Being the first in a series is difficult, just like being the new kid in a school. There’s a need to set a precedent, whether it be a cool exterior to protect yourself from peer ridicule or a tone for subsequent books. I have never been the new kid. I have never had to deal with the trauma of moving to a new place and everyone staring at you like a laboratory specimen. On the other hand, I never had an opportunity to reinvent myself. Even if I dramatically changed over the summer, I would still have the stigma of being the weird kid who reads all the time and tells scary stories (both of which were true of me).
I’m reading the first entry in the Fear Street series. R. L. Stine’s publishers didn’t think a teen horror series wouldn’t work. They even thought that there shouldn’t be too many scares, and the early books feature a low body count. Thankfully, the publishers must have figured out that teens love horror and the body counts increased. The first in a series is a difficult thing to be. I don’t care what people say, the pilots of The Office and Parks & Recreation, two shows I adore, are tough to watch. The New Girl has not changed my mind, unfortunately. I’m just happy that this new kid on the block was able to shed the terrible first impression he made when he told everyone, “My name is Jacob, but I go by J Cool Smooth.”
The book starts with a girl saying good-bye to someone named “Anna,” whom she murdered.
As quickly as that happens (a page), a boy named Cory is in love with the titular new girl. Cory is the star of the school gymnastics team and has a childhood best-friend named Lisa, who is apparently funny, but she never says anything funny.
I don’t know if I just went to the poorest school in the United States, but these teams that schools have are just ridiculous. A gymnastics team? A swim team? What are these? My school had a soccer team that won a lot, a football team that lost all the time, and an Academic Olympics team that also lost all the time. I was on that last one.
The new girl is named Anna and for the first twelve pages, I thought she was a ghost. Of course, that’s not it. That would be too obvious. Instead, it’s the second most obvious thing.
But not before we get gross making out between Cory and Anna! Because that’s what we get. Cory is strangely obsessed with making out with her. After they kiss, her little brother, our red herring named Brad, shows up staring at them angrily through windows and yelling that Cory is going to die if he gets close to his sister. He comes from a long line of brothers who are strangely obsessed with their sisters.
Anyway, there’s also a random neighbor with a large dog that provides more red herring shenanigans. His dog provides fake-outs in the form of jumping on Cory from behind.
Unfortunately, the only death in the book is a cat attached to Lisa’s locker. I would have rather seen one of Cory’s friends get killed. Have I not mentioned them? Yeah, their names are David and Arnie and I can’t tell the difference between the two. They’re such stock characters that they’re perfect sacrifices to raise the stakes. Friends of the main character, so it can bother him, and they have no personalities besides generic obnoxiousness, so the audience isn’t too upset at their demises.
But no. Instead, a random cat gets it and the friends are forgotten.
Eventually, Lisa and Cory run around the band room while chasing Brad. I’m sorry I can’t go into too many details about the book – believe me when I say not much happens. It’s mostly Cory trying to make out with Anna followed by a dog attack or Brad staring at them.
There’s a scuffle between Brad and Cory. Our main character subdues Brad and that’s when Anna picks up a knife and tries to stab her brother. Then she pushes Cory out the window, but Cory keeps himself on the ledge with his massive gymnast legs. Brad tells us what happened.
“When Anna fell down the stairs and died, Mom and I suspected that it wasn’t an accident, that Willa pushed her,” Brad said, rubbing the bump on his head. “She was always insanely jealous of Anna. Anna had everything. Anna was beautiful. She had a million friends. She got straight A’s without having to study hard. Willa coun’t compete in any way – and Anna never let her forget it.”
“But I couldn’t prove that Willa had killed Anna. And Mom isn’t well. I knew she couldn’t survive losing both her daughters. So I never did anything about Willa.”
“Shut up, Brad. You’re stupid. You’ve always been stupid!” Willa shrieked, still struggling to free herself from Cory’s grasp.
“Like I said, Willa actually seemed okay once we moved here,” Brad told Cory, ignoring his sister’s outburst. “At least, she acted perfectly normal at home. But when you started coming around, asking for Anna, I began to suspect what Willa was doing. I noticed that she started to dress like Anna. And talk like her. I tried to scare you away, Cory. I did my best to keep you from getting involved with her. I figured out that she was calling herself Anna at school, that she was trying to slip into Anna’s identity.”
“I’m going to kill you!” Willa shrieked, her eyes on the letter opener.
Okay, so Willa killed her sister Anna and started calling herself that when they moved to Shadyside. Instead of talking to Cory like another human being, Brad decides to stare at his sister and her boyfriend and yell hysterically that his sister is dead. That’s not a good idea, Brad. His age is not explicitly said, but I hope it’s not twenty-one. This is the plan of a ten-year-old.
If this were the first Fear Street book I read, I don’t think I would have continued with the series. The characters weren’t interesting enough to continue, the mystery wasn’t intriguing, and there wasn’t any blood. Anyone one of those three things would keep me reading, but the book lacks all three. The constraints on R. L. Stine did not work in his favor, and I’m glad he was able to finally cast off those shackles and write stories full of gore and horror because that’s what I remember about Fear Street.
I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday. It’s the one time of year when everyone lives the way I live all year around. It’s the only time I buy decorations for my home (and those decorations are not seasonal, as far as I’m concerned). I even love those Halloween pop-up stores that are usually in an old Circuit City. In Haunted Houses, teenagers jump out at you and it’s fun to see a petite girl in a bloody wedding dress freak out a grown-ass man.
But the one thing about Halloween that doesn’t excite me is the Halloween Party. I’ll always accept an invitation because I usually like the people who pour their time into the party. However, I’m not one to seek out the experience. It’s probably because I’m not a big fan of large gatherings (especially right now, as I write this in early July).
I also don’t dress up. That’s a topic for another time.
A group of teenagers is going to a Halloween Party in the newest entry into my series “Fear Street: Too Many Pranks!”
Terry and Niki are staring at tombstones, Niki is partially deaf, there’s a figure that moves toward them, and it turns out to be some guy named Murphy. End of the first chapter.
Then we go back two weeks because that was such a great opening, and we’re introduced to Terry and Niki’s friend Trisha, who “has a weight problem.” Terry also mentions that his girlfriend, Niki, “wasn’t the prettiest girl at Shadyside, or the smartest, but she was definitely the most special.” Slam on Niki. Got her. This start is great!
The three get invitations to a Halloween Party featuring “special surprises” courtesy of the most popular new girl in school, Justine. Terry says that Justine is “stacked.” This dude is just a big charmer!
We meet Lisa, the school gossip and editor of the newspaper – as if it isn’t just four kids copying articles from a service that supplies articles to school newspapers. I’m kidding, that’s not true. I was on the school newspaper. There were three of us and I actually wrote the horoscopes.
There’s also Ricky, the obnoxious practical joker, the aforementioned Murphy, the school quarterback, Alex, Terry’s rival and Niki’s ex, and some other names, like Angela or something. There are a total of nine invitees to this party, which Justine says will feature a “rad sound system and . . . excellent dance CDs.” And the party is very exclusive – even the boyfriends of names can’t attend. Not even the school’s anachronistic greasers can attend. I can hardly wait!
