Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Mind Reader

A girl looks scared at a ghost that's not in the book.

It’s happened. 

I read a Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, or Fear Street book once a week. I make my notes on each page and I flag any passages that I find particularly quote-worthy. I finally sit down at my computer and start writing a review. I usually have some topic from my childhood that I want to ruminate on using the book I just read.

But it’s finally happened.

I read The Mind Reader a few weeks ago. When I sat down to write this, I realized that the only thing I could remember about this book is that the title is misleading. What happened? How can I equate this to my childhood? Who are the characters? Does anyone get killed?

Maybe my notes in the margins will help me. Clearly, we’re going to rediscover this one together. Why can’t I remember what happened in this one? 

A girl is scared of a ghost that's not the book.
There are at least three things wrong with this cover: the title, the fact there are no ghosts, and that outfit.

Ellie is the new kid in town and has visions of the future – premonitions. Also, she has a best friend named Sarah. And there is a new boy named Brian. This is all in the first few pages. 

It’s important to note that Ellie can’t read minds – she just sees stuff. She can’t jump Professor X-style into anyone’s head. The title is already a problem. 

Anyway, Ellie sees a hand buried in the forest. The police find a hand, but not before Ellie gets the opportunity to freak out a bunch and scream about hands beckoning her while the police search the forest. This is a Fear Street novel, after all, and we need some cliffhanger craziness. 

Sarah shows up at the crime scene. Her father is a policeman and, apparently, that means Sarah can wander wherever she wants. She can poke the bodies and stick her hand in blood and use it for finger painting. She doesn’t do that in the book, but she saunters into an active crime scene with the impunity of a sitting Republican Senator. Ellie finds a red piece of fabric and Sarah faints.

The next day, Sarah isn’t at school and has some locker talk with a few side characters. They tell her that Sarah’s older sister Melinda disappeared. Ellie comes to the conclusion that Melinda was the owner of the bones as well as the red fabric and she brought Ellie to the site. Ellie can talk to ghosts now, but she has yet to read a mind.

At Ellie’s part-time job at the library, Brian appears and we witness their chemistry.

“Yeah? I’m at Waynesbridge.” He followed her down the aisle. “You know. The community college.”

“Oh. I didn’t even know Waynesbridge had a college,” Ellie replied. “My dad and I just moved to Shadyside.”

“I know.”

Her smile faded.

“This is where the book should be,” he said. Reaching past her, Brian pointed to a shelf of books.

“How do you know?”

“Because they all have the same call number,” he replied.

“No,” Ellie said. “I mean, how did you know I was new in Shadyside?”

“Uh-” Doubt flickered in Brian’s eyes. “Because this is the first time I’ve seen you at the library,” he replied. “And you look like the kind of girl who hangs out at the library a lot.”

Ellie’s eyebrows shot up. “Huh? Is that supposed to be a compliment? What kind of girl hangs out at the library?” she demanded.

“Well . . .” He hesitated again. “A girl who likes to read?”

Ellie had to laugh at his embarrassed expression. Maybe Brian Tanner wasn’t quite as smooth as he thought he was. The idea pleased her.

What the fuck is wrong with these two? Why does she think this is charming? I guess that’s what happens when you live in a small town – there are no opportunities for comparison.

Anyway, Ellie gets a vision of a knife after their cool conversation. She also goes to Sarah’s house and sees a skull in Sarah’s window. Then Brian shouts at her from his car as she walks to the diner. There’s a lot of semi-connected scenes interspersed between the cliffhangers featuring things that aren’t really there and Ellis screaming for no reason.

At the diner, Ellie meets up with Brian and they have another not-at-all charming conversation. Then Sarah’s dad, the cop, shows up and Brian runs away. 

Later, Ellie talks to her father, and we learn that a knife-wielding maniac killed Ellie’s mother. During a shower scene, Ellie has another vision with a knife. That’s the problem with having a character who sees things. Everything that can be scary isn’t scary because you know that it’s just a vision. Every time Ellie screams, she seems unnecessarily panicky. You want to shake her and say, “Ellie! Girl! You have visions! Stop screaming!” Any tension is destroyed.

Ellie eventually connects with Sarah. The best-friend character has been reclusive because the body they found was Melinda’s. Do you remember? The missing older sister. Well, enough of that – Ellie’s gotta ditch this downer! She has a date!

Ellie and Brian go to a lake. They almost drown, but they’re saved by a fisherman. Great date. 

He laughed. “Not what I was going to say. In fact, I don’t know what I was going to say.” He gazed at her thoughtfully. “You’re different from the other girls I’ve dated.”

Oh, god. Anyone who has read my review of The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne knows how I feel about that statement.

“Oh?” Ellie’s heart quickened. She didn’t really want to hear about other girls he’d gone out with. 

Brian’s expression turned serious. “Yeah. You’re a lot quieter. Most girls think they have to chatter constantly. And you’re taller.”

“Thanks,” Ellie replied, rolling her eyes. What a compliment.

