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!!!
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
Last year, after learning that my partner’s parents took him to Disneyland while he was a baby, my partner and I decided to take a trip to Disneyland. I went when I was eight, but I hadn’t been back since. In the months leading up to the trip, I did what I normally do before a trip: I researched the hell out of the destination. I found myself steeped in Walt Disney history: the man, the park, the opening day problems. I explored the lore behind every attraction: the inspiration behind the Matterhorn and how it may be the first steel rollercoaster in the United States, the opposing ideas for the Haunted Mansion, the various iterations of the submarine adventure. I already knew the layout of the park before we left. I understood the Fast Pass system. I had reservations at what is considered the best restaurant in the park, Cafe Orleans, and the restaurant Walt Disney considered “his” restaurant, The Carnation Cafe. I was on the lookout for the lamp over the Firehouse Station.
This is not a story that leads up to my disappointment when I got to the park. In fact, the park exceeded my expectations and I found a new obsession in the Haunted Mansion. The Disneyland attention to detail is a real thing, the cast members are wonderful, and the park operations are no joke. I also got to see many parents yelling at their kids, and the juxtaposition of parents yelling at their children at “The Happiest Place On Earth” is, frankly, hilarious.
This is leading to my hatred of boats. Let me explain. The first BSC Super Special is split into two parts: the first part on a boat and a second part at Disney World. I realize that Disneyland is different from Disney World. The book features actual Disney World attractions, and while I did exclusively research Disneyland, Disney World is an important part of Disney Parks lore, and the parks aren’t that different, especially in 1989, without Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios (future Hollywood Studios), both of which had not been built yet.
I love Disneyland, but boy I hate boats. Have I ever been on a luxury cruiser? No. But I haven’t murdered anyone and I hate murder. Did I just compare cruise ships to murder? Yes. I did and I’m proud of it. Pooping over the side of a boat after eating expired shrimp and watching a fifty-year-old couple do a jazz cover of “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar does not sound like a good time to me.
Anyway, let’s get to the book.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Super Specials are, well, super special. A normal BSC book is about 120-pages of one character’s story in first-person narration. A Super Special is about 220-pages of switching POV. It’s still first-person but now each chapter focuses on a new character. Each babysitter (and a few others) get their own story, that may or may not intersect with another story (and if it does, it’s in such a tangential way to make the paragraph pointless, we’ll get to that). So, as I go through the book beat-by-beat, I will put the POV character in italics. Let’s hope this works:
Baby-Sitters on Board! starts with Kristy explaining how every member of the BSC, plus relevant family members, got a trip on a cruise to Disney World. I should also mention that while the BSC timeline is nebulous, this book seems to take place before Stacey leaves. One clue is that Stacey is still a part of the BSC, hasn’t left, and Mallory, nor Jessi, is a part of the BSC. However, it is the Pikes who start this chain of events.
Basically, Mr. Pike won a naming contest/got off a crime boss at his job as a lawyer for a large company/mob. They invited Mary Anne and Stacey to go with them to watch over the children on the cruise. Watson, who you’ll remember is Kristy’s stepdad, can’t let this mob lawyer have all the fun, so he spends his riches to ensure that his family and the rest of the BSC comes along, minus Jessi, because she has not moved to Stoneybrook yet. This must take place before #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye.
Anyway, the Pikes, the BSC, Watson, Kristy’s Mom (Elizabeth), David Michael, Karen, and Andrew all get on a plane, where there’s some barf bag talk, and arrive in Florida and we switch perspectives as we board The Ocean Princess.
Kristy, Claudia, and Dawn are sharing a cabin. Dawn complains that Kristy doesn’t wear dresses and that’s apparently a problem? I didn’t wear dresses when I was a kid, mostly because of crippling insecurity, but that’s for another entry. Anyway, I don’t think not wearing dresses is some kind of personality disorder.
Kristy and Dawn argue almost immediately because Kristy is a bit of a slob and Dawn is a clean freak – their words, not mine. Surprisingly, Claudia is the voice of reason.
“We’ve almost got the whole corridor to ourselves!” exclaimed Claudia. “Pretty cool!”
“Well, let’s go tidy up our cabin,” I suggested brightly.
“Now?” replied Kristy. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Girls, girls,” Claudia jumped in. “Lighten up. This is our vacation, Dawn. We’re not supposed to spend it cleaning. It’s also only the first day our vacation. I hope you two aren’t going to argue for the rest of the week. It’ll drive me crazy.”
It was a quick fight, but it’s really just the beginning. Dawn and Kristy will be trying to avoid one another for the rest of the book.
Dawn goes exploring on her own and finds a cute boy almost immediately. As I recall, most, if not all, of the BSC Super Specials had some kind of romance plot for at least one of the BSC members. This one has two.
Anyway, Dawn’s mystery boy is evasive in his answers and runs away.
Vanessa, Mallory, and Mary Anne are in one cabin while Stacey, Claire, and Margo share another cabin next door. In a terrible decision by the parents, the triplets and Nicky have their own room. But this chapter is about Mary Anne – the triplets will have their own adventure. For now, Mary Anne asks what the kids want to do.
“Go exploring,” said Nicky.
“Go swimming,” said Claire.
“Go eat,” said Byron, who’s always hungry.
“Play video games,” said Adam
“Look at the ocean,” said Mallory dreamily.
“Find a candy machine,” said Margo.
“Read,” said Vanessa.
“Look for people wearing goofy bathing caps and laugh at them,” said Jordan.
I’m with you, Jordan. Who am I kidding? I would just read at the most stable part of the ship with a motion sickness bag next to me.
Nicky, Vanessa, and Mary Anne explore the ship together, where we get a complete overview of every deck on The Ocean Princess. In the spa, Mary Anne spots an interesting girl.
I was looking at a girl who was standing at the appointment desk, apprently waiting for someone to help her. She had masses of dark, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders and partway down her back, and she was wearing one of the skimpiest bikinis I’d ever seen. Even though she looked just a little older than me, she had a figure that filled out the top of the bikini nicely.
Whoa, Mary Anne. Who wrote this about a thirteen-or-fourteen year old? Roy Moore? (He’s running again – I can make jokes at his expense once more. In fact, everyone should make jokes at his expense. That’s your task for the day – make a joke at Roy Moore’s expense.)
Her name is Alexandra Carmody, and as she and Mary Anne have a chat, she is called away as she says that her parents were killed.
As they leave, Nicky and Vanessa spot a boy climbing out of a raft and they immediately think he’s a stowaway.
Mallory does something I did when I was a kid. Something really dumb and embarrassing. After reading Harriet the Spy, Mallory decides to spy on people. Oh, Mallory, I did that shit too after reading that exact book. It amounted to one terrible afternoon where I peeked into a woman’s kitchen three streets over and got chased out of her yard.
For Mallory, she just spies on everyone else and sees Mary Anne talk to Alexandra Carmody, where she learns that she’s an actress, I’m assuming of the Miley Cyrus during Hannah Montana days variety.
She spots Kristy and Claudia talking. Later, a boy named Marc in a wheelchair is very excited to see his room. Finally, she spots a guy with red hair, whom she believes is Spider from her favorite band The Insects. I imagine they are a doo-wop revival group who sings Kingston Trio covers, akin to Shanana. That’s what the kids in the ’80s listened to, right?
Yes, everyone’s favorite precocious child gets her own chapter! I don’t know why she got her own series (one that Ann M. Martin wrote more books of by the way) because she is, to put it nicely since she’s a kid, draining.
This time, she wanders off on her own, sees Alexandra Carmody at the spa, gets her nails done and has it charged to her room, er, Watson’s room that she occupies.
At a cafe, she orders a Coke and has that charged to her room as well. Er. Watson’s room that she occupies. I’m sorry, but a child should not be able to charge anything to any room because they are not adults. This boat is filled with incredibly irresponsible staff.
Karen gets in trouble when she comes back to Kristy, but nothing really comes of it. Karen learns nothing and the ship staff don’t second guess a tiny child wandering around unattended. The lack of consequences will be a recurring theme.
Finally, we have our first Claudia outfit! What are you wearing today, Claud?
I got dressed quickly. This was because while I’d been laying in my bunk the night before I’d planned exactly what I was going to wear. I put on my new blue-and-white bikini and over that, a pink sundress with speghetti straps at the shoulders and big blue buttons down the front. Then I accessorized. I tied a pink-and-blue scarf around my waist, knotting it in the middle, added my snake bracelet and feather earrings, wound my hair on top of my head, and finally put on these white sandals with long laces that you crisscross up your legs and tie in a bow.
I was with you until you put on the unnecessary scarf, Claudia. But you know, I always look forward to reading what outfit you’ve put together, so you do you. Just don’t criticize others.
As Dawn and Kristy argue at breakfast, Claudia gets a secret admirer note. It turns out there will be two romantic plots in this Super Special.
Claudia goes to the mainland and tries to sketch and take pictures, but a “figure” keeps getting in the way. Claudia has a stalker! Of course, this is not taken as a stalker and Claudia thinks that it’s exciting. A person following you around and giving you gifts is not romantic or exciting – it’s cause to go to the police! We went through this in #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.
Surprisingly, there is no romance in Stacey’s story. There is a young child who looks four but is actually seven. He is in a wheelchair and his name is Marc, the boy Mallory had seen earlier.
Marc and Stacey bond over Stacey’s diabetes, because there are really only two sides to Stacey: boy-craziness and diabetes. And since we already have two stories involving the former in this book, it has to be about the latter.
When Marc’s parents come back, Stacey goes back to her cabin and Margo throws up in a wastebasket. I don’t think the events are related, but you never know.
Kristy and Dawn are still fighting and Kristy is really the antagonist here. Dawn just doesn’t want to live with extra multilegged roommates and here’s Kristy just throwing candy wrappers around. So she goes off on her own.
While at the pool, she strikes up a conversation with an old man reading The Mayor of Casterbridge, which happens to be her “nannie’s” favorite book. His name is Rudy Staples and why Kristy can’t find friends her own age is anybody’s guess. Maybe they heard that if you become friends with that Kristy-girl, you’ll invade your cabin and leave pieces of candy wrappers all over your room, and you’ll have to clean up the wrappers until you go insane! They call her the Candywoman. That’s what that movie was about, right? It’s not an excellent horror film about the legacy of slavery or anything, is it?
Anyway, Kristy teaches Rudy-Rudes how to play video games, specifically Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. When Kristy returns to the cabin, the room is, to Kristy’s horror, straightened up! Oh no! Dawn has done the basic human chores that Kristy should have done in the first place! That fair-weather bitch! Kristy asks her mom to switch rooms with Karen, but her mom refuses because Karen and Andrew are attached at the hip and Claudia and Dawn probably don’t want to share a room with a six-year-old. She encourages Kristy to work out her differences with Dawn.
That’s right! One of the Pike Triplets gets his own chapter! Honestly, they’re pretty much the same person as far as I’m concerned, so Ann M. Martin could literally switch to one of the others and I wouldn’t know.
The triplets, Nicky, and David Michael see a pirate movie and endeavor to find treasure, especially since they are going to be landing on Treasure Cay and the boys see the name as a sign from the sweet Lord above that they’re going to find treasure.
While on the beach, they find some detritus.
“It’s – it’s a treasure map!” I exclaimed. I held out the small yellowed piece of paper. “Look! There’s a diagram and some funny words. They must be in another language. I wonder what language pirates spoke.”
English, if movies are to be believed. And they should be without question. (I saw a woman and her son murder a bunch of kids at a camp for multiple years and the police did nothing. What is this country coming to?)
The boys decide to look everywhere for the treasure, including the boat and Disney World, regardless of the fact that the pirates did not travel on cruise ships and Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. I bet one of them is probably a senator, making decisions about women’s bodies with bullshit science with that kind of treasure logic.
Aaaannnddd Dawn and Kristy are still fighting.
Dawn finds the “gorgeous guy” and they go for a walk. His name is Parker Harris. (Never trust a Parker, Dawn, haven’t you seen Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?). The next day (it moves that abruptly), they have breakfast together followed by a Ping-Pong tournament, which includes a match against Kristy and “her old man friend.” Miraculously, Parker and Dawn win the whole tournament because why the fuck not? They end the day at the arcade and they get into a photo booth.
At the end of the day, they decide to spend more days together at Disney World. Dawn decides that Parker is her “first true boyfriend” and she is in love.
The triplets had been running around the ship and were sent back to their cabin by the ship staff (or mates?), because kids can buy drinks and get manicures, but they sure as hell can’t explore the ship!
As punishment, Mary Anne has to accompany the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael, so really, Mary Anne is punished. Unless she’s getting paid. The book did not discuss Mary Anne and Stacey’s pay. If she’s being paid, it’s not a punishment – she’s doing her job.
The boys tell her about the treasure map and Mary Anne just plays along. In her words, “I have heard of stranger things, so I held my laugh in.” What “stranger things?” And don’t say the hit Netflix series. I have more pop culture references, and I’m not afraid to use them!