Before the party, the invitees split into two groups and start a pranking war. Niki refuses to be on either side. One of the pranks includes the jocks “dissing” “Ricky Schorr with a huge plastic snake that jumped out of his locker.” I don’t think that is what dissing is but maybe things were different in the early ‘90s parlance. Or Stine used a slang term he heard in a rap song once and gleaned the meaning. Either way, pranking wars! This party is heating up!
The big day is finally here and the party is looking off the chain! There are decorations, like fake cobwebs and cutouts of witches, a kettle, a fireplace, an old man, and ten teenagers! The old man is Justine’s uncle, Philip. The party also features pizza and “exotic food” from Greece, Japan, France, and Mexico – it’s not like you can just go to a store and get this stuff! You have to go to the taco stand two blocks away.
Meanwhile, Terry makes some gross observations about the girls at the party, calling Justine’s costume “ghoulish,” and Angela “a tramp.” You are a real winner here, Terry! He does this so he can call Niki the best girl there. And that’s what girls like – being compared to other girls and calling them names. Women and other women should be adversaries, otherwise, we might finally figure out we don’t need annoying men anymore!
Justine stops the music to make an announcement as if there are more than ten people at this party. She promises surprises, and by God, she’s gonna surprise everyone.
“But first I have to tell you a true story. Throughout history people have loved to dance. But in the Middle Ages dancing was sometimes much more than just fun. In fact, some people were said to be taken by evil spirits when they danced. They would dance faster and faster, faster and faster, till they literally danced themselves to death. I don’t know if we have evil spirits here tonight, but anything can happen on Halloween. Is anyone brave enough to try some really fast music?”
This excites her nine guests. She plays a song that repeats the words, “Pump up the jam.” Which, if it’s the late ‘80s song that does exactly that, is not a fast song. Maybe it is for a bunch of upper-middle-class white kids, but it’s no “Sandstorm.”
Suddenly, the lights go out! And there’s a body! Alex bends down to see who it is! The body is Les! He jumps up! It’s a prank! Oh, man, ten white kids, an old man, cutouts, and a dead body prank! I love this party!
The party gets even better when those aforementioned greasers ride their motorcycles through the window! They wreck up the decorations, complain about the interesting food, and ask for wine coolers. Two of the partygoers get on the bikes and ride them out while Alex and Terry force the greasers out. Justine refuses to call the cops because she doesn’t take their threats seriously. And besides, she has more surprises for everyone!
She began passing out a photocopied list. “This is a list of the items Uncle Philip and I have hidden around the mansion,” she went on. “There are treasures in every room – on both floors and in the attic and basement. Whichever team finds the most treasures by midnight will win a special prize.”
The teenagers split up and Niki goes exploring in Justine’s bedroom. She finds a fake panel in the back of her closet that opens to reveal a secret room. It’s filled with photos of Justine with an old man, racks of expensive clothes, and prescriptions for an “Enid Cameron.”
Meanwhile, Terry finds Alex hanging, dripping with blood. Terry gets help from David, but the body disappears! They find Trisha and Niki and Justine to tell them what happened, but no one believes them. However, they find a body in Justine’s bed.
It’s another prank! I love death-based pranks! It’s so funny!
Alex says that while they were out trying to find help, the jock team went through the house and collected a bunch of treasures, therefore winning the game. What is the prize? Chocolates from Paris.
It’s now movie time! What is the perfect movie for a spooky Halloween party in 1990? Why, Bride of Frankenstein, of course! But there’s a thunderclap and the entire house goes dark. Justine suggests they play their next game – if they’re brave enough.
They have to tell everyone the worst thing they’ve done and if the group votes on whether they’re telling the truth or not. If they lie, they are penalized.
Wow, ten kids, an old man, cut-outs, greasers, Chocolates from Paris, and house rules Truth or Dare? I love this party!
Niki disappears so Terry looks for his girlfriend instead of playing Justine’s game. In lieu of a lost girlfriend, he finds Les and a knife sticking out of Les’s chest. David shows up and the two of them cover the body. They think this is still some kind of trick from the jock team. They discover that the phone line has been cut. David leaves to find aid.
David notices that every car’s tires have been slashed. He also gets attacked by the greasers, but they run off while a faceless shape hits him over the head and drags his body away.
Meanwhile, Terry finds Niki in the basement. Niki fell in a trap door that sent her tumbling into the basement. While looking for an escape, she finds an old newspaper article particularly illuminating:
Edward D. Cameron, 26, and his wife, Cissy, 20, were killed late last night when their car was hit head-on by a car driven by James B. Whittle, 16.
The Camerons’ car, a late-model Ford, was headed south on Old Mill Road when it was hit by Whittle’s car, a Chevrolet station wagon. According to witnesses at the scene, Whittle had been drag racing with another car, a Corvette driven by John McCormick, 16. The Cameron car spun out of control and into a ditch, where it burst into flames.
“I didn’t see anything till it was too late,” Whittle said. “They just showed up in the fog. I feel terrible about it.”
Whittle’s car sustained major damage, while the Corvette was untouched. Neither Whittle nor McCormick, nor any of their passengers, was seriously injured. Those riding with Whittle included Evelyn Sayles, 15, Joanne Trumble, 15, Arlene Coren, 16, and Robert Carter, 14. The passengers in the Corvette were Jim Ryan, 18, Nancy Arlen, 16, and Ed Martiner, 15, all of Shadyside.
The Cameron couple are survived by a daughter, Enid, age 1.
No charges were filed pending police investigation.
Niki and Terry go to confront Justine. Somehow, Justine convinces everyone it’s part of the night’s surprises, and the last one is with Les in the dining room. Everyone piles in there like idiots and Justine locks the door behind him.
Les is in there alright. But Les is slightly less alive than before (I’m surprised Stine didn’t use that one). Justine reveals herself as Enid Cameron, and the parents of each of the party guests were involved in the car crash that killed Justine/Enid’s parents. So, for revenge, Justine is going to lock them in a room and burn them alive while they listen to car accident sounds.
Everyone panics and screams, but, if you remember, Niki is partially deaf, so she isn’t overwhelmed by the soundtrack. She gets Terry to help her open the dumbwaiter and she climbs in and falls out, again, in the basement. Philips grabs her ankle, but it’s to ask for help.
He gets a crowbar and they pry off the boards on a window to the dining room. All the kids, less Les of course, are saved and Philip drops some denouement knowledge. Philip is Justine/Enid’s father’s brother. She has spent all these years planning her revenge. Finally, at the age of thirty – yes, Justine/Enid is thirty-years-old – Justine/Enid enrolled in the school they all attend and invited them to a party to enact her revenge. Philip thought it was going to be little pranks and stuff, but since he’s in a Fear Street novel, the revenge turned deadly. When he learned what was happening, Justine/Enid attacked him and left him the basement.
So Justine/Enid is arrested and the rest of the partygoers live happily ever after.
Oh yeah, and David stumbles out of the woods.
If there wasn’t this ridiculous prank war and this attempt at describing music trends and slang, I think I would have enjoyed this more. The revenge angle is a popular and solid set-up for a horror movie. I even liked the “she’s thirty” angle, even though, I’m sorry, but no thirty-year-old would pass for a sixteen-year-old, but I’m willing to suspend some disbelief.
