Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Wrong Number

Before cell phones, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for a friend to call on the family phone and say to you, “Turn on channel eight.” And then you’d just sit there and watch the X-Games together until your father wants to use the phone and frankly, you’ve been on the phone for long enough, young lady, and there are other members of the house who need to use it.

That is all to say that I didn’t spend my phone time pranking. By the time I was a major phone user, caller ID was too prevalent to engage in phone-based pranks. Eventually, call phones became ubiquitous, but I still didn’t feel the need to prank and, besides, caller id came with the phone, right next to Snake.

Caller ID was clearly not a thing in my latest Fear Street book review. The girls in The Wrong Number spend their night calling their classmates and “pranking” them, although the pranks are more breathy talking than “Is your refrigerator running?” Either way, murder happens because that’s what the cover promises.

Immediately, we get a Fear Street trope: a chapter from the perspective of a nameless murderer. This time, the nameless one is someone who has screwed up in the past, but this time, they’re planning a nasty surprise for another nameless someone. After two pages of that, we finally get to meet our protagonists.

Their names are Deena and Jade and, like many Stine BFFs, they are opposites while somehow still being the same. Deena is shy and blonde. Jade is outgoing and brunette. They are both skinny white girls from the suburbs. How do I know they’re skinny? They make fun of the fact that the two fat kids in school are dating each other. Cool start. Wanna go after the poor kid next?

Anyway, Deena just got a brand new phone with all these buttons and Jade calls the next-door neighbor. Jade tells her that the local mall has selected her as the “worst-dressed shopper of the month.” The neighbor recognizes Jade immediately. 

Then Jade calls a random boy from school and tries to seduce him. He doesn’t fall for it either. Finally, Deena gets in on the fun and calls her crush, Rob Morell. While she’s not as breathy as Jade, she does refer to herself as his secret admirer. This time, he falls for it, but really, Deena isn’t joking around, unlike Jade. She doesn’t reveal her true identity, but she promises to call Rob the next day.

And speaking of the next day, Deena’s half-brother Chuck is arriving at the airport to stay with Deena’s family for a few days. He’s been in some trouble and needs a new location. He is also our red herring. You’d think he’d be the creepy one, but the true creeper is Deena.

Her first glimpse of Chuck was promising. She hadn’t seen him since he was about ten, and he’d grown up since then. He was tall now, and his T-shirt and tight jeans showed off the taut muscles of an athlete. His hair was thick and sandy above startlingly blue eyes.

Ew, Deena, that’s your brother. Also, they’re pretty close in age. Did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Deena’s mom was pregnant? Or did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Chuck’s mom was pregnant? The timeline is unclear.

Suddenly, Deena’s dad slams on the brakes! There’s an accident! A car is on fire! A kid screams for his dog! Chuck runs to the car! There’s an explosion! Chuck emerges with the dog! Exciting times are had by all! Deena calls Chuck crazy for rescuing the dog. Man, Shadyside is a dangerous place for dogs. If they’re rescued, the hero is called crazy and their sister questions their sanity. The nice ones are killed off in an attempt to raise stakes, so the only ones left are demonic hell beasts. 

Then we get a free verse from our murderer. 

Okay, okay.

So he was having a little trouble keeping it together.

Bid deal.

He needs to work on it a little before taking it to the open mic.

The girls are back to pranking, which is just Deena calling Rob and flirting with him. Not a super funny prank, but at least they’re not giving the fat kids a hard time. Chuck walks in on them and he wants in. He calls in a bomb threat to the bowling alley. Then he calls their classmate, Bobby, who lives on Fear Street, refers to himself as “The Phantom of Fear Street,” and then says that he has his “evil eye” on Bobby. At least it’s not a bomb threat, I guess. Finally, Chuck coughs and then falls over. Then there’s a chapter break. After that, he gets up and yells, “Booga, Booga.” 

Despite Chuck’s cringy behavior, Jade, Deena, and Chuck grow closer. They eat burgers. They do math homework. They read the newspaper. You know, kid stuff. After the girls tell Chuck about how scary Fear Street is, he decides to cure them of their phobia. He flips through the phone book and calls the first number whose address is listed on Fear Street. A woman answers screaming.

“Please,” the woman begged. “Whoever you are, you’re my only hope! Any minute now he’ll-” But her voice was cut off by a man’s bellow of rage. While the three teens listened, horrified, the speaker phone amplified terror-stricken screams and then the sound of shattering glass.

“Hello? Hello?” Chuck said into the phone.

And then the woman was back. “Please come!” she begged again. “Please help me! You’re my only-” There was the sound of a slap, and then a new, gruff voice came on the line.

“Who is this?” the voice growled.

“What’s going on here?” countered Chuck.

“It’s none of your business,” growled the man. “You’ve got the wrong number, do you understand?”

Then the man hangs up. The kids don’t call the police. Instead, they choose to go to the address they called. Remember when you could just look up someone’s address and phone number in a giant book? What a privacy invasion. Nowadays, it takes several rounds of clicking to find out someone’s phone number, address, social security number, workplace, kids’ names, kids’ schools, favorite ice cream flavor, and credit score.

So the kids drive over to the house. The back door is open, because of course it is, and they find a dead woman. That’s when they finally call 911, but they’re interrupted. A masked man attacks them! He orders the teens to drop the phone, put down the knife, and we get some general chattiness from the killer. The kids get into their car to escape, but the man gets in his car and the chase is on!

“Turn left!” cried Deena. With a protesting squeal the little car turned onto Canyon Drive. The masked man’s headlights were still behind them. “Turn right!” Deena screamed. “Now left!”

They lose him and Chuck calls 911 a second time, referring to himself once again as “The Phantom of Fear Street.” You know they know which house you call from, right? Like, the 911 people know. But the kids didn’t and they’re surprised when a detective shows up at their door.

Chuck lies and says that they were at home all night and never left. Unfortunately, there’s a witness that places them at the Farberson residence, the scene of the crime, at the time of the murder – Mr. Farberson himself. Of course, that’s not enough to arrest Chuck. However, there is special clay that is only found on Fear Street on Chuck’s vehicle, so this special clay is enough for them to book Chuck. The clay screams with the cursed souls of Fear Street, so it’s very specific. It can be loud, but it’s great for azaleas. 

After Deena and Jade go to the police to tell them the truth, the police refuse to believe the girls, so they have to take matters into their own hands to prove Chuck’s innocence.

Then the girls talk about boys for a few weeks and Bobby, the kid Chuck prank called, threatens Chuck through Deena. Oh, and they also realize that the person in the mask is Mr. Farberson, the husband of the murder victim. Things are moving both slowly and quickly.

The girls go to Mr. Farberson’s office and they dress incognito, which involves a wig and layers. Then they pretend to be from a temp agency and rummage through his office only to find a pamphlet for Buenos Aires. Then they follow him to his old worker’s house and spot a package. Mr. Farberson takes the package and throws it away. The girls go dumpster diving to retrieve the package, hoping it has something to exonerate Chuck, but it contains only a dead cat. Jeez, cats aren’t safe in Shadyside, either.

Meanwhile, Rob winks at Deena from across rooms and speaks in riddles disguised as flirting. I thought Rob and his doublespeak would factor into the plot somehow, but he does not factor at all. I know this because we’re finally at the climax and he hasn’t done anything except showcase his eye problems and Cheshire Cat speech patterns.

The girls break into the Farberson residence, and they find a letter addressed to Mr. Farberson from the late Mrs. Farberson, wherein she tells him that she’s leaving and she’s taking the cat. Sort of.

“‘Dear Stan,’” Deena read. “‘There’s no use arguing anymore. I have made up my mind to leave you, and nothing will change that. I know you can’t make a go of the restaurant. When I gave you the money to buy it I believed that finally you would be successful at something. But once again you are failing.

“‘I refuse to give you any more money. In the last five years you have gone through almost all of my inheritance. I have to save something for myself.

“‘I’ll be by Saturday night to pick up my things. Good-bye, Edna.’”

So he plans to kill her and then run off to Buenos Aires with his secretary. And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for these meddling kids!

But first, he has to come home, knock out Jade, and then chase Deena through the house while shouting vaguely sexual threats and confessing to the murder of his wife. Eventually, Deena is locked in the same room as Jade. She revives her friend and they jump out the window and into an adjacent tree. Then, Mr. Faberson finds a chainsaw and starts to cut down the tree! Somehow his neighbors just ignore the screaming girls and the sudden lumberjackery, and Mr. Farberson cuts down the tree. It crashes to the ground with the girls in it.

Deena wakes up on the porch surrounded by her family, including Chuck, and the police. Chuck told the police that Deena and Jade are going to break into Mr. Farberson’s house. Also, Detective Frazier says that Mr. Farberson was suspect number one from the beginning, and they kept Chuck in jail so Mr. Farberson wouldn’t think he’s a suspect. But now that Mr. Farberson tried to kill a couple of kids and the police have the evidence they need, Chuck is free to go. 

I feel like there could have been a better way to go about doing this.

Most of the book was about the girls attempting to prove their friend’s innocence, and I liked that specific aspect. However, the fact that it was all a police set-up and the police were already investigating Mr. Farberson makes the girls’ efforts pointless. Compound that on top of Chuck’s incarceration trauma and Deena’s interrogation wherein the police berate her and call her a liar, the police behaved unethically and if there is any justice, the department would have been reprimanded and the family would have grounds for a lawsuit. However, since we live in a semi-police state, this all seems like standard police procedure. Ruin the lives of innocent people in pursuit of a vague idea of justice as administered by the police union.

Are the girls good detectives? Absolutely not. Are the girls competent detectives? It seems they’re more competent than the police department, but those dudes just look for special dirt.

That being said, would I recommend this one? Yeah, sure. It’s entertaining enough if you can look over the fat-shaming that comes out of nowhere and serves no purpose other than to put down some ancillary characters. And if you overlook the police. And if you overlook some plot elements. Basically, other than a few character traits, the treatment of other characters, and the plot, it’s a fine read. 


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 – Fear Street: Silent Night

Every year when I enter a store and see that first inkling of the holidays, whether it be a single tree, a splotch of red, or a display that houses snowman ornaments, a sense of dread settles over me like a peppermint-flavored miasma. It’s that time of year when there are songs about casual sexual coercion veiled as “Christmas music” on the radio and boomers are telling me I should be jolly. No other holiday elicits such nosiness and intrusion. “Why don’t you put a smile on your face? It’s Christmas!” No, Karen, I will not. I’m just trying to buy some laundry detergent and a slice of cake before I go back out into the blistering cold to drive home in a freezing car that will finally warm up as I pull into my driveway. Or, it’s not cold enough and there’s no snow, and I know that when summer comes around, it won’t be just irresponsible hunters and gender reveal parties that will cause wildfires. And then there’s the gross consumerism driven by the capitalist quagmire we are all entrenched in.

It’s fitting that Fear Street: Silent Night takes place in a department store. A multi-story temple to excess from the ’80s is a perfect symbol of Christmas. So, get under a blanket and read this cozy tale of murder with me.

our protagonist is looking through a mirror or an ornament or something. none of that happens in this book

Our protagonist, Reva Dalby, is, to put it mildly, a bitch. She works in her father’s department store at the perfume counter and spends her time making fun of the customers. This isn’t what makes her bitch. I have no problem with Reva’s animosity toward customers. I understand it. As someone who has worked in retail, the job would be great except for the customers, especially today when every terrible person thinks they should be allowed to wander in and abuse the hourly workers. What makes her terrible is her laziness and rich-girl entitlement. Her boss asks her to stock something and she refuses to do it, invoking her father’s name. She’s as bad as the customer who says, “You need to give me this whole thing for free because I have an expired coupon and the customer is always right.” 

