Being the first in a series is difficult, just like being the new kid in a school. There’s a need to set a precedent, whether it be a cool exterior to protect yourself from peer ridicule or a tone for subsequent books. I have never been the new kid. I have never had to deal with the trauma of moving to a new place and everyone staring at you like a laboratory specimen. On the other hand, I never had an opportunity to reinvent myself. Even if I dramatically changed over the summer, I would still have the stigma of being the weird kid who reads all the time and tells scary stories (both of which were true of me).
I’m reading the first entry in the Fear Street series. R. L. Stine’s publishers didn’t think a teen horror series wouldn’t work. They even thought that there shouldn’t be too many scares, and the early books feature a low body count. Thankfully, the publishers must have figured out that teens love horror and the body counts increased. The first in a series is a difficult thing to be. I don’t care what people say, the pilots of The Office and Parks & Recreation, two shows I adore, are tough to watch. The New Girl has not changed my mind, unfortunately. I’m just happy that this new kid on the block was able to shed the terrible first impression he made when he told everyone, “My name is Jacob, but I go by J Cool Smooth.”
The book starts with a girl saying good-bye to someone named “Anna,” whom she murdered.
As quickly as that happens (a page), a boy named Cory is in love with the titular new girl. Cory is the star of the school gymnastics team and has a childhood best-friend named Lisa, who is apparently funny, but she never says anything funny.
I don’t know if I just went to the poorest school in the United States, but these teams that schools have are just ridiculous. A gymnastics team? A swim team? What are these? My school had a soccer team that won a lot, a football team that lost all the time, and an Academic Olympics team that also lost all the time. I was on that last one.
The new girl is named Anna and for the first twelve pages, I thought she was a ghost. Of course, that’s not it. That would be too obvious. Instead, it’s the second most obvious thing.
But not before we get gross making out between Cory and Anna! Because that’s what we get. Cory is strangely obsessed with making out with her. After they kiss, her little brother, our red herring named Brad, shows up staring at them angrily through windows and yelling that Cory is going to die if he gets close to his sister. He comes from a long line of brothers who are strangely obsessed with their sisters.
Anyway, there’s also a random neighbor with a large dog that provides more red herring shenanigans. His dog provides fake-outs in the form of jumping on Cory from behind.
Unfortunately, the only death in the book is a cat attached to Lisa’s locker. I would have rather seen one of Cory’s friends get killed. Have I not mentioned them? Yeah, their names are David and Arnie and I can’t tell the difference between the two. They’re such stock characters that they’re perfect sacrifices to raise the stakes. Friends of the main character, so it can bother him, and they have no personalities besides generic obnoxiousness, so the audience isn’t too upset at their demises.
But no. Instead, a random cat gets it and the friends are forgotten.
Eventually, Lisa and Cory run around the band room while chasing Brad. I’m sorry I can’t go into too many details about the book – believe me when I say not much happens. It’s mostly Cory trying to make out with Anna followed by a dog attack or Brad staring at them.
There’s a scuffle between Brad and Cory. Our main character subdues Brad and that’s when Anna picks up a knife and tries to stab her brother. Then she pushes Cory out the window, but Cory keeps himself on the ledge with his massive gymnast legs. Brad tells us what happened.
“When Anna fell down the stairs and died, Mom and I suspected that it wasn’t an accident, that Willa pushed her,” Brad said, rubbing the bump on his head. “She was always insanely jealous of Anna. Anna had everything. Anna was beautiful. She had a million friends. She got straight A’s without having to study hard. Willa coun’t compete in any way – and Anna never let her forget it.”
“But I couldn’t prove that Willa had killed Anna. And Mom isn’t well. I knew she couldn’t survive losing both her daughters. So I never did anything about Willa.”
“Shut up, Brad. You’re stupid. You’ve always been stupid!” Willa shrieked, still struggling to free herself from Cory’s grasp.
