Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Monster Blood

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!!!

GBTheCurseoftheMummysTomb
My copy of Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – What will wake the dead? Anything! I have that mummy wrapped around my little finger! I’ll let myself out.

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.

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.

And waited.

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

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement! 

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House

Hey! Hey you! I see you there, browsing the internet while 12-year-olds steal income through babysitting. Why would people choose a 12-year-old over a capable adult like yourself? Those 12-year-olds have something you don’t – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook. For today only, its secrets will be revealed and you too can make a dollar an hour babysitting in your neighborhood! Don’t let this financial opportunity slip through your texting fingers!

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

(THESE SPOILERS ARE TOO VALUABLE TO MISS OUT ON)

BSCNotebook
My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook – I wouldn’t call this a complete guide – more like a partial pamphlet that cost too much money even by today’s standards.

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook by Sonia Black and Pat Brigandi promises you that “everything you always wanted to know about the business of babysitting is right here in this book.” Literally everything you want to know about babysitting is in this 62-page book. It’s so short, it’s more of a pamphlet, and most of the pages require you to fill in the information yourself! You can learn everything about babysitting in about fifteen minutes, then stick it to those 12-year-olds when you steal their babysitting jobs.

The first thing the book instructs you to do is to be prepared. How do you prepare? You read another book, of course! Page two states, “read up on child care and babysitting.” “But you said that this book has everything I wanted to know about babysitting!” you say. Shut-up, stupid! I’m the expert here – I read the book, and the first step is to read another book.

An important step is meeting the children.

“Be friendly but don’t overwhelm the kids with too much friendliness.”

That’s right, keep the relationship friendly and fun, but also professional and cold. Ask them their names and potential business prospects, but no smiling. You are an adult. Don’t smile at children.

Your “Kid Kit” is a special pack of tools to deal with children. You can fill it with anything you like, but playing cards, crayons, musical instruments, and a portable tape recorder are the book’s recommendations. This book has a whole page where you can write your own ideas. Pro tip not in the book: some things to avoid in your Kid Kits are fireworks, knives, meth, and guns. No guns because the house guns should be just fine.

The book also goes over some “Do’s and Don’ts.” “Do arrive on time or even ten to fifteen minutes early for last-minute instructions from the parents.” This one might be difficult for those of you who like to waltz into English 102 twenty minutes into class, but you need to work for that dollar an hour – there’s always a punctual 12-year-old stalking you, waiting for their chance to swoop in when you’re late.

One “Don’t” is “Don’t argue with the kids.” Even if they insist that Hemingway’s contribution to literature is minimal at best, despite popular literary opinion, and you know that Hemingway paved the way for word economy in literature, you shouldn’t stand there and argue with the children. We all know they’re wrong; we just have to hope they grow out of their ignorance and respect Hemingway’s biting, concise prose.

This comprehensive pamphlet that in no way tells you to read another book at the beginning also goes over fun games for the kids! They suggest a wide range of activities including cards, Simon says, red light, green light, and jacks. Add your own! For example, I’ve added, “Just let them play with their phone.”

Are the children bored with their phones? Then tell them a joke! This book suggests some top-notch Knock Knock jokes to get those kids howling. But this special offer will tell you the best ones for the low low cost of nothing!

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Dwayne.

Dwayne, who?

Dwayne the tub, I’m drowning!

Murder and speech impediments are always hilarious. How about this one?

Knock, Knock.

Who’s there?

Shelby.

Shelby, who?

Shelby comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes!

Hahaha! Vaguely obscene pioneer songs are a great way to relate to modern children.

After the jokes, force the children to do what the book calls a “Creative Play.” The children perform for you using their dolls and toys as characters. Remember to adequately review them in the local newspaper. “Little Timmy’s Big Bad Wolf was pedestrian, but it can hardly compare to the amateur directing of Susie. Her casting choice of a Bratz doll as the second Little Piggy proved to be a wrong move that was amplified by the cartoonish background and bare set design. This reviewer will think twice about attending another performance by the Thompson Family.”

Need something to feed the kids? During this special offer, I will give you two actual recipes from this book.

Peanutty Apple Snack

Carefully cut out the core of an apple.

Fill the center with a mixture of peanut butter and raisins.

Cut the apple into sections and munch away.

