mary Anne gets everyone to buy T-shirts from the Hard Rock Cafe — even Stacey. Kristy tries to give a homeless person some money, but Stacey tells her to never open her purse on the street because someone could snatch it. That freaks out Scared Person Dawn.

The girls go to Bloomingdale’s and Mary Anne shoplifts some eye shadow. She thought it was a sample. Sure, Mary Anne, a “sample.” I’m kidding. Mary Anne couldn’t shoplift a five-cent Jolly Rancher from 7–11. Kristy does what I usually do in these stores:

Kirsty kept exclaiming things like, “Look how expensive this is! In Stoneybrook it would only cost half as much,” or “Mary Anne, come here. Look at this — a hundred and sixty dollars for one pair of shoes!”

Yeah, that’s me — I’m the one screaming, “Who the hell pays full price at Bed, Bath, & Beyond?” And when they get in the elevator in Stacey’s building, Kristy continues her role of Big Mouth.

“Have you ever gotten stuck in the elevator?” Dawn wanted to know. “It took a long time for the doors to open when we came up to your apartment.”

“Never,” I told her firmly. “I have never been stuck. You aren’t claustrophobic, are you?”

“She’s just a worrywart,” said Kristy. “For heaven’s sake, Dawn, I can think of worse things than getting stuck in an elevator. What if the cable broke and the elevator crashed all the way to the basement?”

“Kristy!” exclaimed Claudia, Mary Anne, and I. (Dawn was speechless with fear.)

I laughed, but I tend to diffuse tense situations with laughter. Elevators used to freak me out, but it’s not the fear of getting stuck or the cable snapping (there are security measures in place in case something catastrophic happens). I mostly hate elevators because I hate the feeling of descending. You won’t find me on those drop rides.

The BSC members meet all the parents of the kids they’ll be babysitting during the meeting. It’s a list of names and parents with various eccentricities. We’re never going to see these kids after this book, so I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce you to each one of them. Let’s just say that there’s more diversity in this building than in the entire history of Stoneybrook.

Now it’s party time! Of course, the first thing the girls do is plan their outfits. Mary Anne insists that they dress as “New York” as they can to fit in.

“Maybe we should wear our Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts,” said Kristy. “They’re as New York as you can get.”

Kristy! I know she’s supposed to be saying the wrong things, but Kristy is giving me life in this book.

In the end, Claudia wears a black outfit, Dawn wears an oversized sweater-dress, and Stacey wears a yellow dress. Kristy ends up in a sweater and jeans. Mary Anne ends up, well, let’s let Stacey tell us.

I had chosen a bright, big-patterned sweater and a pair of black pants for her. She’d looked at them, shaken her head, replaced them in her suitcase, and put on this other outfit — a ruffly white blouse, a long paisley skirt, and these little brown boots. It was very mature and attractive but, well, Mary Anne was the only one of my friends who, when dressed up, actually looked like she came from Connecticut. We could tell, thought, that the clothes were new and that she really wanted to wear them, so no one said anything to her, despite the grief she’d given us earlier.

Does she look like she’s from Connecticut, or does she look like she just came back from line dancing night at the Achy Breaky Canteena? A paisley skirt is the epitome of New York to Mary Anne. Who wrote her travel guide? Foghorn Leghorn?

The girls continue their party preparation. Claudia goes through Stacey’s cool-ass tapes to choose music. Stacey’s Dad (who doesn’t have it going on) buys a bunch of sandwiches and the girls pour out chips and snacks into bowls. Meanwhile, Laine, Stacey’s New York best friend, shows up to help. Claudia and her snipe at each other, a grim portent for the rest of the evening.

The guests start to show up. Mary Anne is apprehensive about “New York boys,” but gets over that pretty quickly when she shows off her New York knowledge to anyone who will listen, including fun facts about the height of the Empire State Building and (I can’t believe I still had a physical reaction) the Twin Towers. This book was published in 1987, in case you were wondering for no particular reason.

Meanwhile, Stacey introduces a boy to Kristy and they hit it off. They share a love of sports and even dance together. For reasons that I’m assuming are purely conflict-related, Claudia cockblocks Kristy and asks to dance with the boy.

By eleven, the kids start to leave, indicating that the invitations clearly did not say, “From six to ???”