“Like I said, Willa actually seemed okay once we moved here,” Brad told Cory, ignoring his sister’s outburst. “At least, she acted perfectly normal at home. But when you started coming around, asking for Anna, I began to suspect what Willa was doing. I noticed that she started to dress like Anna. And talk like her. I tried to scare you away, Cory. I did my best to keep you from getting involved with her. I figured out that she was calling herself Anna at school, that she was trying to slip into Anna’s identity.”
“I’m going to kill you!” Willa shrieked, her eyes on the letter opener.
Okay, so Willa killed her sister Anna and started calling herself that when they moved to Shadyside. Instead of talking to Cory like another human being, Brad decides to stare at his sister and her boyfriend and yell hysterically that his sister is dead. That’s not a good idea, Brad. His age is not explicitly said, but I hope it’s not twenty-one. This is the plan of a ten-year-old.
If this were the first Fear Street book I read, I don’t think I would have continued with the series. The characters weren’t interesting enough to continue, the mystery wasn’t intriguing, and there wasn’t any blood. Anyone one of those three things would keep me reading, but the book lacks all three. The constraints on R. L. Stine did not work in his favor, and I’m glad he was able to finally cast off those shackles and write stories full of gore and horror because that’s what I remember about Fear Street.
I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday. It’s the one time of year when everyone lives the way I live all year around. It’s the only time I buy decorations for my home (and those decorations are not seasonal, as far as I’m concerned). I even love those Halloween pop-up stores that are usually in an old Circuit City. In Haunted Houses, teenagers jump out at you and it’s fun to see a petite girl in a bloody wedding dress freak out a grown-ass man.
But the one thing about Halloween that doesn’t excite me is the Halloween Party. I’ll always accept an invitation because I usually like the people who pour their time into the party. However, I’m not one to seek out the experience. It’s probably because I’m not a big fan of large gatherings (especially right now, as I write this in early July).
I also don’t dress up. That’s a topic for another time.
A group of teenagers is going to a Halloween Party in the newest entry into my series “Fear Street: Too Many Pranks!”
Terry and Niki are staring at tombstones, Niki is partially deaf, there’s a figure that moves toward them, and it turns out to be some guy named Murphy. End of the first chapter.
Then we go back two weeks because that was such a great opening, and we’re introduced to Terry and Niki’s friend Trisha, who “has a weight problem.” Terry also mentions that his girlfriend, Niki, “wasn’t the prettiest girl at Shadyside, or the smartest, but she was definitely the most special.” Slam on Niki. Got her. This start is great!
The three get invitations to a Halloween Party featuring “special surprises” courtesy of the most popular new girl in school, Justine. Terry says that Justine is “stacked.” This dude is just a big charmer!
We meet Lisa, the school gossip and editor of the newspaper – as if it isn’t just four kids copying articles from a service that supplies articles to school newspapers. I’m kidding, that’s not true. I was on the school newspaper. There were three of us and I actually wrote the horoscopes.
There’s also Ricky, the obnoxious practical joker, the aforementioned Murphy, the school quarterback, Alex, Terry’s rival and Niki’s ex, and some other names, like Angela or something. There are a total of nine invitees to this party, which Justine says will feature a “rad sound system and . . . excellent dance CDs.” And the party is very exclusive – even the boyfriends of names can’t attend. Not even the school’s anachronistic greasers can attend. I can hardly wait!
Before the party, the invitees split into two groups and start a pranking war. Niki refuses to be on either side. One of the pranks includes the jocks “dissing” “Ricky Schorr with a huge plastic snake that jumped out of his locker.” I don’t think that is what dissing is but maybe things were different in the early ‘90s parlance. Or Stine used a slang term he heard in a rap song once and gleaned the meaning. Either way, pranking wars! This party is heating up!
The big day is finally here and the party is looking off the chain! There are decorations, like fake cobwebs and cutouts of witches, a kettle, a fireplace, an old man, and ten teenagers! The old man is Justine’s uncle, Philip. The party also features pizza and “exotic food” from Greece, Japan, France, and Mexico – it’s not like you can just go to a store and get this stuff! You have to go to the taco stand two blocks away.