Yeah, Ellie, what a compliment. Why are you hanging out with him? He should have just said that she’s taller and that’s it. Then I’d think he’s kind of funny. Instead, it’s “Bitches be talking!”

For reasons I don’t understand, they kiss and it’s gross. Not for them, I guess, but for me, the reader.

Meanwhile, in the story that is surely not connected to Brian in any way, the police are looking for Melinda’s boyfriend, Brett. They even have a picture of her boyfriend! In a shocking twist, Brett is Brian!

At this point, Ellie becomes a police psychic. She brings Sarah’s father to a hole in a tree. He tells her to wear gloves if she’s looking for a murder weapon. You heard that right. He does not say, “Hey, sixteen-year-old girl. I’m the cop here. I’ll retrieve a murder weapon from the hole.” Instead, he says, “If you’re gonna stick your whole-ass hand in there, don’t get fingerprints on it.” Police inactivity is the most realistic thing in the book.

After Ellie pulls out the knife, she tells the cop about Brian/Brett. Then Sarah pops out of the bushes like a garden snake. And then she skitters off as quickly as she appeared. 

There’s some red herring behavior from Brian/Brett. He gets arrested, but he escapes the police. Ellie learns that her mother was also a psychic who helped the police. Remember that knife-wielding maniac? She assisted in his capture. 

Sarah keeps freaking out and screaming, not being home, and showing up at crime scenes. Finally, Ellie keeps getting visions including being buried, gold, and more knives, each time sending her into conniptions.

Turns out Melinda was planning to run off with Brett the night she disappeared. Sarah thinks she drove her sister straight into Brett’s arms after an argument between the sisters. Sarah and Ellie go to confront Brett. In the most American moment in the book, Sarah gets her father’s “extra gun.” 

Sarah and Ellie go to the forest and find a gold button. Brett appears and asks to see the button. Sarah’s father is also there. Finally, Sarah shoots someone.

She shoots her dad. She figures out that he’s the one who killed Melinda.

“It was an accident,” Lieutenant Wilkins insisted. “I didn’t want Melinda to leave, to go away with him.” He glared up at Brett, disgust on his face. “We fought. I didn’t mean to shove her. She fell and hit her head. An accident. You have to believe me, Sarah. I loved her. I loved her more than anything!”

Then he attacks Brett. Sarah shoots her father in the shoulder. 

Her father is taken into custody, and since he’s a cop, he’s probably out the next morning and fully acquitted. His daughter was somehow at fault. That’s not in the novel, but that’s what I think happened.

However, in the novel is he’s taken away, Brett stops being Brian, and he and Ellie can live in peace. And Sarah is fine, I guess, even though her sister is still dead and her father is in jail (at least for one night).

Also, Brett has visions. Well, not exactly. He can read minds. And he has some visions. Or Melinda just sent him visions because he’s a mind reader. And the book is over.

I don’t know where to start with this one. I didn’t remember anything that happened in this book except the reveal that the titular mind reader was the annoying guy. And I read this two weeks ago. It’s like Stine’s publisher was all, “Kids these days are into mind reading. Write me a book about mind reading.” And then Stine wrote the whole book and 146 pages in he thought, “Oh shit! I was supposed to have a mind reader! I’ll make it this bland guy and he can be a little weird sometimes.” The books in the middle are the hardest to write about. There’s nothing insane enough to remember, they’re not surprisingly good, or they’re not so bad I can complain about for 3000 words. The Mind Reader is so far the most skippable book in the Fear Street series. Here’s to hoping the next one is better.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Ghost Beach

A spooky ghost hovers over a graveyard next to a each.

Instant friendship is a childhood art that is lost when we hit puberty. We gain boobs or cracked voices while we lose some fundamental part of us that can make a friend in five minutes. My family traveled during every school vacation and when we arrived at our destination, one of the first things I did was make friends with either some other kids on vacation or, as is the case in Goosebumps: Ghost Beach, some of the locals. However, unlike most of my vacation buddies, they didn’t ask me to trap a ghost. Let’s get to it.

A spooky ghost hovers over a graveyard next to a each.
The Ghost of Christmas Future has a condo there.

Our protagonist, Jerry, and his sister, Terri, are exploring a graveyard at Terri’s behest. 

By the way, “cemetery” and “graveyard” are used interchangeably in this book. I know the difference, so save your emails.

Anyway, that’s one of Terri’s hobbies – exploring graveyards. By the end of page four, Jerry and his sister are grabbed and pulled under!

Don’t worry, it’s just a dream. The siblings are on their way to their cousin Brad and his wife Agatha’s beach house for the last month of summer. When they arrive at the beach house, one of the first things they do is go to the cemetery so Terri can get some gravestone rubbings. They notice that the old gravestones are from the late 17th century and all the gravestones are for people with the last name of “Sadler,” which is also their last name.

They saunter to the beach as Terri collects wildflowers – her other hobby. Terri likes graveyards and collecting wildflowers while her brother follows her around, expositioning all the way. We’re following the wrong horse.