Laine was going to spend the night, but after the disaster of a party and Claudia’s obvious jealousy, Laine decides to go home, but not before rightfully calling Claudia a jerk. Kristy joins in and says that Claudia is a jerk for butting in between her and the sports boy. Then Dawn calls Mary Anne a jerk because Dawn heard Mary Anne make fun of Dawn’s belief that there are actual alligators in the sewers. Mary Anne cries and everyone’s a jerk. Then they go to sleep in separate rooms.

Stacey wakes up and goes over the problems with the New York trip. She concludes that the infighting is due to three things: the BSC has been displaced from their usual surroundings, the BSC wants to impress her New York friends, and Claudia and Laine are jealous of each other. Stacey is thankful that none of these problems are with her, so she thinks she can fix this. But first, they have a bunch of New York kids to take care of.

They emulate how they dealt with the kids during their previous venture into daycare by listing each kid. Kristy says that they should make name tags since that was useful last time, and Stacey immediately shuts that idea down. They don’t want strangers to know the kids’ names. This freaks Dawn out a little.

The kids start to arrive at exactly 11:35, a detail I didn’t need. Stacey takes charge, a stark difference from Stoneybrook, where Kristy would usually lead. However, Stacey is the only one who knows the kids and how to get around to the various activities they have planned. Surprisingly, Kristy doesn’t make a fuss, even if she may have been perturbed.

They put the kids in two identical rows a la Madeline and march to the American Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs excite the kids, a feeling I am well accustomed to (ask my sister about the time we went to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum or ask my partner about the time his company party was in a museum that featured Sue the T-Rex). Everything seems fine, but something has to happen.

When they reach the giant hanging blue whale, the BSC does a headcount and discovers they’re missing a kid. Mary Anne finds the kid with the brontosaurus.

After lunch at the Food Express (the museum restaurant), it’s time for Central Park. After winding through the city, they reach a huge park pond and Dawn expresses relief.

“Did you think we were going to get mugged back there or something?” I said.

“Well, you always hear stories about people getting mugged in Central Park,” she said with a little shiver. “And not just at night,” she was quick to add when she saw me open my mouth. “Plus, homeless people live in the park, don’t they?”

“So?” I replied. “Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they’re going to hurt you.”

Yeah, Dawn, you’re supposed to be the progressive one. Also, if Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has taught me anything, it’s that you’re more likely to run into a dead body than get mugged.

The kids experience the Delacorte Clock, some musical animals, and finally the children’s zoo. Dawn helps with a potential barfing situation, and the rest of the BSC relaxes. They even let the kids walk ahead of them as the BSC links arms like an early-2000’s teen movie and it seems the girls are a unit once again.

While on the way back to the apartment, the kids sing to their baby-sitters. The BSC finds this endearing, but the thought of fourteen kids singing “For they’re jolly good sitters” is a recurring nightmare for me.

When the parents come back from their gentrification meeting, they announce they’re going to start a soup kitchen. Unless that soup kitchen gives out cash, job training, and access to mental and physical healthcare, I don’t know if that’s the most efficient way to help, but I’m sure the rich people will feel better about themselves.

Later that night, Laine calls and she has a surprise.

“Well, guess what. You won’t believe this.” She paused dramatically. “I’m not sure whether to tell you about this, but, well, Dad got free tickets — house seats, excellent ones — to Starlight Express. They’re for tonight. He and Mom don’t want to go, but would you and your friends like to go to the play? He could get six seats, all together. And he’d order us the limo. I don’t know about Claudia, but I feel awful about last night, and I’d kind of like to start over.”

Since the BSC is finished fighting, they enthusiastically attend the play. And who wouldn’t want to watch a musical about anthropomorphic trains on roller skates from the same Andrew Lloyd Webber era as Cats?

Laine and Claudia get along. Mary Anne is in her version of Heaven. Dawn is able to tell Laine about California. Kristy was happy to watch tv in a limo, which, admittedly, is the first thing I did when I got into a limo for my senior prom night (the first and only time I’ve ever been in a limo — it was fine — it was a long car).

After the play, the BSC is able to really catch up and have the sleepover they wanted. They recap events like Jeff moving back to California and the pageant. Exactly like one of those sitcom episodes where the show wanted to save money so they show scenes from previous episodes. “Remember when we had to put on that party for Mr. Ramshambuler and you dropped the cake.” And then they’d show the scene of the guy tripping and falling into a huge cake. Then some old lady says, “If he comes with the cake, I’ll have a slice.” Something like that. The book turns into that.

The next morning, Stacey makes them bagels. Kristy is weird about smoked salmon, just like someone from 1987. Then they say their goodbyes at the train station.