Meanwhile, Terry makes some gross observations about the girls at the party, calling Justine’s costume “ghoulish,” and Angela “a tramp.” You are a real winner here, Terry! He does this so he can call Niki the best girl there. And that’s what girls like – being compared to other girls and calling them names. Women and other women should be adversaries, otherwise, we might finally figure out we don’t need annoying men anymore!
Justine stops the music to make an announcement as if there are more than ten people at this party. She promises surprises, and by God, she’s gonna surprise everyone.
“But first I have to tell you a true story. Throughout history people have loved to dance. But in the Middle Ages dancing was sometimes much more than just fun. In fact, some people were said to be taken by evil spirits when they danced. They would dance faster and faster, faster and faster, till they literally danced themselves to death. I don’t know if we have evil spirits here tonight, but anything can happen on Halloween. Is anyone brave enough to try some really fast music?”
This excites her nine guests. She plays a song that repeats the words, “Pump up the jam.” Which, if it’s the late ‘80s song that does exactly that, is not a fast song. Maybe it is for a bunch of upper-middle-class white kids, but it’s no “Sandstorm.”
Suddenly, the lights go out! And there’s a body! Alex bends down to see who it is! The body is Les! He jumps up! It’s a prank! Oh, man, ten white kids, an old man, cutouts, and a dead body prank! I love this party!
The party gets even better when those aforementioned greasers ride their motorcycles through the window! They wreck up the decorations, complain about the interesting food, and ask for wine coolers. Two of the partygoers get on the bikes and ride them out while Alex and Terry force the greasers out. Justine refuses to call the cops because she doesn’t take their threats seriously. And besides, she has more surprises for everyone!
She began passing out a photocopied list. “This is a list of the items Uncle Philip and I have hidden around the mansion,” she went on. “There are treasures in every room – on both floors and in the attic and basement. Whichever team finds the most treasures by midnight will win a special prize.”
The teenagers split up and Niki goes exploring in Justine’s bedroom. She finds a fake panel in the back of her closet that opens to reveal a secret room. It’s filled with photos of Justine with an old man, racks of expensive clothes, and prescriptions for an “Enid Cameron.”
Meanwhile, Terry finds Alex hanging, dripping with blood. Terry gets help from David, but the body disappears! They find Trisha and Niki and Justine to tell them what happened, but no one believes them. However, they find a body in Justine’s bed.
It’s another prank! I love death-based pranks! It’s so funny!
Alex says that while they were out trying to find help, the jock team went through the house and collected a bunch of treasures, therefore winning the game. What is the prize? Chocolates from Paris.
It’s now movie time! What is the perfect movie for a spooky Halloween party in 1990? Why, Bride of Frankenstein, of course! But there’s a thunderclap and the entire house goes dark. Justine suggests they play their next game – if they’re brave enough.
They have to tell everyone the worst thing they’ve done and if the group votes on whether they’re telling the truth or not. If they lie, they are penalized.
Wow, ten kids, an old man, cut-outs, greasers, Chocolates from Paris, and house rules Truth or Dare? I love this party!
Niki disappears so Terry looks for his girlfriend instead of playing Justine’s game. In lieu of a lost girlfriend, he finds Les and a knife sticking out of Les’s chest. David shows up and the two of them cover the body. They think this is still some kind of trick from the jock team. They discover that the phone line has been cut. David leaves to find aid.
David notices that every car’s tires have been slashed. He also gets attacked by the greasers, but they run off while a faceless shape hits him over the head and drags his body away.
Meanwhile, Terry finds Niki in the basement. Niki fell in a trap door that sent her tumbling into the basement. While looking for an escape, she finds an old newspaper article particularly illuminating:
Edward D. Cameron, 26, and his wife, Cissy, 20, were killed late last night when their car was hit head-on by a car driven by James B. Whittle, 16.
The Camerons’ car, a late-model Ford, was headed south on Old Mill Road when it was hit by Whittle’s car, a Chevrolet station wagon. According to witnesses at the scene, Whittle had been drag racing with another car, a Corvette driven by John McCormick, 16. The Cameron car spun out of control and into a ditch, where it burst into flames.