Anyway, while she’s not working and making fun of customers, she puts on her lipstick. She puts the color to her lips and she starts bleeding. Someone has slipped a needle into her lipstick!

We go back two weeks and Reva is breaking up with her terrible boyfriend, Hank. 

Once, he’d punched his fist through a screen door because she refused to go to a dumb Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with him.

That’s not great. When she breaks up with him, he flips out and demands to know why she is breaking up with him. She says that there’s someone more interesting and he doesn’t like that. He says, “You’ll be sorry about this, Reva.” He grabs her and yanks her around. For some reason, she’s the bad guy in this scene! What? Hank is the one yelling and grabbing at her, but she is cold so she’s portrayed as the bad guy. We’re entirely too casual about domestic abuse now, and I think things have gotten better. Think about how bad things were back then. How’s that for your ‘90s nostalgia?

Anyway, after Reva breaks up with Hank, she goes to visit her father at the department store. There, in the dark, someone touches her from behind! She spins around and comes face to face with a man!

A man-nnequin, that is. Prepare yourself, this is not the last of the mannequin-based scares.

As she heads to her father’s office, the previous security guard, Mr. Wakely, rushes past her. Her father just fired him because Mr. Wakely was drinking on the job. Also, Mr. Dalby needs some cheap labor, er, kids to work during the holidays. They can make extra spending money! And Mr. Dalby can add another story to his mansion.

Reva offers a job to Mitch, the boy she’s currently smitten with. Then his girlfriend, Lissa-with-two-esses, asks for a job. Reva tells her to dress nice and show up for work at the perfume counter. 

Reva’s cousin, Pam, also asks for a job and Reva tells her that there aren’t any positions, which is a lie, and Pam knows it’s a lie. Pam is so upset she calls her boyfriend, Foxy. We’ll get to him later. Then she hangs out with her two friends, Chad and Mickey, the latter of which is Mr. Wakely’s son. Remember? The guy who was fired? Anyway, Pam, Chad, and Mickey (whom Stine just has to tell us has a bad complexion because of the chocolate he eats) go to 7-11. At the counter, the cashier (whom Stine just has to tell us is chubby) tells Chad to empty his pockets. Chad insists that there’s nothing in them and then cops show up. The Three Amigos jump into Pam’s car and there’s a police chase. They lose the cops, and then Chad reveals that he had some jalapeno dip in his pocket. They are almost arrested over jalapeno dip. Some fucking Kraft shit from 7-11. Kids, do crimes better.

At school the next day, the last person to ask Reva for a job is Robb – a big guy whom Reva thinks is perfect for Santa. She tells him it’s a public relations job and he seems excited.

She couldn’t wait till Saturday morning. Robb would show up in a suit and tie, no doubt, ready to begin his important public relations job – only to be handed a bright red Santa costume, complete with beard, wig, and stupid pointy hat. And Lissa would be standing there in her glitziest dress and be sent to the stockroom to unload boxes and stock shelves.

They’ll be mortified, Reva thought, grinning from ear to ear. Mortified!

Congratulating herself on her cleverness, she pulled into her driveway, heading along the row of tall hedges to the four-car garage in back.

I don’t think she knows what “clever” means. 

While Reva is at home, Hank comes over to ask for a job. She refuses and then he gets angry. Once again, she is written as the bad guy while we’re supposed to be sympathetic to a man who yells that she’ll be sorry for not giving him a job. There’s a passing mention that he can be nice, but the only times we see Hank are when he’s dressed like a background dancer in Grease and grabbing at women. 

The big day arrives and Lissa shows up in a nice outfit only to be told that she should go home to change because she’s in the stockroom. Frankly, I’d rather be in the stockroom because customers are terrible and I’d rather wear comfortable clothes, but Lissa is all, “The extra ‘s’ is not for ‘stockroom!’” and is upset that she has to take inventory. Also, Robb is upset that he has to be Santa Claus, but he is open to enjoying the job.

The store opens up and Reva is pulled from behind! It’s Hank and he grabbed her to inform her that he got a security job at the department store. So he’s grabbing people from behind now, and, still, somehow Reva is the bad guy. Yeah, Reva is a jerk, but Hank is a muscular guy yelling at her and leaving marks on her arm.

Meanwhile, Pam is talking to Clay and Mickey. She says that Foxy got a job at Dalby’s and that prompts Clay to reveal a way for Pam and Mickey to get revenge and have a nice Christmas.

“I’ve already worked it out with the night security guard at Dalby’s,” Clay whispered excitedly, leaning close to Pam and Mickey. “I’m going to rob the store.”

Oh shit! A traditional Christmas heist! What’s the plan, Clay?

“Maywood said he’d open a back door and let me in. Then he said he’d let me take whatever I wanted. No problem. He’ll even stand guard for me.”

Is . . . that the whole plan? And it took two of you to figure this out? Maybe I shouldn’t have such high expectations for heists in these books. Pam is apprehensive, but all she has to do is drive the getaway car. It seems that all three of them are in, and Pam thinks that since Clay has everything planned out, what could go wrong? She’s right. What could go wrong with a plan concocted by a teenager and a department store night guard that can be summed up in two sentences?

Two weeks pass. Reva has been dropping not-so-subtle hints to Mitch. Finally, Reva walks up and kisses Mitch – just a mild case of assault. Unfortunately for Mitch, Lissa sees their embrace and she all, “The extra ‘S’ is for ‘stay away from me.’” Mitch chases after Lissa, and Reva calls him “a wimp.” Then she remarks, “But at least he’ll be my wimp soon.” Okay, Reva, cool line.

Reva goes back to her counter and there is a present for her. It’s a bottle of cologne. She picks it up and sprays it on herself. It’s blood and now her cashmere sweater is ruined. Is she worried about whose blood it is? No. Just the sweater thing. She thinks that Hank sent the bottle of blood, so she rushes over to his security station and starts yelling the second she gets there. Of course, Hank says he didn’t send her anything, but Reva still vows to get him fired. As she’s waiting for her father, the sudden sound of machine-gun fire echoes through the department store.

Don’t worry! It’s just some Christmas lights popping. The thought of machine-gun fire in a department store reads differently now, and the scene is the most unsettling thing that happens in this book – even if it wasn’t actually gunfire. It has not aged well. 

Reva ends up not getting Hank fired, but her father does tell her that she should go home and change. Well, first he says that she should get something from the store that, you know, they’re currently in. She says she would never wear clothes from a store as tacky as Dalby’s. But she’ll definitely have the same name and work there, though.

She heads home and a white Ford Taurus starts following her. It even speeds up when Reva speeds up. It makes the same wild turns as Reva. It follows her all the way home and traps her in her driveway. Then a man gets out of the Taurus and runs after her. 

“I accidentally smashed into your taillight. I’m really sorry,” the man said, taking off his cap and wiping the perspiration off his broad forehead.

“I hate it when people bump your car and then just drive off,” the man explained, replacing his cap. “So I followed you. I was trying to signal you. Didn’t you see me?”

Dude, I think that’s noble, but if the person is flying around corners like they’re about to talk about the importance of family, you should just let them go. 

Over in the poor side of town, it’s finally time for Pam and company to execute their brilliant heist plan. Pam drives the Sea’s Eleventy to the department store without any trouble, and she parks in the designated loading dock. This is when Clay reveals that he has a gun just in case. This is America – I’d expect them all to have guns, but Pam is noticeably worried. Also, the night guard who was supposed to be their lookout is nowhere to be seen. In fact, no one is in the department store. The trio proceeds to the electronics section to get a ‘90s stereo that costs the downpayment on a house and can record off the radio. 

It’s not all smooth sailing. Suddenly, they hear another voice. It’s a different security guard and he’s threatening to shoot them over one of those wavy CD racks. This is what America is about – the murder of underprivileged teens over petty merchandise that will be tacky in ten years. 

The kids run away as the guard sounds the alarm. Then Pam hears a gunshot.

“Clay – no!” Mickey shrieked from right beside her.

Pam watched the guard go down, clutching his bloodied chest, falling like a heavy sack of flour. 

And now Clay, still holding the pistol, his face twisted in horror, was running, running to catch up with Pam and Mickey.

They run out to the loading dock, but Pam’s car is missing!

Oh, they were at the wrong dock. Their car is in the next loading dock. Pam drives everyone home in silence.

The next day, Pam checks the newspaper. 

The guard was killed and $25,000 was stolen. 

But they hadn’t opened a safe or anything. Pam calls Clay and asks him if he took the money. He has some questions about the robbery himself.

“My gun wasn’t loaded,” Clay repeated. “I just carried it for show.”

“You didn’t shoot him?”

“No way,” Clay said, sighing loudly. “No way.”

“That means-” Pam started, closing her eyes trying to think.

“That means someone else killed the guard,” Clay finished her sentence for her. “And someone else took the money.”

Back at the store, Mr. Dalby talks to Reva about the robbery. She is only half-listening but she does hear that the security guard was shot in the back. Mr. Dalby wonders why the security guard would turn his back on the thieves. 

While Reva is working, Mitch says that Lissa broke up with him, leaving him free to date Reva. Reva responds by rejecting him and he yells that she “can’t do this to people.” Well, technically, Mitch, she didn’t do it to people, she did it to a person. It’s a dick move on Reva’s part, but I’ve never seen two individuals make out accidentally and I think that is just a plot contrivance that only exists in teen comedies.

He leaves and Reva gets a call from Pam, which she rejects, and a big present, which she opens despite every gift in the book being a horrible prank. This time, it’s a body! Er, a mannequin that Reva insists looks real.

This is the top result for “realistic mannequin.”

While all that mannequin stuff happens, Pam gets a call from someone with a rough voice that says that they saw what Pam did and they want their share of ten thousand dollars. She tells Foxy what’s going on – robbery, blackmail, everything. She also tells Clay, who threatens to kill the voice on the phone.

Reva goes to confront Hank about his present-based pranks. He continues to insist that he’s not the one sending her gifts.

“I feel sorry for you.”

His words stung like a slap in the face. She uttered a low cry. “You feel sorry for me?” She felt like laughing and crying at the same time. “I don’t understand,” she managed to say, confused by her strong feelings.

Anyone could have sent you those things,” Hank explained. “You don’t have a friend in the world, Reva. Everyone hates you. Everyone. I can think of ten people who hate you enough to put a needle in your lipstick.”

“I feel sorry for you,” Hank repeated, not backing off, not letting her off the hook. “You don’t have a friend in the world.”

Reva bursts into tears and talks about how hard she became when her mother died. Hank comforts her. Sure, he’s nice now, but what will he do when you don’t want to watch the latest offering from Paul W. S. Anderson? Dent your car? 

Pam needs to talk to Reva, but first, she has to be kidnapped. The voice on the phone is physically behind her and he demands ten thousand dollars. She turns around and discovers who has been blackmailing her. Does she let us, the audience, know who it is? No. But she does tell Foxy.