Mary Anne bumps into Alexandra, the thirteen-year-old with the rockin’ bod. The girl says that she’s on the trip with her “guardian” and her parents were killed in a car accident, making her an orphan. If I heard that, I would think that Alex is being trafficked and I would call the police. But this is a BSC book, and while the BSC tackles some heavy issues, human trafficking is just too much for the Scholastic audience.
While Claire and Margo are arguing over what to do, Vanessa is reading a book called Baby Island. Stacey does not go into detail as to what exactly Baby Island is about, but I wish she did. Is it an island of only babies, which sounds loud, poopy, and short-lived, or is it about an island of man-children who harass women online? It could also be about an island made of babies or an island for Baby from Dirty Dancing. The possibilities are endless!
Claire, Margo, and Stacey go to this famous video arcade that seems to be the only form of entertainment on this ship and see Marc, the wheelchair-bound kid that Stacey met the other night. Marc’s father leaves him with Stacey.
“I’m sure you’re responsible.” He was probalby thinking about my diabetes, and my diet, and my insulin shots, which we had talked about the night I met the Kubackis.
Stace, buddy, you don’t need to tell everyone about your insulin. It’s really none of his business. Not every person you meet needs to know about your endocrine system deficiencies. But I guess this allows Marc to have some fun without his father, so it’s okay.
The kids ask Marc about his wheelchair. He says he “has a bad heart,” which can describe many politicians I know. ZOOM! He also says he can’t go on rollercoasters, like Space Mountain, but he can go on “quiet” rides. Hate to break it to you, Marc, but every Disney ride is scary. Also, I did Space Mountain and it was enough. I do not like careening through space, even if Admiral Ackbar is there (I went during the Star Wars overlay). I’ll take my Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn, thank you very much.
The kids and Stacey go to the ice cream parlor and the see Claudia. They also see Claudia’s stalker paying for her sundae. Then he runs away and Claudia chases after him, and we switch POVs.
Claudia chases down her stalker and instead finds a boy who says he saw someone run by and is definitely not her stalker, even though he was right there where the stalker would have careened right into him. Claudia expresses disappointment in not catching him and the boy who is definitely not her stalker suggests that the stalker is shy. He is definitely, definitely not her stalker. Nope. No chance.
His name is Timothy and he is not Claudia’s stalker.
I found myself studying Timothy’s face. It was framed by curly hair. His eyes were dark, wide-set, and fringed with long lashes that I would have given my eyeteeth for. And he was the perfect height for me . . . Wait a minute! What was I doing? I had a Secret Admirer. I didn’t need Timony, too. On the other hand, the admirer wasn’t showing his face. And Timothy was awfully nice. Plus he wasn’t in hiding.
Ignoring whatever the hell “eyeteeth” are, which sounds like something that triggers someone’s phobia, Claudia, you have a stalker/secret admirer who is definitely not Timothy, but you know what? Timothy is showing his face while your stalker, who is not Timothy, is hiding. They are definitely different people. Timothy and Claudia decide to meet up at Disney World.
The group arrives at their Disney World hotel. Although Martin fails to mention which hotel they are staying at, given the minutiae of details for rides, you’d expect a single mention of the hotel. There’s almost an argument after Claudia, Dawn, and Kristy realize there aren’t three beds, but two king-size beds. Claudia continues to play the part of “Reasonable One.”
“We are going to be here three nights,” she said firmly. “So we’ll switch off. Each of us will have a bed to herself one night. And I don’t want any more contamination wars or clothes battles. There are plenty of drawers and coat hangers. We have enough space to pull all of our stuff away, even mine. So let’s do it. And then you two,” she went on, glaring at Dawn and me, “are going to call a truce.”
It’s strange how sometimes when others are lacking a necessary trait, another person will step up and fill that need. Claudia calls out Kristy when she throws a snack wrapper on the ground in front of Dawn. Finally, Kristy and Dawn call a real truce and the conversation turns to if any of them have seen a rated R movie, to which they admit that none of them have. They’re, like, thirteen or twelve, right? I was eleven when I saw my first rated R movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer at a sleepover, starting a lifelong love of horror movies, but my extensive history with horror is for another review about a YA book that is really just an excuse to write and reflect on my own childhood, and I touched on it a little during my review of Stay Out of the Basement).
They are finally in Disney World – one of my Bucket List places (the others being Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland . . . and I guess Seoul and London and see the Philippines again, but they don’t have a Disney theme park).
Karen, Andrew, Watson, and Elizabeth meet Minnie Mouse. They buy some magic shop trinkets and Karen mentions the enormity of Cinderella’s Castle. If I said that in front of my father, he’d proceed to tell me all about perspective and kill the wonder of an actual castle in front of me.
Karen says that she really wants to ride the Haunted Mansion (which is the best ride at Disneyland, I say as I think about how I made Jon ride the ride five times in a day). At the end of the ride, when the Hitchhiking Ghosts “appear” in her car, Karen freaks out and that’s what she’s thinking about for the rest of her story.
Dawn is going on a Disney date with Parker and she wants to look her best.
This is the outfit Claudia helped me to choose: a white tank top under lavender overalls, lavender push-down socks, lavender high-top sneakers, and a beaded Indian belt, which we looped droopily twice around my middle. In my hair we put lavender-and-white clips that looked like birds. I thought they were just any kind of bird, but Claudia swore up and down that they were birds of paradise. Who knows? (I think she was making that up.)
The matchy-matchy ’80s. And what is the young master wearing?
He was wearing this blue-and-white polo shirt, white tennis shorts, and loafers with no socks.
So Parker is dressed as James Spader telling Andrew McCarthy that he shouldn’t date Molly Ringwald because she’s poor. Cool outfit.
Before they go to the Magic Kingdom, they have to discuss parking. That just comes with the territory when you date someone named “Parker.” Then they go to Tomorrowland and ride Space Mountain. Dawn almost throws up, which is exactly how I felt after getting off that ride.
Dawn finds a unicorn charm in the park and she promptly adds it to her great-aunt’s bracelet that she was wearing. Parker’s parents show up and leave his younger brothers with him and Dawn. They ride Big Thunder Mountain and then they go to Tom Sawyer Island, where Dawn realizes she lost her unicorn/great-aunt bracelet. She cries and Parker gives her a peck on the cheek.
Mallory separates from her family to do some more spying. She’s in the Happiest Place on Earth with the best rides and she still wants to play Harriet the Spy even though she has learned nothing interesting and has just wasted her time. At least my brief foray into spying only wasted two hours. But let’s see what Mallory writes in her spying notebook – the sordid details that are so integral to the plot and not problematic or boring at all.
Two old ladies walk by. They have blue hair.
A family walks by with a kid in a stroller. The kid is crying.
Another family goes by. The little girl drops her ice-cream cone. Cries.
A big group of people goes by. They are wearing matching T-shirts. They are very loud (the people, not the shirts). I think the people are retarded. Having fun. Lots of smiles.
A family goes by. Both kids crying.
Riveting and not pejorative at all, Mallory. I want to like you, I really do, but this doesn’t help. The less said about this the better.
Mallory does find out something. She finds Alexandra and it turns out that she is not an orphan but has parents who seem to be famous to old people.
The BSC holds a meeting where they discuss recent events like a “Previously On” written into a show. Kristy brings up giving Watson, Elizabeth, and the Pikes gifts for the trip. After the meeting, Mary Anne returns to her room and finds Mallory.
Mallory proceeds to tell Mary Anne about Alexandra Carmody. Of course, Mary Anne is upset that Alexandra lied to her about being an orphan. Mary Anne decides to confront Alexandra the next time she sees her.
She sees her at Disney World, yells that she’s a liar, and runs away. Great confrontation, Mary Anne. Confrontations always involve the confronter spouting four words and no response from confrontee. Alexandra spends the day trying to explain to Mary Anne, but our BSC member will have none of it.
So the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael continue their treasure quest, but Stacey has to come along. Stacey says that they can do whatever they want “as long as it was legal.”
They go on some rides. There’s more awkward description of the rides. I wonder if Ann M. Martin didn’t actually go on all these rides and just interviewed children outside the exit, or it’s just awkward because it’s awkward to try to explain the ride experience to someone.
In one place, the pirates set some buildings on fire. The buildings really, really look like they’re on fire, too – all red and yellow and glowing. In another place, you pass under a pirate sitting on a bridge or something and you can see that he has hairy legs! There are drunk pirates, there’s a gunfight between two ships, with the exploding shells splashing the water all around your boat, and there are funny pirates in jail. A dog has the keys to their prison, but he won’t give them up!
I don’t need to go to Disney World and experience Pirates of the Carribean myself! I have this description!
None of these ride descriptions ever come into play. It’s not like that dog had the key to their pirate treasure. The ride descriptions are just added for word count.
After the ride, the boys buy some pirate items. They go to Tom Sawyer Island and they finally find a treasure – an old bracelet with a broken clasp. Stacey tells them that it is Dawn’s lost bracelet.
The boys gift up trying to find treasure, but Byron keeps the map.
Her last day at Disney World starts with a character breakfast. During the breakfast, a cast member asks if anyone is celebrating a birthday. A young boy comes up and the entire restaurant is forced to sing happy birthday to him. Instead of feeling pity for the boy, as I would, Karen is envious, lies and says it’s her birthday, and before her father can stop her, she runs up and really shows off her narcissism.
I beamed. I loved it. I loved being right in the middle of things, with everyone thinking about me. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my birthday. It was probably my only chance ever to have a hundred people sing to me.
This is the kind of early behavior of someone who says something racist and doubles down on it on Twitter because they get hate clicks and attention.
Watson kind of chastises her but chooses not to punish because they’re on vacation. Karen proceeds to blame her hitchhiking ghost, which is clearly precedent for her to refuse responsibility. After she says the racist thing on Twitter and people call her out, she’ll blame Ambien or something. Also, I doubt Gus, Ezra, or Phineas would ever do something so fucking conceited as to force others to pay attention to them. They get all the attention they need at the end of the Haunted Mansion.
When the family goes out to the park, Karen figures out a way to get lost. I don’t care if she’s popular – I find Karen incredibly draining. She judges her neighbor and calls her dangerous witch just because she looks different. She thinks it’s okay to wander off and charge things to her room with money she doesn’t have. She believes it’s acceptable to lie just to get people to pay attention to you. And when she’s called out, she blames another party, regardless of the consequences. Now she’s lost. If Karen were my child, Alexandra Carmody wouldn’t be the only orphan at Disney World.
Of course, Karen isn’t forced to pickpockets for Fagan – she finds Elizabeth a page later. So, really, Karen learned nothing and will continue to learn nothing.
Stacey, Claire, and Margo stumble across Marc and they spend the day with him and his parents. They go on a dinosaur ride and the awkward descriptions continue. They also watched Captain EO, and if you’re not familiar with Michael Jackson’s venture into Disney, there are many YouTube videos all about it. (I recommend Defunctland’s excellent episode.)
While the children eat, Stacey speaks with Marc’s parents.
The Kubackis glanced at each other. There was an embarrassing silence. Then Mr. Kubacki said in a low voice, “Marc is going to have major surgery in a couple of weeks. Heart surgery. It’ll be very risky.”
I figured out what he wasn’t saying: that Marc might not survive the operation. I was stunned. “Does he know?” I managed to ask.
“He knows about the surgery,” replied Mr. Kubacki, “but not the risks. There’s no need for him to know that. We took this vacation together . . . just in case. And we want him to be happy. If . . . anything happens, this is one of the good times Mrs. Kubacki and I will be able to look back on.” Mr. Kubacki reached for his wife’s hand.
That’s heartbreaking. I’m not going to be snarky here.
Claudia gets a letter from her stalker that says she is “as beautiful as ever.” But she can’t pay attention to that! She has a Disney World date with Timothy – the boy who is definitely a separate person from her stalker.
Timothy has a secret! Is it that he’s Claudia’s stalker? No, of course not. Those are two different people! The secret is that his older sister is Alexandra Carmody – the orphan liar with famous parents.
Mary Anne finally lets Alexandra explain why she lied and the answer is reminiscent of another character’s warped logic.
“To get attention,” Alexandra replied matter-of-factly. “And to make life a little more interesting. For the same reasons Timothy spies on people and hides in coiled-up rope and stuff. Makes things interesting. When you’re the children of Viv and Vernon Carmody, you tend to get lost in the shuffle. You have to find ways to . . . to. . .”
And then Mary Anne just accepts that answer and they all laugh about it. This is not a great message for impressionable youth. The way to get attention is to lie about your parents’ deaths or lie about your birthday or makeup lies about your neighbor. Basically, the way to get attention is to lie.
Also, Timothy reveals that he was Claudia’s secret admirer/stalker all along! I never saw that coming! I thought they were different people! Talk about a Shamalayan-level twist!
Then they kiss during fireworks, once again teaching young kids that the way to a girl’s heart is vague stalking.
Kristy calls a final BSC meeting whey they reveal that they are going to take all the pictures they took during the trip and collect them into a proto-scrapbook before the term was really coined by white suburban moms with too much time in the early 2000s.