They find a cave entrance just above the shoreline. Of course, they explore it because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a book. Unfortunately, before they reach the depths of the cave, a bat attacks them. 

Not really. It’s a kite! 

Jerry and Terri meet Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler – more Sadlers. They also happen to know Brad and Agatha, as the beach is one of those places where everyone knows each other. The kids suggest that Jerry and Terri avoid the cave because there’s a ghost in there. Sam, the oldest one, gets mad and he ushers his siblings away.

The Sadlers we’re following hang out with Brad and Agatha and play something called “whist,” which, much to my surprise, actually exists. The next day, when the siblings are in the forest looking for more wildflowers, Jerry finds a strange flower sticking out of the ground. Turns out to be a skeleton!

Not a human skeleton, of course. It’s a dog skeleton. Suddenly, the Sadler kids show up. Nat mentions that dogs can see ghosts and the ghost of the cave must have killed the dog from getting found out. 

Jerry and Terri can’t get ghosts out of their heads, so Terri sneaks into Jerry’s room just to talk about ghosts, both the cave and normal variety. Jerry looks out toward the cave and sees an eerie flickering light coming from the cave. He wonders if it’s a ghost.

 Later, Jerry, Terri, and the cousins go fishing and they talk about the ghost cave flickering. There’s a lot of ghost talk interspersed with graveyard rubbings and household, plant-based chores.

During dinner one night, Jerry decides to ask Brad about the flickering light. 

“Last night when I went to look for the beach towel, there was a light flickering inside the cave. Do you know what it was?”

Brad narrowed his eyes at me. “Just an optical illusion,” he said curtly. Then he picked up his corn and began sawing again.

“I don’t understand,” I told him. “What do you mean?”

Brad patiently put down his corn. “Jerry, did you ever hear of the northern lights? Aurora borealis?”

Needless to say, this does not deter the children from spelunking. They should have shown them The Descent – that’s a surefire way to ensure that they avoid all forms of underground activity.

Jerry and Terri enter the cave, find a tunnel, are spooked by bats, and discover the source of the flickering. Turns out, it’s a man and a bunch of candles. The man chases after the children and they get away (not before another cliffhanger, of course). 

The kids and their cousins devise a plan to get rid of the ghost permanently, but not before a final gravestone rubbing. This time, Jerry and Terri find three interesting gravestones – one for Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler. They ask Brad and Agatha about why there are so many Sadlers in the cemetery.

In 1641, a whole group of Sadler pilgrims came from England. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst winters in history and many of the Sadlers died, including young children like Sam, Louisa, and Nat. Jerry and Terri’s new friends are named after those kids who died during that terrible winter. See? A logical explanation. It’s just a coincidence that the kids just happen to be the same ages as the kids who died. Also, everyone in town is named after those ancestors, so there are graves for Brad and Agatha, too. Yep – a pilgrim named Brad.

So the plan to get rid of the ghost forever involves some rocks by the entrance. For some reason, ghosts can’t go through rocks, so if Jerry and Terri climb up to the cave and push the rocks over, the candle ghost can’t leave his cave. 

The cousins watch from the beach as Jerri and Terri climb up to the cave. Then they start to flail around before running away. The candle ghost is standing behind the siblings!

The candle ghost yells, “It’s dangerous to get involved with ghosts!” and says that their beach cousins are ghosts. His name is Harrison Sadler and he’s there to study the occult. However, those ghost children are real problems and he wants to trap them in a cave. You see, he was the one who set up the rocks next to the cave entrance and discovered the ghost/rock connection. Yep. Let me remind you that ghosts can’t go through rocks. Don’t question him! He’s old and he studies the occult!

The siblings still have trouble believing him. Finally, there’s a showdown between the candle ghost and the ghost cousins – who’s the real ghost? 

Harrison’s German Shepherd with the answer! He barks at the cousins. The cousins explain that they weren’t able to have a life because they died so early. I felt sorry for them and thought that there might be a way for them to continue to haunt the beach and have fun to make up for the childhood that was stolen from them. Then this happens

And then their skin peeled away, curling up and falling off – until three grinning skulls stared at Terri and me through empty eye sockets.

“Come stay with us, cousins!” Louisa’s skull whispered. Her bony fingers reached out toward us.

“Join usssss!” Sam hissed. His fleshless jaw slid up and down. “We dug such nice graves for you. So close to ours.”

“Play with me,” Nat’s skull pleaded. “Stay and play with me. I don’t want you to go. Ever!”

I was sympathetic until they pulled a Shining Twins and now I’m like, yeah, pass.

Also, that scene was graphic for a Goosebumps title – I was surprised.

So the siblings, with a final sacrifice from Harrison, trap the cousins in the cave and head back to the beach house.

When they get there, Harrison’s dog barks at Brad and Angela and we’re left with these words

Agatha slammed the kitchen door hard and turned back to Brad. “What a pity that dog had to show up,” she said, shaking her head fretfully. “Now what do we do with these two kids, Brad? What do we do with the kids?”