The pranking angle is a problem. It served as a way to pad out the novel. If the kids had used pranking to get themselves out of the situation, then the pranking angle would be well utilized. Niki’s deafness saved the kids, so the book should have focused more on her. She sidelined as Terry’s girlfriend. He doesn’t think much of her and almost cheats on her with Justine/Enid. Frankly, Niki’s a more interesting character than anyone else, and that includes the thirty-year-old taking gym and hitting on underage kids.
Also, Terry is a terry-ble character. That’s been my time! Tip your waitress and have a Happy Halloween, whatever that may look like this year. Stay safe.
When I was a kid, treasure hunting deep in the woods seemed like a completely plausible endeavor. I thought I could go on some grand fantastic adventure with wood nymphs and sprites. I quickly dismissed this idea because I lived (and continue to live) in Nevada, where we have more imported trees than any other state. Why do we have so many imported trees? Because we don’t have thick forests. We have sagebrush and ATV tracks. And frankly, the first I went camping, which was as an adult, I realized why my father never made us go camping – he knew it sucked.
This is not the case for the kids in the next Goosebumps installment I’m covering, Legend of the Lost Legend. These kids are out for adventure and treasure hunting – with their writer father. Yes, like Stephen King, writer R. L. Stine has added a writer character into his own novel, so let’s dive right in and see what exactly is the lost legend?
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book barely starts and we have a signature cliffhanger on page four. Our protagonists are a set of siblings – Justin and Marissa. They’re trying to find their father but are lost in a snowy tundra aided only by Balto and the rest of the Iditarod. The sled dogs go off on their own, taking Marissa along for the ride! Of course, at the very beginning of chapter two, Justin saves her and is fine. However, on page nine, we have another cliffhanger! They’re floating on a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland!
It doesn’t matter. It was just a story their father, master storyteller and treasure hunter, made up about his children. It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it? The children ask how they’re going to get off the ice block. The father replies, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story yet.” Well, Stine, you have 120 pages left, so you better get cracking.
They are camping in a fictional European country together while their father, “famous writer, storyteller, and story collector” Richard Clarke, is looking for the Lost Legend – which is a manuscript hidden away in a silver chest that has been lost for five hundred years. Justin reasons that if he were to find the legend himself, he’d win affection from his father as well as fame and fortune. In the middle of the night, a giant dog enters their camp with a note that says, “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. FOLLOW SILVERDOG.” There wouldn’t be a story if the children refused to follow the dog, so of course, they follow him deep into the woods.
There are some shenanigans while they follow Silverdog, including one where they get lost because they were following a deer instead. But the dog always howls and they get back on track. They also fall into a hole that they think is bottomless, but they easily climb out of it so I think it was more of a pothole than a bottomless pit. The dog eventually brings them to a house and when they enter, a woman yells, “I’ve caught you!”
The woman is the woman on the cover and she just has “a bad sense of humor.” Her name is Ivanna and she was the one who sent Silverdog and she wants to help the kids, but first, it’s time for lunch. After they eat, she tells them that she has poisoned them!
Just kidding. It’s that classic attempted murder sense of humor. Anyway, she sends them on a quest into the Fantasy Forest, apparently the only thing she doesn’t joke about. They’re told to follow another dog named Luka.
After they enter the Fantasy Forest, Luka proceeds to STAND UP LIKE A HUMAN!
If he shaved off all the fur, put on some clothes, and got a haircut, he’d look like a young man, I thought. As I stared at him, he started to wave and point.
This explains the emergence of furries in the millennial generation who read these books.
Ivanna leaves them with a note that says they should follow Luka and not lose him or they will be doomed. Of course, they lose him and fall into a pit of nuts. However, they’re not nuts. They’re rat eggs that start to hatch. Turns out the mice are just little wind-up toys. They get away and a tree falls on Marissa.
Marissa is fine, of course. It’s a fake tree, probably made out of styrofoam. They also run away from bats and find a river with a plug. And finally, they battle giant cats that try to eat them. Justin is swallowed but climbs his way out and distracts the giant cat with one of the wind-up mice from earlier.
So, we have furries and now the swallowing of a boy. This is some serious vore shit and this continues to explain my generation.
The siblings find they way back to Ivanna’s house and when they enter, they find her asleep and unresponsive. We have the triumphant return of Luka!
He was literally a dude in a suit. He takes off the suit in front of the children and expresses his congratulations. He proceeds to tell the children what has been happening.
“My family has lived in this forest for hundreds of years,” Luka explained. “It became our job to protect many of the treasures. And so we built a test forest, to keep out those who were unworthy. To stop the people who don’t deserve the wonderful treasures.”
Everything in the forest is fake, or a wind-up toy, or a marionette – like Ivanna. That’s correct. Ivanna is a puppet. The trial was to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the forest and our siblings have passed. They are given a chest and Silverdog, who is an actual dog – not a man, leads them back to their camp (not before getting lost for a second).
With their father, the children open the chest to receive their gift – an egg. The ungrateful family marches back to Luka’s house and demands an explanation. See, Luka thought they were in search of the Eternal Egg of Truth. If they want the Lost Legend, they need to find the Wanderers of the Forest. Luka will tell them where to find the Wanderers, but the Wanderers might not part with the legend.
The family finds the Wanderers and the second they ask for the legend, they gladly hand over a chest and leave. The family opens the chest and finds the manuscript. Excited, they unroll the piece of paper and read aloud the contents:
“WHOEVER OWNS THE LOST LEGEND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.”
The family looks around and realizes that they don’t know where they are.
Ha! How’s that for a twist ending!
I liked this one – although it took some reflection. While I was reading it, I thought of the words of the father, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story, yet.” As the children were dealing with random women in the forest and man dogs and rat eggs, I wondered if R. L. Stine had an ending to the story. The children are always getting lost – while following Silverdog, during the trials in the forest, and even toward the end of the book after they pass the trials. Stine is telling us early on that it’s a legend about being lost, not a legend that is lost.
The idea of a legend about being lost makes up for most of the book. However, without the twist, this book is a seemingly disconnected set of random events. The twist is great and the kids’ constant direction mishaps are a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, but the man with a fake forest has nothing to do with being lost. I wish that aspect was incorporated more into the legend itself.
That being said, this book was a fun read and brought me back to those days when I was a kid, looking out the window and wondering if there was a magical creature calling out to me, if only I would look hard enough.
Next Time on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight
It will surprise no one that I’m not the most romantic person and Valentine’s Day is not a particularly important holiday to me. However, to my partner, Valentine’s Day is very important and he makes an effort to do something for me every year. He is clearly the hopeless romantic and I am not. This dynamic helps us to keep a stable grasp on the holiday. We neither take it too seriously, but we do take time to appreciate each other.
This is not the case for the teenagers in R. L. Stine’s Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts. They are having a pretty crappy Valentine’s Day. Murder would ruin anyone’s Valentine’s Day – or any day really. Anyway, let’s just get right into it.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
In typical Fear Street fashion, we have a prologue where we meet our main characters and there’s a tragedy. First of all, we have the twins, Josie and Rachel. Josie’s horror movie stereotype is “the slutty one,” while Rachel would be “early victim.” Erica is their little sister and she would be “annoying little sister.” The last one is Melissa and she is “the nice one.” The girls are driving out to a stable and are having fun talking about boys, because in the world of Stine and the early ’90s, all girls talk about are boys and whether they have boyfriends and how they feel about those boyfriends. Erica refuses to get on a horse and the girls leave her behind.