Dawn and Claudia are saying goodbye to their respective summer romances/stalkers. Mary Anne says goodbye to Alexandra Carmody. Kristy gives Rudy her grandmother’s phone number and address. And on the plane, a man approaches the triplets and Nicky.
“Pardon me,” he said with an accent.
The boys looked up at him.
“You are from Holland, yes?” said the man.
All five boys shook their heads.
“American?” asked the man in surprise.
“Yup,” said Adam.
“Oh. My mistake. I saw the copy machine diagram. With words in Dutch. I think you are from Holland, too. I am Dutch.”
“Copy machine diagram?” repeated Byron. “Dutch?”
“Yes,” said the man. He pointed to the paper. “My company, it manufactures copiers. That is a picture of – how do you say? – the insides of a machine.”
“Oh, brother,” mutter David Michael as the man went on his way.
Cool treasure map, boys.
Two months later, the BSC learns that Marc survived his surgery.
Whew! That was a long one!
The thing about Super Specials is that they feature all the BSC members and have an overarching story that may or may not intersect with the other members’ stories. The overarching story is usually just a way to keep them all together however loose that connection may be. In this book, it makes sense to put them all on a boat together, but the extra part with Disney World seems a little unnecessary and I didn’t like reading the passages about the ride events. They don’t really come factor into the plots and just seem extraneous. It’s like Disney paid for this extended product placement, but not enough to make sure the rides contribute more to the plot.
That being said, some of the stories I liked and others I hated. In order of worst to best, this is how I feel about each member’s story.
Worst – Karen: I never understood the appeal of Karen and I still don’t. Why does this brat get her own series? She’s selfish, she doesn’t think about others, she just wants attention, she doesn’t put effort into anything, and she doesn’t learn anything. She just does whatever she wants and there are no consequences for her.
Claudia: Why is Claudia attracted to her stalkers? First the phantom phone call stalker and now this boat stalker. It would be one thing to have a stalker – that is a scary thing that women deal with. But the problem lies with these stalkers getting rewarded with dates and kisses. I want to like Claudia, I really do. She’s the only Asian-American member (maybe the only Asian-American in all of Connecticut, besides her family), and as an Asian-American woman, I want to like her, but it’s hard when she’s macking on shy boys who engage in questionable behavior.
Byron: They were running around with Dutch copier instructions. How am I supposed to be into that?
Mallory: This story makes me remember my spying days after reading Harriet the Spy – and I’d prefer not to remember that afternoon.
Mary Anne: Her story is interesting enough. I was curious about Alexandra Carmody for most of the book, but her third act reveal wasn’t that satisfying. She was doing it for attention? It would be better if she was trying to hide the fact that her parents are famous because people only want to get close to her parents or something. Anything rather than “I want attention.”
Kristy: Okay, so she starts a fight with Dawn and then hangs out with an old man.
Dawn: Okay, so she starts a fight with Kristy and then hangs out with a young man.
Best – Stacey: Even though it seems like the first thing Stacey says is, “Hello. My name is Stacey McGill and I have diabetes,” this is still the best story in this inaugural Super Special. We have a new sympathetic and likable character in Marc. Stacey does some actual baby-sitting. She gets to facilitate a friendship between Claire, Margo, and Marc. It’s heartbreaking to hear that this kid is going to undergo risky surgery and this Disney World trip is a way for his parents to create good memories in case he doesn’t make it. I was relieved when I read he made it.
I enjoyed my first foray into the Super Specials, but there is room for improvement. I remember the other ones being better, and we will see if that’s the case as I continue this series.
Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)
And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.
Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.
The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.
Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.
“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.
“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.
“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”
“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”
“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.
“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”
“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”
Kris didn’t laugh.
Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.
Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.
After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.
“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.
“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.
“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”
“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.
“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”
Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”
Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.
Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”
Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.
First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.
Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.
Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.
We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?
“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”
What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”
Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.
Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.
“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.
She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.
“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”
“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”
“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”
It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.
Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:
“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”
“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”
Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?. What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?
Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.
This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.
Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.
They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.
As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.
“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”
I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.
R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement!(which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”
This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.
Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend
Bring a kid sucks. There. I said it. No “Cult of the Child” Victorian bullshit here. You don’t get to do all the great things that adults get to do: stay up late, eat whatever you want, drive, go shopping, pay bills, get insurance, look at stock options, cut down on your cholesterol. Kids just sit around watching television, loading up on sugar, all while your parents force you to go to school to learn new and interesting things. Wait? What was I going on about?
That’s Mallory’s problem: she wants to be treated more grown-up at the advanced age of eleven. She wants to be older and join the BSC because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: you wish you were older and you try to impress older kids, who are practically adults as far as you were concerned. You try to impress them so much you give them all your money without much coercion. That’s not based on anything true or anything. It’s not like the girl down the street asked me for money and I gave it all to her because she was so cool and tall and as big as a real adult and she could ride her bike with her hands off the handles and she had all these cool friends who said neat stuff like “as if” and I wanted to be just like them. That never happened . . .
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Spectacles. Eyeglasses. Bifocals. Trifocals. No matter what you call them, glasses are glasses and I have to wear them.
Hello. I’m Mallory Pike. I’m eleven.
This is what we are greeted with. Synonyms for glasses. A greeting. A name. An age. Then she talks about her family: all seven younger brothers and sisters and their quirks. There are the triplets who are mean. The brother who wants to be like the mean triplets. The one who wants to be a poet and it annoying. The one who is “silly.” The one who is “etc.” She continues with her parents, who are fascinating.
My mom doesn’t have a job. I mean, a job outside of the house, like being a doctor or an insurance salesperson or something. She says us kids are her job, and that with eight of us it’s a big job.
Yeah, I imagine it would be a big job. However, if she doesn’t have a job, why does she always need a babysitter? Later in the book, Kristy refers to the Pikes as “their best clients.” That means they have enough money to live in suburban Connecticut, hire babysitters, have a house in Beach City, New Jersey, can actually go on vacation, have a woman who comes to clean, and raise this ten person family. How about Dad, Mal?
My dad is a lawyer, but not the kid you see on TV, making wild speeches ina crowded courtroom. He’s what’s called a corporate lawyer. He’s the lawyer for a big company in Stamford, Connecticut. (We live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, which isn’t far away.) Mostly, he sits at a desk or attends meetings. Once in while, though, he does go to court, but I bet he doesn’t make speeches. I think he just stands up a lot and say, “Objection!” and things like that.
She doesn’t go into detail but a company that can pay a lawyer enough to maintain this level of lifestyle is one of two things: a corrupt company that provides an essential service but is destroying the world, akin to Amazon or BP, or, more likely, a front for the mob. Mallory Pike’s dad works for the mob. Say it with claps between each word. Louder for those in the back. MALLORY PIKE’S DAD WORKS FOR THE MOB.
Anyway, Mallory is excited because the BSC asked her if she was interested in joining the BSC. This an opportunity for growth. She thinks this will be her stepping stone to semi-adulthood as well as an opportunity to learn more about kids and baby-sitting from Stoneybrook’s premier baby-sitters.
Before her first BSC meeting, Mallory wants to look sophisticated, so she chooses to wear her “red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.” To which her little sister, Vanessa, remarks, “You look like a Valentine.” I don’t know if Martin intended this to be hilarious, but Mallory’s outfit is Hilarious, capital H. However, the funniest thing about the outfit is that Mallory has the word “Mallory” on her jumper. As if she was going to forget her name. Or it was just to establish that this red jumper is hers and there is no debate about it. I’m surprised Claudia hasn’t worn a shirt that says “Claudia” on it, but there are still more than a hundred books to go.
But before her first BSC meeting, Mallory has to sit through school. That’s when we meet Jessi (or rather, Jessica) Ramsey – the new girl. She’s tall and has long legs and is awfully composed for a sixth grader. Later, during lunch, Mallory sits near some girls from her class.
“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.
“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.
“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”
I shrugged. “What about her?”
“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.”
I nearly chocked. “So?”
“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”
“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”
Sally shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, I don’t know . . .”
You get ’em, Mallory. I was lukewarm on the eponymous jumper wearer but she does something that we should all be doing to bullshit racism. She challenges them. She makes them say what they mean to say. She puts horrible men who say nothing when their friend is gross to a waitress to shame and she’s in sixth-fucking-grade.
Also, wow, Stoneybrook. I thought this place was welcoming. Now I see you for what you really are. When I read this passage, I honestly thought they were going to have a problem with Jessi because they think she’s stuck up. I did not expect the blatant racism. Ann M. Martin is not fucking around.
During Mallory’s first BSC meeting, her “grown-up” outfit does not go over well. Also, Kristy sends Mallory on a trial baby-sitting job with Claudia at her Perkins’. Mallory also reveals that the Ramseys moved into Stacey’s old house. On the next meeting day, Mallory tones down the outfit (a sweatshirt that says “I’d rather be writing my novel” – something I would have killed for when I was a kid) and leaves for Claudia’s residence entirely too early. On the way there, she passes by Stacey’s old house to find Jessi and her siblings outside.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Mallory Pike . . . You probably know that. I mean, but I wasn’t sure. You must have met an awful lot of kids yesterday and today.”
“I have. But I remember your name.”
“I remember yours, too. Jessica. Jessica Ramsey.”
“Right.” Jessica grinned. “Call me Jessi, though.”
She has a little sister named Becca and a baby brother named Squirt (his real name is John Philip – they didn’t actually name their kid “Squirt”). Mallory and Jessi hit it off and Jessi tells her a joke:
“A farmer is driving down a highway and he sees a truck by the side of the road. It’s got a flat tire, and the driver, who is holding a penguin, looks really upset, so the farmer pulls up and says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the driver says, ‘Oh yes, please. I’m taking this penguin to the zoo. It’s right down the road. Could you take him there for me while I wait for the tow truck?’ The farmer says, ‘Sure,’ takes the penguin, and drives off. The next day the driver is going down a street and he sees the farmer with the penguin. ‘What are you doing?’ he cries. ‘You were supposed to take that penguin to the zoo!’ The farmer smiles. ‘I did,’ he answers, ‘and he had so much fun that today I’m taking him to the circus!'”
Okay, Jessi. Not a bad goof, especially for a sixth grader. And definitely funnier than Louis C.K. Sorry, it’s true.
Jessi invites Mallory up to her room and they bond over horse books and more jokes. It’s sweet and Jessi is cool. I was always ambivalent about both Mallory and Jessi when I was a kid, but I think I was just forced to be selective in my book buying. I couldn’t get every book, so I clung to specific baby-sitters (Mary Anne, mostly) so I could easily choose which books to get. Now that I’m an adult and I can buy as many as my budget allows, I can see the merit of Mallory and Jessi.
Later Mallory shows up to the next meeting and is greeted with a bit of news: she is going to have to take a test administered by the BSC. You know, totally normal things that all babysitters have to go through with questions like, “At what age does a baby cut its first tooth?” Mallory answers, “Eight months,” but Kristy says she’s wrong. The age when a baby cuts its first tooth is seven months. Because that one month is so different. Also, “What is the difference between creeping and crawling?” What I’m getting at is that the test they administer is unfair, especially when the other babysitters didn’t have to take such a test. Did Dawn take this test when she joined? No. They only administer this test to Mallory. She (rightfully) becomes frustrated with them, but there’s still hope: her trial baby-sitting job with Claudia.
Did you actually think that would go perfectly? There would be no book if everything went well. The first thing Mallory does wrong is ask Perkins’ what they want to eat. Claudia says, “Just give them something – something healthy. That way, there won’t be any arguments.” Which is fine advice but Claudia didn’t have to sound go haughtily about it, Miss I-Hide-Candy-In-A-Bag-Behind-My-Dresser. Then Mallory drops a glass and it breaks. Lastly, Mallory lets the dog in and he causes a raucous. After each minor infraction, Claudia chastises her.
During the next meeting, they agree to let Mallory join the BSC . . . if she goes through yet another test. Mallory refuses to take another test, as she should, and storms out of the club, bringing us to the second act.
Mallory and Jessi bond over more books the next day at school. Then Jessi says that no one at school has talked to her. Her sister is also having trouble making friends. In fact, the whole town isn’t talking to the Ramseys. Jessi can’t even join a ballet troupe in Stoneybrook for fear of making everyone mad.
“I’m even thinking of not taking dancing lessons here. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Can’t you just imagine it? They’d hold auditions for a ballet, but they’d never give me the lead, even if I was as good as Pavlova.”
“This famous ballerina. You know what would happen if they did give me the lead?”
“What?” I asked.
“Everyone would be upset that a black girl got it instead of a white girl.”
That’s absolute bullshit, but it’s absolutely true. Remember when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? And they were great! And that character was actually black! Remember the bullshit when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino? That was perfect casting, and she was great, also, and people still got pissed that she got the part. Jessi is right. Jessi tells it like it is. Jessi also has horses and jokes. Nowadays, she’d have a popular horse comedy podcast.