The next day, Reva is proud of herself for showing up to work ten minutes early – a virtue only a boomer would think is a good thing. Hey, I used to show up to work fifteen minutes early every day. Was I treated better than the co-worker who showed up ten minutes late every day while holding a Starbucks cup? No. The same customers yelled at us and we were paid the same shitty wage with no benefits and if your grandmother was in the hospital, you still have to go to work. Don’t put in the extra effort. The ones above you don’t. No, I’m not bitter at all.

Anyway, she comes to work and Robb and Mitch are fighting in the stockroom. The stockroom manager tells them to solve it after work. Later, Reva takes her little brother to see Robb/Santa, and Reva figures out that it’s not Robb in the Santa suit after Michael says that Santa is wearing a pillow. At work, Reva gets another big present. This time, it’s not a mannequin disguised as a dead body – it’s an actual dead person. Mitch has been murdered and Reva knows who did it.

She pins the murder on Robb. He must have slipped away to murder Mitch instead of going to work. The police show up and arrest Santa. Merry Christmas, kids, Santa is in handcuffs. And his lawyer is an elf, and not one of the smart ones, so Christmas is canceled. 

Pam shows up and is all, “He didn’t kill Mitch! He snuck away so we could awkwardly do some over-the-clothes petting behind the women’s shoes!” See, Foxy and Robb are the same person.

“Foxy told me that he had been doing mean things to frighten you. Playing cruel jokes. He said he put a needle in your lipstick. And he sent you things. A cologne bottle. A mannequin in a box. I told him it was silly. But he was so angry at the way you treated me, at how awful you were to me. And at how you tricked him into being Santa Claus, how you humiliated him in front of everyone.”

Reva avoided Pam’s eyes.

“But that’s all he did,” Pam continued. “You’ve got to believe me. He didn’t kill Mitch. I know he didn’t. I know he couldn’t.”

Okay, the cologne bottle and the mannequin are whatever, but the needle in the lipstick is an actual assault. Is there a single dude in this book that isn’t a murderer, a blackmailer, a thief, a wall puncher, a casual assaulter, or a capitalist? And Reva is the bad guy? 

Well, sort of. Like a modern Disney villain, the real killer shows up in the third act.

It’s Mr. Wakely.

Who? Exactly. Mr. Wakely is Mickey’s dad. You know? The one who was laid off at the beginning of the book and spends his time drinking. That one.

What happened was that Maywood, the security guard who was supposed to help the kids, was helping Mr. Wakely, who was going to rob the store’s safe. However, the other security guard showed up and Mr. Wakely saw the guard raise his gun at Mickey. Mr. Wakely shot the guard to protect his son. And then he killed Mitch because he was blackmailing Mickey. Finally, he stashed the body in a nearby container that Reva just happened to open. Now, Mr. Wakely has to kill Reva because she knows too much.

He lunges at her, she ducks, and he falls over a railing.

Reva is a dynamic character and I kind of liked her. It’s novel to get a Stine protagonist with a clear character arc. He usually employs static slasher archetypes. Reva herself is a slasher archetype – the spoiled rich bitch who usually gets killed somewhere toward the beginning of the second act. In this one, she realizes how she has been treating people and vows to change. However, Mr. Wakely’s death is vertically dependent. Instead, a situation should arise that would force Reva to sacrifice herself to save her cousin from Mr. Wakely. Or, even better, because Reva turned over a new leaf and reconciled with her cousin, Pam should have aided in Reva’s escape.

As for the other characters, Pam and Robb are the most sympathetic ones. Pam is given a lot to do, and I liked the Foxy/Robb connection. However, Robb’s pranks would be acceptable if it weren’t for the needle one. It’s a good scare, but Robb literally drew blood with that one.

My patience for the slasher tropes of unlikable men and fake-outs was exacerbated in this novel. Also, Christmas isn’t necessarily a major factor. And nothing is “silent” nor does silence affect the plot in any way, as the title of the book would suggest.

Overall though, this is one of the better Fear Street books. We have actual character growth, twists that make sense, and a coherent plot. Reva has an actual arc, and the side characters are distinct and interesting. The plot twists make sense and there are indications of the twists throughout the book. And finally, the way everything comes together in the third act and all the plotlines are wrapped up with a neat bow was satisfying. 

This book is for those of us who wish October was an extra two months. So, from me, I hope you’re warm and safe, you are vaccinated, and you have a very Happy Holiday Season.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       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 – 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 – 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 – Fear Street: The New Girl

Listen to this on The Podcast!

Being the first in a series is difficult, just like being the new kid in a school. There’s a need to set a precedent, whether it be a cool exterior to protect yourself from peer ridicule or a tone for subsequent books. I have never been the new kid. I have never had to deal with the trauma of moving to a new place and everyone staring at you like a laboratory specimen. On the other hand, I never had an opportunity to reinvent myself. Even if I dramatically changed over the summer, I would still have the stigma of being the weird kid who reads all the time and tells scary stories (both of which were true of me).

I’m reading the first entry in the Fear Street series. R. L. Stine’s publishers didn’t think a teen horror series wouldn’t work. They even thought that there shouldn’t be too many scares, and the early books feature a low body count. Thankfully, the publishers must have figured out that teens love horror and the body counts increased. The first in a series is a difficult thing to be. I don’t care what people say, the pilots of The Office and Parks & Recreation, two shows I adore, are tough to watch. The New Girl has not changed my mind, unfortunately. I’m just happy that this new kid on the block was able to shed the terrible first impression he made when he told everyone, “My name is Jacob, but I go by J Cool Smooth.”

FSTheNewGirl
Making friends is really tough when they’re just half a torso, a ’70s lunch box, and a skirt. Honestly, that would make a better book.

The book starts with a girl saying good-bye to someone named “Anna,” whom she murdered.

As quickly as that happens (a page), a boy named Cory is in love with the titular new girl. Cory is the star of the school gymnastics team and has a childhood best-friend named Lisa, who is apparently funny, but she never says anything funny.

I don’t know if I just went to the poorest school in the United States, but these teams that schools have are just ridiculous. A gymnastics team? A swim team? What are these? My school had a soccer team that won a lot, a football team that lost all the time, and an Academic Olympics team that also lost all the time. I was on that last one.

The new girl is named Anna and for the first twelve pages, I thought she was a ghost. Of course, that’s not it. That would be too obvious. Instead, it’s the second most obvious thing.

But not before we get gross making out between Cory and Anna! Because that’s what we get. Cory is strangely obsessed with making out with her. After they kiss, her little brother, our red herring named Brad, shows up staring at them angrily through windows and yelling that Cory is going to die if he gets close to his sister. He comes from a long line of brothers who are strangely obsessed with their sisters.

Anyway, there’s also a random neighbor with a large dog that provides more red herring shenanigans. His dog provides fake-outs in the form of jumping on Cory from behind.

Unfortunately, the only death in the book is a cat attached to Lisa’s locker. I would have rather seen one of Cory’s friends get killed. Have I not mentioned them? Yeah, their names are David and Arnie and I can’t tell the difference between the two. They’re such stock characters that they’re perfect sacrifices to raise the stakes. Friends of the main character, so it can bother him, and they have no personalities besides generic obnoxiousness, so the audience isn’t too upset at their demises.

But no. Instead, a random cat gets it and the friends are forgotten.

Eventually, Lisa and Cory run around the band room while chasing Brad. I’m sorry I can’t go into too many details about the book – believe me when I say not much happens. It’s mostly Cory trying to make out with Anna followed by a dog attack or Brad staring at them.

There’s a scuffle between Brad and Cory. Our main character subdues Brad and that’s when Anna picks up a knife and tries to stab her brother. Then she pushes Cory out the window, but Cory keeps himself on the ledge with his massive gymnast legs. Brad tells us what happened.

“She isn’t Anna. She’s Willa. She’s Anna’s sister.”

“When Anna fell down the stairs and died, Mom and I suspected that it wasn’t an accident, that Willa pushed her,” Brad said, rubbing the bump on his head. “She was always insanely jealous of Anna. Anna had everything. Anna was beautiful. She had a million friends. She got straight A’s without having to study hard. Willa coun’t compete in any way – and Anna never let her forget it.”

“But I couldn’t prove that Willa had killed Anna. And Mom isn’t well. I knew she couldn’t survive losing both her daughters. So I never did anything about Willa.”

“Shut up, Brad. You’re stupid. You’ve always been stupid!” Willa shrieked, still struggling to free herself from Cory’s grasp.

“Like I said, Willa actually seemed okay once we moved here,” Brad told Cory, ignoring his sister’s outburst. “At least, she acted perfectly normal at home. But when you started coming around, asking for Anna, I began to suspect what Willa was doing. I noticed that she started to dress like Anna. And talk like her. I tried to scare you away, Cory. I did my best to keep you from getting involved with her. I figured out that she was calling herself Anna at school, that she was trying to slip into Anna’s identity.”

“I’m going to kill you!” Willa shrieked, her eyes on the letter opener.

Okay, so Willa killed her sister Anna and started calling herself that when they moved to Shadyside. Instead of talking to Cory like another human being, Brad decides to stare at his sister and her boyfriend and yell hysterically that his sister is dead. That’s not a good idea, Brad. His age is not explicitly said, but I hope it’s not twenty-one. This is the plan of a ten-year-old.

If this were the first Fear Street book I read, I don’t think I would have continued with the series. The characters weren’t interesting enough to continue, the mystery wasn’t intriguing, and there wasn’t any blood. Anyone one of those three things would keep me reading, but the book lacks all three. The constraints on R. L. Stine did not work in his favor, and I’m glad he was able to finally cast off those shackles and write stories full of gore and horror because that’s what I remember about Fear Street.

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: Halloween Party

Listen to this on The Podcast!

I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday. It’s the one time of year when everyone lives the way I live all year around. It’s the only time I buy decorations for my home (and those decorations are not seasonal, as far as I’m concerned). I even love those Halloween pop-up stores that are usually in an old Circuit City. In Haunted Houses, teenagers jump out at you and it’s fun to see a petite girl in a bloody wedding dress freak out a grown-ass man.

But the one thing about Halloween that doesn’t excite me is the Halloween Party. I’ll always accept an invitation because I usually like the people who pour their time into the party. However, I’m not one to seek out the experience. It’s probably because I’m not a big fan of large gatherings (especially right now, as I write this in early July).

I also don’t dress up. That’s a topic for another time.

A group of teenagers is going to a Halloween Party in the newest entry into my series “Fear Street: Too Many Pranks!”

FSHalloweenParty
What? I just need a ride to the party. You could’ve just said no. Just because I’m a Pumpkin Skull doesn’t mean you have to be rude.

Terry and Niki are staring at tombstones, Niki is partially deaf, there’s a figure that moves toward them, and it turns out to be some guy named Murphy. End of the first chapter.

Then we go back two weeks because that was such a great opening, and we’re introduced to Terry and Niki’s friend Trisha, who “has a weight problem.” Terry also mentions that his girlfriend, Niki, “wasn’t the prettiest girl at Shadyside, or the smartest, but she was definitely the most special.” Slam on Niki. Got her. This start is great! 

The three get invitations to a Halloween Party featuring “special surprises” courtesy of the most popular new girl in school, Justine. Terry says that Justine is “stacked.” This dude is just a big charmer!