“I didn’t see anything till it was too late,” Whittle said. “They just showed up in the fog. I feel terrible about it.”
Whittle’s car sustained major damage, while the Corvette was untouched. Neither Whittle nor McCormick, nor any of their passengers, was seriously injured. Those riding with Whittle included Evelyn Sayles, 15, Joanne Trumble, 15, Arlene Coren, 16, and Robert Carter, 14. The passengers in the Corvette were Jim Ryan, 18, Nancy Arlen, 16, and Ed Martiner, 15, all of Shadyside.
The Cameron couple are survived by a daughter, Enid, age 1.
No charges were filed pending police investigation.
Niki and Terry go to confront Justine. Somehow, Justine convinces everyone it’s part of the night’s surprises, and the last one is with Les in the dining room. Everyone piles in there like idiots and Justine locks the door behind him.
Les is in there alright. But Les is slightly less alive than before (I’m surprised Stine didn’t use that one). Justine reveals herself as Enid Cameron, and the parents of each of the party guests were involved in the car crash that killed Justine/Enid’s parents. So, for revenge, Justine is going to lock them in a room and burn them alive while they listen to car accident sounds.
Everyone panics and screams, but, if you remember, Niki is partially deaf, so she isn’t overwhelmed by the soundtrack. She gets Terry to help her open the dumbwaiter and she climbs in and falls out, again, in the basement. Philips grabs her ankle, but it’s to ask for help.
He gets a crowbar and they pry off the boards on a window to the dining room. All the kids, less Les of course, are saved and Philip drops some denouement knowledge. Philip is Justine/Enid’s father’s brother. She has spent all these years planning her revenge. Finally, at the age of thirty – yes, Justine/Enid is thirty-years-old – Justine/Enid enrolled in the school they all attend and invited them to a party to enact her revenge. Philip thought it was going to be little pranks and stuff, but since he’s in a Fear Street novel, the revenge turned deadly. When he learned what was happening, Justine/Enid attacked him and left him the basement.
So Justine/Enid is arrested and the rest of the partygoers live happily ever after.
Oh yeah, and David stumbles out of the woods.
If there wasn’t this ridiculous prank war and this attempt at describing music trends and slang, I think I would have enjoyed this more. The revenge angle is a popular and solid set-up for a horror movie. I even liked the “she’s thirty” angle, even though, I’m sorry, but no thirty-year-old would pass for a sixteen-year-old, but I’m willing to suspend some disbelief.
The pranking angle is a problem. It served as a way to pad out the novel. If the kids had used pranking to get themselves out of the situation, then the pranking angle would be well utilized. Niki’s deafness saved the kids, so the book should have focused more on her. She sidelined as Terry’s girlfriend. He doesn’t think much of her and almost cheats on her with Justine/Enid. Frankly, Niki’s a more interesting character than anyone else, and that includes the thirty-year-old taking gym and hitting on underage kids.
Also, Terry is a terry-ble character. That’s been my time! Tip your waitress and have a Happy Halloween, whatever that may look like this year. Stay safe.
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
The original Fear Street novels were too tame for my sixth-grade self. I craved more blood, more mayhem, more murder. Something shocking. Something that pushes what can be done in YA fiction. Something with more petticoats.
I preferred the spin-off series Fear Street Sagas to the original Fear Street and served as historical fiction. These books went into Shadyside’s tumultuous past, and the infamous Fier (later spelled Fear) Family, starting with Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear.
Technically, this isn’t the beginning. There is a trilogy that comes before these, but I’m not reviewing those today. Instead, I’m starting where the trilogy ends, with the newly widowed Nora Goode trapped in an insane asylum, where all good horror starts.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some 1900’s reason, that’s enough to send a pregnant woman to an insane asylum. Back then, they threw women in asylums for being too mouthy, so this is absolutely believable.
What’s unbelievable is that the asylum thinks that giving an infant to a 12-year-old, who is also a patient, is an acceptable practice, but that’s what they do while they keep trying to convince Nora that the face she saw in the flames was a hallucination. She tries to escape by making a rope out of her hair, but she is caught and they cut off her hair.