So I guess Jerri and Terri and dead now?

Stine reminded me of the joys of instant friendship as well at the reason we lose this ability as we grow up – people can totally suck. The cousins seemed cool. Even when they had their heel turn, I felt empathy for them. But when they turn murderous, there’s no going back. Instant friendship is something we lose as we grow up, but it’s because we become more selective about whom we befriend. Friendships become more complicated. It’s no longer close age and relative vicinity – it’s similar interests and a lack of murderous tendencies. 

Maybe the lesson is that we should be open to everyone – regardless of outward appearance or some other superficial reason – like children. But the second we realize a friendship would be problematic, either because they only eat gnocchi or they try to murder us, it’s time to cut them out of your life – or trap them in a cave.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

A scarecrow with a striking resemblance to a meme in the middle of a cornfield.

I’ve gone my whole life without ever seeing those vast cornfields that Boomer and Gen X writers are obsessed with. Children of the Corn, In the Tall Grass, and countless other examples demonstrate how terrifying cornfields are to them. Now, I have never seen these interminable rows of clustered vegetation because I have never been to the midwest. And when my family traveled, it was into deserts or so far west that we ended up in the east. The closest example to cornfields in my life might be the rice paddies that patterned every roadside in the Philippines. While they are not tall enough to get lost in, they are spread out enough you can lose your way. And while there were no scarecrows, there was the thought that you could fall in and get stuck, or worse, someone who had the misfortune of falling in before would reach up and take you with them. 

While I’ve never seen a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield, there is horror in farms – the large tracts of land and dense crops, and, in the case of this week’s Goosebumps book, something one step from humanity that shouldn’t be human. It’s time for The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight.

A scarecrow with a striking resemblance to a meme in the middle of a cornfield.
These Grumpy Cat licensing deals are getting ridiculous! Do we really need Grumpy Cat Scarecrows?

Our protagonist is Jodie, who is going to visit her grandparents’ farm with her lazy brother Mark. They’re traveling with their grandparents’ farmhand – a man named Stanley. It’s not explicitly said, but Stanley has some kind of mental disability. This is such a trope – the simple-minded farmhand – but I don’t know how common it was by the time this book was published (1994). I don’t know if the stereotype is offensive but I would guess that it’s very offensive.

Anyway, Stanley starts mumbling that “the scarecrow walks at midnight.” The children ignore him and as well as the title of the book they exist in. When they arrive at the farm, Mark opens a corn husk and worms pour out. Stanley says that his book says it’s bad luck and freaks out. And then they stare at scarecrows.

We meet Stanley’s son – an older boy named Sticks. He is some kind of prankster and he doesn’t share his father’s disability.

The kids notice their grandfather is acting strangely because he won’t tell them scary stories. He used to tell the kids scary stories at night, but this time, he doesn’t want to, insisting that he’s tired. 

That night, Jodie looks out the window and sees the scarecrows twitch and pull at their stakes. That’s creepy. Surprisingly, it’s not a dream. I genuinely thought it was going to be a dream. Instead, Jodie covers herself and doesn’t get up until the morning. 

She rushes down to get their grandmother’s beloved pancakes. However, their grandmother gives them cornflakes instead. She says she forgot how to make pancakes. Jodie notices her hand is made of straw!

Just kidding. She was holding a broom. 

For some reason, Stanley keeps hanging out with these kids, seemingly shirking his farm duties. The trio goes to the pond to catch fish and a scarecrow’s hand grabs Jodie. 

It’s just some weeds. Geez, this girl needs to lay off the caffeine.

Then Jodie sees a scarecrow and thinks it’s Sticks playing a prank on her. Then it just disappears. When she tells Stanley about it, he says he has to read his book. This guy is starting to sound like me. If someone asks me a question, I answer, “I have to read my book.” However, something weird is going on with Stanley, whereas when I say, “I have to read my book,” I’m trying to get out of a conversation.

Later, Jodie believes that scarecrow is stalking her. She runs right into Sticks and is that convinced he’s the stalker scarecrow. Since we’re only halfway through the book, that’s clearly not the case.

Meanwhile, her grandparents are still being weird. The grandmother used to make apple pie, but that night, she serves them a cherry pie. Jodie remarks that her grandfather is allergic to cherries. He says he doesn’t mind and neither does Stanley.

After the second night in a row where their grandfather won’t tell them any stories, Jodie wakes up to scratching at her window. It’s her grandfather with clumps of straw for hands!

Yeah, that time it was a dream. But her grandfather is missing. 

The next morning, the siblings ride horses. While Jodie is on a horse, a scarecrow steps out from the cornstalks, scares the horse, and bucks her off.

She hits her head and wakes up moments later. A scarecrow is laying facedown on the trail. Jodie convinces herself that it’s just Sticks pranking them, but she wonders why Sticks wants to hurt them.

Jodie ventures into the barn and finds Stanley’s “scarecrow supplies,” which includes a pile of torches and kerosene. While investigating the materials, Sticks pops out and acts like the red herring he is. 

“I warned you,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “I warned you to get away from here, to go back home.”

“But why?” I demanded. “What’s your problem, Sticks. What did we do to you? Why are you trying to scare us?”

“I’m not,” Sticks replied. He glanced back nervously at the barn doors.

“Huh?” I gaped at him.

“I’m not trying to scare you. Really,” he insisted.

“Liar,” I muttered angrily. “You must really think I’m a moron. I know you threw that scarecrow onto our path this morning. It had to be you, Sticks.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” he insisted coldly. “But I’m warning you-”

And Stanley interrupts them and Sticks goes with him to do tractor business. Man, people in Stine novels are always pranking, or thinking they’re being pranked, or spouting cryptic nonsense. The only time I said weird half things was when I was trying to regain power without any actual plan. “Oh, you’ll be sorry. You’ll see. I totally have a plan. I’m not stalling for time as I back away.” And speaking of continued pranking.

Jodie concocts a plan to put Mark in a scarecrow costume and scare Sticks. She tells him to get into position. While waiting, Mark leaves his, well, mark. But she soon realizes that the moving scarecrow isn’t Mark!

Jodie finds Sticks and, since there are only a few pages left, Sticks finally speaks like a human being, instead of a quest giver in a Sierra game.

“Dad brought the scarecrows to life,” he said softly. “Last week. Before you came. He used the book. He chanted some words – and they all came to life.”

“Oh, no,” I murmured, raising my hands to my face.

“We were all so frightened,” Sticks continued. “Especially your grandparents. They begged Dad to recite the words and put the scarecrows back to sleep.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“Yes,” Sticks replied. “He put them back to sleep. But first he insisted your grandparents make some promises. They had to promise not to laugh at him anymore. And they had to promise to do everything he wanted from now on.”

Sticks took a deep breath. He stared toward the guest house window. “Haven’t you noticed how different things are at the farm? Haven’t you noticed how frightened your grandparents are?”

I nodded solemnly. “Of course I have.”

“They’ve been trying to keep Dad happy,” Sticks continued. “They’ve been doing everything they can to keep him from getting upset or angry. Your grandmother fixes only his favorite food. Your grandfather stopped telling scary stories because Dad doesn’t like them.”

I shook my head. “They’re that afraid of Stanley?”

“They’re afraid he’ll read the chant in the book again and bring the scarecrows back to life,” Sticks said. He swallowed hard. There’s only one problem,” he murmured.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well, I haven’t told Dad yet. But . . .” His voice trailed off.

“But what?” I demanded eagerly.

“Some of the scarecrows are still alive,” Sticks replied. “Some of them never went back to sleep.”

Ooh, that’s some good cliffhanger horror there, Stine. That would be the hook in the trailer.

The scarecrows corner the family and they hop off their sticks and lumber toward the family, which is terrifying. Fortunately, since Mark is dressed as a scarecrow, they think he’s their leader and does whatever he does. So he pulls off his scarecrow head. The scarecrows imitate him and pull off their heads.

The family expects the scarecrows to fall since they don’t have heads. However, it just makes them headless scarecrows and Mark doesn’t look like them anymore. The headless scarecrows continue encroaching on the family.

So the family sets the scarecrows on fire – the original plan.

Things go back to normal, but now grandpa’s stuffed bear is making noises.

At first, I wasn’t sold on this one. There were too many fakeouts and I was pretty sure that Stanley was an offensive stereotype and it creeped me out that he hung out with twelve-year-olds. Then, if Stanley does have a mental disability, who is the woman whom he knocked up, and wouldn’t that be considered abuse? There are some unpleasant implications in this book. 

And then there’s the part with the broom and I thought our main character was too jumpy for no reason. Oh no, a broom. Oh no, a bear statue. Oh no, some weeds. 

But I never really hated it because I like the scarecrows pulling themselves from their stakes. When the scarecrows take off their heads and lumber toward the family, I was delighted! That’s a good twist. The end of this book really makes up for the beginning. And you know what? I’d rather have a great ending than a great beginning.

Also, stop sending kids into the countryside for the summer. Just let them watch cartoons and eat cereal all day. Farms are terrifying!

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The New Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Halloween Party

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!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No charges were filed pending police investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, and David stumbles out of the woods.

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

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

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

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

Previously on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

When I was a kid, treasure hunting deep in the woods seemed like a completely plausible endeavor. I thought I could go on some grand fantastic adventure with wood nymphs and sprites. I quickly dismissed this idea because I lived (and continue to live) in Nevada, where we have more imported trees than any other state. Why do we have so many imported trees? Because we don’t have thick forests. We have sagebrush and ATV tracks. And frankly, the first I went camping, which was as an adult, I realized why my father never made us go camping – he knew it sucked.

This is not the case for the kids in the next Goosebumps installment I’m covering, Legend of the Lost Legend. These kids are out for adventure and treasure hunting – with their writer father. Yes, like Stephen King, writer R. L. Stine has added a writer character into his own novel, so let’s dive right in and see what exactly is the lost legend?

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GBLegendoftheLostLegend
Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend by R. L. Stine – The Lost Legend is the Lost Garbage Pail Kid on the cover.

The book barely starts and we have a signature cliffhanger on page four. Our protagonists are a set of siblings – Justin and Marissa. They’re trying to find their father but are lost in a snowy tundra aided only by Balto and the rest of the Iditarod. The sled dogs go off on their own, taking Marissa along for the ride! Of course, at the very beginning of chapter two, Justin saves her and is fine. However, on page nine, we have another cliffhanger! They’re floating on a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland!

It doesn’t matter. It was just a story their father, master storyteller and treasure hunter, made up about his children. It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it? The children ask how they’re going to get off the ice block. The father replies, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story yet.” Well, Stine, you have 120 pages left, so you better get cracking.

They are camping in a fictional European country together while their father, “famous writer, storyteller, and story collector” Richard Clarke, is looking for the Lost Legend – which is a manuscript hidden away in a silver chest that has been lost for five hundred years. Justin reasons that if he were to find the legend himself, he’d win affection from his father as well as fame and fortune. In the middle of the night, a giant dog enters their camp with a note that says, “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. FOLLOW SILVERDOG.” There wouldn’t be a story if the children refused to follow the dog, so of course, they follow him deep into the woods.

There are some shenanigans while they follow Silverdog, including one where they get lost because they were following a deer instead. But the dog always howls and they get back on track. They also fall into a hole that they think is bottomless, but they easily climb out of it so I think it was more of a pothole than a bottomless pit. The dog eventually brings them to a house and when they enter, a woman yells, “I’ve caught you!”

The woman is the woman on the cover and she just has “a bad sense of humor.” Her name is Ivanna and she was the one who sent Silverdog and she wants to help the kids, but first, it’s time for lunch. After they eat, she tells them that she has poisoned them!

Just kidding. It’s that classic attempted murder sense of humor. Anyway, she sends them on a quest into the Fantasy Forest, apparently the only thing she doesn’t joke about. They’re told to follow another dog named Luka.

After they enter the Fantasy Forest, Luka proceeds to STAND UP LIKE A HUMAN!

If he shaved off all the fur, put on some clothes, and got a haircut, he’d look like a young man, I thought. As I stared at him, he started to wave and point.

This explains the emergence of furries in the millennial generation who read these books.

Ivanna leaves them with a note that says they should follow Luka and not lose him or they will be doomed. Of course, they lose him and fall into a pit of nuts. However, they’re not nuts. They’re rat eggs that start to hatch. Turns out the mice are just little wind-up toys. They get away and a tree falls on Marissa.

Marissa is fine, of course. It’s a fake tree, probably made out of styrofoam. They also run away from bats and find a river with a plug. And finally, they battle giant cats that try to eat them. Justin is swallowed but climbs his way out and distracts the giant cat with one of the wind-up mice from earlier.

So, we have furries and now the swallowing of a boy. This is some serious vore shit and this continues to explain my generation.

The siblings find they way back to Ivanna’s house and when they enter, they find her asleep and unresponsive. We have the triumphant return of Luka!

He was literally a dude in a suit. He takes off the suit in front of the children and expresses his congratulations. He proceeds to tell the children what has been happening.

“My family has lived in this forest for hundreds of years,” Luka explained. “It became our job to protect many of the treasures. And so we built a test forest, to keep out those who were unworthy. To stop the people who don’t deserve the wonderful treasures.”

Everything in the forest is fake, or a wind-up toy, or a marionette – like Ivanna. That’s correct. Ivanna is a puppet. The trial was to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the forest and our siblings have passed. They are given a chest and Silverdog, who is an actual dog – not a man, leads them back to their camp (not before getting lost for a second).

With their father, the children open the chest to receive their gift – an egg. The ungrateful family marches back to Luka’s house and demands an explanation. See, Luka thought they were in search of the Eternal Egg of Truth. If they want the Lost Legend, they need to find the Wanderers of the Forest. Luka will tell them where to find the Wanderers, but the Wanderers might not part with the legend.

The family finds the Wanderers and the second they ask for the legend, they gladly hand over a chest and leave. The family opens the chest and finds the manuscript. Excited, they unroll the piece of paper and read aloud the contents:

“WHOEVER OWNS THE LOST LEGEND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.”

The family looks around and realizes that they don’t know where they are.

Ha! How’s that for a twist ending!

I liked this one – although it took some reflection. While I was reading it, I thought of the words of the father, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story, yet.” As the children were dealing with random women in the forest and man dogs and rat eggs, I wondered if R. L. Stine had an ending to the story. The children are always getting lost – while following Silverdog, during the trials in the forest, and even toward the end of the book after they pass the trials. Stine is telling us early on that it’s a legend about being lost, not a legend that is lost.

The idea of a legend about being lost makes up for most of the book. However, without the twist, this book is a seemingly disconnected set of random events. The twist is great and the kids’ constant direction mishaps are a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, but the man with a fake forest has nothing to do with being lost. I wish that aspect was incorporated more into the legend itself.

That being said, this book was a fun read and brought me back to those days when I was a kid, looking out the window and wondering if there was a magical creature calling out to me, if only I would look hard enough.

Next Time on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts

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

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

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first red herring!

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

“Violets are blue

Roses are red.

On Valentine’s Day

Josie will be dead.”

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

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

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

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

“No way,” Erica said angrily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica stopped herself.

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

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

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

After some house intercom shenanigans, Josie gets another Valentine:

“This Valentine’s Day

No memories to save.

The only flowers for you

Will be on your grave.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s sending these cards?

Don’t bother to wonder.

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll be six feet under.”

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

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

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

Josie receives another Valentine:

“Roses are black,

Violets are gray.

On Valentine’s Day,

You’ll start to decay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Roses are red

Violets are blue,

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll be dead too.”

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

Melissa receives another Valentine:

“Flowers mean funerals

Flowers mean death.

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll take your last breath.”

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

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

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

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

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

Just kidding, it’s Erica.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

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

Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)

And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GBNightoftheLivingDummy
It’s more like “nights” of the living dummy than one night.

Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.

Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.

The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.

Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.

“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.

“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.

“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”

“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”

“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.

“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”

“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”

Kris didn’t laugh.

Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.

Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.

After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.

“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.

“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.

“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”

“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.

“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”

Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”

Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.

Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”

Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.

First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.

Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.

Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.

We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?

“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”

What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”

Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.

Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.

“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.

She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.

“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”

“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”

“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”

It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.

Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:

“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”

“But, Lindy-“

“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”

Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?

Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.

This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.

Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.

They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.

As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”

I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.

R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement! (which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”

This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

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

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

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!!!

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

Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some 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.

Dough.

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

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

As the dough rose, she suffocated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

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

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

My parents are not anti-vaxxers because they’re responsible parents. My sister and I are current with all our shots, no matter how hard it was to get us to sit down and actually take the damn shot. We used to cry and cling to our parents and engage in futile begging, but our tenacious parents still forced us to receive our shots. After it was all done, the pain a distant memory, we got a prize from the hospital.

That’s where I saw it – a green hand wrapped around a door. Leaves and vines grew around the hand as if something escaped the confines of the basement and was now poised to take over the upstairs. Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine sat on the highest shelf, most of which featured boys with dogs or girls with dolls. Maybe one or two with arm-crossed children rolling their eyes as their apron-clad mother held a rolling pin and chastised them. The hand stood out. The hand grabbed my attention. The hand scared me, but I needed to know what was happening.

Rereading this as an adult, I’m happy this one was my first Goosebumps book. My copy has the new cover that fails to live up to the original, but I’m still happy I own this scary book that holds up as fine children’s horror.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GBStayOutoftheBasement
I realize this is the new cover, but Goodwill only has so many old covers.

Casey and Margaret Brewer are tired of their father’s excuses. They want to play Frisbee with him, but he’s always busy. And he’s been working every day since he moved his family out to California, a place that Margaret doesn’t like because it’s “the middle of winter; and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and Casey and I are out in jeans and T-shirts as if it were the middle of summer.” Oh no, how terrible it must be to have temperate weather in the second-best state in the union. (First is Nevada – don’t @ me.)

Margaret thinks that Mr. Martinez, their father’s boss, fired their father for some experiments that went “wrong.” She gets curious and encourages Casey to come with her to find out what their father is doing deep in the basement. When they halfway down the basement stairs, their father appears.

He glared up at them angrily, his skin strangely green under the flourescent light fixture. He was holding his right hand, drops of red blood falling onto his white lab coat.

Stay out of the basement!” he bellowed, in a voice they’d never heard before.

Both kids shrank back, surprised to hear their father scream like that. He was usually so mild and soft-spoken.

Stay out of the basement,” he repeated, holding his bleeding hand. “Don’t ever come down here – I’m warning you.”

I think the kids just slink away because the next chapter starts with Mrs. Brewer leaving to help care for her sister for a few days. She says she’s no worried about the kids, but is worried about Mr. Brewer, particularly that he will become so engrossed in his work that he won’t eat. The man himself appears, his hand bandaged despite it being a few weeks after he yelled at them. He takes their mother to the airport as Margaret’s friend Diane arrives for some adult-free childhood banter.

Diane is also the one who dares Margaret to go into the basement, because what’s a Goosebumps book without some kids daring each other to do some stupid shit. I remember being a kid. We always dared each other to do stupid shit. It’s the most realistic thing in the series.

In the basement, they find a “rain forest.” It’s so hot and humid that Casey decides to take off his shirt and drop it on the floor, just like an actual kid. That’s when they notice a tall treelike plant actually breathing. Casey touches it and he goes into convulsions!

Of course, it’s just a prank. At least the fake out is at the end of chapter three when I’m already invested, instead of the first chapter. The children think the plants are moving and they decide to go back upstairs. They think that their father will never know they were down there, but Casey remembers that he left his t-shirt on the floor.