And here’s the other recipe, sure to get those kids hopped up on sugar and on their way to helpless addiction by combining two things with no nutritional value:

Chocolate Soda

1 ½ cups of milk

½ cup of chocolate syrup or instant cocoa

½ cup of club soda

4 scoops of chocolate ice cream

Put the milk, syrup and 2 scoops of ice cream into the blender and carefully mix well.

Put 1 scoop of ice cream into each of two glasses.

Pour the mixture into the glasses until they’re ¼ full.

Then pour in the club soda.

This makes two “cool” drinks.

If you are babysitting for more than one child, choose your favorite one and give them the Chocolate Soda. If the other children protest, say, “Maybe next time you won’t flub your lines during the Creative Play.”

After the children are asleep, the book suggests you clean the house. If you’re still going to be paid, you should work.

“Do a little extra, such as straightening out the kitchen.”

After your stellar job, remember to charge for maid services.

Oh no! It’s an emergency! The book goes over nightmares, injuries, visitors, and fights –  in that order. Nightmares are definitely more important than injuries. Just remind the child that nightmares aren’t real! That’ll shut ‘em up so you can go back to your side job cleaning. As for injuries,

“If the child stops crying in a few minutes and goes back to what he was doing before, it’s probably not a serious injury. But if after a while the child is still crying hard or holding the injured area in a peculiar way, call for help.”

That’s right – if a child is injured, wait to see if they eventually stop crying. Even if it looks like their leg is not attached to their torso, wait to see if the kid stops crying and hops back to playing. Everything is fine if the child stops crying. He’ll stop crying. We all stop crying eventually.

Page 29 is an order for the babysitter to keep track of their jobs, pay, and clients. In this handy guide, the last thirty pages are dedicated to record keeping. The forms include important information: Day, Date, Time, and Notes, complete with lines to fill out this information! Can’t make this in a standard word processor.

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook is in no way a blatant cash grab that explicitly tells you to read a different book for better information. This is 29 pages of information in 20-point font followed by 30 pages of blank lines! You can’t get this great babysitting information anywhere else! (Except every other book longer than 60 pages on babysitting at your local bookstore.) This book is not an attempt to capitalize on a book series that was growing in popularity. This is an opportunity to stick it to 12-year-olds while making some money.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne!

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

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

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

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

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

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

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

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

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

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

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

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

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

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

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

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

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda!

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

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

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

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

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

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

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

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

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey

The neighborhood kids once feared me. When I strolled up and down the street with my dark clothes, fortune telling paraphernalia, and a book of spells under my arm, kids made way for me, for they knew they were in the presence of a powerful individual. At any moment, my eyes rolled up and I got a message from “The Other Side.” The place where mere mortals dare not tread. I saw the harbinger ghosts standing behind the other children. I tried to warn them, but they failed to heed my words. Those kids disappeared and the ones who knew to listen to me continued to exist.

At least that was how I perceived myself for a summer when I was a kid. The fortune-telling paraphernalia was a coin and a deck of playing cards. The spellbook was a child’s introduction to fortune telling and the paranormal and I had to return it to the library in four weeks. I didn’t see any ghosts – I pretended to see dead grandparents and people who died under mysterious circumstances in the neighborhood houses. If all the ghosts I claimed to see actually existed, that would mean every house in my neighborhood had at least three mysterious deaths per house. That would make the neighborhood the most dangerous neighborhood in America, but children don’t really think about statistics. The children who mysteriously disappeared just moved away.

I have always been fascinated with the paranormal or the weird. I wanted a secret passage in my house. I wanted to see a ghost. I wanted to be a part of a mystery. I still want a secret passage in my house and if I ever built my own house, I’d request a swinging bookcase. I still want to see a ghost and if something says “haunted,” I’m the first in line (I still haven’t seen a ghost). I still want to be a part of a mystery, preferably on a train.

When the baby-sitters go poking through Dawn’s house attempting to find a mystery, I smiled to myself. If I were them, I’d be the one to instigate the whole thing. The Ghost at Dawn’s House is a fun mystery book with a secret passage and a ghost. I enjoyed it, even if Nicky annoys me.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!

BSC009
My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House – Ghosts are very safety conscious, we all know they require handrails in order to haunt a place.