But it’s the late ’80s and podcasts haven’t been invented yet and so Mallory and Jessi decide to start their own babysitters’ club because that’s what keeps happening in Stoneybrook.
It’s called Kids Incorporated and the idea is that you get two babysitters for the price of one. They only get one job – for the Pikes. While Dawn is on another babysitting job, she sees Mallory and a girl she doesn’t know (Jessi) babysitting the Pikes and tells Kristy. Kristy calls the Pikes “their best customers” and sees Kids Incorporated as a threat.
Meanwhile, Jessi is accepted into an advanced ballet class in Stamford so that’s nice. What’s not nice is how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook. Mallory remembers that Stacey’s family had people over every day welcoming them into the neighborhood, but not the Ramseys. That’s some stone-cold racism right there.
While Mallory and Jessi babysit Becca, they blow bubbles on their front porch.
Becca made another bubble, and another.
At the house across the street, the door opened and a face looked out.
Becca made a fourth bubble.
A little girl stepped onto the porch.
Becca made a fifth bubble.
The girl tiptoed down her front stoop and halfway across the lawn to watch Becca and her bubbles.
“Look,” I said, nudging Jessi.
“I know,” she whispered.
The girl reached the street, crossed it carefully, and ran to Becca. “How do you do that?” she asked. “Those are the biggest-”
“Amy!’ called a sharp voice. An angry looking woman was standing on the porch across the street.
Amy turned around. “Mom?”
“Come here this instant,” said her mother stiffly. Then she went back in the house, slamming the door behind her.
It’s this simple scene that shows that racism is learned not inherited. It’s a powerful message to kids: you don’t have to share the same prejudices as your parents. And we see the direct result of that woman’s racism when Becca is crestfallen.
She thought she was going to make a new friend in a town that has been nothing but cold to her. Let’s hope that the mother didn’t want young Amy to play with Becca because a bubble killed her father or something. “Don’t play with bubbles! You know what happened to your father and I can’t have that happen to you, too!”
Or we could just face the fact that Stoneybrook has a dark underbelly. We only see glimpses into the city’s connections with the mob, the orgies that all the parents go to that warrant competing babysitting companies, and the racism, but the clues are there – Stoneybrook, the epitome of American suburbia, is a synecdoche that reflects the problems endemic with American culture.
Or I’m reading too much into the book series aimed at the tween set.
Eventually, the BSC realizes that they were being silly and invite Mallory to officially join the BSC – no more tests. To Mallory’s credit, she insists they take all of Kids Incorporated – including Jessi. Like Michael Scott in The Office when Dunder-Mifflin wanted to buy out The Michael Scott Paper Company and he insisted they take Ryan and Pam as well. The BSC accepts a full takeover and Kids Incorporated is dissolved into the BSC. Good thing since Kids Incorporated wasn’t doing very well. Again, just like that Office episode. Before she accepts, Jessi brings up an important concern.
“But a lot of families around here don’t seem, um, they don’t seem to like me. Because I’m black. So I’m wondering – what if your clients don’t want me to sit for them? I mean, that’s not going to help you at all. It might even hurt the club.”
Oh, god, Jessi! My sweet Jessi!
Kristy says that basically, if they don’t want Jessi to sit for them because she’s black, then Kristy doesn’t want to sit for them. The BSC has two new members, Jessi has some new friends, and even Becca becomes friends with Charlotte Johannsen.
As a kid, I was so lukewarm on Mallory while reading these but this introduction to both Jessi and Mallory is a good book. Martin does a good job confronting racism in this kids’ book without sugar coating it or making it too hard for kids to understand. I like how Mallory doesn’t take any shit from her “friends” about Jessi’s skin color and she helps her even when the BSC sound a little ignorant about how Jessi has been treated. (There is a brief scene where Mary Anne can’t believe that Jessi has been treated poorly, but Mallory tells them about the bubble-fearing woman and how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook.) As far as I’m concerned, Mallory is cooler than me when I was eleven and she probably wouldn’t have given random older girls all their money, unlike this other person I know. You don’t know her. She lives in Canada. I mean, it’s just a story I came up with. A story about a girl who lives in Canada. I swear I’m not talking about me. Her name was . . . Blamy.
Separation is difficult, especially when you’re a child and another city might as well be another country. If your best friend moves to another city, it’s not like you can’t just jump in your car and see her. More so twenty years ago before text messaging and video chat. You had to write letters if you wanted to stay in touch. And there was only one phone per house, so you were relegated to an hour of phone time a week with your best friend.
This is the future of Stacey and Claudia in The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye. Why Ann M. Martin decided to separate the girls only to have Stacey return is beyond me, but this book is nevertheless sad and bittersweet. Charlotte genuinely moved me in this book, but there’s some weird shit in this one.w
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Stacey’s books usually start with food. In this one, she’s having a dream reminiscent of Homer Simpson’s imagined land of chocolate. There are three Stacey characteristics: she likes math, she likes boys, and she has diabetes. This book starts with her Tootsie Roll craving. It eventually goes into the usual describing of the BSC members, complete with the need to tell us that Claudia is Japanese and that she and Stacey are more sophisticated than Kristy and Mary Anne.
The important early complication occurs during a family dinner, where her parents have some news.
“All right,” [Dad] went on. “This is the truth. Do you remember when my company opened the branch in Stamford?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Right before we moved here.”
Dad nodded. “Well, the new branch isn’t doing well at all. The company decided to get rid of it-”
“Oh, no! You lost your job!” I cried. Frantically, I began to calculate how much money I had saved from baby-sitting jobs, and how far it could be stretched.
“Not quite,” said Dad. “They’re coming the Stamford branch with the Boston branch. And I’m being transferred back to New York.”
Stacey tells Claudia that her family is moving back to New York, so the girls have an impromptu sleepover. They come up with what they think is a great idea: Stacey can move into the Kishi household, taking the spare bedroom, allowing Stacey to stay in Stoneybrook. Stacey’s parents object to the idea – they need to watch Stacey’s food intake and they would miss her. Claudia’s parents don’t want to be responsible for someone with diabetes (cool thinking, Mr. and Mrs. Kishi).
The next day, Stacey calls an emergency meeting of the BSC to announce that her family is moving.
If we hadn’t been sitting smack in the center of the Stoneybrook Middle School cafeteria, I’m sure all five of us would have started wailing away. As it was, we were pretty close. Mary Anne (who cries easily) picked up her napkin and kept touching it to the corners of her eyes. Dawn put her fork down and began swallowing hard. Kristy (who rarely creis) bit her lip and stared out the window. I didn’t do anything except not look at Claudia, but even so I knew she was not looking at me, too.
After a moment, I said, “Your enthusiasm is underwhelming.”
That brought a few smiles, at least.
I laughed. I thought it was kind of funny.
The BSC spends some time reminiscing about things that happened in previous books, like when Mary Anne and Stacey took the Pike kids to miniature golf, when Charlotte and Stacey were scared by Charlotte’s dog, and when Stacey took Kristy’s cousins to the movies. Riveting stuff. I’m being a little reductive, but that is, essentially, what they remembered.
When Stacey leaves, the rest of the BSC plan to have a Going Away Party for Stacey. However, they don’t have enough money to throw a good party. They need to get to a-baby-sittin’ if they want to have enough money to throw Stacey an early-’90’s style teen party. Luckily, Stacey gives them a solution.
Apparently, the McGills have accumulated a house full of stuff they don’t need – just like real upper-middle-class suburbanites. They can’t take all their crap with them to New York City, so Mrs. McGill lets the BSC sell stuff at a yard sale and they are allowed to keep any money they receive. Good, that plot complication is done and dealt with, long before it could be interesting.
Meanwhile, over at the Pikes’ house, the Pike children (minus Mallory) are playing spies, with Jordan as J. Edgar Hoover in this mini-CIA. They have new neighbors, the Congdons, and the Pike children believe those outsiders are up to something. The Pike parents didn’t instill a sense of welcoming to outsiders in their children, did they? Just like proper upper-middle-class suburbanites who may or may not be involved with the mob.
Let’s get back to the Sixteen Candles-style teen rager the BSC is planning for their boy-crazy friend. They come up with fliers with catchy rhymes to advertise the yard sale. They rummage through mounds of crap to price things. We learn that Dawn doesn’t know what to price things because, as she says, “People in California don’t have yard sales.” No, Dawn, or should I say, actual writer Ann M. Martin who clearly grew up on the east coast, people in California do have yard sales. They’re just filled with surfboards, hacky-sacks, and they’re all celebrities so all their stuff is autographed.
There’s a side plot with Morbidda Destiny and Karen and bunch of neighborhood kids. Morbidda gives them lemonade and is perfectly nice. Ugh. Not interested. Moving on. Need to get to Kid ‘n’ Play in House Party.
Stacey baby-sits for Charlotte – her favorite charge. We get this heartbreaking scene.
“I have to tell you soemthing, Charlotte. We’re moving again.”
Charlotte wrenched her neck around and peered at me. “What?”
“We’re moving back to New York in a couple of weeks.”
“You mean you’re leaving Stoneybrook? You’re leaving me?”
I nodded. I watched Charlotte take in the awful information. She looked like she ahd just swallowed horrible medicine.
Iggy’s House slipped to the floor as Charlotte put her head in her hands and began to cry.
“I’m really sorry, Char,” I said. “I don’t want to go. But my dad’s job is changing. We have to move.” I wrapped my arms around Charlotte, and she let me hold her for several moments. Then suddenly she leaped up and started shouting. “I hate you!” she cried. “I hate you! You’re mean! I thought you liked baby-sitting for me.”
Fucking harsh, but I have to remember that this is the ’90s. There was no video chat. There was no texting. If you wanted to call long distance, you had to have a calling card and it cost a dollar a minute. Now, the only people who call me are the helpful Pakistani employees of “Visa Mastercard” who just want to lower my credit card rates and all I have to do is give them my credit card number, my name, the number on the back, my social security number, the hospital where I was born, my mother’s maiden name, my father’s first girlfriend, my grandmother’s favorite cigarette type, the first name of the third friend I made in third grade, my sister’s licence plate number, my thoughts on Sioux Falls, and my partner’s DNA.
Getting back to Charlotte and Stacey, their only hope is to become pen pals and that’s impossible to maintain. Name a pen pal that you’ve had for longer than a year. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Cool. You thought of one? Now think of another. Yeah. I thought so. And Charlotte would have to compete with Claudia. Who would you rather receive letters from? An 8-year-old with a shy streak, or a crazy judgmental person who is on the brink of murdering her family and painting her walls with their blood? (That went dark but you can see it. Her family would die but, on the bright side, they would be a part of some beautiful art, especially when compared to the shit that other murderers have created. That’s right, Gacy! I’m calling you out!)
There’s a bunch of yard sale shenanigans, including a scene involving Kristy and the Barretts attempting to sell their stuff on their own. They don’t sell anything and, instead, show up to Stacey’s yard sale and sell their wares.
And speaking of Stacey’s yard sale, the BSC has one. People show up. Charlotte and Stacey make up. It’s successful. Now we can get on with the plot.
What kind of party is the BSC going to throw for their favorite boy-crazy sitter? A rager on the levels of Sixteen Candles, complete with problematic Asian character falling out of a tree? How about the toga party in Animal House? This is Stacey after all and they did just make a ton of money at the yard sale. They have to go all out! Maybe it will be on the levels of the house party movie of my childhood: Can’t Hardly Wait. C’mon, BSC, it has to have boys! And lots of ’em!
The guests were not who I had expected at all. Claudia, Mary Anne, Dawn, Logan, and Shannon werethere, but the other guests were children . . . all the kids (except for babies) that our club sits for. As I looked slowly around at the grinning faces, I saw the eight Pikes – Mallory, Byron, Jordan, Adam, Vanessa, Nicky, Margo, and Claire; Jamie Newton; Myriah and Gabbie Perkins; Charlotte Johanssen; Buddy and Suzi Barrett; Dawn’s brother, Jeff; Kristy’s brother, David Michael; Karen and Andrew; Nina and Eleanor Marshall; Jackie, Shea, and Archie Radowsky; Hannie and Linny Papadakis; Amanda and Max Delaney; and even Jenny Prezzioso. (I guess they couldn’t really leave her out.)
Okay, so a couple things. First, it’s not really a teenage party, is it? You’d think boy-crazy Stacey would want a party with, you know, boys. Secondly, I’m glad they left out the babies, I guess? Third, she just spun around and counted the children who were there? As they’re grinning? If this were any other novel, the grinning would be menacing and they were planning to kill her and eat her. Lastly, shade on Jenny Prezzioso? Don’t throw shade on children, especially one that’s at the mercy of her overbearing mother.
There’s a cake for everyone and a smaller, sugar-free cake for Stacey, which I’m sure tastes exactly the same as the real cake. It also features a giant drawing of everyone’s houses. Cool. So, Stacey has to get rid of a bunch of stuff because she’s moving into a small apartment in New York City, and the BSC thinks it’s a good idea to give her a giant drawing that she has to take with her and hang somewhere in her limited space. Good thinking, BSC. I can see why you’re so successful.