By the end of the prologue, the one without a personality, Rachel, falls off her horse and lands on her head. We get a “The Following February” and that’s when the first part of our story actually begins.
Melissa has a dream about the horse accident. We learn that Josie blames Melissa for Rachel’s accident and their relationship is strained, if not nonexistent.
Across the street, Josie and her new boyfriend, Steve, are throwing snowballs at each other when they are interrupted by Josie’s dog.
The dog yipped and started toward Josie, as if coming to protect her from Steve. But the wet snow on the rug distracted the little dog, and it stopped to sniff it, then lick it.
“How can you stand that little rat?” Steve teased. “Why don’t you step on it and put it out of its misery?”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first red herring!
It’s also here we have our first Valentine’s Day letter. Josie opens her mail and finds the letter with the following poem:
“Violets are blue
Roses are red.
On Valentine’s Day
Josie will be dead.”
She believes that a guy named Jenkman, whom she dated a while ago, sent the messages since he seems to be stalking her ever since they broke up. Steven encourages her to ignore it, in typical horror movie red herring fashion.
We finally learn the fate of Rachel. She did not die in the equine accident but she is not the same. She sustains extensive brain damage and can’t be left alone. Rachel’s boyfriend, Luke, and Erica have been taking care of her. Josie is supposed to watch Rachel also, but Josie has failed to do that on multiple occasions, causing Erica to confront her.
Erica wants to try out for Brigadoon but she can’t if she has to watch Josie.
“You’ll have to try out some other time,” Josie said brusquely. She started to pull away from Erica, but Erica held on.
“No way,” Erica said angrily.
A gust of wind made the powdery snow swirl all around them. Josie closed her eys and tried to slip her face down into her wool scarf.
Go away, she thought. Please. Just go away, Erica.
“You’re supposed to help me take care of Rachel when she gets home from her school,” Erica scolded. “You know that, Josie. It’s not supposed to be my full-time job.”
“I know. Give me a break,” Josie said, starting to walk towards the street. “I’ll take care of her tomorrow. Promise.”
“No. Today!” Erica insisted, following her. “I don’t want to miss the tryouts. It’s just not fair. This is my first year in high school. It’s supposed to be such a big exciting year for me. And instead-”
“Tomorrow,” Josie told her, picked up her pace. “I can’t leave Steve waiting there.”
“Yes, you can,” Erica told her. “You can call and leave a message for him.”
“I don’t want to,” Josie said nastily. She began to jog across the snow.
Erica caught up to her. “I don’t believe you, Josie,” she cried breathlessly. “I can’t believe you don’t take more responsibility for Rachel. After all, it was your fault-”
Erica stopped herself.
Josie screams and falls to the ground. Did she have a sudden realization? No, she was hit by a snowball thrown by another red herring named Dave. She composes herself and leaves to meet Steve, further alienating herself from Rachel’s situation and her sister is forced to miss the Brigadoon tryouts.
Melissa and Dave, the boy who threw the snowball, seem to be a couple. I say “seem” because they’re not very affectionate. You know, there are several couples in this story, but none of them are particularly affectionate. For a story that takes place around Valentine’s Day, there isn’t much romance. Granted, this is a horror novel, but My Bloody Valentine had a love triangle so I don’t think it’s too much for some kind of heartstring-pulling. I would even settle for literal heartstring-pulling.
Back at the Josie household, Luke confronts Josie. He says that she “ruined Rachel’s life” and now she’s trying to ruin Erica’s life. Josie fails to show any remorse, insisting that Luke is “hiding behind Rachel” because he’s “too big a loser to face the real world.” Josie is actually talking about herself – Luke has no problems recognizing Rachel’s condition, while Josie is actively avoiding her so she doesn’t have to see her twin in a deteriorated state and how easily Josie could be the same way. Neither Josie nor Luke realizes this – instead, Luke stabs a desk by Josie and storms out, red herring-ing all over the scene (Did I just verb “red herring”? Yes I did). In fact, after the storm out, Josie insists to the reader that she has done nothing to warrant the behavior towards her. R. L. Stine is certainly not setting up a sympathetic protagonist.
After some house intercom shenanigans, Josie gets another Valentine:
“This Valentine’s Day
No memories to save.
The only flowers for you
Will be on your grave.”
The intercom shenanigans continue. Josie hears Rachel calling for her, so she goes to check on her only to find her asleep.
Later, while Erica is brushing Rachel’s hair, we get a new red herring.
“Josie is my sister, right?” she asked, wrinkling her forehead in concentration.
“Yes,” Erica replied. “Josie is your sister. Your twin sister.”
Rachel thought about this for a long while. Then she surprised Erica by saying, “Josie doesn’t like me anymore.”
“No!” Erica protested, letting the brush slip out of her hand. She bent down to pick it up from the carpet. “Josie still likes you, Rachel. Why would you say such a terrible thing?”
“No. Josie doesn’t like me. Josie doesn’t talk to me.”
“That’s not true-” Erica started, but Rachel interrupted.
“Well, I don’t like Josie anymore!” Rachel cried, her green eyes lighting up. “I hate Josie!”
The scene abruptly ends when Jenkman shows up at the house and asks if Josie received his Valentines and that’s the end of the chapter. Does this continue in the next chapter?
No. No, it doesn’t. Dave tries to cheat off of Josie’s math test and she turns him in. He gets mad and says that he’ll lose his wrestling scholarship since that test accounted for half of his grade, prompting him to yell, “I hate Josie McClain!” I don’t know who is worse: Josie for being selfish or Dave for attempting to cheat on a test he should have studied for and redirecting the anger that should be on himself instead at Josie. Also, if he can’t pass a high school math class with at least a C, how the hell is he going to pass college math? High school math is not hard. I am an English major, but I still had to take two semesters of college math. What was his plan? Maybe college isn’t for you, Davy-boy. You know what, it’s not going to matter soon, anyway.
We’re back to Josie and Steve and Josie gets another Valentine:
“Who’s sending these cards?
Don’t bother to wonder.
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll be six feet under.”
There’s some discussion of who it could be and after their ice skating date, they return home and Josie’s dog is dead on the floor. R. L. Stine usually kills off innocent dogs just to ramp up the stakes and that’s a common plot in ’80s and ’90s horror. I’m grateful we stopped doing that. There are better ways to write in stakes besides killing off an innocent bystander, especially when there are so many other reprehensible characters to kill instead.
The cops arrive and one of them almost pukes. You’d think with all the murder in Shadyside, the cops would be pretty phlegmatic about the death of a dog. On the other hand, maybe they’re throwing up the bullshit way to raise stakes by the needless murder of an innocent animal. Yes – I am more upset about the murder of a dog than a human. I always say – I like all dogs more than I like most people. The 2016 election proved me correct.
There are some red herring things with Jenkman buying Valentines at some kind of Valentine store that exists. It’s either a pop-up store in an old Circuit City or it’s just a Hallmark that is overdoing it with the hearts – I’m not sure, but he’s our herring and he has to herring it up all over the place.
Josie receives another Valentine:
“Roses are black,
Violets are gray.
On Valentine’s Day,
You’ll start to decay.”