We meet Lisa, the school gossip and editor of the newspaper – as if it isn’t just four kids copying articles from a service that supplies articles to school newspapers. I’m kidding, that’s not true. I was on the school newspaper. There were three of us and I actually wrote the horoscopes.

There’s also Ricky, the obnoxious practical joker, the aforementioned Murphy, the school quarterback, Alex, Terry’s rival and Niki’s ex, and some other names, like Angela or something. There are a total of nine invitees to this party, which Justine says will feature a “rad sound system and . . . excellent dance CDs.” And the party is very exclusive – even the boyfriends of names can’t attend. Not even the school’s anachronistic greasers can attend. I can hardly wait! 

Before the party, the invitees split into two groups and start a pranking war. Niki refuses to be on either side. One of the pranks includes the jocks “dissing” “Ricky Schorr with a huge plastic snake that jumped out of his locker.” I don’t think that is what dissing is but maybe things were different in the early ‘90s parlance. Or Stine used a slang term he heard in a rap song once and gleaned the meaning. Either way, pranking wars! This party is heating up!

The big day is finally here and the party is looking off the chain! There are decorations, like fake cobwebs and cutouts of witches, a kettle, a fireplace, an old man, and ten teenagers! The old man is Justine’s uncle, Philip. The party also features pizza and “exotic food” from Greece, Japan, France, and Mexico – it’s not like you can just go to a store and get this stuff! You have to go to the taco stand two blocks away.

Meanwhile, Terry makes some gross observations about the girls at the party, calling Justine’s costume “ghoulish,” and Angela “a tramp.” You are a real winner here, Terry! He does this so he can call Niki the best girl there. And that’s what girls like – being compared to other girls and calling them names. Women and other women should be adversaries, otherwise, we might finally figure out we don’t need annoying men anymore!

Justine stops the music to make an announcement as if there are more than ten people at this party. She promises surprises, and by God, she’s gonna surprise everyone.

“But first I have to tell you a true story. Throughout history people have loved to dance. But in the Middle Ages dancing was sometimes much more than just fun. In fact, some people were said to be taken by evil spirits when they danced. They would dance faster and faster, faster and faster, till they literally danced themselves to death. I don’t know if we have evil spirits here tonight, but anything can happen on Halloween. Is anyone brave enough to try some really fast music?”

This excites her nine guests. She plays a song that repeats the words, “Pump up the jam.” Which, if it’s the late ‘80s song that does exactly that, is not a fast song. Maybe it is for a bunch of upper-middle-class white kids, but it’s no “Sandstorm.” 

Suddenly, the lights go out! And there’s a body! Alex bends down to see who it is! The body is Les! He jumps up! It’s a prank! Oh, man, ten white kids, an old man, cutouts, and a dead body prank! I love this party!

The party gets even better when those aforementioned greasers ride their motorcycles through the window! They wreck up the decorations, complain about the interesting food, and ask for wine coolers. Two of the partygoers get on the bikes and ride them out while Alex and Terry force the greasers out. Justine refuses to call the cops because she doesn’t take their threats seriously. And besides, she has more surprises for everyone!

She began passing out a photocopied list. “This is a list of the items Uncle Philip and I have hidden around the mansion,” she went on. “There are treasures in every room – on both floors and in the attic and basement. Whichever team finds the most treasures by midnight will win a special prize.”

The teenagers split up and Niki goes exploring in Justine’s bedroom. She finds a fake panel in the back of her closet that opens to reveal a secret room. It’s filled with photos of Justine with an old man, racks of expensive clothes, and prescriptions for an “Enid Cameron.” 

Meanwhile, Terry finds Alex hanging, dripping with blood. Terry gets help from David, but the body disappears! They find Trisha and Niki and Justine to tell them what happened, but no one believes them. However, they find a body in Justine’s bed.

It’s another prank! I love death-based pranks! It’s so funny!

Alex says that while they were out trying to find help, the jock team went through the house and collected a bunch of treasures, therefore winning the game. What is the prize? Chocolates from Paris. 

It’s now movie time! What is the perfect movie for a spooky Halloween party in 1990? Why, Bride of Frankenstein, of course! But there’s a thunderclap and the entire house goes dark. Justine suggests they play their next game – if they’re brave enough.

They have to tell everyone the worst thing they’ve done and if the group votes on whether they’re telling the truth or not. If they lie, they are penalized.

Wow, ten kids, an old man, cut-outs, greasers, Chocolates from Paris, and house rules Truth or Dare? I love this party!

Niki disappears so Terry looks for his girlfriend instead of playing Justine’s game. In lieu of a lost girlfriend, he finds Les and a knife sticking out of Les’s chest. David shows up and the two of them cover the body. They think this is still some kind of trick from the jock team. They discover that the phone line has been cut. David leaves to find aid.

David notices that every car’s tires have been slashed. He also gets attacked by the greasers, but they run off while a faceless shape hits him over the head and drags his body away. 

Meanwhile, Terry finds Niki in the basement. Niki fell in a trap door that sent her tumbling into the basement. While looking for an escape, she finds an old newspaper article particularly illuminating:

Edward D. Cameron, 26, and his wife, Cissy, 20, were killed late last night when their car was hit head-on by a car driven by James B. Whittle, 16.

The Camerons’ car, a late-model Ford, was headed south on Old Mill Road when it was hit by Whittle’s car, a Chevrolet station wagon. According to witnesses at the scene, Whittle had been drag racing with another car, a Corvette driven by John McCormick, 16. The Cameron car spun out of control and into a ditch, where it burst into flames.

“I didn’t see anything till it was too late,” Whittle said. “They just showed up in the fog. I feel terrible about it.”

Whittle’s car sustained major damage, while the Corvette was untouched. Neither Whittle nor McCormick, nor any of their passengers, was seriously injured. Those riding with Whittle included Evelyn Sayles, 15, Joanne Trumble, 15, Arlene Coren, 16, and Robert Carter, 14. The passengers in the Corvette were Jim Ryan, 18, Nancy Arlen, 16, and Ed Martiner, 15, all of Shadyside.

The Cameron couple are survived by a daughter, Enid, age 1.

No charges were filed pending police investigation.

Niki and Terry go to confront Justine. Somehow, Justine convinces everyone it’s part of the night’s surprises, and the last one is with Les in the dining room. Everyone piles in there like idiots and Justine locks the door behind him.

Les is in there alright. But Les is slightly less alive than before (I’m surprised Stine didn’t use that one). Justine reveals herself as Enid Cameron, and the parents of each of the party guests were involved in the car crash that killed Justine/Enid’s parents. So, for revenge, Justine is going to lock them in a room and burn them alive while they listen to car accident sounds. 

Everyone panics and screams, but, if you remember, Niki is partially deaf, so she isn’t overwhelmed by the soundtrack. She gets Terry to help her open the dumbwaiter and she climbs in and falls out, again, in the basement. Philips grabs her ankle, but it’s to ask for help.

He gets a crowbar and they pry off the boards on a window to the dining room. All the kids, less Les of course, are saved and Philip drops some denouement knowledge. Philip is Justine/Enid’s father’s brother. She has spent all these years planning her revenge. Finally, at the age of thirty – yes, Justine/Enid is thirty-years-old – Justine/Enid enrolled in the school they all attend and invited them to a party to enact her revenge. Philip thought it was going to be little pranks and stuff, but since he’s in a Fear Street novel, the revenge turned deadly. When he learned what was happening, Justine/Enid attacked him and left him the basement. 

So Justine/Enid is arrested and the rest of the partygoers live happily ever after.

Oh yeah, and David stumbles out of the woods.

If there wasn’t this ridiculous prank war and this attempt at describing music trends and slang, I think I would have enjoyed this more. The revenge angle is a popular and solid set-up for a horror movie. I even liked the “she’s thirty” angle, even though, I’m sorry, but no thirty-year-old would pass for a sixteen-year-old, but I’m willing to suspend some disbelief.

The pranking angle is a problem. It served as a way to pad out the novel. If the kids had used pranking to get themselves out of the situation, then the pranking angle would be well utilized. Niki’s deafness saved the kids, so the book should have focused more on her. She sidelined as Terry’s girlfriend. He doesn’t think much of her and almost cheats on her with Justine/Enid. Frankly, Niki’s a more interesting character than anyone else, and that includes the thirty-year-old taking gym and hitting on underage kids.

Also, Terry is a terry-ble character. That’s been my time! Tip your waitress and have a Happy Halloween, whatever that may look like this year. Stay safe.

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 Super Chiller: Broken Hearts

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear

It will surprise no one that I’m not the most romantic person and Valentine’s Day is not a particularly important holiday to me. However, to my partner, Valentine’s Day is very important and he makes an effort to do something for me every year. He is clearly the hopeless romantic and I am not. This dynamic helps us to keep a stable grasp on the holiday. We neither take it too seriously, but we do take time to appreciate each other.

This is not the case for the teenagers in R. L. Stine’s Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts. They are having a pretty crappy Valentine’s Day. Murder would ruin anyone’s Valentine’s Day – or any day really. Anyway, let’s just get right into it.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

FSBrokenHearts
Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts – The ketchup got on her pictures of poor man’s Emilio Estevez, Billy Icon, and Flea from Ratt or Rat from Flea or Gnat from Spat.

In typical Fear Street fashion, we have a prologue where we meet our main characters and there’s a tragedy. First of all, we have the twins, Josie and Rachel. Josie’s horror movie stereotype is “the slutty one,” while Rachel would be “early victim.” Erica is their little sister and she would be “annoying little sister.” The last one is Melissa and she is “the nice one.” The girls are driving out to a stable and are having fun talking about boys, because in the world of Stine and the early ’90s, all girls talk about are boys and whether they have boyfriends and how they feel about those boyfriends. Erica refuses to get on a horse and the girls leave her behind.

By the end of the prologue, the one without a personality, Rachel, falls off her horse and lands on her head. We get a “The Following February” and that’s when the first part of our story actually begins.

Melissa has a dream about the horse accident. We learn that Josie blames Melissa for Rachel’s accident and their relationship is strained, if not nonexistent.

Across the street, Josie and her new boyfriend, Steve, are throwing snowballs at each other when they are interrupted by Josie’s dog.

The dog yipped and started toward Josie, as if coming to protect her from Steve. But the wet snow on the rug distracted the little dog, and it stopped to sniff it, then lick it.

“How can you stand that little rat?” Steve teased. “Why don’t you step on it and put it out of its misery?”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first red herring!

It’s also here we have our first Valentine’s Day letter. Josie opens her mail and finds the letter with the following poem:

“Violets are blue

Roses are red.

On Valentine’s Day

Josie will be dead.”

She believes that a guy named Jenkman, whom she dated a while ago, sent the messages since he seems to be stalking her ever since they broke up. Steven encourages her to ignore it, in typical horror movie red herring fashion.

We finally learn the fate of Rachel. She did not die in the equine accident but she is not the same. She sustains extensive brain damage and can’t be left alone. Rachel’s boyfriend, Luke, and Erica have been taking care of her. Josie is supposed to watch Rachel also, but Josie has failed to do that on multiple occasions, causing Erica to confront her.

Erica wants to try out for Brigadoon but she can’t if she has to watch Josie.

“You’ll have to try out some other time,” Josie said brusquely. She started to pull away from Erica, but Erica held on.

“No way,” Erica said angrily.