Claudia Outfit Alert!
She was wearing a wonderful Claudia outfit – a purple-and-white striped body suit under a gray jumper-thing. The legs of the body suit stretched all the way to her ankles, but she was wearing purple push-down socks anyway. Around her middle was a wide purple belt with a buckle in the shape of a telephone. And on her feet were black ballet slippers.
I found my Halloween outfit!
The big day comes and Stacey has to leave, but not before a final goodbye from the BSC. Stacey also gives them business cards with her new address and phone number (JK 5-8761) and the words “The New York Branch of the Baby-Sitters Club.” Since I know that Stacey returns to Stoneybrook, that “JK” in her phone number seemed like foreshadowing, but this book was written in 1988. And, according to a brief letter at the back of the new books, Ann M. Martin intended for Stacey to stay in New York.
This book was fine. I felt for Charlotte, but I couldn’t read this book without the knowledge that Stacey returns. I also feel like the children should have said goodbye during the yard sale and a party closer to the one at the end of Logan Likes Mary Anne would be more appropriate for Stacey. One with classmates and music and dancing. And the giant picture is just not a good gift for someone trying to get rid of things. The whole book is about her trying to get rid of things – why gift her more things?
At one time, I was just collecting and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. I was going to Goodwill every two weeks, buying whichever books in the series I was missing. Then I’d go home and read one every once in a while. Sometime during Claudia and Mean Janine, I got the idea to review these as writing practice and maybe help me build a portfolio. That’s why the first one is Boy-Crazy Stacey.
After I wrote a few of those I went back to the beginning – for continuity’s sake. I can’t review two hundred BSC books and skip over the first seven for no discernable reason. I went back through Kristy’s Great Ideaand wrote what became one of my favorite reviews. Then I came to this book and put it off. When it showed up again in the rotation, I did a different book.
Eventually, I had to take a deep breath and jump back into Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, much to my chagrin. I hate this book. There. Plain and simple. It has a terrible message, and terrible people get rewarded for doing terrible things. It’s a terrible ball of terrible, but I read it. For continuity. So welcome, to the nightmare that is Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
It starts out like all the other books that center around Claudia – she is struggling with school and comparing herself to her genius sister.
The thing about homework is that it is just so boring I can barely concentrate on it. And it’s useless. Who cares whether > means greater than or less than, or what X equals?
I don’t know, Claudia, anyone who wants to solve almost any practical problem ever? If one of your dumb baby-sitting charges is supposed to have twelve blocks in his toy chest, but he only has five, how many blocks has he eaten? That’s what X equals.
If Claudia didn’t spend so much time thinking about how schoolwork is boring, she could probably just learn the material and move on. Or she has a learning disability, and then it’s the school that is failing her. However, I haven’t read anything that indicates a learning disability, just laziness on Claude’s part.
But this isn’t Rereading My Childhood While I Complain About Claudia Kishi, Don’t @ Me, Mary Anne is the Best and Everyone Should Know That. I have to move on.
Then, like every book, Ann M. Martin feels the need to tell me that Claudia is Japanese and her grandmother, Mimi, has an accent, but her parents don’t. Does the accent come up later? No, but it seems to be Mimi’s only defining trait. Claudia starts to paint her and asks the very open-ended question, “Tell me about when you were a little girl in Japan.” Just, like, anything, Claudia? Is Mimi like Mary Lou Henner? “When I was eight, on December 3rd, I ate miso soup and a biscuit for breakfast. Then I bathed for 24 minutes.”
Then she goes into her clothes for the day, and they are, as usual, interesting.
I like bright colors and big patterns and funny touches, such as earring made from feathers. Maybe this is because I’m an artist. I don’t know. Today, for instance, I’m wearing purple pants that stop just below my knees and are held up with suspenders, white tights with clocks on them, a purple-plaid shirt with a matching hat, my high-top sneakers, and lobster earrings. Clothes like these are my trademark.
My sister is an artist but she wouldn’t wear capris with garish tights underneath. You are just silly. Also, I don’t think a “funny touch” is a feather. That sounds more like cultural appropriation to me.
Later, Stacey calls Claudia and our resident artist talks about her crush on Trevor Sandbourne – a boy who writes poetry for the school’s literary magazine The Literary Voice. Did you know that Robert Pinsky first published “Impossible to Tell” in Stoneybrook Middle School’s The Literary Voice? Poet Trevor’s peers are an august retinue.
Chapter two starts with a problem.
Stacey, Kristy, Mary Anne, and I did get together on Saturday, but we couldn’t think of a thing for the four of us to do together. Mary Anne wasn’t allowed to ride her bike to the mall. Stacey couldn’t eat s’mores or ice cream or anything fun. (She has diabetes and has to control very carefully the amount of sugar she takes in each day.) And there was only one movie playing in town and Kristy and I had already seen it.
Okay, a few problems here. Even if Mary Anne could ride her bike to the mall, what would you do there? Just sit around like you’re doing now. Secondly, just because Stacey is diabetic doesn’t mean she can’t be around sugar. Sugar isn’t airborne. I understand that you don’t want her to feel left out, but you guys can have a camp out that just happens to have s’mores, and, for example, roasted hot dogs or something. Lastly, Stoneybrook’s movie theater only shows one movie, but their middle school has a literary magazine. Sparks, Nevada has several movie theaters that show several movies and my school didn’t even have a newspaper.
So the girls talk about random stuff instead and mention Alan Gray, a boy who has been terrorizing Kristy since she was a child. Then the conversation turns to the plot point that the “Phantom Caller” is still on the loose.
[Mary Anne] took the paper and read: “‘Phantom Caller on Rampage in Mercer.'” She cleared her throat and glaced at us. Then she began to read again. “‘The thief, whom police have nicknamed the Phantom Caller, struck again in Mercer on Tuesday night. Following the pattern of his previous burglaries, he began making phone calls, this time to the home of Thornton and Sophia Granville of 236 Witmer Court, shortly after four P.M. He never spoke, simply hanging up the phone when someone answered. The Granvilles left their home at seven-thirty to attend a meeting of the school board. When they returned at ten-fiftenn, they found all of Mrs. Granville’s jewelry missing. Nothing else had been taken, despite the fact that a considerable amount of silver, as well as Thornton Granville’s famous and very valuable coin collection were in the house.
“‘This is the sixth home that Phantom Caller has robbed in the past two weeks, and the second home in Mercery. The first four robberties occurred in New Hope.'” Mary Anne stopped reading.
Cool, Newspaper Person. Got any more information about the Granvilles’ belongings? Emergency money in a fake book on the tallest shelf in the den?
The kicker is that while Claudia was babysitting for the Marshalls, the phone rang twice and when Claudia answered it, there was silence on the other end. Stacey comes up with the idea of a code for over the phone. If they are in trouble, they call another member of BSC and ask, “Have you found my red ribbon?” I don’t know why 911 isn’t the best option, but there’s a whole code they work out. It never really pans out, as the BSC can’t remember the code later in the book. They also decide to bring the BSC record book to school every day and look over it so they know who is babysitting for whom, which proves to be a huge security issue later.
At school, Claudia stalks Trevor Sandbourne outside The Literary Voice office, Alan Gray harrases her, and she attempts to find Stacey in the lunch room, but Stacey is standing in line next to Alexander Kurtzman, “who carries a briefcase and wears a jacket and tie, and lives to obey rules.” How this kid hasn’t been murdered is beyond explanation. Claudia spends her time expressing her desire to attend the school’s Halloween Hop with Trevor.
Claudia babysits for the Newtons and someone calls but doesn’t say anything when Claudia answers. A news report says the Phantom Caller was spotted in a stolen car, but it turns out the news reported that fact too hastily (how irresponsible, this is we get crazy alt-right jerks yelling about fake news) and the Phantom Caller is still on the loose. On a different night, Claudia babysits Eleanor and Nina Marshall and she gets another phone call with no answer. She calls Stacey to help her feel better, and they chat for a while, but it doesn’t help – Claudia is still freaked out. This is harassment, plain and simple, and I emphasize this so when the perpetrator is revealed and actually rewarded, you will understand my ire.
The first handwriting chapter is Kristy at Watson’s, babysitting Karen and Andrew. Karen expresses concern over their next door neighbor actually being a witch named Morbidda Destiny. The phone rings and Kristy answers it and there is no one on the other end. Then the phone rings again.
Ring . . . Ring.
At last Kristy reached for it. She knew she had to answer it. The caller could be Watson or her mother. She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. But she couldn’t get any words out.
“Kristy?” as the caller.
“Claudia?” she whispered back. (The caller was me!)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the limitations on the first-person perspective because that was silly. Kristy is so scared she doesn’t want to answer the phone, so the person harassing her is also a monster. He’s actually worse, but we’ll get to that.
Stacey has the next handwriting chapter at the Johanssens. It’s mostly uneventful. There is a thunderstorm, but that’s it. Mary Anne babysits David Michael, Kristy’s little brother, and she sets up a whole set of traps straight from the Kevin McCallister School for Home Defense. This ends up comedic and enjoyable.
Then Claudia’s next door neighbors are robbed, bringing the Phantom Caller threat straight to the BSC’s front door. This prompts Mr. Spier to forbid his daughter from babysitting until the Phantom Caller is caught. That’s a little reactionary, Mr. Spier. The Phantom Caller doesn’t rob homes that had people inside, he doesn’t murder anyone, and just because there’s some crime doesn’t mean you should lock Mary Anne away like you’re in a Bonte novel. They didn’t catch the Golden State Killer for decades and people were still able to babysit – didn’t see you locking Mary Anne behind three feet of bulletproof glass. Mr. Spier is a crazy man.
We are now at our climax. Kristy and Claudia dual babysit for Jamie Newton and his cousin, one of whom hates girls, including girl babysitters. He is a future politician.
The same things happen. Phone calls, no answer. However, this time, Kristy sees someone skulking outside the house. Claudia decides to call the police. The police arrive and catch the person skulker. (The skulked? The skulkee? Asshole. We’ll just go with Asshole.)
It’s fucking Alan Gray. And then we get this bullshit.
Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”
“I wanted to know if you’d go to the Halloween Hop with me.”
If I were Kristy, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my head along about then. But Kristy just said, “Oh, gosh, is that all? Of course I’ll go with you . . . Thanks.”
Lemme get this straight, Kristy. This boy, who makes fun of you, steals your homework as well as your lunch, and treats your friends like shit; stalks the house of the children you’re supposed to be watching over; scares the shit out of you so much so that you call the police; then the police have to chase him down in the rhododendrons, only to have him ask you out and you actually say, “Sure and thanks.” Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of message is that to young girls? If he scares you, it’s okay, he likes you. You know how someone is worth your time? They don’t fucking scare you! That’s how you know. Alan Gray should be arrested. Moreover, you know he’s definitely white because if he were black, he would have been shot on the spot. What sexist, patriarchal, white nonsense is this?
And you know who keeps calling Claudia and hanging up? Trevor Sandbourne. He’s trying to ask Claudia out. While not as egregious as Alan Gray stalking, Trevor’s behavior is still bad, but all Claudia can focus on is the Halloween Hop. Kristy is stalked but all she can focus on is that a boy likes her. She doesn’t even get angry that Alan Gray has been stealing the BSC record book to find where all the babysitters are on any given night and sharing that information with people (Trevor). This is a flagrant privacy violation.
There is some resolution to the relationship between Claudia and Janine, but it’s pointless, especially after the infuriating conclusion of this book.
This book should be banished to the edges of young adult literature and purged from every BSC collection. It has the worst message for young, impressionable girl readers: if a boy is mean to you, scares you, and doesn’t respect your privacy, he likes you and you should reward him by going to a dance with him.
Fuck this book. It’s easily the worst one. I’d prefer the babysitters being stalked by the actual Phantom Caller.
Speaking of whom, The Phantom Caller gets caught, and Mary Anne is allowed to babysit again, but more on the patriarchal nature of Mr. Spier later. My blood pressure is high enough as it is.
My parents are not anti-vaxxers because they’re responsible parents. My sister and I are current with all our shots, no matter how hard it was to get us to sit down and actually take the damn shot. We used to cry and cling to our parents and engage in futile begging, but our tenacious parents still forced us to receive our shots. After it was all done, the pain a distant memory, we got a prize from the hospital.
That’s where I saw it – a green hand wrapped around a door. Leaves and vines grew around the hand as if something escaped the confines of the basement and was now poised to take over the upstairs. Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine sat on the highest shelf, most of which featured boys with dogs or girls with dolls. Maybe one or two with arm-crossed children rolling their eyes as their apron-clad mother held a rolling pin and chastised them. The hand stood out. The hand grabbed my attention. The hand scared me, but I needed to know what was happening.
Rereading this as an adult, I’m happy this one was my first Goosebumps book. My copy has the new cover that fails to live up to the original, but I’m still happy I own this scary book that holds up as fine children’s horror.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Casey and Margaret Brewer are tired of their father’s excuses. They want to play Frisbee with him, but he’s always busy. And he’s been working every day since he moved his family out to California, a place that Margaret doesn’t like because it’s “the middle of winter; and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and Casey and I are out in jeans and T-shirts as if it were the middle of summer.” Oh no, how terrible it must be to have temperate weather in the second-best state in the union. (First is Nevada – don’t @ me.)