Eventually, the asylum plans to take her child, Nicholas, away from her and give him to a family that “has agreed to pay [the doctor] a large sum for a male child.” Nora resists, fighting orderlies that try to pull her away from her son’s cradle. Just as the doctor takes Nicholas from the cradle, the amulet that Nora received as a wedding gift from Daniel glows.
The fire crackled and blazed. The flames grew higher and higher. They reached past the hearth. They climed the wall. The flames lapped greedily at the ceiling. They grew higher until all Nora could see was a wall of fire.
A man emerged fromthe writing flames.
“Daniel,” Nora gasped.
Her husband had come back from the grave.
“Come and join me, Doctor,” Daniel rasped. He reached past Nora and drew the doctor into the raging inferno.
Screaming, the doctor fell to his knees. His eyes bulged. Bulged out farther and farther. Then, with a moist pop, his eyes flew from their sockets and rolled across the floor. They hissed as flames devoured them.
There’s the bloodlust I craved in middle school! That was what the regular Fear Street books were missing: ridiculous body horror and talking fire ghosts.
Nora escapes with Nicholas as the asylum burns down. They stow away on a boat, where Nora eats a rat to survive. That’s a fun scene. She is discovered and the crew thinks she is a witch. Then the boat sinks. They are adrift at sea, but eventually wash up onshore. Somehow, she still possesses the amulet.
She turned it over and read the inscription: DOMINATIO PER MALUM.
“Power through evil,” Nora whispered. “Your father gave this to me as a symbol of his love, Nicholas. The amulet was special to him, because it had been in his family for a long time.”
Nora sighed. “Your father’s family had power and money. But they paid a heavy price. They let evil into their lives, and it destroyed them.”
Nora stared down into the ocea for a long moment. “I do not want that evil to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I do not want you to suffer the same fate your father did.
The amulet felt heavy in her hand. Heavy and warm.
Nora brought her arm backand flung it into the calm sea.
Relief swept through her her. She hugged Nicholas. “Now the Fear evil cannot touch you.”
Nora stared down into her baby’s face. “We are going to start a new life – with new names. From now on, we will be known as Nora and Nicholas Storm.”
And that’s how the book ends.
I’m just kidding. That’s just the end of part one. We get a huge time jump – eighteen years. Nicholas Storm is a fisherman who hates fish. He is also a fisherman who loves a woman named Rosalyn. However, they can’t get married because Nicholas isn’t worth enough money for Rosalyn’s strict father. Also, his mother, our original protagonist, Nora, dies as she was telling him about his father, her last words being, “Your father left you a legacy of…”
So Nicholas goes off to find his legacy so he can someday marry Rosalyn. He leaves Shadow Cove, where he was living, and what do ya’ know, he ends up in Shadyside after a man who looks a little like him yells, “Shadyside!” and disappears. Because that’s how you choose where you want to figure out your life. You wait for a ghost that vaguely looks like you to shout a location and then you buy your ticket. Also, Rosalyn gives him her good luck charm – an amulet she found on the beach, one with some Latin on the back. It’s the amulet her mother threw into the ocean if you haven’t figured that one out.
In Shadyside, he finds Fear Street and thinks about its “strange name.” He stumbles across a huge, dilapidated, burned house. The house “whispers” to him so he decides to enter the house. A woman yells at him, “Daniel Fear! You’re supposed to be dead!” And then she attacks him with a knife.
Instead of running away and giving up this stupid quest, like any other human, he sticks around and asks her questions about the people who used to live there. She starts to cry and says that he ran off with his wife, Nora Goode. That’s enough for him to figure out that his mother changed her name to Nora Storm and his father is Daniel Fear.
Lightning lashed. “I know who I am at last!” Nicholas cried over the booming thunder. “I am Daniel Fear’s son.”
He clenched his fists. “I am Nora Goode’s son!”
He threw his head back.