A gust of wind made the powdery snow swirl all around them. Josie closed her eys and tried to slip her face down into her wool scarf.

Go away, she thought. Please. Just go away, Erica.

“You’re supposed to help me take care of Rachel when she gets home from her school,” Erica scolded. “You know that, Josie. It’s not supposed to be my full-time job.”

“I know. Give me a break,” Josie said, starting to walk towards the street. “I’ll take care of her tomorrow. Promise.”

“No. Today!” Erica insisted, following her. “I don’t want to miss the tryouts. It’s just not fair. This is my first year in high school. It’s supposed to be such a big exciting year for me. And instead-“

“Tomorrow,” Josie told her, picked up her pace. “I can’t leave Steve waiting there.”

“Yes, you can,” Erica told her. “You can call and leave a message for him.”

“I don’t want to,” Josie said nastily. She began to jog across the snow.

Erica caught up to her. “I don’t believe you, Josie,” she cried breathlessly. “I can’t believe you don’t take more responsibility for Rachel. After all, it was your fault-“

Erica stopped herself.

Josie screams and falls to the ground. Did she have a sudden realization? No, she was hit by a snowball thrown by another red herring named Dave. She composes herself and leaves to meet Steve, further alienating herself from Rachel’s situation and her sister is forced to miss the Brigadoon tryouts.

Melissa and Dave, the boy who threw the snowball, seem to be a couple. I say “seem” because they’re not very affectionate. You know, there are several couples in this story, but none of them are particularly affectionate. For a story that takes place around Valentine’s Day, there isn’t much romance. Granted, this is a horror novel, but My Bloody Valentine had a love triangle so I don’t think it’s too much for some kind of heartstring-pulling. I would even settle for literal heartstring-pulling.

Back at the Josie household, Luke confronts Josie. He says that she “ruined Rachel’s life” and now she’s trying to ruin Erica’s life. Josie fails to show any remorse, insisting that Luke is “hiding behind Rachel” because he’s “too big a loser to face the real world.” Josie is actually talking about herself – Luke has no problems recognizing Rachel’s condition, while Josie is actively avoiding her so she doesn’t have to see her twin in a deteriorated state and how easily Josie could be the same way. Neither Josie nor Luke realizes this – instead, Luke stabs a desk by Josie and storms out, red herring-ing all over the scene (Did I just verb “red herring”? Yes I did). In fact, after the storm out, Josie insists to the reader that she has done nothing to warrant the behavior towards her. R. L. Stine is certainly not setting up a sympathetic protagonist.

After some house intercom shenanigans, Josie gets another Valentine:

“This Valentine’s Day

No memories to save.

The only flowers for you

Will be on your grave.”

The intercom shenanigans continue. Josie hears Rachel calling for her, so she goes to check on her only to find her asleep.

Later, while Erica is brushing Rachel’s hair, we get a new red herring.

“Josie is my sister, right?” she asked, wrinkling her forehead in concentration.

“Yes,” Erica replied. “Josie is your sister. Your twin sister.”

Rachel thought about this for a long while. Then she surprised Erica by saying, “Josie doesn’t like me anymore.”

“No!” Erica protested, letting the brush slip out of her hand. She bent down to pick it up from the carpet. “Josie still likes you, Rachel. Why would you say such a terrible thing?”

“No. Josie doesn’t like me. Josie doesn’t talk to me.”

“That’s not true-” Erica started, but Rachel interrupted.

“Well, I don’t like Josie anymore!” Rachel cried, her green eyes lighting up. “I hate Josie!”

The scene abruptly ends when Jenkman shows up at the house and asks if Josie received his Valentines and that’s the end of the chapter. Does this continue in the next chapter?

No. No, it doesn’t. Dave tries to cheat off of Josie’s math test and she turns him in. He gets mad and says that he’ll lose his wrestling scholarship since that test accounted for half of his grade, prompting him to yell, “I hate Josie McClain!” I don’t know who is worse: Josie for being selfish or Dave for attempting to cheat on a test he should have studied for and redirecting the anger that should be on himself instead at Josie. Also, if he can’t pass a high school math class with at least a C, how the hell is he going to pass college math? High school math is not hard. I am an English major, but I still had to take two semesters of college math. What was his plan? Maybe college isn’t for you, Davy-boy. You know what, it’s not going to matter soon, anyway.

We’re back to Josie and Steve and Josie gets another Valentine:

“Who’s sending these cards?

Don’t bother to wonder.

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll be six feet under.”

There’s some discussion of who it could be and after their ice skating date, they return home and Josie’s dog is dead on the floor. R. L. Stine usually kills off innocent dogs just to ramp up the stakes and that’s a common plot in ’80s and ’90s horror. I’m grateful we stopped doing that. There are better ways to write in stakes besides killing off an innocent bystander, especially when there are so many other reprehensible characters to kill instead.

The cops arrive and one of them almost pukes. You’d think with all the murder in Shadyside, the cops would be pretty phlegmatic about the death of a dog. On the other hand, maybe they’re throwing up the bullshit way to raise stakes by the needless murder of an innocent animal. Yes – I am more upset about the murder of a dog than a human. I always say – I like all dogs more than I like most people. The 2016 election proved me correct.

There are some red herring things with Jenkman buying Valentines at some kind of Valentine store that exists. It’s either a pop-up store in an old Circuit City or it’s just a Hallmark that is overdoing it with the hearts – I’m not sure, but he’s our herring and he has to herring it up all over the place.

Josie receives another Valentine:

“Roses are black,

Violets are gray.

On Valentine’s Day,

You’ll start to decay.”

This is probably the best poem yet, but that’s not saying much. Rachel is ramping up the creepy now, constantly whispering to Josie, “Someone hates you.”

In the middle of the night, Erica wakes up and does not find Josie. So, she gets a phone book (remember those?), looks for Steve’s phone number, and calls. Steve says he doesn’t know where Josie is and that they had a huge fight. Just as she hangs up, the front doorbell rings and Erica says it must be Josie. Of course, it’s not Josie. It’s two police officers, where they tell the family that Josie has been murdered.

“We found your sister in the alley behind the ice rink,” the older police officer told Erica, speaking in a low, professional voice. “We identified her by her wallet. She hadn’t been robbed. She was dead when we arrived. She had been stabbed in the back. With the blade of an ice skate. The skate was still in her back.”

Okay, old officer, isn’t there a better way to put this? First of all, why did you mention she hadn’t been robbed? It’s like when a kid stands next to a cookie jar and the first things they say to you is, “I haven’t had a cookie.” Secondly, I don’t know if the parents really need to know the grisly details seconds after learning that their daughter has been murdered. If they ask how, let them know, but otherwise, let’s give ’em a day or two, huh? Maybe just start with who she was with, what time she left, where she was going.

In the same chapter, Dave calls Melissa and says he’s in big trouble. He reveals that he sent the Valentines as a “joke.” The teenagers of Shadyside, or the teenagers of the ’80s, have terrible senses of humor and no sense of timing or setups or anything that’s actually funny. Sending death threats disguised as Valentines are not jokes. These teenagers are infuriating. Thousands of teenagers on TikTok are funny every day without resorting to death threats and pranks that involve feigning death.

Anyway, Melissa asks Dave if he killed Josie. (Whenever I write “Melissa,” I say the name like this in my head.) He says he didn’t but the Valentines are going to implicate him in her murder. He decides that the best course of action is to break into the McClain household and steal the Valentines back. While the plan is stupid, it makes sense that a teenager who thinks that death threats are the pinnacle of humor would come up with this plan.

Dave hangs out in the rain outside Josie’s house during the funeral. The door is open and unlocked. How convenient! He wanders around the house, gets spooked by laundry, and it finally culminates in screaming and confusion and Erica in a pool of blood with Dave over her body.

Then, in bold letters, we get a single page of text: “February, One Year Later.”

Apparently, Melissa and Luke are together now and they relay what happened. Erica recovered from the stabbing and Dave was arrested, but Erica chose not to press charges.

Dave told the police that he hadn’t been the one who stabbed Erica. He claimed that he had stumbled over Erica’s body while trying to get to the stairway. She had already been stabbed. Dave was so shocked and horrified, he bent down and picked up the letter opener.

And since Erica wouldn’t testify and there was no evidence, the police had to let Dave go. It’s also revealed that Luke has stopped visiting Rachel as much as before. At the end of the chapter, Melissa receives a Valentine.

“Roses are red

Violets are blue,

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll be dead too.”

In the next chapter, Rachel is yelling about Melissa and Luke and how she hates both of them while Erica brushes her hair. Also, Steve calls Erica and invites her to an ice skating party. While Erica was distracted by the phone call, Rachel disappears. She’s just in the front yard, hanging out behind a tree.

Melissa receives another Valentine:

“Flowers mean funerals

Flowers mean death.

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll take your last breath.”

After, Dave’s mom calls and says he ran away from his boarding school. He eventually shows up in her room, because of course he does. He is surprised when Melissa expresses doubt about his innocence, even though all he did was break into her home without her consent and think cheating off a test is okay. Then he promises to go find “the real killer,” which is a promise we’ve heard before from football players who were once held in a penitentiary a hundred miles from my home. Melissa shows him the Valentines she has been receiving and he runs away, saying he knows who killed Josie without having the courtesy to let Melissa and the reader.

Then he’s dead. Sorry, anticlimactic, I know. The interesting thing that happens is that Rachel yells that she goes out all the time, making her suspect number one. The next day, Melissa opens her locker and finds a cover photo:

On the inside of the locker door, someone had painted a large, broken valentine heart. Smeared dots of bright red blood dripped from the heart. Scrawled in thick red paint at the bottom were the words: YOU’RE DEAD.

Given the disconnect between the cover art and the actual contents of these novels, I’m surprised we actually got to see this scene in the novel. Anyway, a little red paint isn’t going to stop these teens from partying at the frozen lake and it’s time to figure out who the killer is!

Using logic, since one of the red herrings, Dave, is dead, and the other red herring is clearly Jenkman, the clear choice is Steve. Now, given that-

Just kidding, it’s Erica.

What? That seems pretty random, you say. Well, I’m sure this all makes sense and is tightly put together like an Agatha Christie novel.

Just kidding again. Erica killed Josie because Josie was the pretty one and then she stabbed herself to frame Dave and then killed him when he figured her out, somehow. She was mad at Melissa because she “took Luke,” because we can’t have a lady killer without some boyfriend stealing apparently.

Erica falls beneath and ice and dies. Again, anticlimactically. Luke, Melissa, and Rachel live happily ever after, I’m assuming. They’re making jokes about Groundhog’s Day in the end, after all.

I wanted to like this one. Valentine’s Day is ripe for murder-y shenanigans – ask My Bloody Valentine, which, now that I’m thinking about it, also has an out of nowhere killer. You know what? I change my mind. This is on par with other Valentine’s Day horror fare.

Although, you know what? My Bloody Valentine has some good death scenes – the ending was just ludicrous. Maybe the problem with Valentine’s Day as a horror setting is that it sounds like a neat, subversive idea. Let’s take something that celebrates love and relationships and murder a bunch of people and send actual, anatomical hearts to people, but the conclusion is never satisfying! So, this is really an allegory for the holiday itself – it starts with a great premise and some of the execution is on point, but the end can never live up to the rest of the night.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Maybe the day be filled with as much or as little horror as is your preference. ❤

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Sreet: The New Girl

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 #1: A New Fear

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

Listen to the audio version on The Podcast!