Margaret thinks that Mr. Martinez, their father’s boss, fired their father for some experiments that went “wrong.” She gets curious and encourages Casey to come with her to find out what their father is doing deep in the basement. When they halfway down the basement stairs, their father appears.
He glared up at them angrily, his skin strangely green under the flourescent light fixture. He was holding his right hand, drops of red blood falling onto his white lab coat.
“Stay out of the basement!” he bellowed, in a voice they’d never heard before.
Both kids shrank back, surprised to hear their father scream like that. He was usually so mild and soft-spoken.
“Stay out of the basement,” he repeated, holding his bleeding hand. “Don’t ever come down here – I’m warning you.”
I think the kids just slink away because the next chapter starts with Mrs. Brewer leaving to help care for her sister for a few days. She says she’s no worried about the kids, but is worried about Mr. Brewer, particularly that he will become so engrossed in his work that he won’t eat. The man himself appears, his hand bandaged despite it being a few weeks after he yelled at them. He takes their mother to the airport as Margaret’s friend Diane arrives for some adult-free childhood banter.
Diane is also the one who dares Margaret to go into the basement, because what’s a Goosebumps book without some kids daring each other to do some stupid shit. I remember being a kid. We always dared each other to do stupid shit. It’s the most realistic thing in the series.
In the basement, they find a “rain forest.” It’s so hot and humid that Casey decides to take off his shirt and drop it on the floor, just like an actual kid. That’s when they notice a tall treelike plant actually breathing. Casey touches it and he goes into convulsions!
Of course, it’s just a prank. At least the fake out is at the end of chapter three when I’m already invested, instead of the first chapter. The children think the plants are moving and they decide to go back upstairs. They think that their father will never know they were down there, but Casey remembers that he left his t-shirt on the floor.
Casey goes back into the basement to retrieve his shirt, but their father comes home. Margaret is standing at the top of the stairs, urging her brother to return before their father walks through the door. He grabs his shirt but some tendrils grab him. It’s not a trick. Actual tendrils grab Casey. They wrestle free, but not before their father catches them.
They insist they didn’t touch anything and while their father is disappointed, he is not stark-raving mad. They ask their father about the weird plants, but he refuses to explain their bizarre appearance and behavior to them. The next morning, Margaret finds a lock installed on the basement door.
Dr. Brewer is working so hard to impress his boss, Mr. Martinez, and prove that the university was wrong to fire Dr. Brewer. However, Margaret clings to her idea that something is askew, especially since she sees his research as putting his career ahead of his children, something he hasn’t done before. Her suspicions are exacerbated when she sees him devour something from a bag “greedily” and stash it under the sink before returning to the basement.
When she was sure he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know whather father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.
She pulled open the sink cabinet, reached into the trash, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.
Then she gasped aloud asher eyes ran over the label.
Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.
Oh, shit, Margaret! The call is coming from inside the house! Get out of there!
She tries to confide in Casey her findings, but, like every shitty man, he doesn’t take her concerns seriously. There are more frustrating scenes wherein others excuse Dr. Brewer’s neglect as something he’s doing for the sake of his career while dismissing Margaret. This whole book is like a metaphor for women’s struggles. A young woman is supposed to just accept a man’s egregious behavior for the sake of his own interests even to her detriment. I feel ya, Margaret. We cuz.
While Margaret is growing up with a distant father, Dr. Brewer is growing green hair. He is also skulking around the house and scaring his daughter and is sleeping in a bed that is covered in earthworms and wet, black clumps of dirt. Finally, he tries to feed his children a strange substance bearing a resemblance to dirt. This is the straw that breaks Casey’s back, so to speak. He is finally curious enough to investigate the basement with Margaret.
They get their opportunity when Dr. Brewer leaves. In the basement, they find a jacket belonging to Mr. Martinez. They come to the conclusion that plants may have eaten the big boss man (the character in the book, not the wrestler), but their father insists Mr. Martinez just got hot and left his jacket. A few days later, they also discover Mr. Martinez’s shoes and pants, hurting their father’s theory that he just got hot. You don’t just take off your pants in someone else’s house, even the house of your subordinate.
During another excursion into the basement (and after some heavy lock destruction), they peer deeper into the experimental jungle.
She took a deep breath and held it. Then, ignoring the moans, the signs, the green arms reaching out to her, the hideous green-tomato faces, she plunged through the plants to the back of the closet.
“Dad!” she cried.
Her father was lying on the floor, his hands and feet tied tightly with plant tendrils, his mouth gagged by a wide strip of elastic tape.
“It can’t be Dad!” Casey said, still holding her by the shoulders. “Dad is at the airport – remember?”
She reached downand tugged at the elastic tape until she managed to get it off.
“Kids – I’m so glad to see you,” Dr. Brewer said. “Quick! Untie me.”
“How did you get in here?” Casey demanded, standing above him, hands on his hips, staring down at him suspicisously. “We saw you leave for the airport.”
“That wasn’t me,” Dr. Brewer said. “I’ve been locked in here for days.”
“Huh?” Casey cried.
“But we saw you-” Margaret started.
“It wasn’t me. It’s a plant,” Dr. Brewer said. “It’s a plant copy of me.”
Holy shit! It’s a plant! Metaphorically and literally! The story continues with a classic, “I’m your real father! Shoot him!” “No, shoot him! He’s the impostor!” only with a little girl holding an ax, which is my new aesthetic.
Margaret figures out who her real father is when she stabs the father from the basement in the arm. He bleeds red blood, so she hands him the ax. Then her real father cleaves the impostor in two! Take it back. A father who was held captive by a sentient plant cutting his captor in twain with an ax from his daughter is my new aesthetic.
In the end, the Brewers destroy the plants and return the equipment to the university, but R. L. Stine isn’t finished.
It’s so peaceful now, [Margaret] thought happily.
So peaceful here. And so beautiful.
The smile faded from her face when she heard the whisper at her feet. “Margaret.”
She looked down to see a small yellow flower nudging her ankle.
“Margaret,” the flower whispered, “help me. Please – help me. I’m your father. Really! I’m your real father.”
Fucking perfect. This book was perfect.
I’m happy this was my first Goosebumps book. I’m happy this was the book I chose from all the other books on that bookshelf at the doctor’s office. Thank you to whoever put that book on that shelf. This book started my lifelong love of all things scary and creepy. I’m even happier that this book holds up. I like the punniness. I like Margaret. I like the mystery. Everything about this book is perfect.
Stay Out of the Basement was the second book of the Goosebumps series and, especially with Welcome to Dead House as the first, I can see why this series is revered in the Pantheon of Young Adult Fiction, exactly where it should be.
What the hell is homecoming? Who is coming home? Is there a home involved at all? If yes, which home? I went to an American high school. Did we even have homecoming dances? To be fair, the only dance I ever went to was my senior prom, which could be the subject of its own RMC (Rereading My Childhood), but I think I would have heard about some formal that seems to spring up at random times throughout the school year. Did my school even elect homecoming queens? Who were they? And how are they elected? If she’s an elected official, does that actually make her a “queen” is the purest sense of the word or is it more of a relic from a time when the homecoming queen was passed down through a family sent to us from God to rule over homecoming?
R. L. Stine doesn’t answer any of these questions, but he did answer the question, “Who killed the homecoming queen?” The answer will be revealed through the following twenty-nine paragraphs (not including excerpts) – one paragraph for each chapter in the book. Let’s get to it!
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Eva Whelan loves pep rallies, something the two of us don’t share. Besides loving pep rallies, she loves her psychic powers, which are more like Peter Parker’s Spidey-senses without the reliability or plot relevance. She also loves her best friend’s stepbrother, Jeremy. Oh, and at the end of the first chapter, the aforementioned best friend, Tania Darman, is pushed down the stairs.
Another student named Leslie Gates accidentally bumped into her. Tania considers Leslie her “rival,” so Tania skeptical about the perceived accident. They are both vying for homecoming queen to Jason Thompson’s homecoming king. During the crowning ceremony, there is a gunshot.
It’s just a soda can. I wonder if I wouldn’t be so angry if I read this book during its publication year, 1997. A school shooting is a very real and traumatizing thing that happens seemingly every week, so using it as some bullshit cliffhanger for the end of chapter two is distasteful. This isn’t Stine’s fault, 1997 was a relatively innocent time, years before Columbine and Active Shooter Drills. Still, I still had a strong personal reaction to that fake out. Let’s get back to the book. Leslie makes a grand entrance. In the audience, Eva spots Jeremy talking to his friend Keith, who is an amateur filmmaker.
Keith shook his head. “Leslie is desperate to be an actress. She’s applying to every acting school in the country. If she’s in the video, then she’ll have something to show. I’d be doing her the favor.”
“Sounds like a good deal for both of you,” Jeremy commented. “Is Leslie any good?”
“Sure,” Keith replied with a shrug. “But I’d much rather have Tania – especially if she’s Homecoming Queen?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Eva asked. “I mean, what’s your video about?”
Keith’s eyes glittered again. “It’s called Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?”
That’s the name of the book! Tania wins homecoming queen and immediately passes out!
It’s just her low blood sugar. Gurl, lay off the insulin. Out of view of Tania but in front of Eva, Leslie expresses her anger at Tania’s constant winning and calls the new homecoming queen “The Golden Girl of Shadyside High.” The girl who is clearly our red herring sees something and gasps!
This time, there is something to actually gasp about. Leslie and Eva see Tania’s boyfriend, with the very ‘80’s name Sandy, making out with a girl, with another very ‘80’s name, Cherise. Because that’s what we need. More characters. Leslie says, “This will kill Tania.” and she runs away.
The next chapter starts with Eva watching a vicious argument between Tania and Sandy regarding his cheating. She breaks up with him and he does not take it well. He violently shakes Tania, and Eva panics.
It was just a part of Keith’s movie. Cool movie, Keith. This book has not aged well. High school domestic violence is no longer something hushed into shadows and used as a plot device in a pulp teen horror novel. It’s morphed into a pervasive problem that literally kills kids during History class. The domestic violence, even if it’s for a terrible movie, just made me feel gross.
Tania passes out from her blood sugar thing, again, and Eva agonizes over telling her best friend about her boyfriend’s cheating. That’s right – she still hasn’t told her best friend. Way to look out for your friend, Eva. Then someone yells they’re going to kill Tania.
It’s just Leslie, our brightest red, largest of large herrings. Our crimson whale.
Leslie bared her teeth in a vicious smile. “First you get to be Homecoming Queen. Now you steal the role in Keith’s video. You knew I was counting on that role for my college portfolio! I can’t believe you stole that from me, too!”
“I could kill you, Tania!” Leslie clenched her fists. “I really could!”
“I have something to tell you, Tania.”
“After all, why shouldn’t I ruin your day, too?” Leslie said bitterly.
“Huh?” Tania frowned. “What do you mean?”
Eva’s heart sped up. Leslie is going to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, she realized. I can’t let Leslie do it! She’ll enjoy it too much. And Tania will be really embarrassed – in front of her biggest rival!
“What is it?” Tania asked Leslie.
“Not now!” Eva cried. “Leslie, come here.”
That’s why you should have told her already, Eva. She doesn’t even take that moment to tell Tania in private. She just pulls her away and we get a new scene. Eva gets a Coke with her crush and Tania’s brother, Jeremy. He expresses his desire to go to the mall and “check out the CD stores.” The fact that there’s more than one CD store, let along a CD store, in this mall that has not succumbed to online shopping and poor business decisions, is unintentionally funny. There’s a mention of Jeremy getting in trouble at his last school. This isn’t that important, but it sets up a second, lesser red herring. Like a marron minnow. Our maroon minnow sees Sandy and Cherise making out. Geez, Sandy and Cherise, get a room. Or at least come up for air. Or maybe don’t mack on each other at the most frequented locales of the Shadyside High student body.
Tania enters but somehow doesn’t see Sandy. The chapter switches to movie filming again, and, of course, they’re filming the domestic violence scene again. Keith is either getting off on this scene or he’s incredibly incompetent because this scene should be finished by now. This time, Keith yells, “Stop it!” as Sandy chokes Tania.
It’s his camcorder. They start rolling again. They stop after Tania is on the ground and not moving.
This time, it looks like she’s kind of dead. Sandy checks her pulse. When he can’t find it, Jeremy starts yelling and screaming. Then her body disappears.
The police arrive and are ineffectual, just like they always are in every teen horror from the ‘80s. Leslie is there but she books it after the police want to question her.
Chapter 14 is the obligatory scene in which everyone has a conversation about what happened. Sandy reveals his terrible sense of humor.
“It started out as a joke. Tania and I cooked it up,” Sandy explained. “The idea was, I’d strangle her for the movie. She’s pretend to be dead, and I’d go along with it. We just wanted to shake everyone up. For fun.”
