I was a studious kid. I showed up on time, I did the assignments, I turned in homework, and I was always prepared. Teachers loved me. I was not “a bad girl” in any sense.
On the other hand, I didn’t do any extracurriculars. I had no “school spirit.” I ditched assemblies. I didn’t listen to school administrators and when they threatened to take away things like “Senior Sunrise” from me, I replied, “So I can keep ignoring you?” Another time, an administrator threatened to keep me from being in the senior class photo because I was loitering outside a classroom waiting for my friend. Oh no, now I won’t be photographed during the phase of my life in which the mere mention of a camera sent me running away. Don’t threaten me with a good time. To every teacher, I was the perfect student – ready to learn and attentive. To every administrator, I was an unpunishable slacker who tore school spirit signs and thought the leadership class was a waste of everyone’s time.
But I never cheated on my non-existent boyfriend, which seems to be the only prerequisite for being a “bad girl” in Shadyside. Also murder.
Our high school protagonists and delinquents are Dawn and Jan. Dawn narrates the book and is cheating on her boring boyfriend. Jan has a car and likes to annoy animals. They both have an Evian addiction.
Evian count: 1
While the girls gossip, their classmate, the teacher’s pet Cindy, chides them for using the lab to ditch study hall, a class that doesn’t exist. So they dump some chemicals like formaldehyde and sulfuric acid, which are just sitting around in this unattended science lab, in Cindy’s science project. It explodes, leaving behind a black formula with tiny golden crystals. Dawn and Jan swipe the formula as the science teacher, Ms. Philbin, bursts in and asks about the smoke. Ms. Philbin reprimands the girls. In turn, the girls blame Cindy for their admonishment.
Evian count: 2
Later while the class is preparing for frog dissection, Dawn’s boring boyfriend Clint asks her if they’re still going out and he cuts her with a scalpel. It was an accident, but Clint should probably have his very sharp blade taken away if he can’t control his dumb arms. However, Ms. Philbin is unfazed, tells them to stop screwing around, and that they should get to slicing and dicing their froggy victims. Somebody just knifed another student and Ms. Philbin is treating them as if they were drinking from the emergency eye wash station (which I regularly did in middle school; I think everyone has done this at least once).
Evian count: 3
Back to cutting open a frog, the girls name it Spot because of its distinctive markings.
Evian count: 4
Then they drop a bit of the formula they made in the science lab into the frog’s mouth. When they look away, the frog is gone! So they get another one and cut that one open instead.
Evian count: 5
Dawn’s bag moves on its own! It’s Spot! Alive and well. Ms. Philbin orders the girls to put the frog back into the frog terrarium and stop messing around. Wait a second. Ms. Philbin has a frog terrarium in a classroom where students dissect frogs. That’s sadistic and Ms. Philbin is fucked up.
After class, Dawn is at her locker and her secret paramour, Will, comes up and asks when he can see her again. They flirt for a little and then he leaves, pretending to throw an invisible football. You’ll have to excuse Will – he is a frequent user of the now-defunct Yahoo Answers service.
Even though she’s supposed to be a bad girl, Dawn has a job at the animal shelter after school. Her boss is leaving early, so she’s responsible enough to be left alone. Her behavior fails to live up to the title. She’s not perfect, but I would classify her as your average teenager who hasn’t outgrown their middle school obnoxiousness.
The only questionable thing she does is open the door for Jan, but who hasn’t wanted to have their best friend keep them company at their job?
Anyway, the girls bring a dead dog back to life with the formula. See, it’s not a no-kill animal shelter, and there’s a fresh kill. The dog comes back to life and now they have this zombie dog. They load him into Jan’s car to take home until they figure out what to do with it, but there’s a car tailing them.
It’s a girl from school and that’s her dog in the car. She thought the dog was dead. She took it to the shelter to be put down because the dog was sick, but here he is, completely healthy. She assumes the shelter didn’t kill her dog. Instead, they cured him with special secret drugs, didn’t tell the owners, and then sent him home with the teenager whose friend has a car. Logistics aside, the girl is ecstatic and I’m sure there will be no repercussions whatsoever.
Jan drops off Dawn and as Dawn walks up to her porch, Clint materializes from amongst the bushes. He asks her if she went out with Will Dunmore, and she lies. I do not understand her reluctance to break up with him. She doesn’t seem to like him. He wants monogamy but she clearly doesn’t. Their values don’t align. Also, it’s a stupid high school romance. It’s not like they share an IRA. The biggest thing they share is their locker, and that can be easily rectified.