The original Fear Street novels were too tame for my sixth-grade self. I craved more blood, more mayhem, more murder. Something shocking. Something that pushes what can be done in YA fiction. Something with more petticoats.

I preferred the spin-off series Fear Street Sagas to the original Fear Street and it served as historical fiction. These books went into Shadyside’s tumultuous past, and the infamous Fier (later spelled Fear) Family, starting with Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear.

Technically, this isn’t the beginning. There is a trilogy that comes before these, but I’m not reviewing those today. Instead, I’m starting where the trilogy ends, with the newly widowed Nora Goode trapped in an insane asylum, where all good horror starts.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear
If that haircut doesn’t warn her to stay away from Creepy Eyes Brown Suit other there, then I guess nothing will keep her away.

Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some old-timey reason, that’s enough to send a pregnant woman to an insane asylum. Back then, they threw women in asylums for being too mouthy, so this is absolutely believable.

What’s unbelievable is that the asylum thinks that giving an infant to a 12-year-old, who is also a patient, is an acceptable practice, but that’s what they do while they keep trying to convince Nora that the face she saw in the flames was a hallucination. She tries to escape by making a rope out of her hair, but she is caught and they cut off her hair.

Eventually, the asylum plans to take her child, Nicholas, away from her and give him to a family that “has agreed to pay [the doctor] a large sum for a male child.” Nora resists, fighting orderlies that try to pull her away from her son’s cradle. Just as the doctor takes Nicholas from the cradle, the amulet that Nora received as a wedding gift from Daniel glows.

The fire crackled and blazed. The flames grew higher and higher. They reached past the hearth. They climbed the wall. The flames lapped greedily at the ceiling. They grew higher until all Nora could see was a wall of fire.

A man emerged from the writhing flames.

“Daniel,” Nora gasped.

Her husband had come back from the grave.

“Come and join me, Doctor,” Daniel rasped. He reached past Nora and drew the doctor into the raging inferno.

Screaming, the doctor fell to his knees. His eyes bulged. Bulged out farther and farther. Then, with a moist pop, his eyes flew from their sockets and rolled across the floor. They hissed as flames devoured them.

There’s the bloodlust I craved in middle school! That was what the regular Fear Street books were missing: ridiculous body horror and talking fire ghosts.

Nora escapes with Nicholas as the asylum burns down. They stow away on a boat, where Nora eats a rat to survive. That’s a fun scene. She is discovered and the crew thinks she is a witch. Then the boat sinks. They are adrift at sea, but eventually, wash up on shore. Somehow, she still possesses the amulet.

She turned it over and read the inscription: DOMINATIO PER MALUM.

“Power through evil,” Nora whispered. “Your father gave this to me as a symbol of his love, Nicholas. The amulet was special to him, because it had been in his family for a long time.”

Nora sighed. “Your father’s family had power and money. But they paid a heavy price. They let evil into their lives, and it destroyed them.”

Nora stared down into the ocean for a long moment. “I do not want that evil to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I do not want you to suffer the same fate your father did.”

The amulet felt heavy in her hand. Heavy and warm.

Nora brought her arm back and flung it into the calm sea.

Relief swept through her. She hugged Nicholas. “Now the Fear evil cannot touch you.”

Nora stared down into her baby’s face. “We are going to start a new life – with new names. From now on, we will be known as Nora and Nicholas Storm.”

And that’s how the book ends.

I’m just kidding. That’s just the end of part one. We get a huge time jump – eighteen years. Nicholas Storm is a fisherman who hates fish. He is also a fisherman who loves a woman named Rosalyn. However, they can’t get married because Nicholas isn’t worth enough money for Rosalyn’s strict father. Also, his mother, our original protagonist, Nora, dies as she was telling him about his father, her last words being, “Your father left you a legacy of…”

So Nicholas goes off to find his legacy so he can someday marry Rosalyn. He leaves Shadow Cove, where he was living, and what do ya’ know, he ends up in Shadyside after a man who looks a little like him yells, “Shadyside!” and disappears. Because that’s how you choose where you want to figure out your life. You wait for a ghost that vaguely looks like you to shout a location and then you buy your ticket. Also, Rosalyn gives him her good luck charm – an amulet she found on the beach, one with some Latin on the back. It’s the amulet his mother threw into the ocean if you haven’t figured that one out.

In Shadyside, he finds Fear Street and thinks about its “strange name.” He stumbles across a huge, dilapidated, burned house. The house “whispers” to him so he decides to enter the house. A woman yells at him, “Daniel Fear! You’re supposed to be dead!” And then she attacks him with a knife.

Instead of running away and giving up this stupid quest, like any other human, he sticks around and asks her questions about the people who used to live there. She starts to cry and says that he ran off with his wife, Nora Goode. That’s enough for him to figure out that his mother changed her name to Nora Storm and his father is Daniel Fear.

Lightning lashed. “I know who I am at last!” Nicholas cried over the booming thunder. “I am Daniel Fear’s son.”

He clenched his fists. “I am Nora Goode’s son!”

He threw his head back.

“I am a Fear!” he shouted. “Nicholas Fear!”

That’s what normal people do – they run into the rain and punch dance their name.

But Nicholas can’t move into the house. He rents a room from a woman and her daughter – a forward girl named Betsy Winter. The next day, he goes to a man, Mr. Manning, to talk about the inheritance he believes he is owed. The man laughs and tells him that there is no inheritance – just a bunch of back taxes on the land. But Mr. Manning owns a sawmill and hires Nicholas so he can get back on his feet. As he is leaving, an out-of-control woman runs into him while on a bicycle. She is Ruth Manning, Mr. Manning’s daughter.

At the sawmill, Nicholas meets his new co-workers – a fussy little man named Jason and a friendly hulking man named Ike. Both Ruth and Betsy show up at different times while Nicholas is working to establish their overt feelings for him, and so Jason can get jealous over Ruth and be overly protective of Betsy. He is our red herring, after all.

Someone throws a rock at the back of Nicholas’s head with a note that he doesn’t belong in Shadyside. It’s hilarious. Who throws rocks like that? And to hit Nicholas without killing him, the thrower would have to be the weakest person and only a few feet away, which makes me wonder why Nicholas didn’t see who threw the rock. That or Nicholas has a very hard head.

While fixing up his wound, Betsy reveals that she is a Goode, but she doesn’t hate the Fears. This comes up later.

At the sawmill, Ike gets his fingers sliced off, Ruth expresses more interest in Nicholas, but he doesn’t return her affections, and Betsy also expresses more interest in Nicholas.

Later, Nicholas comes home and finds Betsy dead in the kitchen, tied up next to the stove.

He noticed something thick and white pushing its way out of her mouth. Nicholas dropped her wrist. He parted her lips and teeth.

The gooey white substance billowed out of her mouth.

Dough.

Nicholas checked her nose. Thick white dough filled it, too.

Someone had stuffed Betsy’s nose and mouth with dough. And left her by the stove with her hands tied behind her back.

As the dough rose, she suffocated.

This is how serial killers on The Great British Bake-Off kill people.

At the funeral, Jason says that they should be burying Nicholas, not his cousin. Jason warned Betsy not to get close to Nicholas and he believes that Nicholas killed Betsy. Jason threw the rock at Nicholas, and, since Betsy is a Goode, that makes Jason a Goode also.

Mr. Manning is also found dead. Ruth says that her father wanted her to marry Nicholas if anything happened to him, so he reluctantly agrees to marry her, just to help her during her grieving. He figures out that since Jason is a Goode, thinks he killed Betsy, and Mr. Manning liked Nicholas, Jason must have killed Mr. Manning.

It gets violent when he goes to confront Jason, but Ruth appears and stabs Jason in the throat. She reveals that if Nicholas doesn’t marry her, then she will tell everyone that Nicholas killed Jason, and no one would believe a stranger and Fear over the daughter of a beloved local businessman. Ruth also reveals that she killed Betsy to get her out of the way and killed her father to force Nicholas to marry her.

He gets married to her but plans to poison her after the wedding. However, Rosalyn (remember her?) shows up at his house and sees Ruth wearing the amulet that Rosalyn gave Nicholas. Ruth poisons Rosalyn with the poisoned drink that Nicholas was going to give to Ruth. It ends with Nicholas resigned to being with Ruth.

“Together, we shall make Fear Street all it was meant to be,” Ruth vowed. She ran her fingers over the words engraved on the back of the amulet. POWER THROUGH EVIL.

Nicholas gazed over at the remains of the Fear mansion. Yes, he thought. Soon everyone will know the name of Fear Street.

See that, kids? If you’re evil, you can make your dreams come true!

This is a fun book, even if it is ridiculous. It’s a promising start to a seminal series in my life. It even has a perfect horror movie ending, opening up the path for many, many sequels. The nonsensical plot and deus ex machina plot devices may make some roll their eyes, but I can’t help but love the melodrama, the reveals on reveals, and, most of all, the outrageous character deaths.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts

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: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

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What the hell is homecoming? Who is coming home? Is there a home involved at all? If yes, which home? I went to an American high school. Did we even have homecoming dances? To be fair, the only dance I ever went to was my senior prom, which could be the subject of its own RMC (Rereading My Childhood), but I think I would have heard about some formal that seems to spring up at random times throughout the school year. Did my school even elect homecoming queens? Who were they? And how are they elected? If she’s an elected official, does that actually make her a “queen” is the purest sense of the word or is it more of a relic from a time when the homecoming queen was passed down through a family sent to us from God to rule over homecoming?

R. L. Stine doesn’t answer any of these questions, but he does answer the question, “Who killed the homecoming queen?” The answer will be revealed through the following twenty-nine paragraphs (not including excerpts) – one paragraph for each chapter in the book. Let’s get to it!

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

FSWhoKilledtheHomecomingQueen
My copy of R. L. Stine’s “Who Killed the Homecoming Queen” – Eek! That’s your homecoming dress? Yellow? It’s horrible! Also, you’re dead, which puts a huge damper on the limo rental.

Eva Whelan loves pep rallies, something the two of us don’t share. Besides loving pep rallies, she loves her psychic powers, which are more like Peter Parker’s Spidey-sense without the reliability or plot relevance. She also loves her best friend’s stepbrother, Jeremy. Oh, and at the end of the first chapter, the aforementioned best friend, Tania Darman, is pushed down the stairs.

Another student named Leslie Gates accidentally bumped into her. Tania considers Leslie her “rival,” so Tania is skeptical about the perceived accident. They are both vying for homecoming queen to Jason Thompson’s homecoming king. During the crowning ceremony, there is a gunshot.

It’s just a soda can. I wonder if I wouldn’t be so angry if I read this book during its publication year, 1997. A school shooting is a very real and traumatizing thing that happens seemingly every week, so using it as some bullshit cliffhanger for the end of chapter two is distasteful. This isn’t Stine’s fault, 1997 was a relatively innocent time, years before Columbine and Active Shooter Drills. However, I still had a strong personal reaction to that fake out. But let’s get back to the book. Leslie makes a grand entrance. In the audience, Eva spots Jeremy talking to his friend Keith, who is an amateur filmmaker.

Keith shook his head. “Leslie is desperate to be an actress. She’s applying to every acting school in the country. If she’s in the video, then she’ll have something to show. I’d be doing her the favor.”