Well, I sure didn’t figure out why New Yorkers are so angry, but I appreciated the scenes at the museum. I like most museums, but I especially like museums with dinosaurs. New York City is a place with dinosaurs, so it’s worth the acclaim it has received. Do I think it should be the pinnacle of American ingenuity? I would argue that the presence of Wall Street and a terrible, political-office-stealing mob family stains New York’s reputation, but I’m happy there is a city where rats and pigeons fight each other and there are enough people with cameras to capture it.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Mind Reader

A girl looks scared at a ghost that's not in the book.

It’s happened. 

I read a Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, or Fear Street book once a week. I make my notes on each page and I flag any passages that I find particularly quote-worthy. I finally sit down at my computer and start writing a review. I usually have some topic from my childhood that I want to ruminate on using the book I just read.

But it’s finally happened.

I read The Mind Reader a few weeks ago. When I sat down to write this, I realized that the only thing I could remember about this book is that the title is misleading. What happened? How can I equate this to my childhood? Who are the characters? Does anyone get killed?

Maybe my notes in the margins will help me. Clearly, we’re going to rediscover this one together. Why can’t I remember what happened in this one? 

A girl is scared of a ghost that's not the book.
There are at least three things wrong with this cover: the title, the fact there are no ghosts, and that outfit.

Ellie is the new kid in town and has visions of the future – premonitions. Also, she has a best friend named Sarah. And there is a new boy named Brian. This is all in the first few pages. 

It’s important to note that Ellie can’t read minds – she just sees stuff. She can’t jump Professor X-style into anyone’s head. The title is already a problem. 

Anyway, Ellie sees a hand buried in the forest. The police find a hand, but not before Ellie gets the opportunity to freak out a bunch and scream about hands beckoning her while the police search the forest. This is a Fear Street novel, after all, and we need some cliffhanger craziness. 

Sarah shows up at the crime scene. Her father is a policeman and, apparently, that means Sarah can wander wherever she wants. She can poke the bodies and stick her hand in blood and use it for finger painting. She doesn’t do that in the book, but she saunters into an active crime scene with the impunity of a sitting Republican Senator. Ellie finds a red piece of fabric and Sarah faints.

The next day, Sarah isn’t at school and has some locker talk with a few side characters. They tell her that Sarah’s older sister Melinda disappeared. Ellie comes to the conclusion that Melinda was the owner of the bones as well as the red fabric and she brought Ellie to the site. Ellie can talk to ghosts now, but she has yet to read a mind.

At Ellie’s part-time job at the library, Brian appears and we witness their chemistry.

“Yeah? I’m at Waynesbridge.” He followed her down the aisle. “You know. The community college.”

“Oh. I didn’t even know Waynesbridge had a college,” Ellie replied. “My dad and I just moved to Shadyside.”

“I know.”

Her smile faded.

“This is where the book should be,” he said. Reaching past her, Brian pointed to a shelf of books.

“How do you know?”

“Because they all have the same call number,” he replied.

“No,” Ellie said. “I mean, how did you know I was new in Shadyside?”

“Uh-” Doubt flickered in Brian’s eyes. “Because this is the first time I’ve seen you at the library,” he replied. “And you look like the kind of girl who hangs out at the library a lot.”

Ellie’s eyebrows shot up. “Huh? Is that supposed to be a compliment? What kind of girl hangs out at the library?” she demanded.

“Well . . .” He hesitated again. “A girl who likes to read?”

Ellie had to laugh at his embarrassed expression. Maybe Brian Tanner wasn’t quite as smooth as he thought he was. The idea pleased her.

What the fuck is wrong with these two? Why does she think this is charming? I guess that’s what happens when you live in a small town – there are no opportunities for comparison.

Anyway, Ellie gets a vision of a knife after their cool conversation. She also goes to Sarah’s house and sees a skull in Sarah’s window. Then Brian shouts at her from his car as she walks to the diner. There’s a lot of semi-connected scenes interspersed between the cliffhangers featuring things that aren’t really there and Ellis screaming for no reason.

At the diner, Ellie meets up with Brian and they have another not-at-all charming conversation. Then Sarah’s dad, the cop, shows up and Brian runs away. 

Later, Ellie talks to her father, and we learn that a knife-wielding maniac killed Ellie’s mother. During a shower scene, Ellie has another vision with a knife. That’s the problem with having a character who sees things. Everything that can be scary isn’t scary because you know that it’s just a vision. Every time Ellie screams, she seems unnecessarily panicky. You want to shake her and say, “Ellie! Girl! You have visions! Stop screaming!” Any tension is destroyed.