This is probably the best poem yet, but that’s not saying much. Rachel is ramping up the creepy now, constantly whispering to Josie, “Someone hates you.”
In the middle of the night, Erica wakes up and does not find Josie. So, she gets a phone book (remember those?), looks for Steve’s phone number, and calls. Steve says he doesn’t know where Josie is and that they had a huge fight. Just as she hangs up, the front doorbell rings and Erica says it must be Josie. Of course, it’s not Josie. It’s two police officers, where they tell the family that Josie has been murdered.
“We found your sister in the alley behind the ice rink,” the older police officer told Erica, speaking in a low, professional voice. “We identified her by her wallet. She hadn’t been robbed. She was dead when we arrived. She had been stabbed in the back. With the blade of an ice skate. The skate was still in her back.”
Okay, old officer, isn’t there a better way to put this? First of all, why did you mention she hadn’t been robbed? It’s like when a kid stands next to a cookie jar and the first things they say to you is, “I haven’t had a cookie.” Secondly, I don’t know if the parents really need to know the grisly details seconds after learning that their daughter has been murdered. If they ask how, let them know, but otherwise, let’s give ’em a day or two, huh? Maybe just start with who she was with, what time she left, where she was going.
In the same chapter, Dave calls Melissa and says he’s in big trouble. He reveals that he sent the Valentines as a “joke.” The teenagers of Shadyside, or the teenagers of the ’80s, have terrible senses of humor and no sense of timing or setups or anything that’s actually funny. Sending death threats disguised as Valentines are not jokes. These teenagers are infuriating. Thousands of teenagers on TikTok are funny every day without resorting to death threats and pranks that involve feigning death.
Anyway, Melissa asks Dave if he killed Josie. (Whenever I write “Melissa,” I say the name like this in my head.) He says he didn’t but the Valentines are going to implicate him in her murder. He decides that the best course of action is to break into the McClain household and steal the Valentines back. While the plan is stupid, it makes sense that a teenager who thinks that death threats are the pinnacle of humor would come up with this plan.
Dave hangs out in the rain outside Josie’s house during the funeral. The door is open and unlocked. How convenient! He wanders around the house, gets spooked by laundry, and it finally culminates in screaming and confusion and Erica in a pool of blood with Dave over her body.
Then, in bold letters, we get a single page of text: “February, One Year Later.”
Apparently, Melissa and Luke are together now and they relay what happened. Erica recovered from the stabbing and Dave was arrested, but Erica chose not to press charges.
Dave told the police that he hadn’t been the one who stabbed Erica. He claimed that he had stumbled over Erica’s body while trying to get to the stairway. She had already been stabbed. Dave was so shocked and horrified, he bent down and picked up the letter opener.
And since Erica wouldn’t testify and there was no evidence, the police had to let Dave go. It’s also revealed that Luke has stopped visiting Rachel as much as before. At the end of the chapter, Melissa receives a Valentine.
“Roses are red
Violets are blue,
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll be dead too.”
In the next chapter, Rachel is yelling about Melissa and Luke and how she hates both of them while Erica brushes her hair. Also, Steve calls Erica and invites her to an ice skating party. While Erica was distracted by the phone call, Rachel disappears. She’s just in the front yard, hanging out behind a tree.
Melissa receives another Valentine:
“Flowers mean funerals
Flowers mean death.
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll take your last breath.”
After, Dave’s mom calls and says he ran away from his boarding school. He eventually shows up in her room, because of course he does. He is surprised when Melissa expresses doubt about his innocence, even though all he did was break into her home without her consent and think cheating off a test is okay. Then he promises to go find “the real killer,” which is a promise we’ve heard before from football players who were once held in a penitentiary a hundred miles from my home. Melissa shows him the Valentines she has been receiving and he runs away, saying he knows who killed Josie without having the courtesy to let Melissa and the reader.
Then he’s dead. Sorry, anticlimactic, I know. The interesting thing that happens is that Rachel yells that she goes out all the time, making her suspect number one. The next day, Melissa opens her locker and finds a cover photo:
On the inside of the locker door, someone had painted a large, broken valentine heart. Smeared dots of bright red blood dripped from the heart. Scrawled in thick red paint at the bottom were the words: YOU’RE DEAD.
Given the disconnect between the cover art and the actual contents of these novels, I’m surprised we actually got to see this scene in the novel. Anyway, a little red paint isn’t going to stop these teens from partying at the frozen lake and it’s time to figure out who the killer is!
Using logic, since one of the red herrings, Dave, is dead, and the other red herring is clearly Jenkman, the clear choice is Steve. Now, given that-
Just kidding, it’s Erica.
What? That seems pretty random, you say. Well, I’m sure this all makes sense and is tightly put together like an Agatha Christie novel.
Just kidding again. Erica killed Josie because Josie was the pretty one and then she stabbed herself to frame Dave and then killed him when he figured her out, somehow. She was mad at Melissa because she “took Luke,” because we can’t have a lady killer without some boyfriend stealing apparently.
Erica falls beneath and ice and dies. Again, anticlimactically. Luke, Melissa, and Rachel live happily ever after, I’m assuming. They’re making jokes about Groundhog’s Day in the end, after all.
I wanted to like this one. Valentine’s Day is ripe for murder-y shenanigans – ask My Bloody Valentine, which, now that I’m thinking about it, also has an out of nowhere killer. You know what? I change my mind. This is on par with other Valentine’s Day horror fare.
Although, you know what? My Bloody Valentine has some good death scenes – the ending was just ludicrous. Maybe the problem with Valentine’s Day as a horror setting is that it sounds like a neat, subversive idea. Let’s take something that celebrates love and relationships and murder a bunch of people and send actual, anatomical hearts to people, but the conclusion is never satisfying! So, this is really an allegory for the holiday itself – it starts with a great premise and some of the execution is on point, but the end can never live up to the rest of the night.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Maybe the day be filled with as much or as little horror as is your preference. ❤
Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Sreet: The New Girl
Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)
And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.
Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.
The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.
Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.
“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.
“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.
“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”
“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”
“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.
“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”
“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”
Kris didn’t laugh.
Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.
Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.
After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.
“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.
“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.
“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”
“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.
“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”
Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”
Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.
Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”
Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.
First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.
Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.
Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.
We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?
“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”
What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”
Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.
Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.
“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.
She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.
“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”
“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”
“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”
It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.
Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:
“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”
“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”
Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?. What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?
Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.
This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.
Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.
They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.
As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.
“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”
I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.
R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement!(which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”
This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.
Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend
The original Fear Street novels were too tame for my sixth-grade self. I craved more blood, more mayhem, more murder. Something shocking. Something that pushes what can be done in YA fiction. Something with more petticoats.
I preferred the spin-off series Fear Street Sagas to the original Fear Street and served as historical fiction. These books went into Shadyside’s tumultuous past, and the infamous Fier (later spelled Fear) Family, starting with Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear.
Technically, this isn’t the beginning. There is a trilogy that comes before these, but I’m not reviewing those today. Instead, I’m starting where the trilogy ends, with the newly widowed Nora Goode trapped in an insane asylum, where all good horror starts.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some 1900’s reason, that’s enough to send a pregnant woman to an insane asylum. Back then, they threw women in asylums for being too mouthy, so this is absolutely believable.