“Huh?” Eva let out a shocked cry.
“You and Tania decided to lay game with my movie?” Keith cried.
“Yeah, for fun,” Sandy repeated.
Eva gaped at him. “That’s a terrible joke,” she declared. “How could you and Tania do something so awful?”
“Never mind that. Where is she?” Jeremy asked. “Where is Tania?”
“That’s the problem,” Sandy told him. “See after everybody got all crazy, Tania was supposed to jump up and yell ‘surprise!’”
“But she didn’t,” Eva reminded him.
Jeremy readies his choking hands and lunges at Sandy. Everyone gets a strangle!
The police separate them and conjecture that Tania just went home. Eva tries to call Tania’s home and just gets a busy signal – another relic of the ‘80s. Then she calls Keith to ask about the camcorder.
The camcorder “jammed” and didn’t record anything. Jeremy bursts in and says he heard Sandy and Cherise conspire to kill Tania. If this seems disjointed, I’m sorry, but that’s really how plot points progress in this book.
Eva encourages him not to call the police. I don’t understand that one. She goes to Cherise’s house and hears someone yelling, “I’ll kill you!”
Don’t worry, nothing interesting actually happened – it was just the television. Eva and Cherise chum it up, even though Cherise might have killed Eva’s best friend. Someone calls Cherise’s phone, asks for Eva, and tells her that she’s going to die next.
The next day at school, Leslie doesn’t even wait for Tania’s corpse to turn up before continuing her crimson whale activities. She’s been “bothering” Keith – she wants to be the new star in his movie. Remember, she really needs it for her college portfolio. You know, Harvard is always on the lookout for students who have been in high school horror films by students who can’t work a camcorder and takes months to film a terrible scene. Eva sees blood on Leslie’s sweater.
Yeah, she just cut herself on a mirror. However, something finally happens! Sandy tumbles out of a locker. He has been stabbed! And we finally have a body!
Chapter 21 is another gathering, this time at Eva’s house. We are reminded that “This is not a movie plot. This is real.” Thank you for your service, fourth wall, but it’s time for you to break. Eva gets a phone call. The person on the end is, like, yeah, Imma kill you next.
Keith chooses to do a documentary instead and interviews Eva. She leans up against a rail and it breaks.
Keith pulls her up and says the railing was sawed. So, someone, in the middle of the night, came onto the school grounds with a saw and went to town on a railing. Not conspicuous at all.
In the next chapter, Tania shows up not dead. Cool. And what is your reason for leading us and where have you been?
“When Jeremy told me about Sandy sneaking around with Cherise, I couldn’t believe it. Once I stopped crying, I got so angry. And that’s when I decided to get even.”
“Where were you all this time?” Eva asked Tania. “I mean, were you just hiding at home?”
Tania shook her head. “That’s what I was going to do. But Jeremy had a better idea. He cooked up the strangling part. But he didn’t know I was going to disappear. Anyway, I went to stay with my cousins in Waynesbridge. I told Mom and Dad not to worry, and they told the police I was perfectly okay.”
“So that’s why the cops stopped the investigation,” Keith said. “No wonder they thought the whole thing was a joke. It was.”
“It was a horrible, sick joke, Tania!” Eva declared angrily. “How could you do that to us? How could you put us through all that just because your boyfriend was cheating on you?”
“I couldn’t help it!” Tania cried. “I was so hurt and upset. And I wanted to hurt and upset everyone else, especially Sandy. I wanted you guys to feel like fools, just the way I did!”
Ugh, teenagers in horror novels and their elaborate pranks that involve death and dying. I was a teenager for about a decade and the pranks I was involved in, witnessed or was the victim of never involved dying and bodies disappearing and they certainly never ended with an actual death. What happened to Sandy?
Eva’s spidey-scene shows up and the gang runs to Cherise’s house, where they find her in a stare-off with Jeremy, whom she says killed Sandy. Jeremy says Cherise killed Sandy and that’s she’s crazy. There’s a bunch of that for a while.
And more of that in the next chapter.
And it’s finally concluded in the next chapter.
“Tania already told us that it was Jeremy’s idea for her to pretend to be dead,” Eva explained. “That was his plan for Tania to get revenge – by playing a cruel joke on us.”
“So?” Cherise asked.
“So Jeremy wouldn’t murder Sandy,” Eva went on. “He knew that Tania was already getting her revenge.”
“Oh, please – drop the innocent act!” Cherise tossed her head, glaring around the room. “I hate you all! You think you’re so smart! Hey, let’s keep a secret from poor, dumb Cherise. Won’t that be a kick? The way you were laughing at me behind my back. Don’t think I didn’t catch on!”
“Catch on to what?” Jeremy asked.
“Keith’s other video project – the candid video project, as if you didn’t know,” Cherise sneered.
“Huh?” Tania asked. “What video project?”
“You all know that Sandy pretended to like me – just for the candid video,” Cherise went on. “You all humiliated me, laughed at me – just for a stupid videotape!”
So there ya’ go. Keith and Sandy were making some other weird video where he pretended to like Cherise so she killed him. Then she lunges at Keith.
The last chapter is the police dragging Cherise away and Keith’s camcorder jamming.
That’s it. One paragraph (ish) for each of the 27 chapters of Who Killed the Homecoming Queen? By R. L. Stine. This one was fine – standard pulp fiction fare. The cliffhangers are still frustrating, the herrings are huge, and the scares really aren’t scary, but I didn’t hate my time with this book. It was fine. Now excuse me while I try to figure out what in the hell “homecoming” is.
I wasn’t there when my childhood pet died. His name was Sammy, and he was a gorgeous Australian Shepherd. He died while my family and I were abroad, visiting my extended family in the Philippines. My father had to sit my sister and me down and explain that our dog wasn’t going to be there when we got back. I still remember the exact spot in my Grandmother’s house, the exact chair I was sitting in, a long bench next to the dining table, and the exact color of the flip-flops that I stared at as my father told me the bad news (yellow).
In The Baby-Sitters Club#11: Kristy and the Snobs, Kristy at least has the luxury of saying goodbye to her beloved Louie, and I don’t consider that a spoiler – the dog is limping before the end of chapter one. Anyone who has read a book featuring a beloved pet knows that doesn’t bode well for Spot.
The book’s title implies that there’s some kind of Kristy vs. the Snobs war, and there are a few pranks, but the crux of the novel is heartbreak and loss. Ann M. Martin writes about sadness in a stark and plain way. The pain isn’t covered up with flowery language and metaphor; there is no euphemism sufficient enough to describe the death of a beloved pet. It’s a sad book, but it’s a good one.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book starts with breakfast at the Watson/Thomas compound. They cook their own breakfast, Watson helps with the chores, and they clean their own house. They don’t have a pool, or a tennis court, or a fountain in the entryway. That’s not a compound, you say? Not like their neighbors, who actually have maids, cooks, pools, butlers, and courts tennis? This difference is made apparent by the appearance of Kristy’s neighbors, who attend a private school and are all blonde.
“Are you the one who’s been sending those fliers around? For some baby-sitting club?”
“Yeah,” I said. (Every now and then our club tries to find new people to baby-sit for, so we send around advertisements. We’d put one in every box in my new neighborhood not long ago.)
“What does your little club do?” asked another blonde.
“What do you think?” I replied testily. “We baby-sit.”
“How cute,” said the blonde with the curls.
The others giggled.
“Nice outfit,” called the one non-blonde, putting her hands on her hips.
I blushed. Too bad I’d chosen the jeans with the hole in the knee that day.
But if there’s one thing to be said about me, it’s that I have a big mouth. I always have. I’m better about controlling it then I used to be, but I’m not afraid to use it. So I put my hands on my hips and said, “Your clothes are nice, too. You look like clones. Snob clones.”
Slam, Kristy. You got ‘em. Now they’ll have to respect you. I feel like I’ve said and done this exact thing in my past life as an awkward eleven-year-old.
While this is going on, Louie is limping on page seven. The dog is not long for this world and they take him to a veterinarian named Dr. Smith, who is a woman. I only mention that because when I read the name, I thought it was a male vet. I was surprised at my own internalized misogyny when it’s revealed that Dr. Smith is a woman. Martin is progressive (most of the time, she could do better with Claudia), especially in the eighties. Dr. Smith informs them that Louie is getting older, has arthritis, and his eyesight is getting worse. She prescribes some pain medication and suggests short walks for Louie. Kristy does just that when they get home and meets one of the snobs, the one who lives across the street, and her immaculate dog, accompanied by another blonde child.
“What,” she said, pointing to Louie, “is that?”
“That,” I replied, “is a dog.”
The girl made a face at me. “Really? It’s hard to tell. He’s so . . . scruffy.”
“Yeah, he’s icky!” cried the younger one.
“He’s old,” I said defensively. “And he has arthritis.”
The older girl softened just a smidge. “What’s his name?” she asked.
“Oh. This is Astrid. Astrid of Grenville. A pedigreed Bernese mountain dog.”
“And this is Priscilla. She’s purebred. She cost four hundred dollars,” said the little kid.
First of all, dogs shouldn’t have titles. They’re not in Game of Thrones. They didn’t just stab the Mad King and inherited a title. Astrid of Grenville, Kingslayer, Heir to the Iron Throne, Vanquisher of the Montorian Horde, Defender of the Clahnahvan of the Western Vales, and daughter of Buddy and Miss Honey Toes. That sounds ridiculous. This is Astrid. She’s a dog. She can shake, but only if you give her a treat afterward. She also responds to friendly whistling and “Hey, dog.”
Priscilla is a fine name for a finicky cat, but one of my dogs cost about four hundred dollars, and she still shat and humped everything in sight. That doesn’t mean your animal is better bred or less trouble. However, reminding everyone how much something cost is a thing a spoiled child would do.
The older girl introduces herself as “Shannon Louisa Kilbourne” and her charge is Amanda Delaney. Any good BSC fan will spot the name. I know that at some point, Shannon and Kristy will put aside their differences and Shannon will become an associate member of the BSC. Let’s see how these two work it out, but not before some pranking shenanigans.
While Kristy is babysitting for the Papadakis clan, Shannon calls her and warns her that smoke is coming from the upstairs bedroom. It’s a ruse, of course, but Kristy doesn’t figure that out until she gets the children outside. Kristy retaliates by sending a diaper service to Shannon.
Chapter five is our first handwriting chapter in the book with Mary Anne at the Perkins’s. Mrs. Perkins is preparing for a new baby, and Myriah and Gabbie are excited. But Jamie Newton comes over and complains about his little sister, prompting Gabbie to become upset. Mary Anne and Myriah set up a tea party for the Gabbers and invite some of her favorite stuffed animals. This placates the child and then it’s back to Kristy, but this time, she’s babysitting the four-hundred-dollar cat and its humans – Amanda and Max Delaney.
They are brats. They demand Kristy get them Cokes, then ice, then no ice. She complies with their arbitrary requests – she doesn’t want to piss off new customers. Shannon calls and wants help with Sari Papadakis, but there’s nothing wrong with the kid. She just wanted to waste Kristy’s time, I guess. Not a great prank, but they’re twelve, and I’ll give them a break.
Meanwhile, Dawn is having some problems with Jeff. He’s being moody and while Dawn’s watching over him, he yells that he wants to go back to California with his father. When Dawn tells the BSC during the next meeting, she mentions that her mother called her father and he was reluctant about taking in Jeff. It seems that Jeff doesn’t have a place anywhere.
The Delaneys call again, but Kristy refuses to take the job. Instead, Stacey takes over. When she arrives at the job, Mrs. Delaney asks that they clean up their playroom while she’s away, but Amanda insists that they like their room messy. Stacey concocts has an ingenious plan.
“You know, you’re right. I like a really messy room. In fact, I don’t think this room is messy enough. Look at this. A whole set of Lincoln Logs. They’re not even on the floor.” Stacey poured the Lincoln Logs into the toy soup.
“Hey!” cried Amanda. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Yeah! What are you doing?” added Max.
“You said you like a messy room,” Stacey replied. “Well, I do, too.” She picked up a stack of construction paper and let it start floating to the floor, piece by piece.
“Quit messing up our room!” shouted Amanda. She held her arms stiffly at her sides and stamped her foot.
“Why?” demanded Stacey, pausing long enough to let the remainder of the paper settle into the toy soup. Then she began scattering puzzle pieces.
“Because,” said Max. “That’s why.”
“I thought you liked a good mess,” Stacey went on.
“We do,” Amanda began, then hesitated. “But not . . . not this good a mess. Cut it out!”
“I’m just trying to help you guys out,” Stacey told her.
“No! I mean . . . we want it clean.” Amanda scrambled around, picked up the paper.
The Delaney kids pick up their room – Stacey’s plan worked. She continues like this for the rest of the job. Max demands a drink so Stacey starts pulling out cups, saying she doesn’t know how much drink he wants so she’s just going to start pouring as many cups as she can. He ends up getting his own drink. In the end, Stacey convinces them to play some kind of advanced hopscotch involving a snail. It’s a successful babysitting job.