Ellie eventually connects with Sarah. The best-friend character has been reclusive because the body they found was Melinda’s. Do you remember? The missing older sister. Well, enough of that – Ellie’s gotta ditch this downer! She has a date!

Ellie and Brian go to a lake. They almost drown, but they’re saved by a fisherman. Great date. 

He laughed. “Not what I was going to say. In fact, I don’t know what I was going to say.” He gazed at her thoughtfully. “You’re different from the other girls I’ve dated.”

Oh, god. Anyone who has read my review of The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne knows how I feel about that statement.

“Oh?” Ellie’s heart quickened. She didn’t really want to hear about other girls he’d gone out with. 

Brian’s expression turned serious. “Yeah. You’re a lot quieter. Most girls think they have to chatter constantly. And you’re taller.”

“Thanks,” Ellie replied, rolling her eyes. What a compliment.

Yeah, Ellie, what a compliment. Why are you hanging out with him? He should have just said that she’s taller and that’s it. Then I’d think he’s kind of funny. Instead, it’s “Bitches be talking!”

For reasons I don’t understand, they kiss and it’s gross. Not for them, I guess, but for me, the reader.

Meanwhile, in the story that is surely not connected to Brian in any way, the police are looking for Melinda’s boyfriend, Brett. They even have a picture of her boyfriend! In a shocking twist, Brett is Brian!

At this point, Ellie becomes a police psychic. She brings Sarah’s father to a hole in a tree. He tells her to wear gloves if she’s looking for a murder weapon. You heard that right. He does not say, “Hey, sixteen-year-old girl. I’m the cop here. I’ll retrieve a murder weapon from the hole.” Instead, he says, “If you’re gonna stick your whole-ass hand in there, don’t get fingerprints on it.” Police inactivity is the most realistic thing in the book.

After Ellie pulls out the knife, she tells the cop about Brian/Brett. Then Sarah pops out of the bushes like a garden snake. And then she skitters off as quickly as she appeared. 

There’s some red herring behavior from Brian/Brett. He gets arrested, but he escapes the police. Ellie learns that her mother was also a psychic who helped the police. Remember that knife-wielding maniac? She assisted in his capture. 

Sarah keeps freaking out and screaming, not being home, and showing up at crime scenes. Finally, Ellie keeps getting visions including being buried, gold, and more knives, each time sending her into conniptions.

Turns out Melinda was planning to run off with Brett the night she disappeared. Sarah thinks she drove her sister straight into Brett’s arms after an argument between the sisters. Sarah and Ellie go to confront Brett. In the most American moment in the book, Sarah gets her father’s “extra gun.” 

Sarah and Ellie go to the forest and find a gold button. Brett appears and asks to see the button. Sarah’s father is also there. Finally, Sarah shoots someone.

She shoots her dad. She figures out that he’s the one who killed Melinda.

“It was an accident,” Lieutenant Wilkins insisted. “I didn’t want Melinda to leave, to go away with him.” He glared up at Brett, disgust on his face. “We fought. I didn’t mean to shove her. She fell and hit her head. An accident. You have to believe me, Sarah. I loved her. I loved her more than anything!”

Then he attacks Brett. Sarah shoots her father in the shoulder. 

Her father is taken into custody, and since he’s a cop, he’s probably out the next morning and fully acquitted. His daughter was somehow at fault. That’s not in the novel, but that’s what I think happened.

However, in the novel is he’s taken away, Brett stops being Brian, and he and Ellie can live in peace. And Sarah is fine, I guess, even though her sister is still dead and her father is in jail (at least for one night).

Also, Brett has visions. Well, not exactly. He can read minds. And he has some visions. Or Melinda just sent him visions because he’s a mind reader. And the book is over.

I don’t know where to start with this one. I didn’t remember anything that happened in this book except the reveal that the titular mind reader was the annoying guy. And I read this two weeks ago. It’s like Stine’s publisher was all, “Kids these days are into mind reading. Write me a book about mind reading.” And then Stine wrote the whole book and 146 pages in he thought, “Oh shit! I was supposed to have a mind reader! I’ll make it this bland guy and he can be a little weird sometimes.” The books in the middle are the hardest to write about. There’s nothing insane enough to remember, they’re not surprisingly good, or they’re not so bad I can complain about for 3000 words. The Mind Reader is so far the most skippable book in the Fear Street series. Here’s to hoping the next one is better.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.