The Baby-Sitters Club #9 – The Ghost at Dawn’s House starts with the first BSC meeting after Dawn returns from her trip to California and a little casual racism. She regales the other babysitters about her father, referring to him as “Disneyland Dad” because he took her and her younger brother Jeff to the eponymous amusement park while they were there in an attempt to make up for the time he wasn’t spending with his children. Then Dawn describes Claudia (who is Asian) as “exotic-looking.” C’mon, Dawn (actually Ann M. Martin), you’re better than that. Asians aren’t exotic – there are billions of them. There are more Asians than white people. Even more than blonde people, so, really, Dawn, you’re the exotic one.

But I guess it was the 80’s and, apparently, world statistics wasn’t invented yet, so I guess I’ll give them a pass. But seriously, this will be a recurring issue in these books. It’s nice and progressive to have an Asian character, but can we stop calling her “exotic.” If she had purple eyes, blue skin, and a proclivity for eating paste, then I’d call her “exotic.” Until Claudia exhibits something actually “exotic,” I’ll just call her “Asian-American.” But I do love that dragon bracelet!

These girls are dedicated to baby-sitting. Dawn baby-sat her father’s friend’s kids, Claudia baby-sat some kid while she was on vacation to a ski house, Kristy baby-sat her siblings, and we know who Mary Anne and Stacey baby-sat (see #8). A lot of baby-satting (this is intentional) going around.

Now that’s out of the way, we can finally get to the meaty part of the story, which starts with a stormy night at home with Dawn and Jeff. Their mother is on a date, which, for a book that describes Claudia as “exotic,” is pretty progressive. Stoneybrook has been inundated with thunder and rain, which makes Dawn nervous, especially in her home.

“I stood still and listened. I could hear little rustlings. Far away, thunder rumbled. I shivered. I love our old house and the barn, but sometimes they give me the creeps. They were built in 1795, and there’s just something spooky about a place that’s been around that long. So many people have lived here. . . . Some of them have probably died here, too. Right in the house or the barn.

This house sounds dope. I live in the west, so our haunted houses are usually from the Gunsmoke days – nothing that was around when Aaron Burr (Sir) shot Alexander Hamilton. Well, there were things, but white people came in and forced the Natives to leave while the white people tore down perfectly good structures.

The next day, Dawn invites the BSC over to, in Dawn’s exact word, “search for a hidden passage.” That’s something a group of young girls would do, especially since Dawn’s house is so old. Much to their chagrin, the girls find nothing but hijinks where they scare each other.

Now we have our first handwriting chapter. This time, it’s Mary Anne at the Perkinses – the people who purchased Kristy’s old home. Myriah is older than her sister Gabbie, who is nicknamed “The Gabbers.” That is an amazing nickname. I would love to be called “The Gabbers.” My name isn’t Gabby, but I would still love to be called “The Gabbers.”

Mary Anne is apprehensive about the Perkinses. Her best-friend, Kristy, once lived in that house. Mary Anne and Kristy used to be able to talk to each other via their bedroom windows. Now some weird family has taken over the domain that once belonged to Mary Anne’s best-friend, forcing her to use the doorbell like someone who hasn’t considered the place a second home for most of her life. She is understandably upset about this. But, being the nice responsible person that she is, Mary Anne has a good time with the girls, playing games and coloring with them. The Gabbers hands Mary Anne a picture that looks like a “huge, jumbled scribble.” Mary Anne responds in the best way:

“That’s lovely!” Mary Anne exclaimed. She was about to ask, “What is it?” when she remembered something we Baby-Sitters Club members had thought up. Instead of saying “What is it?” when we can’t tell what a picture or an art project is, we say, “Tell me about it.” That way, the kid doesn’t know we can’t tell, so his feelings aren’t hurt, and he tells us what the pictures so we don’t say anything dumb about it, like “I’ve never seen such a big elephant,” when it turns out to be a picture of the kid’s grandmother or something.
“Tell me about it,” Mary Anne said to Gabbie.

That’s some clever shit. It spares the kid embarrassment and it spares the sitter from insulting the kid.

Dawn sits for the Mob family – er, I mean, the Pikes – and learns that Nicky has a new rule where he can leave the house but can only travel as far a two-block radius around the Pike house. Nicky disappears but reappears, dirty but in one piece, after a quick search.