The next day at school, Jan and Dawn discover that Spot, the frog they brought back to life and then deposited into the frog terrarium, is now twice his size and he seems to have eaten the other frogs.
Also, Ms. Philbrin reminds the class of their field trip to Fear Lake next Saturday. It will be an ordinary field trip and nothing strange will happen. Except maybe someone might be late for the bus! Wouldn’t that be a wild occurrence? Can you imagine?
Clint asks Dawn out to the movies to see Scream III. I mention the movie only because this book came out before Scream 3. So is R. L. Stine psychic? Or did he just guess there would be a sequel in a popular franchise? It does bother me that Stine’s Scream uses Roman numerals as if they would switch from Arabic numbers.
Dawn blows off Clint in favor of going to some random other character’s party. Even Cindy the teacher’s pet makes an appearance at the party, wearing some unflattering clothes that Dawn thinks are hilarious. However, sinister machinations set off a series of deadly events.
“I have to tell you a little secret,” Carl continued. “Not only am I thrilled to be seen with a hot babe . . . I’m twenty-five dollars richer, too!”
He burst out laughing. His cousin slapped money into his hand.
The whole room whooped.
“What?” Cindy gasped. Her face grew even redder. “Someone paid you to . . . to . . .”
“What do you think?” Carl howled. “That I invited you here to impress my friends? Yeah, right.”
I watched Cindy’s face fall. Her shoulders trembled and her lips quivered as the other kids hooted and whistled. I had to look away. I felt so embarrassed for her.
Carl turned and poured himself a Coke.
Cindy stared at him, blinking back her tears. Then, with a cry, she ran to the front door. The door slammed hard behind her.
“What a loser!” Eric laughed. “Wow. I didn’t think Carl would have the nerve to actually do it.”
Poor Cindy, I thought. How could these guys be so cruel?
Oh, now you have empathy.
Also, what, exactly, was the bet? “I bet you wouldn’t invite this one girl to a party that already has a lot of people.” “Yeah, bro, that would be a crazy thing to do.”
Jan and Dawn leave the party under the ruse of getting more ice and chips. Unfortunately, it’s raining and visibility is low. The girls hit someone. I’ll give you one guess who it is.
Cindy is dead.
And the girls get the brilliant idea to bring her back to life with their formula. When Cindy wakes up, they tell her that they had found her on the side of the road unconscious and that they have nothing to do with it and are completely innocent. Cindy appears to believe them and they drive her home, but there’s a lingering doubt. After all, when Cindy woke up, she did try to strangle Dawn.
After they drop her off, Dawn and Jan return to the party. They don’t want to raise any suspicions. Dawn goes outside with a boy we never see again. As they flirt outside, Clint appears from the bushes. They get into a fight because of, you know, the cheating. First the murder and now this. Gee, Dawn is having a humdinger of a weekend!
The next school day, Clint is flirting with a new blonde girl. Wait! That’s not a new girl! That’s Cindy! She went to a hairdresser and then bought new clothes. Clothes that fit her. Dawn’s bad weekend is now a bad week.
Evian count: 6
The school’s dance theme is moon and stars, and for a pair of bad girls, they’re very involved in school activities. They even help with decorations. While the girls are on a high ladder, someone turns off the lights and then knocks the ladder from under them. The girls hang onto the catwalk as a teacher helps them down. The bad luck continues at Jan’s place, where they find her room thrashed. Just bad luck all around, I guess.
The girls speculate that Cindy, the girl they ran over and brought back to life, hates them and is threatening them. They confront Cindy at school. Cindy gets mad and bends a metal bar in a U-shape like she’s the Incredible Hulk. Later, Cindy is sitting with Dawn’s bush-born ex-boyfriend. Also, the zombie cannibal frog in the terrarium explodes.
Evian count: 7
Things are getting out of hand, so the girls tell Ms. Philbin what’s been happening – except the murder part.
“This is serious. Very serious,” Ms. Philbin said in a low voice. She bit her lip. “I’m afraid I’ll have to turn you in. This really is a matter for the FBI.”
This looks like a job for the rarely-used Zombie Crimes Division of the FBI. Right next to the X-Files. Ms. Philbin is kidding of course. She thinks the girls made up the story to get out of doing their science project.
Instead of doing their science project (or just making Cindy, the frog, and the dog their science project), the girls traipse around the mall. Cindy tries to run them over in the parking lot. And then Dawn gets a phone call from Cindy telling them that she won’t forget what they’ve done and that she knows where they live – including where Clint lives. Dawn and Jan rush to Clint’s house.