“Sounds like a good deal for both of you,” Jeremy commented. “Is Leslie any good?”

“Sure,” Keith replied with a shrug. “But I’d much rather have Tania – especially if she’s Homecoming Queen!”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Eva asked. “I mean, what’s your video about?”

Keith’s eyes glittered again. “It’s called Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

That’s the name of the book! Tania wins homecoming queen and immediately passes out!

It’s just her low blood sugar. Gurl, lay off the insulin. Out of view of Tania but in front of Eva, Leslie expresses her anger at Tania’s constant winning and calls the new homecoming queen “The Golden Girl of Shadyside High.” The girl who is clearly our red herring sees something and gasps!

This time, there is something to actually gasp about. Leslie and Eva see Tania’s boyfriend, with the very ‘80’s name Sandy, making out with a girl, with another very ‘80’s name, Cherise. Because that’s what we need. More characters. Leslie says, “This will kill Tania.” and she runs away.

The next chapter starts with Eva watching a vicious argument between Tania and Sandy regarding his cheating. She breaks up with him and he does not take it well. He violently shakes Tania, and Eva panics.

It was just a part of Keith’s movie. Cool movie, Keith. This book has not aged well. High school domestic violence is no longer something hushed into shadows and used as a plot device in a pulp teen horror novel. It’s morphed into a pervasive problem that literally kills kids during History class. The domestic violence, even if it’s for a terrible movie, just made me feel gross.

Tania passes out from her blood sugar thing, again, and Eva agonizes over telling her best friend about her boyfriend’s cheating. That’s right – she still hasn’t told her best friend. Way to look out for your friend, Eva. Then someone yells they’re going to kill Tania.

It’s just Leslie, our brightest red, largest of large herrings. Our crimson whale.

Leslie bared her teeth in a vicious smile. “First you get to be Homecoming Queen. Now you steal the role in Keith’s video. You knew I was counting on that role for my college portfolio! I can’t believe you stole that from me, too!”

“But…”

“I could kill you, Tania!” Leslie clenched her fists. “I really could!”

“I have something to tell you, Tania.”

“You do?”

“After all, why shouldn’t I ruin your day, too?” Leslie said bitterly.

“Huh?” Tania frowned. “What do you mean?”

Eva’s heart sped up. Leslie is going to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, she realized. I can’t let Leslie do it! She’ll enjoy it too much. And Tania will be really embarrassed – in front of her biggest rival!

“What is it?” Tania asked Leslie.

“Not now!” Eva cried. “Leslie, come here.”

That’s why you should have told her already, Eva. She doesn’t even take that moment to tell Tania in private. She just pulls her away and we get a new scene. Eva gets a Coke with her crush and Tania’s brother, Jeremy. He expresses his desire to go to the mall and “check out the CD stores.” The fact that there’s more than one CD store, let alone a CD store, in this mall that has not succumbed to online shopping and poor business decisions, is unintentionally funny. There’s a mention of Jeremy getting in trouble at his last school. This isn’t that important, but it sets up a second, lesser red herring. Like a marron minnow. Our maroon minnow sees Sandy and Cherise making out. Geez, Sandy and Cherise, get a room. Or at least come up for air. Or maybe don’t mack on each other at the most frequented locales of the Shadyside High student body.

Tania enters but somehow doesn’t see Sandy. The chapter switches to movie filming again, and, of course, they’re filming the domestic violence scene again. Keith is either getting off on this scene or he’s incredibly incompetent because this scene should be finished by now. This time, Keith yells, “Stop it!” as Sandy chokes Tania.

It’s his camcorder. They start rolling again. They stop after Tania is on the ground and not moving.

This time, it looks like she’s kind of dead. Sandy checks her pulse. When he can’t find it, Jeremy starts yelling and screaming. Then her body disappears.

The police arrive and are ineffectual, just like they always are in every teen horror from the ‘80s. Leslie is there but she books it after the police want to question her.

Chapter 14 is the obligatory scene in which everyone has a conversation about what happened. Sandy reveals his terrible sense of humor.

“It started out as a joke. Tania and I cooked it up,” Sandy explained. “The idea was, I’d strangle her for the movie. She’s pretend to be dead, and I’d go along with it. We just wanted to shake everyone up. For fun.”

“Huh?” Eva let out a shocked cry.

“You and Tania decided to play a game with my movie?” Keith cried.

“Yeah, for fun,” Sandy repeated.

Eva gaped at him. “That’s a terrible joke,” she declared. “How could you and Tania do something so awful?”

“Never mind that. Where is she?” Jeremy asked. “Where is Tania?”

“That’s the problem,” Sandy told him. “See after everybody got all crazy, Tania was supposed to jump up and yell ‘surprise!’”

“But she didn’t,” Eva reminded him.

Jeremy readies his choking hands and lunges at Sandy. Everyone gets a strangle!

The police separate them and conjecture that Tania just went home. Eva tries to call Tania’s home and just gets a busy signal – another relic of the ‘80s. Then she calls Keith to ask about the camcorder.

The camcorder “jammed” and didn’t record anything. Jeremy bursts in and says he heard Sandy and Cherise conspire to kill Tania. If this seems disjointed, I’m sorry, but that’s really how plot points progress in this book.

Eva encourages him not to call the police. I don’t understand that one. She goes to Cherise’s house and hears someone yelling, “I’ll kill you!”

Don’t worry, nothing interesting actually happened – it was just the television. Eva and Cherise chum it up, even though Cherise might have killed Eva’s best friend. Someone calls Cherise’s phone, asks for Eva, and tells her that she’s going to die next.

The next day at school, Leslie doesn’t even wait for Tania’s corpse to turn up before continuing her crimson whale activities. She’s been “bothering” Keith – she wants to be the new star in his movie. Remember, she really needs it for her college portfolio. You know, Harvard is always on the lookout for students who have been in high school horror films by students who can’t work a camcorder and take months to film a terrible scene. Eva sees blood on Leslie’s sweater.
Yeah, she just cut herself on a mirror. However, something finally happens! Sandy tumbles out of a locker. He has been stabbed! And we finally have a body!

Chapter 21 is another gathering, this time at Eva’s house. We are reminded that “This is not a movie plot. This is real.” Thank you for your service, fourth wall, but it’s time for you to break. Eva gets a phone call. The person on the end is, like, yeah, Imma kill you next.

Keith chooses to do a documentary instead and interviews Eva. She leans up against a rail and it breaks.

Keith pulls her up and says the railing was sawed. So, someone, in the middle of the night, came onto the school grounds with a saw and went to town on a railing. Not conspicuous at all.

In the next chapter, Tania shows up not dead. Cool. And what is your reason for leading us and where have you been?

“When Jeremy told me about Sandy sneaking around with Cherise, I couldn’t believe it. Once I stopped crying, I got so angry. And that’s when I decided to get even.”

“Where were you all this time?” Eva asked Tania. “I mean, were you just hiding at home?”

Tania shook her head. “That’s what I was going to do. But Jeremy had a better idea. He cooked up the strangling part. But he didn’t know I was going to disappear. Anyway, I went to stay with my cousins in Waynesbridge. I told Mom and Dad not to worry, and they told the police I was perfectly okay.”

“So that’s why the cops stopped the investigation,” Keith said. “No wonder they thought the whole thing was a joke. It was.”

“It was a horrible, sick joke, Tania!” Eva declared angrily. “How could you do that to us? How could you put us through all that just because your boyfriend was cheating on you?”

“I couldn’t help it!” Tania cried. “I was so hurt and upset. And I wanted to hurt and upset everyone else, especially Sandy. I wanted you guys to feel like fools, just the way I did!”

Ugh, teenagers in horror novels and their elaborate pranks that involve death and dying. I was a teenager for about a decade and the pranks I was involved in, witnessed or was the victim of never involved dying and bodies disappearing and they certainly never ended with an actual death. What happened to Sandy?

Eva’s spidey-sense shows up and the gang runs to Cherise’s house, where they find her in a stare-off with Jeremy, whom she says killed Sandy. Jeremy says Cherise killed Sandy and that’s she’s crazy. There’s a bunch of that for a while.

And more of that in the next chapter.

And it’s finally concluded in the following chapter.

“Tania already told us that it was Jeremy’s idea for her to pretend to be dead,” Eva explained. “That was his plan for Tania to get revenge – by playing a cruel joke on us.”

“So?” Cherise asked.

“So Jeremy wouldn’t murder Sandy,” Eva went on. “He knew that Tania was already getting her revenge.”

“Oh, please – drop the innocent act!” Cherise tossed her head, glaring around the room. “I hate you all! You think you’re so smart! Hey, let’s keep a secret from poor, dumb Cherise. Won’t that be a kick? The way you were laughing at me behind my back. Don’t think I didn’t catch on!”

“Catch on to what?” Jeremy asked.

“Keith’s other video project – the candid video project, as if you didn’t know,” Cherise sneered.

“Huh?” Tania asked. “What video project?”

“You all know that Sandy pretended to like me – just for the candid video,” Cherise went on. “You all humiliated me, laughed at me – just for a stupid videotape!”

So there ya’ go. Keith and Sandy were making some other weird video where he pretended to like Cherise so she killed him. Then she lunges at Keith.

The last chapter is the police dragging Cherise away and Keith’s camcorder jamming.

That’s it. One paragraph (ish) for each of the 27 chapters of Who Killed the Homecoming Queen? By R. L. Stine. This one was fine – standard pulp fiction fare. The cliffhangers are still frustrating, the herrings are huge, and the scares really aren’t scary, but I didn’t hate my time with this book. It was fine. Now excuse me while I try to figure out what in the hell “homecoming” is.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear

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: Bad Dreams

 

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I was apprehensive about doing Fear Street. I have fond memories of the series, and it was included in my attempt to buy back my childhood – scouring thrift stores for books. Long before I decided to write this essay series (“Rereading My Childhood” – in case you forgot), I read Fear Street: The Stepsister. I hated that book. When I say “hate,” I mean I wanted to throw that book into a fire. I loathed every character – the sister main character who is entirely too paranoid, the inconsiderate stepsister, the fake actual sister, the dismissive mother, and the worst character in teen genre fiction history – the misogynistic father who serves no purpose other than to say creepy comments to his step-daughter and harass the mother. He should have been the killer. He should have died. However, he was not. In fact, the “twist” wasn’t really a “twist” but something so obvious I called it on the third page, making it pointless and frustrating. After reading that book (and I won’t do a Rereading of it – the thought of spending my time writing about it makes me want to destroy my computer so I have an excuse not to do it), I wasn’t sure if I could read the rest of the Fear Street series. Are they unreadable to anyone over the age of thirteen?

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

I liked it! Like The Stepsister, this one also features a pair of sisters who don’t get along. Unlike The Stepsister, it doesn’t feature a gross stepfather and a dismissive mother. The mother in this book is a good character, and neither sister is outwardly evil. We see our protagonist’s flaws while speaking to her sister, and her sister exhibits some petty behavior. This one also has several twists, some better than others, but the biggest one is so insane I never saw it coming. It’s not a “deus ex machina,” so I wasn’t angry. Overall, this is a solid Fear Street book that centers on some great and flawed female characters.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

FSBadDreams
My Copy of Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine – First of all, one of these sisters is supposed to be homely, but I see two pretty girls. Secondly, what pair of teenage girls who hate each other have matching sleeping gowns? And lastly, what is up with their hands?