Dawn goes home after her babysitting scare and tries to relax by reading in the barn behind her house. She falls through a trap door and finds an actual secret passage from the barn to her room – just behind the fancy molding. She also finds three mysterious items – a button, a buckle, and a key.

I knew it. I just knew it: Our house was haunted. It was haunted by the ghost of the secret passage. No one was going to believe it, but it was true. I remembered the rapping noises I had heard the night of the storm. Now I knew what had really made them.

That’s a logical conclusion. Trash in a secret passage? It’s a ghost. Although, my first instinct was that it was a rat or some other subterranean rodent moving trash around. The automatic supernatural conclusion is something a twelve-year-old (as well as some adults who watch too many ghost hunting shows) would land on.

The next chapter is a handwriting one in which Kristy baby-sits for Karen, Andrew, and David Michael during a rainy night. Karen wants to tell scary stories, but Kristy wants to tell jokes. She proceeds to tell that stupid knock-knock joke that involves a damn banana. Martin chooses not to paraphrase the joke but to actually write out the whole joke. As if everyone hasn’t already heard that joke a million times before they enter school. I wonder if Martin had to fill a page quota and was short half a page.

Karen tells a scary story about Ben Brewer, the ghost of the third floor. It freaks out Kristy a little. The four of them (plus Boo-Boo the cat and Louie the dog) end up falling asleep together. Kristy’s brothers make fun of her, and Kristy feels silly falling asleep with her siblings, but she’s just being a good older sister, and her brothers should shut the hell up.

Back to Dawn. She tells Jeff about the secret passage from Dawn’s room one night while Dawn’s mom is out on another date (get it, guuurrrll). They find a Buffalo-head nickel and an ice cream cone. They don’t make it to the barn – they hear weird noises and run out. Ms. Schafer comes home with her date. (His name is Trip, which is a ridiculous name for a date let alone a human being.) Ms. Schafer orders her children to stay out of the passage until they can find some way to seal the openings. Her date leaves and she goes to bed.

Dawn can’t sleep, so she rummages through her mother’s things. She finds a book from her grandmother entitled A History of Stoneybrooke. Dawn flips to the conspicuously named “Legends” section of the book. Basically, some guy named Jared Mullray a long ass time ago didn’t want to leave his property and just disappeared. Dawn believes that the property Old Mullray refused to leave is her house. This leads her to another completely rational and not-at-all jumpy conclusion:

There really was a ghost in our secret passage, and that ghost was crazy Jared Mullray!

Of course he is. But he’s not malicious. There’s no record of Ol’ Jared attacking anyone, and it’s not as if he was murdered. He just didn’t want to leave. While he did disappear, there isn’t any indication of foul play or something malicious afoot. Dawn’s house doesn’t have a history of people running away or a string of suspicious accidents. The ghost, if he is haunting Dawn’s secret passage, isn’t a malevolent specter keeping people off his property, but one of those old people who won’t leave their house even though a park needs to be built in an old neighborhood and the city offered them a good sum of money. It’s his house and if he wants to stay in it and annoy everyone, he can because he’s a ghost and there’s not much you can do about a persistent ghost.

Chapter 10 is about Claudia’s baby-sitting adventure with Jamie and Lucy Newton. Lucy goes to sleep immediately, but Jamie attempts to stay up later with kid shenanigans, like asking for more stories and water. He eventually goes to sleep.

Dawn invites Mary Anne over and we have the first mention of “Cam Geary” the “Corey Haim/Feldman” of the BSC universe. That person might be Justin Bieber for a younger person. For my sister, he was Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. It was Jonathan Taylor Thomas for me. For Mary Anne Spier, it’s Cam Geary.

After looking at the teen heartthrob in Tiger Beat or Bop or Tiger Bop, (whatever the kids are reading) Dawn invites Mary Anne into the secret passage. The girls are attacked by a flying book and they run away.

Stacey is babysitting a few of the Pike children. Margo and Vanessa use some crazy shampoo on Claire. Meanwhile, Nicky disappears. Stacey asks Dawn for help finding the second most annoying Pike child (the first is still Claire and her “silly phase” which is just an “annoying phase”). Dawn finds Nicky covered in mud near her house, which at the edge of Nicky’s two-block wandering maximum.