Like every house in Shadyside, the door is wide open so protagonists can find bodies, and this situation is no exception. Clint is dead. Back to his ancestral shrubbery, he goes. The bad luck just keeps getting worse!
Evian count: 8
Golly gee, it’s a tough time for Dawn. Murder is treated like a zit before the senior sunrise that I didn’t want to go to. My cavalier attitude is appropriate.
Evian count: 9
Cindy, on the other hand, is looking more beautiful and confident. Jan and Dawn try to get Cindy to admit that she killed Clint, but Cindy laughs at them. Then she threatens to tell the police how they ran her over and tried to kill her.
After the freakout, Dawn says,
“We killed Cindy once. Now we have to kill her again.”
That’s definitely the line in the trailer just before the title and the end of the old ‘70s song done in a minor key.
During the field trip to Fear Lake, Dawn and Jan follow Cindy to a secluded area, konk her on the noggin, and push her into the lake. Now that that’s done, the girls can go on, living their lives, knowing that they murdered someone.
Evian count: 10
But no, they can’t. Ms. Philbin asks where Cindy is while the kids are getting on the bus. Then Cindy just shows up as if nothing happened. She’s soaking wet, but she’s on the bus and ready to leave.
Then the girls see Cindy walking down the street, so they run her over. Tears of joy are cried by all.
Evian count: 11
But no, Cindy shows up to science class the next day. This girl is harder to kill than Rasputin.
Anyway, remember the dog that they brought back to life? Well, the owner tells Dawn and Jan that the dog just exploded after the owner’s father teased it. Dawn and Jan think they have the key to finally killing the girl they’ve killed three times.
The girls invite Cindy over and they ask her about Clint. Cindy killed him because he was only using her to make Dawn jealous. I don’t know what she expected, but fine. Then the girls lay into Cindy. They call her a loser and no one will want to have anything to do with Cindy when they find out she’s “the walking dead.” Cindy lunges at Dawn, strangling her until finally, Cindy suffers the same fate as the frog and the dog.
Her face changed right in front of me. A twisted mask of rage. Her skin purple. Her eyes bulging from the sockets. Her lips peeled back from her teeth, exposing a black and bloated tongue.
And Cindy’s neck snapped.
Her head flopped down to one side. Her whole body twitched. And twitched.
Then she collapsed.
On top of me.
It’s finally over.
Although, not really. Cindy asks for mercy. She asks for more of the formula. She promises to leave the girls alone if they give her more formula. They offer her some water instead.
Evian count: 12
Dawn and Jan take pity on Cindy. They attempt to find the formula in Jan’s room, but it’s missing! Where is it?
Evian count: 13
They return to Cindy, but she’s dead.
Final Evian count: 14
While the girls were too late, they still haven’t heard the last of Cindy. She left them a hastily written note.
Dear Jan and Dawn,
I stole the formula when I trashed Jan’s room. But I don’t want to live anymore. Not like this. The formula turned me into a monster.
YOU turned me into a monster.
Don’t worry. The formula is safe. I hid it while you were upstairs. I hid it in the best place I could think of.
I poured it into your bottle of Evian.
See you soon!
I guess it’s time to switch to Dasani.
So who is the titular “Bad Girl” in this book? Is it Dawn, who goes on tame dates with simple boys instead of her half-shrub boyfriend? Is it Jan, whose personality traits are “annoys frogs” and “drives a car?” Could it be Cindy? A source of derision amongst her peers who is humiliated multiple times. Could her treatment lead her to murder and psychotic behavior?
No. The “Bad Girl” is none of these characters. The true bad girl is Evian. In the worst instance of product placement, the bottle of water is everywhere. She’s present for every instance of bad behavior, from innocuous teasing, to frog cannibalism, and, finally, to premeditated murder. In the end, she’s the source of Dawn and Jan’s eventual doom. If the girls ditched the disposable plastic for tap water and one of those tumblers I see people make on TikTok, maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess.
Or the title really does just refer to Cindy, who dyes her hair and flirts with boys and that makes her a bad girl. Sure, Cindy murdered someone, but who hasn’t in Shadyside? Seriously. Instead of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, everyone plays the Six Degrees of Attempted Murder. Either way, dying your hair and flirting does not a bad girl make. The murder, though, yeah, that would be a big no-no.Rereading My Childhood is written by me, Amy A. Cowan. For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written and to subscribe to my Substack, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcast app. For more information about me, visit AmyACowan.com.