What’s unbelievable is that the asylum thinks that giving an infant to a 12-year-old, who is also a patient, is an acceptable practice, but that’s what they do while they keep trying to convince Nora that the face she saw in the flames was a hallucination. She tries to escape by making a rope out of her hair, but she is caught and they cut off her hair.
Eventually, the asylum plans to take her child, Nicholas, away from her and give him to a family that “has agreed to pay [the doctor] a large sum for a male child.” Nora resists, fighting orderlies that try to pull her away from her son’s cradle. Just as the doctor takes Nicholas from the cradle, the amulet that Nora received as a wedding gift from Daniel glows.
The fire crackled and blazed. The flames grew higher and higher. They reached past the hearth. They climed the wall. The flames lapped greedily at the ceiling. They grew higher until all Nora could see was a wall of fire.
A man emerged fromthe writing flames.
“Daniel,” Nora gasped.
Her husband had come back from the grave.
“Come and join me, Doctor,” Daniel rasped. He reached past Nora and drew the doctor into the raging inferno.
Screaming, the doctor fell to his knees. His eyes bulged. Bulged out farther and farther. Then, with a moist pop, his eyes flew from their sockets and rolled across the floor. They hissed as flames devoured them.
There’s the bloodlust I craved in middle school! That was what the regular Fear Street books were missing: ridiculous body horror and talking fire ghosts.
Nora escapes with Nicholas as the asylum burns down. They stow away on a boat, where Nora eats a rat to survive. That’s a fun scene. She is discovered and the crew thinks she is a witch. Then the boat sinks. They are adrift at sea, but eventually wash up onshore. Somehow, she still possesses the amulet.
She turned it over and read the inscription: DOMINATIO PER MALUM.
“Power through evil,” Nora whispered. “Your father gave this to me as a symbol of his love, Nicholas. The amulet was special to him, because it had been in his family for a long time.”
Nora sighed. “Your father’s family had power and money. But they paid a heavy price. They let evil into their lives, and it destroyed them.”
Nora stared down into the ocea for a long moment. “I do not want that evil to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I do not want you to suffer the same fate your father did.
The amulet felt heavy in her hand. Heavy and warm.
Nora brought her arm backand flung it into the calm sea.
Relief swept through her her. She hugged Nicholas. “Now the Fear evil cannot touch you.”
Nora stared down into her baby’s face. “We are going to start a new life – with new names. From now on, we will be known as Nora and Nicholas Storm.”
And that’s how the book ends.
I’m just kidding. That’s just the end of part one. We get a huge time jump – eighteen years. Nicholas Storm is a fisherman who hates fish. He is also a fisherman who loves a woman named Rosalyn. However, they can’t get married because Nicholas isn’t worth enough money for Rosalyn’s strict father. Also, his mother, our original protagonist, Nora, dies as she was telling him about his father, her last words being, “Your father left you a legacy of…”
So Nicholas goes off to find his legacy so he can someday marry Rosalyn. He leaves Shadow Cove, where he was living, and what do ya’ know, he ends up in Shadyside after a man who looks a little like him yells, “Shadyside!” and disappears. Because that’s how you choose where you want to figure out your life. You wait for a ghost that vaguely looks like you to shout a location and then you buy your ticket. Also, Rosalyn gives him her good luck charm – an amulet she found on the beach, one with some Latin on the back. It’s the amulet her mother threw into the ocean if you haven’t figured that one out.
In Shadyside, he finds Fear Street and thinks about its “strange name.” He stumbles across a huge, dilapidated, burned house. The house “whispers” to him so he decides to enter the house. A woman yells at him, “Daniel Fear! You’re supposed to be dead!” And then she attacks him with a knife.
Instead of running away and giving up this stupid quest, like any other human, he sticks around and asks her questions about the people who used to live there. She starts to cry and says that he ran off with his wife, Nora Goode. That’s enough for him to figure out that his mother changed her name to Nora Storm and his father is Daniel Fear.
Lightning lashed. “I know who I am at last!” Nicholas cried over the booming thunder. “I am Daniel Fear’s son.”
He clenched his fists. “I am Nora Goode’s son!”
He threw his head back.
“I am a Fear!” he shouted. “Nicholas Fear!”
That’s what normal people do – they run into the rain and punch dance their name.
But Nicholas can’t move into the house. He rents a room from a woman and her daughter – a forward girl named Betsy Winter. The next day, he goes to a man, Mr. Manning, to talk about the inheritance he believes he is owed. The man laughs and tells him that there is no inheritance – just a bunch of back taxes on the land. But Mr. Manning owns a sawmill and hires Nicholas so he can get back on his feet. As he is leaving, an out-of-control woman runs into him while on a bicycle. She is Ruth Manning, Mr. Manning’s daughter.
At the sawmill, Nicholas meets his new co-workers – a fussy little man named Jason and a friendly hulking man named Ike. Both Ruth and Betsy show up at different times while they’re working to establish their overt feelings for Nicholas, and so Jason can get jealous over Ruth and be overly protective of Betsy. He is our red herring, after all.
Someone throws a rock at the back of Nicholas’s head with a note that he doesn’t belong in Shadyside. It’s hilarious. Who throws rocks like that? And to hit Nicholas without killing him, the thrower would have to be the weakest person and only a few feet away, which makes me wonder why Nicholas didn’t see who threw the rock. That or Nicholas has a very hard head.
While fixing up his wound, Betsy reveals that she is a Goode, but she doesn’t hate the Fears. This comes up later.
At the sawmill, Ike gets his fingers sliced off, Ruth expresses more interest in Nicholas, but he doesn’t return her affections, and Betsy also expresses more interest in Nicholas.
Later, Nicholas comes home and finds Betsy dead in the kitchen, tied up next to the stove.
He noticed something thick and white pushing its way out of her mouth. Nicholas dropped her wrist. He parted her lips and teeth.
The gooey white substance billowed out of her mouth.
Nicholas checked her nose. Thick white dough filled it, too.
Someone had stuffed Betsy’s nose and mouth with dough. And left her by the stove with her hands tied behind her back.
As the dough rose, she suffocated.
This is how serial killers on The Great British Bake-Off kill people.
At the funeral, Jason says that they should be burying Nicholas, not his cousin. Jason warned Betsy not to get close to Nicholas and he believes that Nicholas killed Betsy. Jason threw the rock at Nicholas, and, since Betsy is a Goode, that makes Jason a Goode also.
Mr. Manning is also found dead. Ruth says that her father wanted her to marry Nicholas if anything happened to him, so he reluctantly agrees to marry her, just to help her during her grieving. He figures out that since Jason is a Goode, thinks he killed Betsy, and Mr. Manning liked Nicholas, Jason must have killed Mr. Manning.
It gets violent when he goes to confront Jason, but Ruth appears and stabs Jason in the throat. She reveals that if Nicholas doesn’t marry her, then she will tell everyone that Nicholas killed Jason, and no one would believe a stranger and Fear over the daughter of a beloved local businessman. Ruth also reveals that she killed Betsy to get her out of the way and killed her father to force Nicholas to marry her.
He gets married to her but plans to poison her after the wedding. However, Rosalyn (remember her?) shows up at his house and sees Ruth wearing the amulet that Rosalyn gave Nicholas. Ruth poisons Rosalyn with the poisoned drink that Nicholas was going to give to Ruth. It ends with Nicholas resigned to being with Ruth.