“I am a Fear!” he shouted. “Nicholas Fear!”
That’s what normal people do – they run into the rain and punch dance their name.
But Nicholas can’t move into the house. He rents a room from a woman and her daughter – a forward girl named Betsy Winter. The next day, he goes to a man, Mr. Manning, to talk about the inheritance he believes he is owed. The man laughs and tells him that there is no inheritance – just a bunch of back taxes on the land. But Mr. Manning owns a sawmill and hires Nicholas so he can get back on his feet. As he is leaving, an out-of-control woman runs into him while on a bicycle. She is Ruth Manning, Mr. Manning’s daughter.
At the sawmill, Nicholas meets his new co-workers – a fussy little man named Jason and a friendly hulking man named Ike. Both Ruth and Betsy show up at different times while they’re working to establish their overt feelings for Nicholas, and so Jason can get jealous over Ruth and be overly protective of Betsy. He is our red herring, after all.
Someone throws a rock at the back of Nicholas’s head with a note that he doesn’t belong in Shadyside. It’s hilarious. Who throws rocks like that? And to hit Nicholas without killing him, the thrower would have to be the weakest person and only a few feet away, which makes me wonder why Nicholas didn’t see who threw the rock. That or Nicholas has a very hard head.
While fixing up his wound, Betsy reveals that she is a Goode, but she doesn’t hate the Fears. This comes up later.
At the sawmill, Ike gets his fingers sliced off, Ruth expresses more interest in Nicholas, but he doesn’t return her affections, and Betsy also expresses more interest in Nicholas.
Later, Nicholas comes home and finds Betsy dead in the kitchen, tied up next to the stove.
He noticed something thick and white pushing its way out of her mouth. Nicholas dropped her wrist. He parted her lips and teeth.
The gooey white substance billowed out of her mouth.
Nicholas checked her nose. Thick white dough filled it, too.
Someone had stuffed Betsy’s nose and mouth with dough. And left her by the stove with her hands tied behind her back.
As the dough rose, she suffocated.
This is how serial killers on The Great British Bake-Off kill people.
At the funeral, Jason says that they should be burying Nicholas, not his cousin. Jason warned Betsy not to get close to Nicholas and he believes that Nicholas killed Betsy. Jason threw the rock at Nicholas, and, since Betsy is a Goode, that makes Jason a Goode also.
Mr. Manning is also found dead. Ruth says that her father wanted her to marry Nicholas if anything happened to him, so he reluctantly agrees to marry her, just to help her during her grieving. He figures out that since Jason is a Goode, thinks he killed Betsy, and Mr. Manning liked Nicholas, Jason must have killed Mr. Manning.
It gets violent when he goes to confront Jason, but Ruth appears and stabs Jason in the throat. She reveals that if Nicholas doesn’t marry her, then she will tell everyone that Nicholas killed Jason, and no one would believe a stranger and Fear over the daughter of a beloved local businessman. Ruth also reveals that she killed Betsy to get her out of the way and killed her father to force Nicholas to marry her.
He gets married to her but plans to poison her after the wedding. However, Rosalyn (remember her?) shows up at his house and sees Ruth wearing the amulet that Rosalyn gave Nicholas. Ruth poisons Rosalyn with the poisoned drink that Nicholas was going to give to Ruth. It ends with Nicholas resigned to being with Ruth.
“Together, we shall make Fear Street all it was meant to be,” Ruth vowed. She ran her fingers over the words engraved on the back of the amulet. POWER THROUGH EVIL.
Nicholas gazed over at the remains of the Fear mansion. Yes, he thought. Soon everyone will know the name of Fear Street.
See that, kids? If you’re evil, you can make your dreams come true!
This is a fun book, even if it is ridiculous. It’s a promising start to a seminal series in my life. It even has a perfect horror movie ending, opening up the path for many, many sequels. The nonsensical plot and deus ex machina plot devices may make some roll their eyes, but I can’t help but love the melodrama, the reveals on reveals, and, most of all, the outrageous character deaths.
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 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!!!
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.
“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.”
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!
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.