Kristy employs the same tactics the next time she babysits of the Delaneys, but it’s interrupted by a pizza delivery prank from you-know-who. Kristy sends it to Shannon’s, who comes over with the pizza. The girls commiserate over the round prank and Kristy pays for half the pizza.
Chapter 11 is a handwriting chapter – Claudia at the Pikes. Half of the Pike clan has chicken pox and Claudia has a hard time trying to placate everyone. It ends with two more children joining the pox party. Then it’s back to the main story.
Louie is not doing well. Horrifying dog scene warning.
Louie seemed to have lost complete control of his hind legs. He was pulling himself around the kitchen with his front legs, dragging the back ones as if they were paralyzed. And he was, as you might imagine, in a panic. He crawled into a leg of the kitchen table, and then into the stove.
I knew Louie wasn’t going to make it to the end of the book, but nothing prepared me for that in my innocent BSC book. As I’m writing this, it’s about a month after I’ve actually finished the book, so I’ve forgotten some of the specifics. (Classes have started back up and I was writing a personal narrative for this class I’m taking.) My notes just said, “Oh, Jesus” with a highlighted page number, meaning it’s something I’m thinking of excerpting. When I read this again, I felt that searing pain in the back of my throat. I have an affection for dogs and I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a dog lose control like Louie. I worried about my pets when they had nightmares – and dreams couldn’t hurt them. Unless, of course, their parents burned a child murderer alive and he came back to exact revenge on his murderers’ children.
The family and Dr. Smith come to the decision that Louie is in immense pain and would be better served if he were to be gently lead across the Rainbow Bridge to the golden dog park in the sky. David Michael asks if his mother will, “hold him while he goes to sleep?” Kristy’s mom carries Louie as they enter the veterinarian’s office, but her arms are empty when she returns.
The Thomas and Watson clan hold a funeral and, to their collective surprise, Shannon, Tiffany, Hannie, Linny, Amanda, Max, and two random friends (previously called “the snobs”) show up to pay their respects.
After a few days, Shannon’s dog, Astrid, gives birth to a litter of puppies and she gives one of them to Kristy and David Michael. They name the dog “Shannon.” Also, Kristy extends Shannon (the human one) an invitation to join the BSC, but Shannon is too busy to attend meetings, so they make her an associate member, like Logan. Ann M. Martin leaves us with this:
I knew David Michael would never forget our Louie. None of us would, because Louie had left a sort of legacy. He’d brought Shannon and me together so we could be friends instead of enemies, and that in turn had brought a new puppy for our family, but especially for David Michael. So, I thought. Endings could sometimes be beginnings. They were sad, but sometimes they brought happiness.
That’s what Louie had shown us, and that’s just one of the things we would remember about him.
It’s important to teach children that not every ending necessarily means a definitive, capital “E” End. This book was devastating, and Martin describes Louie’s pain in detail appropriate, but not euphemistic, detail. She doesn’t patronize her young readers by shying away from the more unpleasant aspects of losing a pet. She could have had him just go to sleep one night and never wake up, but she chooses to force the reader to face the grim reality of a dying pet. This is an integral BSC book that may be harder to read (because of subject matter – the reading level itself is the same as the other books), but it’s one that I think will resonate with most people.
When I was eight, during the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took my sister and me halfway around the world to the Philippines. The trip was my first venture outside the United States, my first plane ride, and my first time in a country that spoke a completely different language. It wasn’t a random trip to a random country – my mother is Filipina, and we had (and still have) extensive family out there. I spent most of my time running around, exploring the countryside where my family lived on the slope of the Mayon Volcano. My favorite haunt was a dilapidated church and the adjacent graveyard. I was obsessed with the cracked gravestones and the icon of Mary with the faded paint and a chipped hand. Unlike Gabe in Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I never came face to face with a supernatural creature, but I like to think I had an adventure, albeit a safe one.
R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was an absolute delight to read. This is what I came to Goosebumps for: kids my age (or slightly older) overcoming scary situations with a little dash of humor. While on a trip to his ancestral home of Egypt, our protagonist, Gabe, explores the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gabe a sweet kid and his uncle, scientist Ben Hassan, is a likable adult who helps his nephew. Gabe adversary is his cousin, and Ben’s daughter, Sari, who is charming in her own way. I’m looking forward to exploring this book – this reminder of why I loved these books so much as a kid.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book starts at the Great Pyramid and a thirsty child. Gabe asks his parents for water.
“We can’t you a drink now,” she answered, staring at the pyramid. “Stop acting like you’re four. You’re twelve, remember?”
“Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,” I muttered. “All this sand in the air, it’s making me gag.”
“Look at the pyramid,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “That’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to get a drink.”
Hey, Mom, you can drink and look at pyramids at the same time. The end of the first chapter surprised me. Instead of a danger that is revealed to not be a danger at all, we have an ominous passage:
“I’m afraid you’ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,” Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.
“I’ve already appreciated it,” I told him glumly. “Can we get a drink now?”
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it – probably forever.
I’m in. I’m interested. I want to know where the story is going, and I’m happy the first chapter’s cliffhanger wasn’t some fake out.
Gabe’s dismissive parents are quickly ushered away from the book and our protagonist is left with his Uncle Ben Hassan, an Egyptologist with a daughter, Sari. Gabe has an adversarial relationship with Sari. She treats him like a child despite their identical ages. She has a strained relationship with her cousin, but she has a great relationship with her father – one that sometimes forces Gabe to look at them through an invisible barrier. The father and daughter have inside jokes and play pranks on Gabe. He gets frustrated with them, but, as a reader, I never felt the jokes were too malicious, and I have the notion that Uncle Ben has played these pranks on his daughter and that the source of their inside jokes. He’s trying to pull his nephew into a relationship the only way he knows how – jokes.
Uncle Ben has discovered a new burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and he invites his nephew on a tour. This is where we have our classic horror warning.
Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. “Clip them into your jeans as we go in,” he instructed. He gazed at me. “You don’t believe in curses, do you? You know – the ancient Egyptian kind.”
I didn’t know how to reply, so I shook my head.
“Good,” Uncle Ben replied, grinning. “Because one of my workers claims we’ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we’ve activated some curse.”
This is classic horror. The characters were warned. The strange old man told the teenager to avoid Camp Blood. The fortune teller told the young jock not to enter the abandoned funhouse. The cheerleader read the stories about the escaped convict who targets babysitters. They were warned, but they continued deeper into the pyramid.
Uncle Ben goes down a rope ladder first, followed by Gabe, who falls off. Sari catches him. She teases Gabe, but she would never let him get hurt.
They reach the bottom of the pyramid and Uncle Ben introduces us to his excavation team – Ahmed, a taciturn man who is obsessed with the curse, Quasimodo, which is a nickname, and Christy. It’s nice to see a woman among the archaeologists. Thank you for the representation, Stine.
Uncle Ben forbids the children from exploring on their own, but the kids do it anyway in typical kid fashion. Sari gets ahead of Gabe and he gets lost trying to find her. He stumbles on a “mummy case.”
Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.
The lid raised up another inch.
I took another step back.
And dropped the flashlight.
I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back into the mummy case.
The lid was now open nearly a foot.
I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.
I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.
The lid creaked and opened another inch.
I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.
From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.
This is a fun, scary passage, even though the single sentence paragraphs make the passage look like a poem. The mummy is just Sari, but I wasn’t mad. I just thought, “Oh, that Sari, always with the pranks.”
Uncle Ben finds the children and admonishes them for running off. The next morning, Uncle Ben leaves the children behind at the hotel after two workers come down with a “mysterious illness.” Sari and Gabe get bored and decide to go to the museum. Gabe goes over the mummification process, complete with brain pulling and intestine yanking, much to Sari’s chagrin. We see that Sari is not impervious to everything around her. Her father is an Egyptologist and she has no problems spelunking in a stuffy pyramid, but she cannot listen to her cousin say things like, “The brain had to come out first. They had this special tool. It was like a long, skinny hook. They’d push it up the corpse’s nose until it reached the brain and then wiggled it back and forth, back and forth, until the brain became mush.” Sari is complicated. Just don’t talk about guts and she’s fine.
They see Ahmed in the museum and after a brief chase scene, Ahmed tells them that Uncle Ben sent him to get the children, so the children get into his car with him. They realize they aren’t heading back to the hotel – they’re being kidnapped! That’s terrifying! Fun fact! When I was a kid, someone tried to kidnap my sister and me, but that’s a story for another review.
The kids jump out of the car and run back to the hotel. Uncle Ben returns and they tell him about their experience with Ahmed. Uncle Ben believes them. He doesn’t imply that they didn’t understand what was happening, he doesn’t dismiss the children. He actually listens to them. Thank you, Stine, for having at least one adult actually listen to a child for once.
Uncle Ben wants to leave the children in the hotel, but Sari and Gabe convince him to take them with as he returns to the pyramid. He gives them beepers in case they get separated, and, of course, they get separated. If they didn’t get separated it would be the end of the story. The floor gives out from beneath Gabe and he falls on his beeper, breaking it, but he’s in an undiscovered section of the pyramid.
There were mummies leaning against the wall. Mummies lying on stone slabs, arms crossed over their chests. Mummies leaning at odd angles, crouched low or standing tall, their arms straight out in front of them like Frankenstein monsters.
I realized that I had made an incredible discovery here. By falling through the floor, I had found a hidden chamber, a chamber where mummies had been made. I had found all of the tools and all of the materials used to make mummies four thousand years ago.
That’s creepy – a room full of dead bodies. Sari catches up with Gabe, but Ahmed is close behind. He reveals that the chamber is the “sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala” and Ahmed as trying to prevent anyone from trespassing on it. Then he the true identities of the surrounding mummies.
“They were all violators of the Priestess’s chamber,” Ahmed revealed. The thin smile that formed on his face could only be described as a proud smile.
“You mean – they’re not from ancient Egypt?” Sari cried, raising her hands in horror to her face.
“A few of them,” Ahmed replied, still smiling that frightening, cold smile. “A few of them were ancient intruders. Some are quite recent. But they all have one thing in common. They all became victims of the curse. And they all were mummified alive!”
Then he points out the one he did himself! This dude is insane and scary as shit. Uncle Ben finds them and tries to reason with him “scientist to scientist.” Ben, boobala, the man threatened your assistants by showing them what it would be like to be boiled alive. He’s not a scientist. He’s a crazy man with a knife who is threatening your daughter.
Ahmed knocks Uncle Ben out and forces the scientist into a coffin with the children. There’s a little crying and suspense before Uncle Ben wakes up and reveals that every coffin has a trap lever. That’s a little deus ex machina – I wanted the children to figure out a way out for themselves and save their Uncle, or maybe the kids could have observed the trap lever during their trip to the museum. I guess the book can’t be perfect.
The kids and Uncle Ben escape and are forced into a final confrontation with Ahmed. Gabe pulls out a mummy hand that he keeps with him. (This isn’t a deus ex machina – it’s been mentioned.)
Maybe I thought the mummy hand would distract Ahmed.
Or interest him.
Or confuse him.
Or frighten him.
Maybe I was just stalling for time.
Or maybe I was unconsciously remembering the legend behind the hand that the kid at the garage sale had told me.
The legend of why it was called The Summoner.
How it was used to call up ancient souls and spirits.
Or maybe I wasn’t thinking anything at all.
But I spun around and, gripping it by its slender wrist, held the mummy hand up high.
Ahmed stared at it.
But nothing happened.
I waited, standing there like the Statue of Liberty with the little hand raised high above my head.
It seemed as if I were standing like that for hours.
The thought of this kid holding up a mummy hand while everyone around him is just staring at him and shrugging is a hilarious. I laughed out loud. If there’s an episode of the television show based on this book, I hope that’s played with a comedic beat. (I just checked – there is no television adaptation of this book.)
But the mummy hand does something eventually – the mummies come to life and chase Ahmed out of the pyramid, allowing Uncle Ben, Sari, and Gabe to escape. Ahmed should have been run into the tar pit, but that might be too gruesome for a kid’s book, even if the book is a horror book.
It ends with the three of them sharing a moment, including a silly pun that will probably be an inside joke between them.
“We’re okay,” Uncle Ben said gratefully, throwing his arms around Sari and me. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”
“We can go now!” Sari cried happily, hugging her dad. Then she turned to me. “You saved our lives,” she said. She had to choke out the words. But she said them.
Then Uncle Ben turned his gaze on me and the object I still gripped tightly in front of me. “Thanks for the helping hand,” Uncle Ben said.
I see what you did there.
Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was a delight. It was scary, funny, and I loved the dynamic between Gabe, his cousin, and his uncle. This is what Goosebumps is all about: a kid overcoming a scary situation with gumption and humor. I had an adventure to an ancestral homeland when I was a kid and, while it didn’t involve any mummies, I keep those treasured memories in a special part of my brain. Gabe’s experience was scary, but he became closer to his uncle and cousin, and now he has a great story to tell. And I enjoyed reading it.
Next time: The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs