Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: High Tide

To no one’s surprise, I don’t do beaches. It’s not the water – I love water, as well as the concept of water. It is a necessary part of living, so I like water in that sense. And a peaceful wave crashing on sand in the middle of the night is a wonderful thing. I would prefer to live near the water. Despite that, I don’t do beaches. I don’t do bikinis. I don’t do boys flexing at everyone around them. I don’t do the sun. I don’t do lifeguards. I don’t do sunbathing. My ideal waterline situation involves overcast weather in serenity or a busy port with tourist traps. This is no middle ground.

However, it’s time to pack that tote bag with a sarang, pop on some sunglasses, and strap on sandals because R. L. Stine is taking us to the beach – and all I can sea is blood in the water. 

Our protagonist, Adam, crashes into waves on what Stine calls a “scooter.” I thought they were called “Ski-Doos.” My partner told me that they’re called “Sea-Doos” or “Waverunners,” the generic term is “jetski,” and he’d never heard anyone refer to them as “scooters.” Even that delineation is a matter of some debate, mostly whether or not one stands up or sits down on the watercraft. For this review, I’m going to stick with “jetski,” but keep in mind that Stine calls them scooters like they’re Italian vehicles.

Going back to Adam, he’s on a jetski with his girlfriend, the ludicrously named Mitzi. She falls off the jetski pretty quickly and gets cut. Then Adam falls off the jetski and it cuts his leg. They’re just floating in their own blood and he’s trying to save his girlfriend, but it’s no use – the waves take them. 

Adam jolts awake – it was all a dream. Sort of. His roommate, Ian, suggests he switches psychiatrists. Adam has been seeing a TV psychiatrist named Dr. Thrall since the accident a year before and he is still experiencing nightmares and general jump-scare-related hallucinations. What? You’re telling me that a talk show doctor is not the most scrupulous mental health care professional? The devil you say!

Still, Adam thinks his legs are suddenly gone. It’s another hallucination, of course, and he sees Dr. Thrall. To my surprise, the doctor is not an Orc Shaman from Orgrimmar. He’s a doctor who says weird things like the following:

“You have to listen to your subconscious mind.” He tapped his fingers on the desk and glanced at me sharply. “It may be trying to tell you something. I think there’s something inside your brain struggling to get out.”

I thought Freudian psychiatry was dismissed, but here we are. The Id has something to say, I guess. Adam, drop this guy, but right now, it’s time for work.

We meet Leslie, the girl that Adam is currently courting, to use a parlance contemporary to Freud, since that outdated thinking is present in the novel. And speaking of outdated thinking, we also meet the other lifeguard, Sean.

End of part one. Yes. You heard me. End of part one on page twenty. And we’re switching points-0f-view! 

We switch to Sean, who also sucks, but in a different way. Adam is boring and his only personality trait is that he sees his dead girlfriend everywhere. Sean is one cashier telling him that he has to wear his mask away from being a mass shooter. His favorite hobby is assaulting the girls on the beach, particularly a girl named Alyce. 

“Let go of me, Sean! You really are an animal.”

“You love it!” I insisted. I turned her around and kissed her on the mouth. “You know you love it.”

“I do not love it!” she snarled. She shoved me away and scowled at me.

I reached for her, but she hopped backward. “Oh, you want me to chase you?” I asked.

“Hardly.” She made a disgusted face. “Don’t you get it? I don’t like being grabbed like that.”

“Like what?” I asked, grinning. “You want me to grab you some other way? Show me how, babe!”

Oh, gawd. This guy can’t die fast enough.

I hate to break it to you, but this guy does not die. He is just our red herring. But at least we don’t have to follow him for too long.

Uh-oh. More bad news, we have to follow this guy for a while. And he doesn’t get any better. He doesn’t get any worse, though, but the bar is on the ground with this guy. The bar is so low that we would have to call before we dig if we wanted to raise it because we don’t want to hit a gas line.

Sean pretends there’s a shark in the water just to freak Adam out. (On a side note, if Adam panics when there’s a shark, why is he still a lifeguard?) At this point, Sean spins a tale to Adam. A tale of stalking his girlfriend to find out if she was cheating. He followed her and her date to an amusement park. I imagine the girl and her better, newer boyfriend having a great time on Dumbo the Flying Elephant in one car, and in the next car Adam is looking pissed and staring at them. After she said goodbye for the night, Adam cornered the guy in the woods and beat him. When the guy screamed, Sean just beat him more. Why did Sean tell Adam this story? Because he didn’t like the way that Adam looked at Alyce. 

We switch to Adam and he is chatting with Ian. Remember him? The roommate? Well, Ian is going to go to the beach and scope out hot chicks, whom Adam calls “females” like a damn Ferengi. Anyway, Ian wants to borrow Adam’s jeans for his night out. Ian leaves, but Adam finds Ian dead in his bed! Just kidding – it’s another hallucination. The hallucinations are not already annoying, no. Definitely not. And not they’re over. Adam speaks with Leslie, and then a skull talks to him. Nothing fun, like Skeletor. The skull just screams, and then we’re back with Sean.

Stalker Sean looks for Alyce at her apartment but her roommate says that she’s not there. So Sean skulks around the beach and finds Alyce with some guy. Since he keeps calling the mysterious person “him,” we can safely assume that Stine wants us to think it’s Adam, but we know that it’s someone else.

Sean follows Alyce and the guy who is definitely not Adam (*wink*wink*) as they drive to some date night locations. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Sean loses them at the movies. Sean, you need a hobby. Something that will give you an identity outside of “stalker/angry guy.” Have you tried coin collecting? Maybe you should become an expert on old warships. Or plumbing. People always need someone to plumb something. 

Instead of taking up a productive hobby, Sean beats some random guy in an alley. Leslie happens upon Sean and stops him before he kills the guy. Leslie does not go to the police. Although, what are the police going to do to stop a dude who beats up random people and has a history of violence? They would just hire him.

The next day at work, we’re back with Adam, who is chatting it up with two new girls – Joy and Raina. Also, Sean is acting aggressive and stand-offish with Adam. When Adam goes into the water, a jet ski crashes into him, and Sean does nothing! Don’t worry about our bland protagonist – it’s just another hallucination.

Adam has a hot date with both Joy and Raina. Oh, I guess Ian is there, too, but the girls are smitten with Adam. Maybe the bikini girls don’t know that there are two dudes. I know that two boring characters can seem like the same guy. Anyway, Leslie sees Adam cavorting with the girls and we get a red herring.

“You hurt me, Adam!” she declared furiously. “And I’m going to find a way to hurt you back!”

I’m not completely sure about his relationship with Leslie. He doesn’t expressly say that they’re dating, but the implication is there. I think that Adam is leading Leslie on, implying they’re in a relationship while keeping it open in case two bikini girls come by and flirt. Then he can have fun with them while keeping Leslie on a leash. I have a low opinion of Adam. Although, not as low as my opinion of Sean.

And speaking of Sean, during lifeguard duty, Sean is still cool towards Adam. His relationship with Sean seems to bother him more than his relationship with Leslie. But it doesn’t matter, it’s the titular high tide, and Joy and Raina are in the water. Adam doesn’t see them resurface. Bust out the slow-motion because it’s Baywatch time!

There’s a lot of swimming. Pages of swimming. Basically what happens is that Adam finds Joy, but she panics and keeps clinging to him. Then he finds Raina, but she’s unconscious. He can’t swim while towing Raina if Joy keeps clawing at him and screaming. He leaves Joy behind because at least she’s conscious and he promises to come back for her. Unfortunately, when he returns, Joy is nowhere to be found and presumed drowned.

We have come to the end of part two. At least Stine waited for seventy pages this time.

Adam wakes up in his bed. Was it a hallucination? Ian informs him that it really happened and Adam should take the day off. But it’s time for Ian to go! He has a hot date again!

Adam wanders around the apartment, “slips a CD in,” and eats cereal. Then he gets a phone call. Someone with a nondescript voice says,

“Adam, you’re going to pay for what you did to me, I promise you. You’re going to pay soon.”

He goes for a walk, but there is no respite.

Her windbreaker flew up behind her, like a cape. In the dark mist, she looked transparent. As if she were part of the shadows, part of the fog. As if I could see right through her.

“Adam…” she whispered.

I gasped. She knew my name!

“Adam – you let me drown!”

“NOOOO!” I cried.

Joy! It was Joy floating in the shadows, billowing in the fog.

Her windbreaker/cape fluttering in the fog like a gothic ghost! Nothing says romance like a windbreaker. And like a Victorian ghost of a lover who was wasted away, she disappears. Yet another hallucination. Or was it? The “ghost” left a wet footprint behind.

Adam returns home and goes to sleep. He dreams about Mitzi and the jet ski accident again, although something has changed. This time, someone else is driving the jet ski that ran over Mitzi. When he wakes up, someone is in the room!

It’s just Ian.

Finally, Adam talks with Leslie about what’s been going on and the drowning of the bikini girls. She reveals some startling information.

Leslie bit her bottom lip. “I watched the news last night,” she told me. “They didn’t say anything about a drowning.”

She reached down beside her and slapped a newspaper on the table. “And this is today’s paper. Look.”

Leslie flipped the paper around and showed me the main headline: TOURIST BEACH RENTALS A RECORD HIGH.

The next day, Raina admits that she feels bad and she will explain everything that night. Adam agrees to meet up with her at seven. But before they can meet up, Adam has to go back to his apartment. He finds Sean slashing up his bed. However, Sean is confused – he wanted to slash up Ian’s bed. Unsurprisingly, Ian is the one Alyce is dating and Sean has been icy toward Adam because Sean assumed that Adam would cover for his roommate. It doesn’t excuse Sean’s behavior, and the reason for Sean’s inclusion as a first-person protagonist will stay unexplained. But at least that red herring subplot is solved and we can ignore Sean for the rest of our lives.

Adam meets Raina and suddenly Joy shows up! She’s not dead! Also, not surprising. It was all an act. Joy and Raina pretended to be in peril and Joy pretended to drown. In fact, it was all Dr. Thrall’s idea. This is what happens when you look for your next doctor on TV. Stacey McGill’s parents did the same thing and all it got them was a massive medical bill (I’m assuming), the disapproval of their daughter, and criticism from a random woman from the internet on her goofy podcast and essay series.

“He thinks you buried the memory of what happened last summer deep down in your mind,” Joy explained. “And he wanted to try something really radical to get you to bring the memory up.”

Why are these two girls helping Dr. Thrall or Ian? Do they know the bikini girls? Were the bikini girls hired off the internet? WANTED: hot bikini girls for psychotherapy drowning prank.

Adam runs away to his roommate, who was also in on the “radical” treatment. Then Adam remembers that last summer, it wasn’t him and Mitzi on the jet ski. It was Ian and Mitzi on the jet ski. Ian borrowed his jet ski, Mitzi fell off, and Ian hit Mitzi and Adam in the water. Ian was so distraught that he ran away. When Adam came to, he blamed himself so Ian just let him continue thinking Adam killed his girlfriend.

The two of them fight it out on jet skis in a scene rivaling From Justin to Kelly. Adam comes out on top, of course, and Ian is hauled off in a police vehicle. Finally, Adam gets to spend time with Leslie – at least until she gets killed during a synchronized swimming routine or Adam finds a set of bikini girls who weren’t hired through the Facebook Marketplace.

You would think that the beach is a prime location for murder and horror. Bodies washing up on shore. The sheer amount of people breaking rules at night. The overwhelming depth of the ocean. The creatures that lurk below. The mysteries of the ocean are just a few feet away. But this book is more about Adam’s trauma surrounding the death of his girlfriend. And I would be fine with that. A story about a man dealing with hallucinations and triggers is fine. Sounds like Jacob’s Ladder or Slaughterhouse-Five, so we know that it can make for a good horror story.

What I can’t understand is why he would continue to work at the beach where his girlfriend died? Maybe if there was an indication that he just loves the beach or the ocean so much, that the thought of being away from the water is worse than his PTSD. Even that doesn’t make much sense. There’s just no reason for him to stay on the beach. And the beach doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the story – the location could be different. Maybe he can’t move out because he doesn’t have enough money to move. Fine. But he can somehow live in a beach house on a lifeguard’s salary. Why is he still a lifeguard? Get a different job. And while you’re at it, a new shrink.

Finally, Sean’s chapters are a huge waste of time. First-person allows us to get inside a character, and I don’t want to be anywhere near Sean let alone inside his damn head. Just make it third-person if we need to have this guy’s perspective. I think he should red herring over there, far far away from me, and stay away from the narrator’s position.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, just visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcast app. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

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Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Wrong Number

Before cell phones, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for a friend to call on the family phone and say to you, “Turn on channel eight.” And then you’d just sit there and watch the X-Games together until your father wants to use the phone and frankly, you’ve been on the phone for long enough, young lady, and there are other members of the house who need to use it.

That is all to say that I didn’t spend my phone time pranking. By the time I was a major phone user, caller ID was too prevalent to engage in phone-based pranks. Eventually, call phones became ubiquitous, but I still didn’t feel the need to prank and, besides, caller id came with the phone, right next to Snake.

Caller ID was clearly not a thing in my latest Fear Street book review. The girls in The Wrong Number spend their night calling their classmates and “pranking” them, although the pranks are more breathy talking than “Is your refrigerator running?” Either way, murder happens because that’s what the cover promises.

Immediately, we get a Fear Street trope: a chapter from the perspective of a nameless murderer. This time, the nameless one is someone who has screwed up in the past, but this time, they’re planning a nasty surprise for another nameless someone. After two pages of that, we finally get to meet our protagonists.

Their names are Deena and Jade and, like many Stine BFFs, they are opposites while somehow still being the same. Deena is shy and blonde. Jade is outgoing and brunette. They are both skinny white girls from the suburbs. How do I know they’re skinny? They make fun of the fact that the two fat kids in school are dating each other. Cool start. Wanna go after the poor kid next?

Anyway, Deena just got a brand new phone with all these buttons and Jade calls the next-door neighbor. Jade tells her that the local mall has selected her as the “worst-dressed shopper of the month.” The neighbor recognizes Jade immediately. 

Then Jade calls a random boy from school and tries to seduce him. He doesn’t fall for it either. Finally, Deena gets in on the fun and calls her crush, Rob Morell. While she’s not as breathy as Jade, she does refer to herself as his secret admirer. This time, he falls for it, but really, Deena isn’t joking around, unlike Jade. She doesn’t reveal her true identity, but she promises to call Rob the next day.

And speaking of the next day, Deena’s half-brother Chuck is arriving at the airport to stay with Deena’s family for a few days. He’s been in some trouble and needs a new location. He is also our red herring. You’d think he’d be the creepy one, but the true creeper is Deena.

Her first glimpse of Chuck was promising. She hadn’t seen him since he was about ten, and he’d grown up since then. He was tall now, and his T-shirt and tight jeans showed off the taut muscles of an athlete. His hair was thick and sandy above startlingly blue eyes.

Ew, Deena, that’s your brother. Also, they’re pretty close in age. Did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Deena’s mom was pregnant? Or did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Chuck’s mom was pregnant? The timeline is unclear.

Suddenly, Deena’s dad slams on the brakes! There’s an accident! A car is on fire! A kid screams for his dog! Chuck runs to the car! There’s an explosion! Chuck emerges with the dog! Exciting times are had by all! Deena calls Chuck crazy for rescuing the dog. Man, Shadyside is a dangerous place for dogs. If they’re rescued, the hero is called crazy and their sister questions their sanity. The nice ones are killed off in an attempt to raise stakes, so the only ones left are demonic hell beasts. 

Then we get a free verse from our murderer. 

Okay, okay.

So he was having a little trouble keeping it together.

Bid deal.

He needs to work on it a little before taking it to the open mic.

The girls are back to pranking, which is just Deena calling Rob and flirting with him. Not a super funny prank, but at least they’re not giving the fat kids a hard time. Chuck walks in on them and he wants in. He calls in a bomb threat to the bowling alley. Then he calls their classmate, Bobby, who lives on Fear Street, refers to himself as “The Phantom of Fear Street,” and then says that he has his “evil eye” on Bobby. At least it’s not a bomb threat, I guess. Finally, Chuck coughs and then falls over. Then there’s a chapter break. After that, he gets up and yells, “Booga, Booga.” 

Despite Chuck’s cringy behavior, Jade, Deena, and Chuck grow closer. They eat burgers. They do math homework. They read the newspaper. You know, kid stuff. After the girls tell Chuck about how scary Fear Street is, he decides to cure them of their phobia. He flips through the phone book and calls the first number whose address is listed on Fear Street. A woman answers screaming.

“Please,” the woman begged. “Whoever you are, you’re my only hope! Any minute now he’ll-” But her voice was cut off by a man’s bellow of rage. While the three teens listened, horrified, the speaker phone amplified terror-stricken screams and then the sound of shattering glass.

“Hello? Hello?” Chuck said into the phone.

And then the woman was back. “Please come!” she begged again. “Please help me! You’re my only-” There was the sound of a slap, and then a new, gruff voice came on the line.

“Who is this?” the voice growled.

“What’s going on here?” countered Chuck.

“It’s none of your business,” growled the man. “You’ve got the wrong number, do you understand?”

Then the man hangs up. The kids don’t call the police. Instead, they choose to go to the address they called. Remember when you could just look up someone’s address and phone number in a giant book? What a privacy invasion. Nowadays, it takes several rounds of clicking to find out someone’s phone number, address, social security number, workplace, kids’ names, kids’ schools, favorite ice cream flavor, and credit score.

So the kids drive over to the house. The back door is open, because of course it is, and they find a dead woman. That’s when they finally call 911, but they’re interrupted. A masked man attacks them! He orders the teens to drop the phone, put down the knife, and we get some general chattiness from the killer. The kids get into their car to escape, but the man gets in his car and the chase is on!

“Turn left!” cried Deena. With a protesting squeal the little car turned onto Canyon Drive. The masked man’s headlights were still behind them. “Turn right!” Deena screamed. “Now left!”

They lose him and Chuck calls 911 a second time, referring to himself once again as “The Phantom of Fear Street.” You know they know which house you call from, right? Like, the 911 people know. But the kids didn’t and they’re surprised when a detective shows up at their door.

Chuck lies and says that they were at home all night and never left. Unfortunately, there’s a witness that places them at the Farberson residence, the scene of the crime, at the time of the murder – Mr. Farberson himself. Of course, that’s not enough to arrest Chuck. However, there is special clay that is only found on Fear Street on Chuck’s vehicle, so this special clay is enough for them to book Chuck. The clay screams with the cursed souls of Fear Street, so it’s very specific. It can be loud, but it’s great for azaleas. 

After Deena and Jade go to the police to tell them the truth, the police refuse to believe the girls, so they have to take matters into their own hands to prove Chuck’s innocence.

Then the girls talk about boys for a few weeks and Bobby, the kid Chuck prank called, threatens Chuck through Deena. Oh, and they also realize that the person in the mask is Mr. Farberson, the husband of the murder victim. Things are moving both slowly and quickly.

The girls go to Mr. Farberson’s office and they dress incognito, which involves a wig and layers. Then they pretend to be from a temp agency and rummage through his office only to find a pamphlet for Buenos Aires. Then they follow him to his old worker’s house and spot a package. Mr. Farberson takes the package and throws it away. The girls go dumpster diving to retrieve the package, hoping it has something to exonerate Chuck, but it contains only a dead cat. Jeez, cats aren’t safe in Shadyside, either.

Meanwhile, Rob winks at Deena from across rooms and speaks in riddles disguised as flirting. I thought Rob and his doublespeak would factor into the plot somehow, but he does not factor at all. I know this because we’re finally at the climax and he hasn’t done anything except showcase his eye problems and Cheshire Cat speech patterns.

The girls break into the Farberson residence, and they find a letter addressed to Mr. Farberson from the late Mrs. Farberson, wherein she tells him that she’s leaving and she’s taking the cat. Sort of.

“‘Dear Stan,’” Deena read. “‘There’s no use arguing anymore. I have made up my mind to leave you, and nothing will change that. I know you can’t make a go of the restaurant. When I gave you the money to buy it I believed that finally you would be successful at something. But once again you are failing.

“‘I refuse to give you any more money. In the last five years you have gone through almost all of my inheritance. I have to save something for myself.

“‘I’ll be by Saturday night to pick up my things. Good-bye, Edna.’”

So he plans to kill her and then run off to Buenos Aires with his secretary. And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for these meddling kids!

But first, he has to come home, knock out Jade, and then chase Deena through the house while shouting vaguely sexual threats and confessing to the murder of his wife. Eventually, Deena is locked in the same room as Jade. She revives her friend and they jump out the window and into an adjacent tree. Then, Mr. Faberson finds a chainsaw and starts to cut down the tree! Somehow his neighbors just ignore the screaming girls and the sudden lumberjackery, and Mr. Farberson cuts down the tree. It crashes to the ground with the girls in it.

Deena wakes up on the porch surrounded by her family, including Chuck, and the police. Chuck told the police that Deena and Jade are going to break into Mr. Farberson’s house. Also, Detective Frazier says that Mr. Farberson was suspect number one from the beginning, and they kept Chuck in jail so Mr. Farberson wouldn’t think he’s a suspect. But now that Mr. Farberson tried to kill a couple of kids and the police have the evidence they need, Chuck is free to go. 

I feel like there could have been a better way to go about doing this.

Most of the book was about the girls attempting to prove their friend’s innocence, and I liked that specific aspect. However, the fact that it was all a police set-up and the police were already investigating Mr. Farberson makes the girls’ efforts pointless. Compound that on top of Chuck’s incarceration trauma and Deena’s interrogation wherein the police berate her and call her a liar, the police behaved unethically and if there is any justice, the department would have been reprimanded and the family would have grounds for a lawsuit. However, since we live in a semi-police state, this all seems like standard police procedure. Ruin the lives of innocent people in pursuit of a vague idea of justice as administered by the police union.

Are the girls good detectives? Absolutely not. Are the girls competent detectives? It seems they’re more competent than the police department, but those dudes just look for special dirt.

That being said, would I recommend this one? Yeah, sure. It’s entertaining enough if you can look over the fat-shaming that comes out of nowhere and serves no purpose other than to put down some ancillary characters. And if you overlook the police. And if you overlook some plot elements. Basically, other than a few character traits, the treatment of other characters, and the plot, it’s a fine read. 


For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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: A Night in Terror Tower

Vacation activities for me come in three varieties and none of them are particularly relaxing. I don’t go on vacation to be pampered or sit and watch the sunset. I can do that at home. The first variety is the destination. I’m going to a specific place, like Universal Horror Nights or Disneyland, something I can’t experience anywhere else. The second is the shopping trip. I don’t have a k-pop store or an Ikea or a Daiso, so I drive out to Sacramento to shop (and visit relatives, I guess, but they aren’t a store). The final variety is the educational experience. The museums. The historical sites. I’m here to learn something, dammit, and I’m going to learn, consarnit.

In Goosebumps: A Night in Terror Tower, siblings Sue and Eddie are on a tour through an ancient tower while on vacation in England. It’s mildly educational, but the siblings are going to learn more about themselves than about portculli and barbicans. 

Mr. Starkes, the tour guide for Terror Tower, is a goofy man with a sense of humor closer to Benny Hill than The Thick of It. Terror Tower is named after its previous resident, Sir Thomas Cargill Stuffordshire Tearor the IV. I’m kidding. It’s just called Terror Tower for no actual reason. Prisoners spent the remainder of their lives in this dank castle, and that’s pretty terror-inducing, but I guess these British people weren’t very creative. 

Anyway, this tower tour isn’t the purely educational experience that Hawaiian-shirt-and-cargo-shorts-clad tourists expect. 

I heard several gasps of surprise behind me. Turning back, I saw a large hooded man creep out of the entrance and sneak up behind Mr. Starkes. He wore an ancient-looking green tunic and carried an enormous battle-ax.

An executioner!

He raised the battle-ax behind Mr. Starkes.

“Does anyone here need a very fast haircut?” Mr. Starkes asked casually, without turning around. “This is the castle barber!”

We all laughed. The man in the green executioner’s costume took a quick bow, then disappeared back into the building.

And that’s it for him. Did you think the kids would be running away from the dude on the cover? Well, you’d be wrong. Do you think he’s coming back? You’d still be wrong.

Anyway, the kids listen to Mr. Starkes’s castle facts and they hear about two of the tower’s residents: Princess Sussannah and Prince Edward of York. Just as our protagonists learn of the fates of the royals, Sue drops her camera and the kids can’t hear what Mr. Starkes says. 

Unfortunately, before they could ask for Mr. Starkes to repeat what he said, the tour moves on. Sue and Eddie get distracted, leaving the kids alone, separated from the rest of the group. Great crowd control there, Mr. Starkes. Remind me not to suggest you chaperone a class field trip. 

Suddenly, a failed Las Vegas magician shows up, complete with a wide-brimmed hat and cape. He plays with white stones, threatens the kids, and never answers their questions. Questions like, “Who are you?” and “What do you want with us?”

As David Copperfield over here fiddles with his rocks, the kids run away and attempt to trap him. Each time they try something, the man laughs and says things like, “You can’t escape me!” The kids end up in the sewers, where it seems they are cornered. Eddie attacks the man, stealing the special stones, and the kids run outside. They are out of the tower, but it’s night time and the tour group has left them behind.

“Man? What man?” The night guard eyed us suspiciously.

‘The man in the black cape!” I replied. “And the black hat. He chased us. In the Tower.”

“There’s no man in the tower,” the guard replied, shaking his head. “I told you. I’m the only one here after closing!”

“But he’s in there!” I cried. “He chased us! He was going to hurt us! He was going to hurt us! He chased us through the sewer and the rats-”

“Sewer? What were you two doing in the sewer?” the guard demanded. “We have rules here about where tourists are allowed. If you break the rules, we can’t be responsible.”

Well, he is as helpful as every horror stock character.

The kids hail a cab and head back to the hotel. So we’re out of the tower? I guess I’m the silly one for thinking we’d spend the whole book in the tower. Anyway, the cabbie wants his money, so the kids hand him the money their parents gave them. The man looks at the money and is furious. It’s not British money – it’s just some flat metal coins. The kids promise to pay him once they talk to their parents. The cabbie waits outside as the kids go to their hotel room.

Of course, they can’t get into their hotel room. They talk to the front desk, who asks for their last names.

My name is Sue, I told myself. Sue . . . Sue . . . what?

Shaking, tears running down my cheeks, I grabbed Eddie by the shoulders. “Eddie,” I demanded, “what’s our last name?”

“I – I don’t know!” he sobbed.

“Oh, Eddie!” I pulled my brother close and hugged him. “What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with us?”

To compound on that, they can’t remember their parents. It’s not going great for the kids who happen to also have names close to the doomed royalty in the tower that they were in just moments before. Even though they are confused kids, the hotel staff leaves them alone. The kids venture outside and the guy who revealed the magician’s secrets appears and demands that Eddie returns his balls. Like a maniac, Eddie gives him the stones back because he thinks that the magician will let them go. However, to no one’s surprise, the magician grabs them, plays with his balls, and everything goes black for our protagonist.

Sue wakes up in what she assumes is “the old section of the hotel.” Yes, the necessary “old section” of a hotel. Every Best Western I’ve ever stayed at has the old section next to the continental breakfast. Every old section also comes with a rambling old man, and this book is no exception. 

The old man old mans all over the place, rambling and engaging in general weirdness. The kids escape again because while most magicians are familiar with rope tricks, this magician is only into closeup sleight-of-hand prestidigitation and he didn’t tie up the kids or anything. They follow a cacophony of voices and they crash a party where everyone is dressed up in medieval clothes. Then the guests start screaming when they see the siblings. You kids still haven’t figured it out, yet, huh?

They escape outside and there are no buildings – just fields, chickens, and extras straight from the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They try to get help, but through a series of events wherein a random woman betrays them for “the Lord High Executioner,” the kids are back in the tower. Finally, we get an explanation from Morgred, the king’s sorcerer.

“You really are Edward and Susannah,” Morgred replied. “You are the Prince and Princess of York. And you have been ordered to the Tower by your uncle, the king.”

Well, duh. But what’s up with all the time travel?

“I tried to send you as far from the Tower as possible,” Morgred tried to explain again. “I sent you far into the future to start new lives. I wanted you to live there and never return. Never return to face doom in this castle.”

Morgred continued his story in a whisper. “When I cast the spell that sent you into the future, the Executioner must have hidden nearby. I used three white stones to cast the spell. Later, he stole the stones and performed the spell himself. He sent himself to the future to bring you back. And as you both know, he caught you and dragged you back here.”

Well, Morgred is there. Can he help the kids?

No. Because he doesn’t want to be tortured.

Then Eddie steals the stones and does the spell for himself and his sister.

The kids are back in the present day with the tour from the beginning. The kids ask what happened to the Prince and Princess. The tour guide lets them know that royal siblings just disappeared and no one knows what happened to them.

Then they turn to their new uncle – Morgred. They didn’t just leave him to be tortured. The spell took him as well. The kids and their uncle continue their lives, presumably in present-day England, eating crumpets, watching Downton Abbey, and voting for Brexit like proper British people.

There’s not much to say about this middle-of-the-road Goosebumps book. The book kept moving and held my interest. It’s fine. It’s neither a classic nor is it one of the worst.

The only real criticism I have is that the title and cover promise more than what the book delivers. It’s not a night and they don’t even spend most of the night in the tower. Also, the kids weren’t running from the hooded badass with an ax. They were running from David Blaine. And David Blaine is not scary, even if he can hang out in an ice block for a really long time, which is somehow a magic trick?


For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 Blob That At Everyone

In eighth grade, every student had to take an English test at the end of the year to determine which English track we were going to take in high school. I’m not here to talk about my thoughts on tracking students (short version: it’s stupid), but I am here to talk about the practice test, and we sure practiced for this test. We practiced the shit out of that test. And it was not a situation wherein the teacher was given materials for the school year at the beginning and we studied them in a fun and engaging environment that cultivated a love for the English language and literature. No, we did not do that. We had “Test Prep Day” about every week. How the questions are structured. Test rules. Proper pencil use. How to take notes on a story without putting marks in the test book. And finally, the dreaded fiction prompt. We will have to write a short story based on the prompt given, and we were given a rating from one to five.

And it was the same prompt. Every year. Without fail.

“I knew today wouldn’t be like any other day.”

My English teacher (a woman I actually liked) showed us examples of one-rated stories: short, incoherent, and plagued with grammatical errors. Threes had a coherent story but contained interesting spelling choices. Fives were flawless. Then she showed us the end of a few random stories. “It was all a dream.” Another. “I woke up.” Next one. “It turned out to be a dream.” Story after story of some variation of “all that stuff you just read? Yeah, it was a dream. What a twist!” She expressly told us: “Don’t make it all a dream. You’ll lose a point automatically.”

But I had conjured the best ending twist. I was brilliant. I was a goddamn prodigy. An original. An archetype of perfect eighth-grade English fiction prompts.

Turns out, R. L. Stine had already done the same ending in 1997. 

Zackie and his best friend and neighbor, Alex, are having a pleasant conversation when they are suddenly attacked by a monster! But not really because it’s only page five and we’re in a Goosebumps novel. He just wrote a story and is reading it aloud to Alex, the aforementioned friend, and Adam, a boy they keep around so Adam can insult them. Zackie is going to be a famous horror writer when he grows up and he needs to practice his cliffhangers five pages into the story.

On the way home, Zackie and Alex stop by a shop that has been destroyed by lightning. Did I say stop by? That implies they were allowed in. No, that’s not right. Zackie barges in and intends to take a typewriter, because, apparently, if a store is destroyed, its inventory belongs to the public. However, blue lighting shocks him as he touches the typewriter because the Lord was all, “Hey, dude, that’s not yours. I don’t care what the laws are in Theftville, Stealiana.” 

But the owner shows up! The kids are going to get it now!

As in they’re going to get the typewriter. The owner lets them take the thing. Zackie goes home while remarking:

I didn’t know that carrying the old typewriter home would totally ruin my life.

Yeah, the owner just let you take it, Zackie. What did you expect?

At school the next day, we get some new characters, a set of twins who are just as mean as Adam. Zackie freaks out because there’s a monster on him, but Adam pulls it off him and it turns out it’s just a mouse. Adam, whom Zackie keeps referring to as a “friend,” laughs with the twins because Zackie did “a funny dance” when he thought he was covered with vermin. For some reason, Zackie is called into the principal’s office. 

Later that night, while talking to Alex, Zackie declares his intent to make the monster story even scarier and the friends go to the typewriter. The first thing Zackie types is “IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT” in all caps like an old person who doesn’t realize he’s shouting on the internet. (My dad did this on the early days of the internet and my sister and I had to tell him that all caps lock was considered rude unless you’re Billy Mays.) To no one’s surprise except our main characters, a storm starts outside.

Then he types “THE WIND BEGAN TO HOWL” and the wind hits the house. 

“You’re not getting very far with the story,” Alex said.

Alex, honey, he’s only written two sentences. Sure, R. L. Stine can have a cliffhanger after two sentences, but what if after “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-” Poe’s cousin-wife came in and said he hasn’t gotten very far. And where the hell is the titular raven? 

The third sentence is “ALEX AND ZACKIE WERE ALONE IN THE DARK HOUSE, LISTENING TO THE STORM.” So this is Friend Fiction. I am intimately aware of using your friends in your stories. Remind me to tell you about my eighth-grade horror novella/Friday the 13th rip-off.

Anyway, after the third sentence, Zackie wills his father into nonexistence and they finally figure out that whatever Zackie writes is what happens. Zackie is still incredulous, so he writes in a mysterious door knock. That’s a great idea. You should have just written in a slice of delicious strawberry cream cake or universal healthcare in America – something that harms no one. But no, go ahead, mysterious knocking.

And no one is there. So they add that Adam is standing there drenched in rain. Of course, Adam shows up. 

Finally, Zackie writes that the storm suddenly stops. Adam doesn’t believe what is going on, so he steals the typewriter and writes that a blob monster is in the basement. They hear thuds from the basement.

Don’t worry, it’s just Zackie’s father, back from his trip in oblivion.

The next day as Zackie is at the store buying tuna, Adam and the twins play a prank on him by moaning “Fresh meat” at him. Zackie, honey, cut this toxic boy out of your life. You already have a great friend in Alex. Stop involving this future co-ed predator.

Zackie goes home angry and heads straight to his magic typewriter and writes that a blob is eating everyone. There’s no way this could backfire!

But it does backfire! Zackie goes outside and there’s a blob that’s eating everyone! How could Zackie have seen this coming?

The blob eats some cops, which is fine, but then the blob follows Zackie home, which is not fine. The blob eats Adam, which is fine because he’s a terrible friend, but then the blob is coming for Zackie and Alex, which is not fine. Zackie gets a hold of his typewriter, which is fine, but then the blob eats the typewriter, which is not fine.

Zackie gets an idea.

“Alex – remember when Adam typed something on my story? And it didn’t come true?”

She nodded, keeping her eyes on the gurgling Blob Monster. “Yes, I remember. But so what?”

“Well,” I continued, “Maybe that’s because it’s me that has the power. Maybe the power isn’t in the typewriter or the pen. Maybe I got the power that night in that antique shop when I was zapped by that electrical shock.”

So, Zackie has the power and he thinks the monster away. And then they laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Half the town is eaten, but they’re alive, so they laugh and laugh and laugh some more.

You think it’s the end? Well, you’d be wrong. We get a brand new chapter after all that laughing. And finally, we’ve circled back to my original eighth-grade ending. The ending I thought was so brilliant.

“Well? Did you like my story?”

The pink Blob Monster neated the pages he had just read and set them down on the desk. He turned to his friend, a green-skinned Blob Monster.

“Did you just write that?” the green monster asked.

“I did,” his friend replied. “Thank you for reading it to me. It’s very exciting. Very well written. What do you call it?”

“I call it ‘Attack of the Humans’,” the Blob Monster replied.

“But I have just one problem with your story.”

The pink Blob Monster bobbed up and down. The veins on the top of his head turned a darker purple. “A problem with my story? What is it?”

“Well…” his green friend replied. “Why did you give it such an unhappy ending? I hated it when the human shut his eyes, and the Blob Monster disappeared. That was so sad.”

The Blob Monster changes the ending and instead the blob eats everyone.

See? Twist ending! It was actually a story written by a Blob Monster! And my story from eighth grade? Well, the main character, who has been hounded by aliens, wakes up and says they had the craziest dream that they were humans! Twist! Get it! Twist! It was a dream, but it was a dream from an alien! Thirteen-year-old me thought she was a genius. She would have loved this twist. Thirty-year-old me feels differently.

Zackie had the power within him the whole time. That’s a fine twist for this book. I wish there was a little more to the end than Zackie thinking really hard, but that’s basically every scene with Professor Xavier in X-Men, and I seem to love those comic books. Clearly, I have no business criticizing focused thought. However, the whole story being the manifestation of a Blob Monster writing about humans is a little too much. A twist recontextualizes the rest of the story. There’s no recontextualization with a Blob Monster writer. 

Unless R. L. Stine is trying to tell us something. Hey, does anyone know if Stine sometimes gets up from a chair and there’s just goo on the seat? I should get in touch with some conspiracy theory idiots, I’m sure they can figure out some convoluted non-logic that proves that R. L. Stine is actually a Blob Monster.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Silent Night

Every year when I enter a store and see that first inkling of the holidays, whether it be a single tree, a splotch of red, or a display that houses snowman ornaments, a sense of dread settles over me like a peppermint-flavored miasma. It’s that time of year when there are songs about casual sexual coercion veiled as “Christmas music” on the radio and boomers are telling me I should be jolly. No other holiday elicits such nosiness and intrusion. “Why don’t you put a smile on your face? It’s Christmas!” No, Karen, I will not. I’m just trying to buy some laundry detergent and a slice of cake before I go back out into the blistering cold to drive home in a freezing car that will finally warm up as I pull into my driveway. Or, it’s not cold enough and there’s no snow, and I know that when summer comes around, it won’t be just irresponsible hunters and gender reveal parties that will cause wildfires. And then there’s the gross consumerism driven by the capitalist quagmire we are all entrenched in.

It’s fitting that Fear Street: Silent Night takes place in a department store. A multi-story temple to excess from the ’80s is a perfect symbol of Christmas. So, get under a blanket and read this cozy tale of murder with me.

our protagonist is looking through a mirror or an ornament or something. none of that happens in this book

Our protagonist, Reva Dalby, is, to put it mildly, a bitch. She works in her father’s department store at the perfume counter and spends her time making fun of the customers. This isn’t what makes her bitch. I have no problem with Reva’s animosity toward customers. I understand it. As someone who has worked in retail, the job would be great except for the customers, especially today when every terrible person thinks they should be allowed to wander in and abuse the hourly workers. What makes her terrible is her laziness and rich-girl entitlement. Her boss asks her to stock something and she refuses to do it, invoking her father’s name. She’s as bad as the customer who says, “You need to give me this whole thing for free because I have an expired coupon and the customer is always right.” 

Anyway, while she’s not working and making fun of customers, she puts on her lipstick. She puts the color to her lips and she starts bleeding. Someone has slipped a needle into her lipstick!

We go back two weeks and Reva is breaking up with her terrible boyfriend, Hank. 

Once, he’d punched his fist through a screen door because she refused to go to a dumb Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with him.

That’s not great. When she breaks up with him, he flips out and demands to know why she is breaking up with him. She says that there’s someone more interesting and he doesn’t like that. He says, “You’ll be sorry about this, Reva.” He grabs her and yanks her around. For some reason, she’s the bad guy in this scene! What? Hank is the one yelling and grabbing at her, but she is cold so she’s portrayed as the bad guy. We’re entirely too casual about domestic abuse now, and I think things have gotten better. Think about how bad things were back then. How’s that for your ‘90s nostalgia?

Anyway, after Reva breaks up with Hank, she goes to visit her father at the department store. There, in the dark, someone touches her from behind! She spins around and comes face to face with a man!

A man-nnequin, that is. Prepare yourself, this is not the last of the mannequin-based scares.

As she heads to her father’s office, the previous security guard, Mr. Wakely, rushes past her. Her father just fired him because Mr. Wakely was drinking on the job. Also, Mr. Dalby needs some cheap labor, er, kids to work during the holidays. They can make extra spending money! And Mr. Dalby can add another story to his mansion.

Reva offers a job to Mitch, the boy she’s currently smitten with. Then his girlfriend, Lissa-with-two-esses, asks for a job. Reva tells her to dress nice and show up for work at the perfume counter. 

Reva’s cousin, Pam, also asks for a job and Reva tells her that there aren’t any positions, which is a lie, and Pam knows it’s a lie. Pam is so upset she calls her boyfriend, Foxy. We’ll get to him later. Then she hangs out with her two friends, Chad and Mickey, the latter of which is Mr. Wakely’s son. Remember? The guy who was fired? Anyway, Pam, Chad, and Mickey (whom Stine just has to tell us has a bad complexion because of the chocolate he eats) go to 7-11. At the counter, the cashier (whom Stine just has to tell us is chubby) tells Chad to empty his pockets. Chad insists that there’s nothing in them and then cops show up. The Three Amigos jump into Pam’s car and there’s a police chase. They lose the cops, and then Chad reveals that he had some jalapeno dip in his pocket. They are almost arrested over jalapeno dip. Some fucking Kraft shit from 7-11. Kids, do crimes better.

At school the next day, the last person to ask Reva for a job is Robb – a big guy whom Reva thinks is perfect for Santa. She tells him it’s a public relations job and he seems excited.

She couldn’t wait till Saturday morning. Robb would show up in a suit and tie, no doubt, ready to begin his important public relations job – only to be handed a bright red Santa costume, complete with beard, wig, and stupid pointy hat. And Lissa would be standing there in her glitziest dress and be sent to the stockroom to unload boxes and stock shelves.

They’ll be mortified, Reva thought, grinning from ear to ear. Mortified!

Congratulating herself on her cleverness, she pulled into her driveway, heading along the row of tall hedges to the four-car garage in back.

I don’t think she knows what “clever” means. 

While Reva is at home, Hank comes over to ask for a job. She refuses and then he gets angry. Once again, she is written as the bad guy while we’re supposed to be sympathetic to a man who yells that she’ll be sorry for not giving him a job. There’s a passing mention that he can be nice, but the only times we see Hank are when he’s dressed like a background dancer in Grease and grabbing at women. 

The big day arrives and Lissa shows up in a nice outfit only to be told that she should go home to change because she’s in the stockroom. Frankly, I’d rather be in the stockroom because customers are terrible and I’d rather wear comfortable clothes, but Lissa is all, “The extra ‘s’ is not for ‘stockroom!’” and is upset that she has to take inventory. Also, Robb is upset that he has to be Santa Claus, but he is open to enjoying the job.

The store opens up and Reva is pulled from behind! It’s Hank and he grabbed her to inform her that he got a security job at the department store. So he’s grabbing people from behind now, and, still, somehow Reva is the bad guy. Yeah, Reva is a jerk, but Hank is a muscular guy yelling at her and leaving marks on her arm.

Meanwhile, Pam is talking to Clay and Mickey. She says that Foxy got a job at Dalby’s and that prompts Clay to reveal a way for Pam and Mickey to get revenge and have a nice Christmas.

“I’ve already worked it out with the night security guard at Dalby’s,” Clay whispered excitedly, leaning close to Pam and Mickey. “I’m going to rob the store.”

Oh shit! A traditional Christmas heist! What’s the plan, Clay?

“Maywood said he’d open a back door and let me in. Then he said he’d let me take whatever I wanted. No problem. He’ll even stand guard for me.”

Is . . . that the whole plan? And it took two of you to figure this out? Maybe I shouldn’t have such high expectations for heists in these books. Pam is apprehensive, but all she has to do is drive the getaway car. It seems that all three of them are in, and Pam thinks that since Clay has everything planned out, what could go wrong? She’s right. What could go wrong with a plan concocted by a teenager and a department store night guard that can be summed up in two sentences?

Two weeks pass. Reva has been dropping not-so-subtle hints to Mitch. Finally, Reva walks up and kisses Mitch – just a mild case of assault. Unfortunately for Mitch, Lissa sees their embrace and she all, “The extra ‘S’ is for ‘stay away from me.’” Mitch chases after Lissa, and Reva calls him “a wimp.” Then she remarks, “But at least he’ll be my wimp soon.” Okay, Reva, cool line.

Reva goes back to her counter and there is a present for her. It’s a bottle of cologne. She picks it up and sprays it on herself. It’s blood and now her cashmere sweater is ruined. Is she worried about whose blood it is? No. Just the sweater thing. She thinks that Hank sent the bottle of blood, so she rushes over to his security station and starts yelling the second she gets there. Of course, Hank says he didn’t send her anything, but Reva still vows to get him fired. As she’s waiting for her father, the sudden sound of machine-gun fire echoes through the department store.

Don’t worry! It’s just some Christmas lights popping. The thought of machine-gun fire in a department store reads differently now, and the scene is the most unsettling thing that happens in this book – even if it wasn’t actually gunfire. It has not aged well. 

Reva ends up not getting Hank fired, but her father does tell her that she should go home and change. Well, first he says that she should get something from the store that, you know, they’re currently in. She says she would never wear clothes from a store as tacky as Dalby’s. But she’ll definitely have the same name and work there, though.

She heads home and a white Ford Taurus starts following her. It even speeds up when Reva speeds up. It makes the same wild turns as Reva. It follows her all the way home and traps her in her driveway. Then a man gets out of the Taurus and runs after her. 

“I accidentally smashed into your taillight. I’m really sorry,” the man said, taking off his cap and wiping the perspiration off his broad forehead.

“I hate it when people bump your car and then just drive off,” the man explained, replacing his cap. “So I followed you. I was trying to signal you. Didn’t you see me?”

Dude, I think that’s noble, but if the person is flying around corners like they’re about to talk about the importance of family, you should just let them go. 

Over in the poor side of town, it’s finally time for Pam and company to execute their brilliant heist plan. Pam drives the Sea’s Eleventy to the department store without any trouble, and she parks in the designated loading dock. This is when Clay reveals that he has a gun just in case. This is America – I’d expect them all to have guns, but Pam is noticeably worried. Also, the night guard who was supposed to be their lookout is nowhere to be seen. In fact, no one is in the department store. The trio proceeds to the electronics section to get a ‘90s stereo that costs the downpayment on a house and can record off the radio. 

It’s not all smooth sailing. Suddenly, they hear another voice. It’s a different security guard and he’s threatening to shoot them over one of those wavy CD racks. This is what America is about – the murder of underprivileged teens over petty merchandise that will be tacky in ten years. 

The kids run away as the guard sounds the alarm. Then Pam hears a gunshot.

“Clay – no!” Mickey shrieked from right beside her.

Pam watched the guard go down, clutching his bloodied chest, falling like a heavy sack of flour. 

And now Clay, still holding the pistol, his face twisted in horror, was running, running to catch up with Pam and Mickey.

They run out to the loading dock, but Pam’s car is missing!

Oh, they were at the wrong dock. Their car is in the next loading dock. Pam drives everyone home in silence.

The next day, Pam checks the newspaper. 

The guard was killed and $25,000 was stolen. 

But they hadn’t opened a safe or anything. Pam calls Clay and asks him if he took the money. He has some questions about the robbery himself.

“My gun wasn’t loaded,” Clay repeated. “I just carried it for show.”

“You didn’t shoot him?”

“No way,” Clay said, sighing loudly. “No way.”

“That means-” Pam started, closing her eyes trying to think.

“That means someone else killed the guard,” Clay finished her sentence for her. “And someone else took the money.”

Back at the store, Mr. Dalby talks to Reva about the robbery. She is only half-listening but she does hear that the security guard was shot in the back. Mr. Dalby wonders why the security guard would turn his back on the thieves. 

While Reva is working, Mitch says that Lissa broke up with him, leaving him free to date Reva. Reva responds by rejecting him and he yells that she “can’t do this to people.” Well, technically, Mitch, she didn’t do it to people, she did it to a person. It’s a dick move on Reva’s part, but I’ve never seen two individuals make out accidentally and I think that is just a plot contrivance that only exists in teen comedies.

He leaves and Reva gets a call from Pam, which she rejects, and a big present, which she opens despite every gift in the book being a horrible prank. This time, it’s a body! Er, a mannequin that Reva insists looks real.

This is the top result for “realistic mannequin.”

While all that mannequin stuff happens, Pam gets a call from someone with a rough voice that says that they saw what Pam did and they want their share of ten thousand dollars. She tells Foxy what’s going on – robbery, blackmail, everything. She also tells Clay, who threatens to kill the voice on the phone.

Reva goes to confront Hank about his present-based pranks. He continues to insist that he’s not the one sending her gifts.

“I feel sorry for you.”

His words stung like a slap in the face. She uttered a low cry. “You feel sorry for me?” She felt like laughing and crying at the same time. “I don’t understand,” she managed to say, confused by her strong feelings.

Anyone could have sent you those things,” Hank explained. “You don’t have a friend in the world, Reva. Everyone hates you. Everyone. I can think of ten people who hate you enough to put a needle in your lipstick.”

“I feel sorry for you,” Hank repeated, not backing off, not letting her off the hook. “You don’t have a friend in the world.”

Reva bursts into tears and talks about how hard she became when her mother died. Hank comforts her. Sure, he’s nice now, but what will he do when you don’t want to watch the latest offering from Paul W. S. Anderson? Dent your car? 

Pam needs to talk to Reva, but first, she has to be kidnapped. The voice on the phone is physically behind her and he demands ten thousand dollars. She turns around and discovers who has been blackmailing her. Does she let us, the audience, know who it is? No. But she does tell Foxy.

The next day, Reva is proud of herself for showing up to work ten minutes early – a virtue only a boomer would think is a good thing. Hey, I used to show up to work fifteen minutes early every day. Was I treated better than the co-worker who showed up ten minutes late every day while holding a Starbucks cup? No. The same customers yelled at us and we were paid the same shitty wage with no benefits and if your grandmother was in the hospital, you still have to go to work. Don’t put in the extra effort. The ones above you don’t. No, I’m not bitter at all.

Anyway, she comes to work and Robb and Mitch are fighting in the stockroom. The stockroom manager tells them to solve it after work. Later, Reva takes her little brother to see Robb/Santa, and Reva figures out that it’s not Robb in the Santa suit after Michael says that Santa is wearing a pillow. At work, Reva gets another big present. This time, it’s not a mannequin disguised as a dead body – it’s an actual dead person. Mitch has been murdered and Reva knows who did it.

She pins the murder on Robb. He must have slipped away to murder Mitch instead of going to work. The police show up and arrest Santa. Merry Christmas, kids, Santa is in handcuffs. And his lawyer is an elf, and not one of the smart ones, so Christmas is canceled. 

Pam shows up and is all, “He didn’t kill Mitch! He snuck away so we could awkwardly do some over-the-clothes petting behind the women’s shoes!” See, Foxy and Robb are the same person.

“Foxy told me that he had been doing mean things to frighten you. Playing cruel jokes. He said he put a needle in your lipstick. And he sent you things. A cologne bottle. A mannequin in a box. I told him it was silly. But he was so angry at the way you treated me, at how awful you were to me. And at how you tricked him into being Santa Claus, how you humiliated him in front of everyone.”

Reva avoided Pam’s eyes.

“But that’s all he did,” Pam continued. “You’ve got to believe me. He didn’t kill Mitch. I know he didn’t. I know he couldn’t.”

Okay, the cologne bottle and the mannequin are whatever, but the needle in the lipstick is an actual assault. Is there a single dude in this book that isn’t a murderer, a blackmailer, a thief, a wall puncher, a casual assaulter, or a capitalist? And Reva is the bad guy? 

Well, sort of. Like a modern Disney villain, the real killer shows up in the third act.

It’s Mr. Wakely.

Who? Exactly. Mr. Wakely is Mickey’s dad. You know? The one who was laid off at the beginning of the book and spends his time drinking. That one.

What happened was that Maywood, the security guard who was supposed to help the kids, was helping Mr. Wakely, who was going to rob the store’s safe. However, the other security guard showed up and Mr. Wakely saw the guard raise his gun at Mickey. Mr. Wakely shot the guard to protect his son. And then he killed Mitch because he was blackmailing Mickey. Finally, he stashed the body in a nearby container that Reva just happened to open. Now, Mr. Wakely has to kill Reva because she knows too much.

He lunges at her, she ducks, and he falls over a railing.

Reva is a dynamic character and I kind of liked her. It’s novel to get a Stine protagonist with a clear character arc. He usually employs static slasher archetypes. Reva herself is a slasher archetype – the spoiled rich bitch who usually gets killed somewhere toward the beginning of the second act. In this one, she realizes how she has been treating people and vows to change. However, Mr. Wakely’s death is vertically dependent. Instead, a situation should arise that would force Reva to sacrifice herself to save her cousin from Mr. Wakely. Or, even better, because Reva turned over a new leaf and reconciled with her cousin, Pam should have aided in Reva’s escape.

As for the other characters, Pam and Robb are the most sympathetic ones. Pam is given a lot to do, and I liked the Foxy/Robb connection. However, Robb’s pranks would be acceptable if it weren’t for the needle one. It’s a good scare, but Robb literally drew blood with that one.

My patience for the slasher tropes of unlikable men and fake-outs was exacerbated in this novel. Also, Christmas isn’t necessarily a major factor. And nothing is “silent” nor does silence affect the plot in any way, as the title of the book would suggest.

Overall though, this is one of the better Fear Street books. We have actual character growth, twists that make sense, and a coherent plot. Reva has an actual arc, and the side characters are distinct and interesting. The plot twists make sense and there are indications of the twists throughout the book. And finally, the way everything comes together in the third act and all the plotlines are wrapped up with a neat bow was satisfying. 

This book is for those of us who wish October was an extra two months. So, from me, I hope you’re warm and safe, you are vaccinated, and you have a very Happy Holiday Season.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 #3: Forbidden Secrets

For what I’m sure are racist reasons, the narrative surrounding the Civil War has been moving a retelling in which the Confederacy was a group of well-meaning people trying to fight for their land and states rights. When I was a kid, school taught us that narrative. It wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights! Yeah, states rights to have the right to own human beings, but sure, “states’ rights.” 

Unfortunately, this deviation from the plain truth that the people who fought for the Confederacy were fighting to own humans, pervaded my young adult fiction. I briefly discussed the Civil War in my review of Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers, wherein the topic of the Civil War is more of a brief mention. However, in the next book in the Fear Street Sagas series, #3: Forbidden Secrets, the topic of slavery and the interactions between slaves and slaveowners is an important plot point. And all this is done with any actual black people (well, except for one coded one – we’ll get to that). 

So join me as I read this book that was the product of an attempt to make the Civil War less about blatant racism and more about some vague idea of “states rights.” A book about using black culture without any black people. A book devoid of shame.

a white lady hangs out with a bleeding rose and broken doll - she doesn't have many friends
She has trouble finding a gardener who is okay with the nightly rose bleeding and won’t track the blood into the manor.

We start in Blackrose Manor with an old woman telling her story, not unlike the beginning of Titanic. Unlike the movie, the woman in this story is not telling the story to her son so he can grave rob. The woman in the book is telling her story to no one in particular and refers to all the events in the third person. Oh good. She’s a crazy lady.

The story shifts to 1861 in Whispering Oaks, Georgia. Savannah Gentry is looking over her father’s plantation and she tells us that it’s a special day – her birthday. And because it’s her birthday, her father has given all the slaves the day off. Great. He owns people as if they are sofas, but at least he gives them his daughter’s birthday off. That makes up for the whippings, I’m sure. (This article contains sarcasm, in case you’re a Texas politician who doesn’t understand satire.)

Anyway, Savannah has an older sister named Victoria, and Victoria has been picking up some “strange habits” from the slaves. Do we learn the names of any of these slaves who have been teaching Victoria these “strange habits?” The ones who get a day off to help celebrate Savannah’s birthday? No, of course not! Do we get any black people? Maybe – we’ll get to that.

Anyway, Savannah finds Victoria in the middle of one of her “rituals.” The narrator never explicitly says what Victoria’s doing, but I think we all know what she’s doing.

After Savannah gets her sister’s attention, Victoria asks her where Tyler Fier, their brother Zacariah’s new friend, is hiding.

“At the party. I came here because I wanted to talk to you.”

Victoria narrowed her brown eyes. “I don’t trust Tyler.”

“Did you think you could hurt him by killing little pigs?” Savannah asked.

“I thought I could learn something about him through performing this ritual.” Victoria smiled triumphantly. “And I did.”

Savannah fumed. “You have no right-”

“I have every right,” Victoria insisted in a rush. “I’m older than you are. I have to protect you.”

“I don’t need you to protect me from Tyler.” Savannah spun on her heel and began to walk away.

“You’re wrong!” Victoria cried. “Tyler Fier comes from a cursed family.”

“I’m worried about you. You must stay away from Tyler Fier!”

So Savannah agrees to marry Tyler.

But there’s a problem! War has broken out! A guy literally rides by on a horse and yells, “War has broken out!”

Tyler says he’s going to fight for the north. Savannah is irate because she loves owning people. Well, she’s not explicit about it, but we all know why a lily-white delicate slave owner’s daughter doesn’t want to “turn her back on the south.”

So Tyler leaves, but not before shouting, “You will regret choosing the South over me!” Great northern representation there, Stine.

Anyway, the war drags on and Victoria and Savannah find themselves eating worms because their slaves ran away. My empathy meter ends for people who own other people who were kidnapped and forced to work on land stolen from another group of people. The most I can muster for them is, “You had to eat worms, huh?”

In the middle of the night, Savannah hears some strange sounds in the doorway of the plantation they still own and live in.

Savannah’s eyes widened with recognition. “Zachariah!”

Gunpowder covered her brother’s tattered gray uniform, his face, his hair. The odor burned Savannah’s nostrils.

Zachariah’s ashen face was grim. His once-vibrant green eyes were dark and vacant. His blonde hair matted with sweat and dirt.

And blood!

He opened his mouth, opened his mouth to speak.

And deep red blood spilled from his lips.

Then she wakes up! Oh, it was all a dream! Or was it? There’s blood where he was standing! There is only one explanation: bleeding dream ghost come to provide a scare in between worm-eating and not repairing the house. But what happened to Zachariah?

Well, Tyler sends them a letter.

Dear Savannah,

Zachariah is dead. I am so sorry. We were both fighting in Gettysburg. I saw him fall. Later I learned of his death.

As I watched the soldiers bury your brother, I imagined myself in the grave beside him – dead. Never seeing you again. Never holding you again.

Forgive me, Savannah. All the deaths in the war made me realize people are more important than North or South.

Wait for me. I will come back for you.

I promise.

Tyler

I don’t know if we need that stinger after “in the grave beside him.” What else would you be in a grave? “I imagined myself in the grave beside him – doing the Charleston and exploring the wreckage of the Merrimack.”

Also, I’d say that not treating people like objects is more important than geographic location, but that’s just me. I am not letting up on this. This book is a tone-deaf encapsulation of the Boomer rewriting of history to make it more palatable for white people. 

Speaking of white people, Savannah asks Victoria to use her “dark arts” (just say “voodoo,” Stine, we know what voodoo is) to see if Tyler is okay. So, Victoria scrounges up some chicken feet and dark liquid to start the ritual. Savannah squirms when Victoria asks her to kiss the chicken feet.

How about this, girls – instead of smothering the dilapidated house in “dark liquid” and eating worms, you eat the chicken feet, pick up a hammer, and do some home repairs. Also, Savannah, you ate worms and you’re squirming at the thought of kissing chicken feet? Better yet, use magic to help their station in life? A spell for food perhaps? These idiots deserve no sympathy.

Well, instead of using magic for something practical, Victoria discovers that Tyler Fier is evil and bad luck follows his family. Cool “discovery.” Are you also going to “discover” that water is wet? I wish you would “discover” that black people are humans.

Anyway, Savannah wrestles a sheet and just like that, the war is over. I’m not sure if the sheet wrestling and the war are related, but that’s what it seems like.

And then Tyler shows up! He’s all, “Hey, I know you were on the other side, but I still want to marry you and I have a big house in the north that has a pretty cool name and I’m sure it’s better than living in this house that you don’t have the skills to maintain.”

Savannah agrees but only if Victoria comes with, to which Victoria acquiesces but not before saying

“If we go to Blackrose Manor, one of us will be buried there before the year is out!”

And we’re at the manor and we meet Mrs. Mooreland, who is weird, and a random thirteen-year-old girl named Lucy, who is not only weird but she thinks flames are pretty and she likes how they “dance.” There’s also a woman named Hattie who has a cat. She’s pleasant enough and the only black person, even if the depiction is coded. The cat is a cat and is no weirder than other cats.

Savannah doesn’t like how dark the house is and so she spends her time trying to add color to the decorations. She also spends time with Lucy, who collects weird dolls, like a proper girl in a horror novel.

Savannah spotted a doll lying on its side on top of the dresser bureau. Its profile was perfect: a small nose, a ruddy cheek, thin lips, a large, shining black eye.

I’ll pick this doll, Savannah decided. She lifted it up and gasped.

The other side of the doll’s face was smashed in. Tiny bits of jagged china formed a gaping hole where the eye had been.

“What happened to this doll?” Savannah asked Lucy.

“I killed her.”

That’s pretty good and creepy. I’ll give it up to Stine for that one.

Meanwhile, Victoria is spending her time yelling and giving Savannah hawk’s eyes and pouches full of grave dirt. Y’all, this is getting wacky. In addition to her usual spouting about evil, she reveals that Lucy may look thirteen, but she’s actually seventeen. Lucy is super weird.

The cat gets attacked and we think it’s dead, but it’s not really. Unfortunately, a horse bashes Hattie’s skull in. The only pleasant character – a helper – is killed off. She was the only character of color in a book featuring slaves and voodoo. Fantastic. 

Then Mrs. Moreland dies. Savannah finds her crumpled up in the oven. Then Savannah hears Tyler and Victoria arguing. Victoria is doing her usual ranting about evil. Tyler reveals that Victoria made the horse freak out with jimson weed, set fire to Savannah’s curtains, and poisoned the cat, and then Victoria tries to stab Tyler. Instead, Victoria falls on her own knife and dies. Despite dying, she has to let out one last uttering about evil.

“You have let the evil live.”

At Victoria’s funeral, the ropes snap as they’re lowering her coffin and she falls out. At this point, it’s all so wacky it belongs in a British comedy sketch show. I’m sure a scantily clad nurse and a policeman chased each other around the gravestones and Cyprus trees.

Anyway, it turns out Lucy killed her parents in a fire and while she’s off red-herring-ing all over the house, Tyler pushes her down some stairs and we’re finally at the big finale.

Tyler is already dead. He’s been dead since Gettysburg and he killed Savannah’s brother. You see, Victoria isn’t the only one appropriating culture – Tyler is also dabbling in voodoo! Well, he doesn’t expressly say the word “voodoo;” like Victoria, he says “the dark arts.” 

For Tyler to continue living, he has to kill humans and feed on them – a sort of zombie/vampire hybrid. A Zombire. He wanted Savannah to be the last, but she doesn’t let him consume her and throws grave dust and other magical bric-a-brac to stop him. Eventually, he just rots away, leaving Savannah to tell her story to Tyler’s skeleton, who is sitting next to her.

You can’t set a story in the 1860’s south without addressing the Civil War. You also can’t have a likable protagonist who owns people. At least, I can’t like someone like that. Maybe times have changed since this book was published (1996). However, that would mean that as recently as the ‘90s, people could read a book and forgive slavery. Unfortunately, as I wrote that sentence, I thought, “Yeah, I don’t think much has changed after all.”

There’s an interview with Octavia Butler (one of my favorite writers) regarding a trip she took to a plantation. The tour guide referred to the slaves as “helpers.” This blatant attempt to relieve white people of their sin pervades the writing of this book. Even though Savannah’s family owns slaves, it’s okay because Victoria hangs out with them? What is that? That’s not better. The ramifications of slavery still affect the black community to this day and we can’t fix the institutional racism against their community unless we teach the cruelty and dehumanization of the practice. They weren’t “helpers” – they were slaves. And it doesn’t matter if a slave owner was kind or spent time with the slaves – they still owned people and all slaveownersdeserve condemnation even to the discomfort of white people. No matter how much discomfort a white person feels, I guarantee, slaves felt worse. And slaves were people, deserving of dignity, freedom, and their own narratives.

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: A Shocker on Shock Street

a giant grasshopper on a suburban street

I love a good dark ride. Strap me into that little car and guide me through that pretzel-shaped track, thank you very much. And it doesn’t have to be the level of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Give me that State Fair cheese ride – either a tunnel of love or a haunted ride featuring copyrighted characters with modified names so no one gets sued. 

Speaking of haunted rides, in A Shocker on Shock Street, two kids go on a prototype horror movie ride with all their favorite horror movie monsters. This sounds right up my alley – rides and horror movies. But by the end of the book, I was annoyed. It’s going to be one of those reviews. 

Burt I. Gordon is suing…

Erin and her best friend Marty are watching the sixth installment from the Shocker on Shock Street (minus the “A” from the book’s title) cinematic universe. Erin’s father owns the theater and has worked on the Fantasy Films Studio Tour making animatronics. Unfortunately, when the kids go to see him, he has some bad news.

Not really. It was a gag! He has some good news! However, there is some bad news – the whole book is going to be like this.

Anyway, Erin’s father says that he’s been working on the new Shocker Studio Tour and he wants the kids to test out the ride before they open to the public. I’m sure nothing crazy will happen and the book will just end with their pointed yet helpful criticism.

On the way to the ride, Marty pretends to bite Erin. Totally normal. Yep. There’s nothing weird or off-putting about that.

They arrive and see a row of tramcars and a tour guide named Linda. The kids ride in the front and Linda explains one of the features of the ride: the Shocker Stun Ray Blaster, which can “freeze a monster in its tracks from twenty feet.” Marty aims the gun at Linda and fires – and she freezes.

“Linda! Linda!” I screamed.

Marty’s mouth dropped open. He let out a choked gurgle.

I turned to Dad. To my surprise, he was laughing.

“Dad – she’s – she’s frozen!” I cried. But when I turned back to Linda, she had a big smile on her face, too.

It took us both a while, but we soon realized the whole thing was a joke.

“That’s the first shock on the Shocker tour,” Linda announced, lowering the red blaster. She put a hand on Marty’s shoulder. “I think I really shocked you, Marty!”

“No way!” Marty insisted.

Cool shock. 

Anyway, the tram moves on its own and Linda doesn’t go with them, so she’s gone forever and inconsequential to the plot. This isn’t a joke. She’s gone now. No more Linda. She was there to explain something that the Dad could have and do that stupid freezing thing. 

The first stop is a Haunted House. The tram barrels into the house and there are some spooky house shenanigans. Erin looks around and Marty is gone!

Not really – it’s just really dark. Seriously. She couldn’t see him in the dark. 

A skeleton talks to them as the tram takes off. Erin equates the ride to a rollercoaster, which makes me wonder if they’re wearing seat belts and if this ride should have shoulder harnesses. 

Then some monsters climb on top of the tram, but they’re just characters from the Shocker movies and this is the photo op part of the ride. This is a strange thing to put in the ride. I don’t mean that it’s weird to have a photo op on the ride – this sort of thing would be great at the end. I mean it’s weird to do it in the middle of a ride. It hurts the momentum and will destroy the ride capacity. Already there are clear problems with this ride. And I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Capacity and Safety Expert by a panel of me.

The tram takes off as the kids wonder why they didn’t see any zippers or seams on the costumes of the monsters during the photo op. 

Later, worms crawl on them and they go through a spiderweb. How Erin’s father thought this would be great for a ride, I have no idea. The kids are convinced they are robots, which makes even less sense. The cost associated with robotic worms and spiders crawling over people would be astronomical. And not just with development – people would take these things or accidentally destroy them. I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Development and Maintenance Cost Expert by a panel of my sister’s dog.

Anyway, Marty disappears again during the cave sequence.

Not really, of course, but he does get out of the tram. Before every ride I’ve been on, they tell you in at least three different languages to stay inside the car and keep your hands, legs, and feet inside the car. In fact, because of the safety measures like seat belts and harnesses, you can’t even get out. Somehow, this tram allows people to get out. In fact, it’s encouraged! Because the kids get out, confront a giant grasshopper (the one on the cover, I’m assuming), shoot it with the blaster, and continue on the ride on foot.

Marty pretends to be caught by something and yells, “APRIL FOOLS!” I didn’t know it was April Fools Day and the kids just continue to a creepy street that is home to the Mad Mangler. They don’t encounter the Mad Mangler, but they do end up in a cemetery and fall into some graves. 

Again, how would this ride work with actual riders? You can’t have them falling into holes – you have to account for people in wheelchairs and people who have limited mobility. And this ride is days from opening? The ride designers are either blatantly neglecting the ADA or are bad at their jobs. And I should know – I was voted Miss Accessibility by a panel of imaginary experts.

Just when you think the ride couldn’t be even more of a logistical nightmare, Something pulls the kids out of the graves. Unfortunately, they are not there to help the kids. Erin and Marty narrowly escape their captors. Again, if this were a ride, there is no way you can allow people to be touched by actors.

Or maybe there’s another explanation. Marty suggests that the animatronics have gone haywire, not unlike what happened to the Simpsons at Itchy & Scratchy Land.

The kids end up in quicksand, an issue I thought would be a bigger problem in my adult life. Luckily, Wolf Girl shows up and saves them. However, she growls at the children, even as the children ask for help.

“That’s enough!” I shrieked. “Stop the act! Stop it! Stop it!”

I was so angry, so furious – I reached up with both hands. I grabbed the fur on the sides of Wolf Girl’s mask.

And I tugged the mask with all my strength.

Tugged. Tugged with both hands as hard as I could.

And felt real fur. And warm skin.

It wasn’t a mask.

The kids run away and climb up a wall. If the ride has come to life, that would explain all the weird things happening. It’s not that the designers are negligent – it’s that the ride has come to life and they can’t get the kids out.

They run away and see the tram zoom past them, but Erin and Marty jump on it. The kids aren’t in the clear yet, however. They don’t know where the tram is taking them. They jump off the tram just before it careens into the wall, and they are surrounded by gray faces that are closing in on them.

And then I heard a man’s voice, shouting over the wind: “Cut! Print that one! Good scene, everyone!”

It was just a movie, huh? They were filming the kids’ reactions, huh? And now it’s time to wrap up. And the kids have to just find Erin’s dad, who’s behind this door, huh?

Well, Marty runs through the door.

And falls while Erin has a meltdown.

Jared Curtis, one of the studio engineers, came running into The House of Shocks. “Mr. Wright, what happened to your two kid robots?” he demanded.

Mr. Wright sighed again. “Programming problems,” he muttered.

He pointed to the Erin robot, frozen in place on her knees beside the Marty robot. “It had to shut the girl off. Her memory chip must be bad. The Erin robot was supposed to think of me as her father. But just now, she didn’t recognize me.”

“And what about the Marty robot?” Jared asked.

“It’s totally down,” Mr. Wright replied. “I think the electrical system shorted out.”

“What a shame,” Jared said, bending to roll the Marty robot over. He pulled up the T-shirt and fiddled with some dials on the back. “Hey, Mr. Wright, it was a great idea to make robot kids to test the park. I think we can fix them.”

Jared opened up a panel on Marty’s back and squinted at the red and green wires. “All the other creatures, and monsters, and robots worked perfectly. Not a single bug.”

Are you kidding me? The kids were robots? And the Dad character didn’t just program both of them his kids and just made one some kind of electric orphan? What would be the benefit?

And, even worse, this is how the ride is supposed to go? It completely disregards the ADA, it’s dangerous, there’s no clear path, the ride capacity is shit, there’s no flow. Imagineers they are not. 

Honestly, I was fine with the ride going haywire and the kids being trapped, but I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to think that a studio would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into realistic animatronics that go with the movies and take photos for a ride with such a low ride capacity that is bound to be the subject of a lawsuit. 

And remember – this ride was days away from opening. There was no oversight? No lawyers running in yelling, “You can’t open this ride!” After years of development and $150 million, no one thought everything about this was a terrible idea? I’ve done school projects with more planning. This book should be up my alley – horror movies, dark rides, and haunted houses – but it’s just too stupid. Universal Monsters, the obvious real-world allusion to the Shock Street movies, can be scary and work as an attraction. The problem lies in the overreliance on the twist ending, especially when it comes at the expense of a coherent story.

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 Haunted Mask

The year 2020 was tough on everyone for many different reasons. One of the biggest casualties for me was Halloween. Sure, the pop-up stores in vacant K-Marts still managed to appear without warning, but their merchandise was lacking. The costumes and the pop culture apparel were dusty. The decorations were from last year. The displays were noticeably absent. And who could blame them? 2020’s Halloween was nonexistent for those of us who wanted to be responsible and keep others safe. Sure, we knew people who still went to Halloween parties because their kids were whining only to catch Covid. (I say “knew” because I’m not going back to my waxer who did exactly that. She told me after I said I was afraid of getting Covid and that’s why I was basically Robin Williams in Jumanji.) Most of us didn’t buy candy, we didn’t decorate our lawns, and we kept our porch lights off. We lost something.

This year’s Halloween might not be the same as our halcyon days before the pandemic, especially if those anti-vaxxers keep holding us back, but there might be some sense of normalcy for the spooky time of year. At least, that’s what I hope. Trick-or-treating has been on the decline, but maybe I can fall into a nostalgia trip with a rereading of a classic Goosebumps book: The Haunted Mask. So let’s remember a time when kids wandered around on the night of October 31st without parents. A time when you wore a terrible mask that obstructed your view and neighbors gave out homemade cookies that may or may not have meth in them.

Let’s be honest: you’d be scared if some kid with this mask growled at you. Don’t lie.

Our protagonist, Carly Beth, is a real scaredy-cat. For some reason, that seems to bother her friends, Chuck, Steve, and Sabrina. They put a worm in her sandwich. She gets scared, which is understandable, both for her and the worm, and her “friends” make fun of her. For not wanting to eat a worm. How unreasonable of her not to want to eat a worm in her PB&J. Right away we have a Goosebumps trope – terrible non-friends. Our schools are overcrowded. You’d think kids could find friends who are actually nice, but I digress.

Carly Beth goes home humiliated and she’s greeted with a plaster-of-Paris bust of herself, which also scares her.

“It’s just creepy, that’s all,” Carly Beth said. She forced herself to look away from the replica of herself, and saw that her mother’s smile had faded.

Mrs. Caldwell looked hurt. “Don’t you like it?”

“Yeah. Sure. It’s really good, Mom,” Carly Beth answered quickly. “But, I mean, why on earth did you make it?”

“Because I love you,” Mrs. Caldwell replied curtly. “Why else? Honestly, Carly Beth, you have the strangest reactions to things. I worked really hard on this sculpture. I thought-”

“I’m sorry, Mom. I like it. Really, I do,” Carly Beth insisted. “It was just a surprise, that’s all. It’s great. It looks just like me. I-I had a bad day, that’s all.”

Carly Beth took another long look at the sculpture. Its brown eyes – her brown eyes – stared back at her. The brown hair shimmered in the afternoon sunlight through the window.

It smiled at me! Carly Beth thought, her mouth dropped open. I saw it! I just saw it smile!

No. It had to be a trick of the light.

Guilt trip much, Mom? Also, weird thing to do, Mom. But it is sweet that she thought of her daughter. It’s like British candy – weird and sweet.

Carly Beth goes up to her room to inspect her duck costume for Halloween, but it springs into motion! It’s alive! 

But don’t worry. It’s just her little brother, Noah, who also reminds her that she’s a scaredy-cat and then asks for her costume. Cool family, Carly Beth. Do you also have a father who likes to pretend to murder you every night? An uncle who leaves threatening notes in your mailbox?

The next day is the school’s Science Fair and everyone is buzzing about Martin Goodman’s project since he’s the school genius. He built a computer from scratch, which is, apparently, impressive. I’ve built a computer or two in my lifetime. It’s really a matter of buying the parts online and making sure to wear shoes so you don’t fry the motherboard with static electricity. And using the thermal paste properly. And not pressing down too hard on the CPU. Maybe it’s more complicated than I originally thought, but a Science Fair is for science and experiments. What is the variable for building a computer? “I tested building a computer and my variable was not building a computer. Building a computer allowed me to play The 7th Guest, and not building a computer made me play Candyland with my little brother. I came to the conclusion that I should build a computer and lock my little brother in the closet.”

Carly Beth and Sabrina built a model of the solar system. What is with these Science Fair projects? I thought they had to follow the Scientific Method? Which step in the Scientific Method is “go to Michaels and buy balls and paint?”

Anyway, Steve yells, “Where is my tarantula?” and sends the auditorium into a panic. Guess who thinks a tarantula is on them? Additionally, guess who pinched the aforementioned person to make them think that a tarantula is on them? Did you answer “Carly Beth” and “Carly Beth’s terrible friends?” Then you’ve won the book.

Not only do Carly Beth’s terrible friends laugh, but the other kids as well as the teachers laugh at her. What is with this town? Carly Beth should pack her bags and move away the second she graduates and never look back. This is why I have no sympathy when people lament about how small towns are dying. Small towns are filled with teachers who will willingly laugh at their students, homophobes, people afraid of minorities, men who keep women in their basements, and cults. I guess some of those are worse than others.

Carly Beth finally decides to give them a “good scare” and she needs a scarier costume than a duck. 

What’s really scary are her ideas on transgender people and how she doesn’t consider them people. Also, stop giving that man money.

She decides to go to the Halloween store that is open late on Halloween. To her surprise, they are not open! Did they advertise that they’re open late on Halloween and then close at six? It doesn’t matter, because this is a Goosebumps book, and she’s going to get into that store to further the plot no matter what.

The shop owner allows her in, but somehow he gets distracted and Carly Beth wanders into the back room, where she finds the perfect mask.

It had a bulging, bald head. Its skin was a putrid yellow-green. Its enormous, sunken eyes were an eerie orange and seemed to glow. It had a broad, flat nose, smashed in like a skeleton’s nose. The dark-lipped mouth gaped wide, revealing jagged animal fangs.

The shopkeeper returns and says that those masks aren’t for sale. However, Carly Beth promises to promote his shop on her internet TV show, so the shop owner gives her the mask and she rushes home to scare her brother Spencer, er, her little brother, who is named Noah. Excuse me. I think I’m getting some properties mixed up.

Carly Beth is finally ready for Halloween. She dons on her new mask and takes the bust her mother made and secures it to a broomstick. As she is heading over to her friend/bully-enabler Sabrina’s house, she spots Chuck and Steve. It’s time for revenge! She hides behind a bush and jumps out to scare them!

But it’s not Chuck and Steve. It’s just some random kids. Their mother runs over and says that Carly Beth should be ashamed of herself for scaring children on a holiday centered around scaring people. Carly Beth growls at the mother in a deep voice that is certainly not Carly Beth’s, prompting the mother to go full Karen and ask for Carly Beth’s manager/parents.

I’ll chew her to bits! I’ll tear her skin off of her bones! Furious thoughts raged through Carly Beth’s mind.

She sensed her muscles, crouched low, and prepared to pounce.

“Let’s go, Mom.”

“Yeah. Let’s go. She’s crazy!”

Yeah. I’m crazy. Crazy, crazy, CRAZY. The word repeated, roaring through Carly Beth’s mind. The mask grew hotter, tighter.

The woman gave Carly Beth one last cold stare. Then she turned and led the two boys down the driveway.

Carly Beth started after them, panting loudly. She had a strong urge to chase after them – to really scare them!

But a loud cry made her stop and spin around.

Sabrina stood on the front stoop, leaning on the storm door, her mouth open in a wide O of surprise. “Who’s there?” she cried, squinting into the darkness.

Carly Beth says that it’s her and she and Sabrina gush over the scariness of the mask before leaving to trick-or-treat. As they’re walking down the street, Sabrina asks how the mask is so warm and if Carly Beth is sweating underneath it. Carly Beth freaks out, yells at Sabrina, and wraps her hands around her friend’s throat.

Carly Beth quickly pulls away and pretends that it’s a joke. Again, Stine and his “great” jokes that involve assault. Don’t go to a stand-up show if this guy is the host. 

It’s not long until Carly Beth unleashes her inner demon again. However, this time, she runs away from Sabrina and goes full feral animal on the neighborhood. She scares kids and steals their candy. She runs around while waving the bust of her head around. Finally, she sees the actual Chuck and Steve and decides to mix it up a bit.

Carly Beth waved the broomstick. She pointed up to the head. “That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she told them. Her voice was a deep, throaty rasp.

“Huh?” Both boys gazed up at it uncertainly.

“That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she repeated slowly, waving it toward them. The painted eyes of the sculpted face appeared to glare down at them. “Poor Carly Beth didn’t want to give up her head tonight. But I took it anyway.”

And all three of them saw the lips move. And heard the dry, crackling sound.

All three of them saw the dark lips squeeze together, then part.

All three of them saw the bobbing head form the silent words: “Help me. Help me.”

Carly Beth hurls the bust to the ground. I would too! However, unlike me, Carly Beth runs off to continue her night of unleashed Halloween chaos and candy thievery.

Eventually, Sabrina finds her and the girls go back to Sabrina’s house. Carly Beth scared Chuck and Steve and she got to wreak havoc on this town. It’s time to take off the mask and settle in for the night.

But Carly Beth can’t get the mask off. There is no line where the mask starts. The mask has become Carly Beth’s face! Instead of running around town, Carly Beth runs to the store where she bought the mask. To her surprise, it’s closed! The store that was closed earlier that day is still closed! The audacity of some places!

Once again, the owner is there anyway. But he can’t take off the mask! The only way to remove the mask is through “a symbol of love.” 

Carly Beth figures out that the bust her mother made is a true act of love, but she threw the bust on the ground when it started talking. Luckily, the bust is still near the place she threw it, but not before we have pages of Carly Beth running. 

The mask comes off and Carly Beth goes home. Our protagonist spends the whole book wishing she was someone else and literally puts on a mask to become this new person. When that new person is a monster who causes distress and chaos, she finally learns that she doesn’t need to be a new person. What she needs is what she already has – the love of a parent who does nice things like turn you into art.

Then her brother puts on the mask and it’s like, great, now the mother has to make another bust.

The Haunted Mask is a classic for a good reason. The R. L. Stine formula works well here. We have a troubled kid with terrible friends and a way for them to overcome the defect that society (or their terrible friends) has placed on them. The kid has a little adventure. They finally learn that just because society says that a personality trait a defect, doesn’t mean that it is actually a defect or that is the only facet of life. And then a silly twist at the end.

While The Haunted Mask is a great Goosebumps book, it does have some problems. Carly Beth doesn’t embrace her timid nature, and her timid nature doesn’t help her in any way, and Sabrina, Chuck, and Steve aren’t admonished for treating their friend poorly. It’s also a bit repetitive. There are pages and pages of running. There’s a lot of running. Running to scare kids. Running to get candy. Running to find talking plaster-of-Paris busts. Clearly, the Stine formula isn’t the only reason why this book is a classic.

The other reason is the striking artwork on the cover by Tim Jacobus. The book covers are usually fantastic, but The Haunted Mask is something special. It’s memorable and scary. There are little details like the stream of saliva and the way the skin sits on the bones in the forehead that makes the mask look alive. It’s an unforgettable image, especially for a child wandering through the Scholastic Book Fair. This is truly one of my favorite Goosebumps book covers and it works in concert with the story to create something iconic.

I don’t know what Halloween will look like this year, but I hope it’s better than last year’s. Those of us who tried to look out for others and love spooky stuff deserve an outlet, whether that be a costume party or a good old Haunted House. Whatever you do, get the vaccine, stay safe, and have a Happy Halloween!

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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 #2: House of Whispers

If you asked ten-year-old Amy what her favorite book was, she would say Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers. What was it about this specific Fear Street book that appealed to me? Was it the Civil War setting? Was it the rivalry between young sisters Hannah and Julia? The presence of three boys who exist for only a short scene and are never seen again? And speaking of boys, was it the love interest with a dark secret and an eyepatch?

Or, more likely, was it the use of Tarot cards, something I collect in my adulthood, as a plot device? Could it be the gore, something novel to a young girl just discovering death? While those last two contributed to my devotion to this book, the most obvious reason for my affection is that the main character is named “Amy.” 

Does this book hold up? Let’s explore ten-year-old Amy’s (the person, not the book character) favorite book and, maybe, along the way, remind me why I got a reputation for being creepy in school. 

a girl in a purple dress stares at the reader while a different girl falls out a window
Nellie was so excited to win a contest where a major publishing company steals your idea that she ran out the window to mail her entry.

In the fall of 1863, young Amy Pierce travels to live with her cousin, Angelica Fear, in New Orleans. That’s right, folks! We’re following the people who wanted to expand chattel slavery into the west! It’s not discussed in this book, but it does diminish character sympathy when I know they’re fine with people as property. 

The carriage driver warns Amy about the Fears and fulfills his role as the “Crazy Ralph” of the book. 

We meet Angelica Fear and her two daughters, Julia and Hannah. Julia is the timid one whom Amy immediately identifies with while Hannah is the more outgoing one. We also meet Nellie the Maid, who strongly resembles a slave, and it’s never addressed in the book, but the implication is there. 

It’s eleven pages before we have our first cliffhanger! I think that’s a record. Stine is exercising restraint in this one. It’s a face in the mirror! But it’s just Julia, who is coming into Amy’s room to be cryptic.

“Amy . . .” The girl hesitated for a moment. “I . . . Do not open your bedroom door at night when everyone is asleep.” Amy heard Julia’s voice crack. “No matter what you hear.”

“What? Why not?” Amy exclaimed.

“It is not safe.” Julia wrapped her arms around herself. “It is not safe.”

“I saw the shadows in the hall move,” Julia said. “They whirled into a black, smoky column filled with faces. Faces without eyes, faces without skin. Faces covered with oozing sores. Faces burned until they were black.”

That’s a pretty creepy thing to say, Julia. Cool, but creepy.

When Julia is finished creeping everyone out and leaves, Amy hears a noise behind her door. She ignores Julia’s warning ten minutes later and flings open the door.

There’s nothing. Of course, there’s nothing.

The next morning, Angelica invites Amy into the library and shows her guest tarot cards. When Amy picks up the cards, she shuffles madly as the cards take over her body. Angelica is super excited and says, “In every generation of Pierce women, one or two are born with a special power.” 

You’d think Amy’s mother would have told her this if it’s as consistent as “every generation.” 

Amy runs away because quick shuffling is too much for her. She would hate trick shuffling. In Vegas, she would just freak out and run screaming. She should do that now, but not for card-related reasons.

She goes outside to play with the children and we get to meet Angelica’s three sons – Joseph, Robert, and Brandon – and that’s a wrap on the boys. Let’s give them a hand for their hard fifteen minutes of work – they’ve been real professionals.

I’m not joking. Well, I’m joking a little. But that’s it for the boys. Later, it’s referenced that they’re playing war and none of them want to be “Yankees” so they all play the soldiers who betrayed our country because they wanted to own people.

Anyway, during a game of Hide and Seek, Amy gets lost among the greenery and trellises. She eventually hears a shrill scream from the garden next door. Amy finds an old woman and a snake. Amy kills the snake with a nearby garden hoe. 

The old woman, Clare Hathaway, is grateful and we also meet her son, David, who has an eyepatch and a sling. Angelica says he is dangerous and warns Amy to stay away from him. Apparently, he escaped a Union prison and has killed and will kill again. So, our romantic lead fought for the Confederacy. It’s becoming clear that I did not think about the issues that underpin this book. 

Amy joins Clare for tea and David is there. Apropos of nothing, Amy exclaims that she still wants to jump David’s bones even if some of those bones are brittle right now and he ain’t go no eye. 

While they’re flirting at an acceptable level for a ‘90s young adult novel, they hear a crash and a scream. Nellie has fallen out of the window.

The description of her mangled body and face is so graphic I don’t want to quote it for fear of demonetization (as if I did these for money). Morbidly, this is what I liked about the Fear Street Sagas over the mainline series. Stine didn’t shy away from the violence. There was no implication – no offscreen death. This is especially relevant now. PG-13 has all the violence of an R-rated movie but without the consequence. We don’t see the consequences of violence – just the violence itself. It’s crazy to read something in a book for thirteen-year-olds that would never be shown in a PG-13 movie.

Although, when I read these as a kid, it was more for bloodlust. As an adult, I can see the fun and humor in violence. I am, after all, a big fan of Friday the 13th, so much so that if a random person named a Friday the 13th movie and a name, I could probably tell them how they died. “Friday the 13th 6! Cort!” “First of all, it’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI and knife through the temple!”

However, there may be people who don’t understand the appeal of horror. And that’s fine. I’m not here to change your mind. And if I did want to change your mind, I wouldn’t do it with this book. 

Anyway, Amy figures out that Nellie fell from Angelica’s study. She talks to the cards and she keeps seeing the Death Card (not the Ten of Swords, for those of you Tarot-inclined folks who are about to tell me that the Death Card doesn’t usually mean actual death, don’t DM me, I know). David shows up and has the privilege of saying that Nellie’s death was “no accident.” Classic horror dialogue.

Just because a maid died doesn’t mean they can’t have a good ol’ antebellum-style ball! We meet some of the local women: Chantal, a blonde woman with the hots for David, and Bernice, a woman who is on fire. Well, she’s not on fire for a few pages of the ball, but once she’s on fire, boy, she’s on fire! Literally! Her skin melts and everything! She took fire burning on the dance floor seriously.

I’ll take my decade-old song references, and my insensitivity, and take my leave.

After seeing a good friend fall out of a window and an acquaintance on fire, Amy is understandably distraught. In the middle of the night, David shows up at her window. Of course, Amy sneaks out and they run off to the middle of the garden, far away from the house, and David tells her what happened during the dance.

“Everything she touched started to burn,” he continued. “I thought I knew every terrible way to die. But I did not. Bernice’s death was the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Amy put her arms around him. She hung on tight.

His breath went out in a long, shuddering sigh. “Amy,” he murmured, his voice low and intense.

He pulled his head back and stared down at her. Then he kissed her. His lips felt warm and hard.

“Oh man, I’ve seen so much death. I’m so broken. Let’s make out. Ughluhluhluh.” 

Then he says that Amy shouldn’t trust anyone, including him, because he’s our red herring and he has to say that. And it’s the end of Part One.

Yes, the end of Part One. On page 78.

In Part Two, Amy sees a vision of David shoving Chantal in the lake. Our protagonist finds her dead – drowned in the lake. Amy determines that David is the killer, even though he ran off at the end of part one for unknown, plot-based reasons and hasn’t returned yet. 

Amy consults the tarot cards, but for some reason, when she gets close to them, she’s completely frozen. She cannot move and she is slowly freezing in the middle of a mansion in the antebellum version of the suburbs.

She focused all her attention on that small glowing ember inside her. The cards called to her, even through the awful cold. If she could only reach them, she had a chance.

Oh, but she was cold, so cold. She did not think she could make her body obey her again.

She had to try. Either that, or give up and allow the cold to take her completely.

“I . . . will . . . not . . . give . . . up!” she gasped.

She forces her way to the cards, pushing through the cold, forcing her legs to move through sheer fire and willpower. When she reaches the cards, they give her the strength and warmth she needs. 

It’s beautiful. A young woman overcomes an obstacle with her innate strength. And it’s as much character growth as we’re going to get and I’m perfectly happy with it.

The cards tell her that David killed Chantal and is going to kill his mother next. Amy rushes over to the Hathaway estate next door.

She finds Mrs. Hathaway in a trance at the top of the stairs. David appears behind his mother. Amy thinks he’s going to push her, but he pulls his mother away from the stairs instead. She was sleepwalking. Because David saved his mother, somehow, Amy knows he didn’t kill the other girls (even though the cards and the visions tell her that he did – we’ll get to that). 

David finally divulges his sordid past. He promised to keep a fourteen-year-old soldier safe and the kid got killed. Where the Union prison comes in, I have no idea. Amy is reassured, and so is the reader because we’re finally at the climax.

David urges Amy to stay with him, but Amy says that if Angelica suspects something is amiss, she would take it out on the Hathaways. Amy goes back to the house and finds Angelica in the doorway. The lady of the house pulls Amy in and sends her to her room.

In the middle of the night, Amy’s doorknob turns. It’s just Julia. She gives Amy a letter she found in the ash pile behind the house. It’s a letter from Amy’s mother that Angelica intercepted and intended to hide from her (not very well if a seven-year-old found it). Amy tries to go to David, but Angelica is waiting for her and goes full-on World of Warcraft boss, complete with phases. (And all my WoW are pre-Cata, sorry.)

In the first phase, Angelica summons wind, and leaves swirl around her. Also, she puts a barrier of green eyes around the party, so, hunters, I know you’ll have some trouble. Rogues will try to stay behind her, but they’ll probably get hit with her leaf AOE. The healers should use their HOTs on the rogues.

There’s a cut scene before phase two wherein the party temporarily gets away from Angelica and meets up with David. He asks the party to trust him. Make sure to type /yes for the Trust Buff. 

In phase two, Angelica spawns an extra mob – the column of smoke. Angelica will explain the smoke monster as well as her motivations:

“That column holds my spirits, my friends, my guides. Some of them have been with me since I was very young. Once I was like you. Frightened of the power inside me. But not anymore.”

“I was so looking forward to having another powerful PIerce woman in the family,” Angelica explained. “We could have done so much together. You have missed an incredible opportunity by turning against me.”

“To be evil?” she asked. Amy knew the door behind her was locked. And if she tried to run past Angelica, the spirits could swoop down on her.

“There is great power in evil,” Angelica replied. “Oh Amy. You could have had anything you wanted.” … “Well, anything but David,” she added. “I am saving him for Hannah.” … “The Hathaways are very wealthy,” … “David will marry Hannah and bring that fortune for the Fears.” … “David will do what I tell him.”

“I know you killed them all,” Amy whispered. “Nellie, Bernice, Chantal-”

“Of course,” Angelica replied. “Death pleases my spirits. And it adds to my power.”

The column of smoke moves toward the party. We just have to heal through it. It engulfs everyone and we can see the faces of the people it had fed upon and their horrible distended faces. Once we gain enough strength, we’ll shoot white balls from our bodies, destroying the column of smoke and causing damage to Angelica, who will go into phase three.

In this phase, Angelica will bring in David, who is seemingly under her spell. If we all have the Trust Buff, David snaps out of his trance and shoots Angelica. When we escape the house, ivy will attack the party. DPS please free the healers after you free yourselves, as they have to focus on healing. We’ll get a loot crate when we reach the Hathaways.

David and Amy escape the mansion and we time jump forward to David, his mother, and Amy leaving New Orleans. Amy mentions that she feels empathy for Julia, and she doesn’t think they should have left her there with that evil family that has nothing but disdain for her. David says that since Julia is a Fear, she was doomed from birth. Great thinking, David.

I had a great time with this book, however, it is difficult to forget that these people are from the side that wanted to keep and expand slavery into the west. If only this took place in the north, which is where I think Shadyside is located, and David escaped from a Confederate jail. If that were the case, I could enjoy this book with as much glee as I did when I was a kid. The setting puts a dark cloud over this book and makes it difficult to like the characters, especially David. The book never directly mentions slavery, nor is it an integral plot element, so there is no reason why the setting couldn’t be altered. In another world, one where the protagonists weren’t slavers, the book is stupid, morbid fun. Horror allows us to confront death and peril without actually putting ourselves in that situation. Tension followed by a scare gives us catharsis. Violence alleviates anger. Some of these things might not make sense to people who don’t understand horror, but those of us who can recite the deaths in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter know what I’m talking about.

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: Egg Monsters From Mars

an egg creature and its green shell sits in a carton

Saturday Morning Cartoons were weird. Normal ones, Looney Tunes, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and the like, existed. Properties for children, like G.I. Joe and, my personal favorite, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, were also common. And then there were the shows that had no business being a kids’ cartoon.

Robocop was actually turned into a Saturday Morning Cartoon, as well as Rambo. These were hard-R adult movies that were thrust in a timeslot between Dragonball and Sonic the Hedgehog. My bestest buddy and Super Saiyan, Goku, just beat Piccolo after a ten-episode power-up, and now, before I watch my blue furry buddy, here’s a cartoon about a killer for hire.

It wasn’t just action movies that were turned into inappropriate children’s cartoons. B-level horror movie creature features also had animated versions. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes exposed me to the concept of schlocky horror with strange creatures. It demystified the horror genre. Instead of something to be feared, horror could be goofy and fun. The show may have only lasted a few years, but I still have the theme song stuck in my head. 

The Goosebumps book Egg Monsters From Mars reminds me of any number of goofy creature feature horror movies I’ve seen – and it’s wonderful. There are no ghosts in this one – just a gooey egg and a kid scrambled up in laboratory secrets.

It starts with an egg hunt. Is it Easter? No. It’s a little girl’s birthday party. Our protagonist, Dana, has a younger sister, and “she always gets what she wants.” This time, it’s an egg hunt. However, much to the birthday girl’s dismay, the egg hunt boils into an egg fight.

“Egg fight! Egg fight!” two boys started to chant.

I ducked as an egg went sailing over my head. It landed with a craaack on the driveway.

Eggs were flying everywhere now. I stood there and gasped in amazement.

I heard a shrill shriek. I spun around to see that two of the Hair Sisters had runny yellow egg oozing in their hair. They were shouting and tugging at their hair and trying to pull the yellow gunk off with both hands.

Splat! Another egg hit the garage.

Craaack! Eggs bounced over the driveway.

Dana’s best friend, the next-door neighbor, Annie, prepares an egg to throw at Dana, who picks up his last egg. But there’s something strange about this ultimate egg. It’s veiny and impervious to damage, even when Dana falls on the egg. 

While Dana’s parents are wondering what happened and chastising their daughter for not stopping the egg fight, Dana puts his weird egg in a drawer in his room. In the middle of the night, Dana hears thumping from the drawer and discovers the shell is burning hot. 

Finally, the egg starts to crack, and after some onomatopoeic theater, a gooey, runny mess of yellow and green veins with two black, lumpy eyes hatches. Dana doesn’t know what to do and he goes over his options since his parents have been seemingly poached from the narrative. He decides to go to Annie’s house since she has a dog and is good with animals. He scoops the creature into a box and rolls it next door.

After some breakfast shenanigans involving a dog, the egg creature falls out of its makeshift carton and is almost sent down the garbage disposal. Dana grabs the creature just in time, remarking to the creature, “I just saved your life.”

He shows it to Annie, who suggests he goes to the friendly local lab to have them take a look at it. Dana scrambles away. 

At the lab, Dr. Gray, an old scientist, greets Dana and agrees to look at what he brought – most because Dr. Gray is already egg-sperienced with the creature.

“The eggs fell all over town,” Dr. Gray said, poking the egg creature. “Like a meteor shower. Only on this town.”

“Excuse me?” I cried. “They fell from the sky?” I wanted desperately to understand. But so far, nothing made sense.

Dr. Gray turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “We believe the eggs fell all the way from Mars, Dana. There was a big storm on Mars. Two years ago. It set off something like a meteor shower. The storm sent these eggs hurtling through space.”

Dr. Gray has something else to show him. He brings the boy to a window and shows him a mirror. 

A two-way mirror! Dr. Gray turns on a light.

 There are dozens of egg creatures in a refrigerated room. Dr. Gray says they’re relatively harmless and they don’t have mouths so they can’t bite. They also lack appendages so they can’t kick or grab or punch. Dana asks if he can come back and visit the creature. Dr. Gray says that Dana is not coming back because he’s not leaving.

“I have to study you too,” Dr. Gray continued. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “It’s my job, Dana.”

“Study me?” I squeaked. “Why?”

He motioned to my egg creature. “You touched it – didn’t you? You handled it? You picked it up?”

I shrugged. “Well, yeah. I picked it up. So what?”

“Well, we don’t know what kind of dangerous germs it gave you,” he replied. “We don’t know what kind of germs or bacteria or strange diseases these things carried with them from Mars.”

I understand keeping him under quarantine and observation, but Dr. Gray locks him in this freezing room with no food, no bed, and a countless number of egg creatures. When Dana’s father comes looking for his chick, Dr. Gray says that he hasn’t seen the kid.

Dana’s father asks if he could peek around the facility to make sure his son isn’t there. Of course, Dana is trapped behind a two-way mirror. Dana pecks at the window, but to no avail. His father can’t see or hear him. It seems that Dana is trapped there, and his father was so close to rescuing him.

That night, Dana has trouble sleeping. He’s too cold and Dr. Gray didn’t even give him a blanket. The eggs overtake him, but he’s too enervated to fight back. But instead of attacking him, they give him warmth. It’s kind of sweet.

Dr. Gray shakes him awake, enraged that Dana let the egg creatures touch him. What did you expect, Dr. Gray? You didn’t separate them. You didn’t give Dana food and a blanket. It’s your fault you clucked up. 

Luckily, the egg creatures and Dana have formed a bond. Even though the egg creatures lack appendages and mouths, they become a huge mass and attack Dr. Gray as Dana runs away. 

He runs all the way home to his parents. They all return to the lab and find the egg creatures, and Dr. Gray, completely gone. Of course, his parents don’t believe his story. 

Finally, we are left with this final passage:

I crouched down on the grass – and I laid the biggest egg you ever saw!

I enjoyed Egg Monsters From Mars more than I should have. I like creature movies, but I love creature movies where humans are the real villains. Humans like to believe that the threat to their livelihood is external, whether that threat is an immigrant, a gay person, or a woman. The real threat comes from looking within ourselves and recognizing the ugliness inside. Some people can take that reflection and try to alter their thinking to make the world a better place. We should encourage this behavior.

All too often, however, people look within, see that stain on their soul, and create a social pecking order that puts them at the top. They congregate with others who share that ugliness. They search for conspiracy stories to fuel their ignorance. 

The real monsters aren’t the egg creatures. They’re the ones who inflict pain on others under the guise of something noble – like science. Also, a kid lays a giant egg! That’s fucking crazy, dude. This is an eggcellent Goosebumps book.

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.