Casey goes back into the basement to retrieve his shirt, but their father comes home. Margaret is standing at the top of the stairs, urging her brother to return before their father walks through the door. He grabs his shirt but some tendrils grab him. It’s not a trick. Actual tendrils grab Casey. They wrestle free, but not before their father catches them.

They insist they didn’t touch anything and while their father is disappointed, he is not stark-raving mad. They ask their father about the weird plants, but he refuses to explain their bizarre appearance and behavior to them. The next morning, Margaret finds a lock installed on the basement door.

Dr. Brewer is working so hard to impress his boss, Mr. Martinez, and prove that the university was wrong to fire Dr. Brewer. However, Margaret clings to her idea that something is askew, especially since she sees his research as putting his career ahead of his children, something he hasn’t done before. Her suspicions are exacerbated when she sees him devour something from a bag “greedily” and stash it under the sink before returning to the basement.

When she was sure he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know whather father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.

She pulled open the sink cabinet, reached into the trash, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.

Then she gasped aloud asher eyes ran over the label.

Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.

Oh, shit, Margaret! The call is coming from inside the house! Get out of there!

She tries to confide in Casey her findings, but, like every shitty man, he doesn’t take her concerns seriously. There are more frustrating scenes wherein others excuse Dr. Brewer’s neglect as something he’s doing for the sake of his career while dismissing Margaret. This whole book is like a metaphor for women’s struggles. A young woman is supposed to just accept a man’s egregious behavior for the sake of his own interests even to her detriment. I feel ya, Margaret. We cuz.

While Margaret is growing up with a distant father, Dr. Brewer is growing green hair. He is also skulking around the house and scaring his daughter and is sleeping in a bed that is covered in earthworms and wet, black clumps of dirt. Finally, he tries to feed his children a strange substance bearing a resemblance to dirt. This is the straw that breaks Casey’s back, so to speak. He is finally curious enough to investigate the basement with Margaret.

They get their opportunity when Dr. Brewer leaves. In the basement, they find a jacket belonging to Mr. Martinez. They come to the conclusion that plants may have eaten the big boss man (the character in the book, not the wrestler), but their father insists Mr. Martinez just got hot and left his jacket. A few days later, they also discover Mr. Martinez’s shoes and pants, hurting their father’s theory that he just got hot. You don’t just take off your pants in someone else’s house, even the house of your subordinate.

During another excursion into the basement (and after some heavy lock destruction), they peer deeper into the experimental jungle.

She took a deep breath and held it. Then, ignoring the moans, the signs, the green arms reaching out to her, the hideous green-tomato faces, she plunged through the plants to the back of the closet.

“Dad!” she cried.

Her father was lying on the floor, his hands and feet tied tightly with plant tendrils, his mouth gagged by a wide strip of elastic tape.

“It can’t be Dad!” Casey said, still holding her by the shoulders. “Dad is at the airport – remember?”

She reached downand tugged at the elastic tape until she managed to get it off.

“Kids – I’m so glad to see you,” Dr. Brewer said. “Quick! Untie me.”

“How did you get in here?” Casey demanded, standing above him, hands on his hips, staring down at him suspicisously. “We saw you leave for the airport.”

“That wasn’t me,” Dr. Brewer said. “I’ve been locked in here for days.”

“Huh?” Casey cried.

“But we saw you-” Margaret started.

“It wasn’t me. It’s a plant,” Dr. Brewer said. “It’s a plant copy of me.”

Holy shit! It’s a plant! Metaphorically and literally! The story continues with a classic, “I’m your real father! Shoot him!” “No, shoot him! He’s the impostor!” only with a little girl holding an ax, which is my new aesthetic.

Margaret figures out who her real father is when she stabs the father from the basement in the arm. He bleeds red blood, so she hands him the ax. Then her real father cleaves the impostor in two! Take it back. A father who was held captive by a sentient plant cutting his captor in twain with an ax from his daughter is my new aesthetic.

In the end, the Brewers destroy the plants and return the equipment to the university, but R. L. Stine isn’t finished.

It’s so peaceful now, [Margaret] thought happily.

So peaceful here. And so beautiful.

The smile faded from her face when she heard the whisper at her feet. “Margaret.”

She looked down to see a small yellow flower nudging her ankle.

“Margaret,” the flower whispered, “help me. Please – help me. I’m your father. Really! I’m your real father.”

Fucking perfect. This book was perfect.

I’m happy this was my first Goosebumps book. I’m happy this was the book I chose from all the other books on that bookshelf at the doctor’s office. Thank you to whoever put that book on that shelf. This book started my lifelong love of all things scary and creepy. I’m even happier that this book holds up. I like the punniness. I like Margaret. I like the mystery. Everything about this book is perfect.

Stay Out of the Basement was the second book of the Goosebumps series and, especially with Welcome to Dead House as the first, I can see why this series is revered in the Pantheon of Young Adult Fiction, exactly where it should be.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.