“Together, we shall make Fear Street all it was meant to be,” Ruth vowed. She ran her fingers over the words engraved on the back of the amulet. POWER THROUGH EVIL.
Nicholas gazed over at the remains of the Fear mansion. Yes, he thought. Soon everyone will know the name of Fear Street.
See that, kids? If you’re evil, you can make your dreams come true!
This is a fun book, even if it is ridiculous. It’s a promising start to a seminal series in my life. It even has a perfect horror movie ending, opening up the path for many, many sequels. The nonsensical plot and deus ex machina plot devices may make some roll their eyes, but I can’t help but love the melodrama, the reveals on reveals, and, most of all, the outrageous character deaths.
My parents are not anti-vaxxers because they’re responsible parents. My sister and I are current with all our shots, no matter how hard it was to get us to sit down and actually take the damn shot. We used to cry and cling to our parents and engage in futile begging, but our tenacious parents still forced us to receive our shots. After it was all done, the pain a distant memory, we got a prize from the hospital.
That’s where I saw it – a green hand wrapped around a door. Leaves and vines grew around the hand as if something escaped the confines of the basement and was now poised to take over the upstairs. Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine sat on the highest shelf, most of which featured boys with dogs or girls with dolls. Maybe one or two with arm-crossed children rolling their eyes as their apron-clad mother held a rolling pin and chastised them. The hand stood out. The hand grabbed my attention. The hand scared me, but I needed to know what was happening.
Rereading this as an adult, I’m happy this one was my first Goosebumps book. My copy has the new cover that fails to live up to the original, but I’m still happy I own this scary book that holds up as fine children’s horror.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Casey and Margaret Brewer are tired of their father’s excuses. They want to play Frisbee with him, but he’s always busy. And he’s been working every day since he moved his family out to California, a place that Margaret doesn’t like because it’s “the middle of winter; and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and Casey and I are out in jeans and T-shirts as if it were the middle of summer.” Oh no, how terrible it must be to have temperate weather in the second-best state in the union. (First is Nevada – don’t @ me.)
Margaret thinks that Mr. Martinez, their father’s boss, fired their father for some experiments that went “wrong.” She gets curious and encourages Casey to come with her to find out what their father is doing deep in the basement. When they halfway down the basement stairs, their father appears.
He glared up at them angrily, his skin strangely green under the flourescent light fixture. He was holding his right hand, drops of red blood falling onto his white lab coat.
“Stay out of the basement!” he bellowed, in a voice they’d never heard before.
Both kids shrank back, surprised to hear their father scream like that. He was usually so mild and soft-spoken.
“Stay out of the basement,” he repeated, holding his bleeding hand. “Don’t ever come down here – I’m warning you.”
I think the kids just slink away because the next chapter starts with Mrs. Brewer leaving to help care for her sister for a few days. She says she’s no worried about the kids, but is worried about Mr. Brewer, particularly that he will become so engrossed in his work that he won’t eat. The man himself appears, his hand bandaged despite it being a few weeks after he yelled at them. He takes their mother to the airport as Margaret’s friend Diane arrives for some adult-free childhood banter.
Diane is also the one who dares Margaret to go into the basement, because what’s a Goosebumps book without some kids daring each other to do some stupid shit. I remember being a kid. We always dared each other to do stupid shit. It’s the most realistic thing in the series.
In the basement, they find a “rain forest.” It’s so hot and humid that Casey decides to take off his shirt and drop it on the floor, just like an actual kid. That’s when they notice a tall treelike plant actually breathing. Casey touches it and he goes into convulsions!
Of course, it’s just a prank. At least the fake out is at the end of chapter three when I’m already invested, instead of the first chapter. The children think the plants are moving and they decide to go back upstairs. They think that their father will never know they were down there, but Casey remembers that he left his t-shirt on the floor.
Casey goes back into the basement to retrieve his shirt, but their father comes home. Margaret is standing at the top of the stairs, urging her brother to return before their father walks through the door. He grabs his shirt but some tendrils grab him. It’s not a trick. Actual tendrils grab Casey. They wrestle free, but not before their father catches them.
They insist they didn’t touch anything and while their father is disappointed, he is not stark-raving mad. They ask their father about the weird plants, but he refuses to explain their bizarre appearance and behavior to them. The next morning, Margaret finds a lock installed on the basement door.
Dr. Brewer is working so hard to impress his boss, Mr. Martinez, and prove that the university was wrong to fire Dr. Brewer. However, Margaret clings to her idea that something is askew, especially since she sees his research as putting his career ahead of his children, something he hasn’t done before. Her suspicions are exacerbated when she sees him devour something from a bag “greedily” and stash it under the sink before returning to the basement.
When she was sure he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know whather father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.
She pulled open the sink cabinet, reached into the trash, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.
Then she gasped aloud asher eyes ran over the label.
Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.
Oh, shit, Margaret! The call is coming from inside the house! Get out of there!
She tries to confide in Casey her findings, but, like every shitty man, he doesn’t take her concerns seriously. There are more frustrating scenes wherein others excuse Dr. Brewer’s neglect as something he’s doing for the sake of his career while dismissing Margaret. This whole book is like a metaphor for women’s struggles. A young woman is supposed to just accept a man’s egregious behavior for the sake of his own interests even to her detriment. I feel ya, Margaret. We cuz.
While Margaret is growing up with a distant father, Dr. Brewer is growing green hair. He is also skulking around the house and scaring his daughter and is sleeping in a bed that is covered in earthworms and wet, black clumps of dirt. Finally, he tries to feed his children a strange substance bearing a resemblance to dirt. This is the straw that breaks Casey’s back, so to speak. He is finally curious enough to investigate the basement with Margaret.
They get their opportunity when Dr. Brewer leaves. In the basement, they find a jacket belonging to Mr. Martinez. They come to the conclusion that plants may have eaten the big boss man (the character in the book, not the wrestler), but their father insists Mr. Martinez just got hot and left his jacket. A few days later, they also discover Mr. Martinez’s shoes and pants, hurting their father’s theory that he just got hot. You don’t just take off your pants in someone else’s house, even the house of your subordinate.
During another excursion into the basement (and after some heavy lock destruction), they peer deeper into the experimental jungle.
She took a deep breath and held it. Then, ignoring the moans, the signs, the green arms reaching out to her, the hideous green-tomato faces, she plunged through the plants to the back of the closet.
“Dad!” she cried.
Her father was lying on the floor, his hands and feet tied tightly with plant tendrils, his mouth gagged by a wide strip of elastic tape.
“It can’t be Dad!” Casey said, still holding her by the shoulders. “Dad is at the airport – remember?”
She reached downand tugged at the elastic tape until she managed to get it off.
“Kids – I’m so glad to see you,” Dr. Brewer said. “Quick! Untie me.”
“How did you get in here?” Casey demanded, standing above him, hands on his hips, staring down at him suspicisously. “We saw you leave for the airport.”
“That wasn’t me,” Dr. Brewer said. “I’ve been locked in here for days.”
“Huh?” Casey cried.
“But we saw you-” Margaret started.
“It wasn’t me. It’s a plant,” Dr. Brewer said. “It’s a plant copy of me.”