Now to the climax. Mallory and Dawn are watching the Pike boys. Nicky gets into a fight with the triplets during a bizarre lunch that involves pregnant woman food combinations and juvenile attempts at humor. Nicky runs away and Mallory scolds the triplets. Dawn finds Nicky in the secret passage. Nicky was the one who left the food, the buckle, the key, and all the other bric-a-brac in the passage. He also tapped on Dawn’s walls and made her think it was a ghost. They share a tender moment before heading back.

The book ends with the BSC having a slumber party at Dawn’s house where they watch a ghost fellate a man and Anthony Michael Hall rape a woman while a racist Orientalist stereotype terrorizes a small town (they watch Ghostbusters and Sixteen Candles – I love those movies, especially Sixteen Candles, but let’s not overlook the more problematic and unpleasant aspects of those movies). Stacey and Dawn are left out of the junk food buffet and play a prank on the rest of the club.

I enjoyed The Ghost at Dawn’s House. It was a predecessor to the beloved The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery books (I remember loving the Mystery series, we’ll see if they hold up when I get those). Nicky gets on my nerves, but I have a short fuse when it comes to children. I know that’s odd considering I’m rereading a book series about children watching over children. Maybe I’ll learn to love Nicky and Claire and the other Pike children as the series continues. For now, I’m happy with the mysteries that surround Stoneybrooke. And just because Nicky was the ghost this time, doesn’t mean there isn’t a curmudgeon who refused to leave his property a million years ago haunting Dawn’s house, or that any other houses in Stoneybrooke don’t contain a paranormal enigma waiting for the BSC to solve.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Rereading My Childhood: An Introduction

Two years ago, my father passed away. My mother couldn’t pay all the bills without assistance, so my partner and I moved in with her. It was a good situation for everyone involved – my mother received help and the new arrangement alleviated our bills. At the same time, Jon’s job situation stabilized due to the new, optimistic Obama economy (we were so happy before the Orange Menace).

For the first time in years, we had disposable income. I was also spending time with my mother browsing thrift stores, a hobby I forgot I enjoyed. At a Savers, I found a stack of my missed childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin. The rush of memories from those years I spent with Kristy, Claudia, Stacy, Jessi, Mallory, Dawn, Abby, and, my favorite, Mary Anne grabbed me. Along with my newfound disposable income, I couldn’t resist. I purchased the whole stack. I had done what any adult does when they have extra money – I bought back my childhood – or more accurately, I bought the childhood I wished I had.

I didn’t own every The Baby-Sitters Club book, but I had a significant collection. I was a part of the fan club. I played that CD-ROM game every day. I begged for a new book each month. I kept a The Baby-Sitters Club diary. I even wrote a letter to Ann M. Martin and received a bookmark and a form letter in return. It was my prized possession.

Unfortunately, there came a time when I wanted to eschew every remnant of my childhood in an attempt to mature. I gave away my collection of The Baby-Sitters Club memorabilia to a friend. I donated my Goosebumps books and I started reading Fear Street.

Now, fifteen odd years later, I scour used bookstores and thrift stores looking for The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street books.

Now, why do I want to review something I once loved? Why do I want to tear apart the series and authors who made up my childhood and shaped who I am today?

Simple. Exercise and nostalgia.

I want to exercise my writing skills. I want to create a portfolio with work I can be proud of and the only way to do that is to write.

And as for nostalgia – it’s something I don’t revere. Nostalgia is looking back with a skewed sense. It ignores the problems and we end up pining for a time that will never return and wasn’t that great in the first place. I’ve read a few of the early The Baby-Sitters Club books and, frankly, some of them are sub-par. It’s important for me to see that. I believe people need to be reminded that the past wasn’t always perfect.

But there is also a lot of good to be lauded and re-appreciated. The babysitters are surprisingly mature for their ages. In The Baby-Sitters Club #6: Kristy’s Big Day, the BSC start a summer day camp that is surprisingly efficient and organized. They also solve problems with thoughtful ways.

I look forward to rediscovering the crying, laughter, fear, unexpected wisdom as well as the problems in the books that shaped my childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and Fear Street and Goosebumps by R. L. Stine. I’m excited to share my childhood with everyone.