Fear Street: Bad Dreams starts with a prologue in which a nameless character is murdered by her sister in her gorgeous canopy bed. It’s a creepy scene. There’s something in the shadows of the room. It’s her sister! Her sister with a knife! Her sister kills her – like straight-up knifes her. R. L. Stine is not fucking around. At least, not at the beginning.

Now we’re in the first chapter. The chapters are similar to the ones in Goosebumps – short. It seems Stine’s affinity for short chapters didn’t end with Goosebumps. The short chapters are back and shorter than ever!

We meet the Travers sisters – Maggie and Andrea and they do not get along. Maggie believes that their mother holds Andrea to a lower standard than Maggie, despite their close ages, and Andrea is jealous of Maggie’s inherent advantages in the looks department. Maggie is described as an effervescent, red-haired gorgeous teen, while Andrea is listless and dull. However, Andrea is a snob and resents moving to a poorer neighborhood after their father died and their mother was unable to maintain their lifestyle.

They reach their new house on Fear Street and Maggie’s dog, Gus, runs out into traffic, and we have our first cliffhanger. The dog is fine, of course. Stine knows better than to kill off a dog at the beginning of the novel.

The family enters their new house, and in one of the rooms, the one designated to Maggie, is a gorgeous canopy bed.

“Say, Mags,” Andrea began. “Mags, you know how I’ve always wanted an old-fashioned bed like this one, right?” Andrea bit her lip.

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

Sure enough, Andrea demanded, “Can I have it?”

Can I have it? – Andrea’s four favorite words.

Andrea stared at Maggie, pleading with her eyes. Maggie lowered hers to the bed.

What should I tell her? Maggie asked herself. What should I do?

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

If Maggie had known the horrors that awaited her in the old canopy bed, her answer might have been different.

But she had no way of knowing why the bed had been left behind.

Ooh, ominous, and a proper cliffhanger ending to a chapter. Mrs. Travers decides that since it came in Maggie’s room, and since Andrea choose the larger room, that Maggie should keep the bed. To which Andrea wails, “But that’s soooo unfair!” Mrs. Travers is completely fair, but I can imagine a girl who has been coddled her entire life thinking that she should get the canopy bed and the bigger room.

Maggie complains to her inconsequential boyfriend Justin about the house, saying it looks like The Addams Family house. (Don’t drag that house – it’s a museum. It says so in the theme song, and I would love to live in a museum.) I say “inconsequential” because he doesn’t do anything. He could be cut from the book and it would have no effect on the plot, and he’s the only dude. I wish Stine cut that sausage out so the book is a pure clambake, but we live in a world in which every story has to have at least one dude. At least he’s relegated to the “girlfriend” character like women in, oh, just about every movie ever. #progress #feminism

That night, Maggie has her first nightmare involving a blonde girl, and she wakes up screaming after a chapter break. Her mother suggests that she is overcome with stress, which is a reasonable reaction, no sarcasm at all. Stress does some crazy things to people, and nightmares are a common symptom.

The next morning, Justin comes over with sponges. How romantic. They make out, and we get a daytime scare.

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

Maggie’s heart was thudding in her chest. She gave Justin several quick kisses on the cheek.

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

No, it’s just Andrea asking for a camera. Whomp-whomp trumpet noise. This makes Andrea seem like a voyeur, like she was going to say, “Don’t let me interrupt you – I like to watch.” That would be creepier than anything in this book.

Just two pages later, Justin can’t breathe! He’s in peril!

Oh, no. He’s just having a little goof at Maggie’s expense. End of Justin’s contribution to the book. Good riddance. Begone! Go back whence you came! A football or something.

Maggie and Andrea are on the swim team and are competing with two other girls, Dawn and Tiffany, for one of two spots on the 200IM. That’s a thing, right, Stine?

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

She pushed harder, harder – as she came to the end of the breaststroke. But then she made a poor turn at the wall.

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

Freestyle was her strongest stroke. But she had only two laps to catch up.

She felt as if she was skimming over the water. The shrill cheers and screams in the gym reached an ever higher pitch. Nearing the far wall, Maggie passed Andrea – then Tiffany.

The passage wrapped me up in the excitement. This was actual suspense – not that boring white boy feigning peril. More like this, please.

Maggie comes in first, followed by Dawn and then Tiffany with Andrea bringing up the rear. After the race, Maggie sees Dawn floating facedown in the pool. Danger? No, of course not. She’s just practicing breathing control. Then the girls laugh until the end of the chapter, where Maggie has another nightmare.

Andrea wakes her up and Maggie blames the bed for her nightmares.

Andrea stood up. She ran her finger down one of the bedposts. “See? I told you-you should’ve let me have this bed. It’s bad luck. And it’s giving you nightmares.”

Maggie stared at her as if she hadn’t heard. “The bed . . .” she said. That was it! She reached out and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Andrea, you’re right! The girl in the dream, the girl in trouble? She was sleeping in this bed!”

“That’s spooky,” Andrea admitted. “And she got . . .”

She let the question trail off. Maggie finished it for her. “Stabbed,” she murmured softly. “With a knife. Over and over. Don’t you see? I knew it was too good to be true,” Maggie moaned unhappily.

“What was?”

“The owners just leaving this beautiful bed behind. There had to be something wrong with it.”

Andrea insists the stress is getting to Maggie. Hey, Maggie? There’s a simple way to prove the bed is causing nightmares: give the bed to Andrea and see if she gets the same dreams. This isn’t complicated. Yeah, maybe your sister gets a neat canopy bed, but she might also get nightmares where nothing happens. You pass on the nightmares or you realize it’s stress and can deal with it – either way no more nightmares.

Maggie doesn’t do that. Instead, she implies that Andrea wants Maggie to be less stressed so Andrea can swim in the 200IM. They fight after Maggie’s shitty inference. Up until this exchange, Maggie has been tolerant of Andrea’s pettiness, but in this chapter, we get to see that Maggie isn’t completely innocent. Andrea was showing genuine interest in Maggie’s well-being, but Maggie had to throw in some backhanded comment. Andrea can act immature, but Maggie doesn’t act like an adult either.

The next day, Dawn falls down some stairs and breaks her arm. She thinks Maggie pushed her like Nomi in Showgirls. Maggie goes home and falls asleep on the couch. Then she goes outside and falls asleep there. She wakes up and some weird old man is staring at her.

His name is Milton Avery, and in true deus ex machina form, he and his wife tell them about the murder that happened in the house.

Mr. Avery continued. “There was a girl about your age – named Miranda. Pretty girl with blond hair.”

Miranda!

Maggie knew instantly that Miranda had to be the blond girl in her dream!

“Did Miranda live in my house?” Maggie asked eagerly.

“She and her family lived in your house, yes,” answered Mr. Avery.

“Milton, that’s enough,” Mrs. Avery spoke up.

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

“She was killed,” the old woman blurted out. “Murdered.”

“She was stabbed,” Mr. Avery said in a hushed whisper. “Stabbed right in her own bed.”

Yeah, that was pretty obvious from the prologue, but thanks, Old Man Avery, for peeping at seventeen-year-olds, I guess. He’s probably banned from the local mall.

Maggie dreams more and mistakes common household items (a curling iron) for various murdering paraphernalia (a knife). Her mother sends her to a therapist after Maggie yells, “I’ll never calm down!” That’s a totally normal thing to say there, Mags. That’ll work.

During swim practice, Tiffany wins the 200IM. Coach pulls Maggie aside and encourages her to work things out internally, within herself, and externally, with her sister. Maggie leaves Coach’s office and finds Tiffany covered in blood. Tiffany was stabbed! But she doesn’t die so that makes the current death count for this book just one unfortunate sister during the prologue. I understand not killing off Dawn – it’s an early incident in the book and Dawn is Maggie’s best friend. Tiffany, however, is a completely expendable character who we never see again.

The novel culminates in an attic showdown, but it starts during a barbeque with the teen peepers.

I’m tired enough to go to sleep right now, Maggie decided.

I have to get to the end of the dream. I have to put this nightmare behind me.

“I’m going to get some more soda,” she lied, getting up from the table.

Everyone was staring at her. Her mom started to her feet with a worried look.

“I’m just going to the refrigerator, Mom,” Maggie said. “Chill out.”

She smiled at everyone, but she smiled too hard – which only made her feel like a lunatic.

I can imagine this unhinged, wide smiling. It’s unnerving. Maggie goes upstairs to sleep (how she planned to deal with her mother when she didn’t come back after getting a soda, I have no idea), but the canopy bed is, just like, gone. That night, Maggie finds the bed in the attic with a person asleep in the bed.

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

“Gena,” the girl replied. “Wasn’t I in the dream?”

“I-I don’t know,” Maggie told her. She edged toward the attic stairs.

“I’m Miranda’s sister,” the girl said angrily. “Why wasn’t I in the dream?”

After Gena murdered her sister Miranda, she lived in the attic! This bitch lived in the attic Hugo from The Simpsons style, listening to everything happening in the house. She was appearing in corners. She was stealing knives. She pushed Dawn down the stairs. She stabbed Tiffany. Why?

“But I’m doing it for you, Andrea,” Gena replied, sounding hurt. “She’s mean to you. She’s mean – like Miranda.”

“For me?” Andrea cried. “What did you do for me?”

“I did everything for you,” Gena replied softly.

“I did everything for you, Andrea,” Gena continued, ignoring Maggie’s terrified cries. “I hurt those two girls for you. So you could be on the swim team.”

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

‘Oh, no,” Maggie gasped. “She’s the one who hurt Dawn and Tiffany. I don’t believe it.”

“And I pushed the knife into your sister’s pillow, Andrea,” Gena confessed proudly. “You know. To give her a little scare. To get her ready for tonight.”

“But I don’t want you to kill her!” Andrea wailed. “Who are you? What is going on? How did you get into our house?”

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

She lowered her gaze to Maggie. “It’s time for mean sisters to die.”

Andrea is forced to save her sister and together they defeat Gena, tying her up and, I’m assuming, handing her over to the local law enforcement. (Does Shadybrook have a police force? They must be busy with all the disproportionate murdering and attempted murdering.) Miranda and Gena are a reflection of Andrea and Maggie. By actually confronting what their relationship could be, they are able to overcome their issues and become better sisters.

Admittedly, the twist came out of nowhere. I conjecture that the prologue was added later, but the addition rendered the teen-peepers-exposition-Averys useless.

The Averys could be cut. The boyfriend is extraneous. Tiffany should have been killed to show how close the danger is to Maggie. Despite this, I still had a great time reading it. I think my opinion is a bit skewed. The last Fear Street I read (The Stepsister) made me livid. Frankly, I was happy with the flawed female characters, and I was even happier there wasn’t a terrible, misogynistic, creepy male character. I was happy with the twist that came out of nowhere, but at least I didn’t predict it on page three. If the rest of the Fear Street books are at least as good as Bad Dreams, we’re in for a glowing series of reviews. I don’t think that will happen, but at least I’m committed, and if I hate the book, you’ll read all about it.

We’re going back to Stoneybrook next week, but the next book in the series isn’t a normal one. I’m reading The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook next time, and that should be a quick one!

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, just visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcatcher. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.