Holy shit! It’s a plant! Metaphorically and literally! The story continues with a classic, “I’m your real father! Shoot him!” “No, shoot him! He’s the impostor!” only with a little girl holding an ax, which is my new aesthetic.
Margaret figures out who her real father is when she stabs the father from the basement in the arm. He bleeds red blood, so she hands him the ax. Then her real father cleaves the impostor in two! Take it back. A father who was held captive by a sentient plant cutting his captor in twain with an ax from his daughter is my new aesthetic.
In the end, the Brewers destroy the plants and return the equipment to the university, but R. L. Stine isn’t finished.
It’s so peaceful now, [Margaret] thought happily.
So peaceful here. And so beautiful.
The smile faded from her face when she heard the whisper at her feet. “Margaret.”
She looked down to see a small yellow flower nudging her ankle.
“Margaret,” the flower whispered, “help me. Please – help me. I’m your father. Really! I’m your real father.”
Fucking perfect. This book was perfect.
I’m happy this was my first Goosebumps book. I’m happy this was the book I chose from all the other books on that bookshelf at the doctor’s office. Thank you to whoever put that book on that shelf. This book started my lifelong love of all things scary and creepy. I’m even happier that this book holds up. I like the punniness. I like Margaret. I like the mystery. Everything about this book is perfect.
Stay Out of the Basement was the second book of the Goosebumps series and, especially with Welcome to Dead House as the first, I can see why this series is revered in the Pantheon of Young Adult Fiction, exactly where it should be.
What the hell is homecoming? Who is coming home? Is there a home involved at all? If yes, which home? I went to an American high school. Did we even have homecoming dances? To be fair, the only dance I ever went to was my senior prom, which could be the subject of its own RMC (Rereading My Childhood), but I think I would have heard about some formal that seems to spring up at random times throughout the school year. Did my school even elect homecoming queens? Who were they? And how are they elected? If she’s an elected official, does that actually make her a “queen” is the purest sense of the word or is it more of a relic from a time when the homecoming queen was passed down through a family sent to us from God to rule over homecoming?
R. L. Stine doesn’t answer any of these questions, but he did answer the question, “Who killed the homecoming queen?” The answer will be revealed through the following twenty-nine paragraphs (not including excerpts) – one paragraph for each chapter in the book. Let’s get to it!
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Eva Whelan loves pep rallies, something the two of us don’t share. Besides loving pep rallies, she loves her psychic powers, which are more like Peter Parker’s Spidey-senses without the reliability or plot relevance. She also loves her best friend’s stepbrother, Jeremy. Oh, and at the end of the first chapter, the aforementioned best friend, Tania Darman, is pushed down the stairs.
Another student named Leslie Gates accidentally bumped into her. Tania considers Leslie her “rival,” so Tania skeptical about the perceived accident. They are both vying for homecoming queen to Jason Thompson’s homecoming king. During the crowning ceremony, there is a gunshot.
It’s just a soda can. I wonder if I wouldn’t be so angry if I read this book during its publication year, 1997. A school shooting is a very real and traumatizing thing that happens seemingly every week, so using it as some bullshit cliffhanger for the end of chapter two is distasteful. This isn’t Stine’s fault, 1997 was a relatively innocent time, years before Columbine and Active Shooter Drills. Still, I still had a strong personal reaction to that fake out. Let’s get back to the book. Leslie makes a grand entrance. In the audience, Eva spots Jeremy talking to his friend Keith, who is an amateur filmmaker.
Keith shook his head. “Leslie is desperate to be an actress. She’s applying to every acting school in the country. If she’s in the video, then she’ll have something to show. I’d be doing her the favor.”
“Sounds like a good deal for both of you,” Jeremy commented. “Is Leslie any good?”
“Sure,” Keith replied with a shrug. “But I’d much rather have Tania – especially if she’s Homecoming Queen?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Eva asked. “I mean, what’s your video about?”
Keith’s eyes glittered again. “It’s called Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?”
That’s the name of the book! Tania wins homecoming queen and immediately passes out!
It’s just her low blood sugar. Gurl, lay off the insulin. Out of view of Tania but in front of Eva, Leslie expresses her anger at Tania’s constant winning and calls the new homecoming queen “The Golden Girl of Shadyside High.” The girl who is clearly our red herring sees something and gasps!
This time, there is something to actually gasp about. Leslie and Eva see Tania’s boyfriend, with the very ‘80’s name Sandy, making out with a girl, with another very ‘80’s name, Cherise. Because that’s what we need. More characters. Leslie says, “This will kill Tania.” and she runs away.
The next chapter starts with Eva watching a vicious argument between Tania and Sandy regarding his cheating. She breaks up with him and he does not take it well. He violently shakes Tania, and Eva panics.
It was just a part of Keith’s movie. Cool movie, Keith. This book has not aged well. High school domestic violence is no longer something hushed into shadows and used as a plot device in a pulp teen horror novel. It’s morphed into a pervasive problem that literally kills kids during History class. The domestic violence, even if it’s for a terrible movie, just made me feel gross.
Tania passes out from her blood sugar thing, again, and Eva agonizes over telling her best friend about her boyfriend’s cheating. That’s right – she still hasn’t told her best friend. Way to look out for your friend, Eva. Then someone yells they’re going to kill Tania.
It’s just Leslie, our brightest red, largest of large herrings. Our crimson whale.
Leslie bared her teeth in a vicious smile. “First you get to be Homecoming Queen. Now you steal the role in Keith’s video. You knew I was counting on that role for my college portfolio! I can’t believe you stole that from me, too!”
“I could kill you, Tania!” Leslie clenched her fists. “I really could!”
“I have something to tell you, Tania.”
“After all, why shouldn’t I ruin your day, too?” Leslie said bitterly.
“Huh?” Tania frowned. “What do you mean?”
Eva’s heart sped up. Leslie is going to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, she realized. I can’t let Leslie do it! She’ll enjoy it too much. And Tania will be really embarrassed – in front of her biggest rival!
“What is it?” Tania asked Leslie.
“Not now!” Eva cried. “Leslie, come here.”
That’s why you should have told her already, Eva. She doesn’t even take that moment to tell Tania in private. She just pulls her away and we get a new scene. Eva gets a Coke with her crush and Tania’s brother, Jeremy. He expresses his desire to go to the mall and “check out the CD stores.” The fact that there’s more than one CD store, let along a CD store, in this mall that has not succumbed to online shopping and poor business decisions, is unintentionally funny. There’s a mention of Jeremy getting in trouble at his last school. This isn’t that important, but it sets up a second, lesser red herring. Like a marron minnow. Our maroon minnow sees Sandy and Cherise making out. Geez, Sandy and Cherise, get a room. Or at least come up for air. Or maybe don’t mack on each other at the most frequented locales of the Shadyside High student body.
Tania enters but somehow doesn’t see Sandy. The chapter switches to movie filming again, and, of course, they’re filming the domestic violence scene again. Keith is either getting off on this scene or he’s incredibly incompetent because this scene should be finished by now. This time, Keith yells, “Stop it!” as Sandy chokes Tania.
It’s his camcorder. They start rolling again. They stop after Tania is on the ground and not moving.
This time, it looks like she’s kind of dead. Sandy checks her pulse. When he can’t find it, Jeremy starts yelling and screaming. Then her body disappears.
The police arrive and are ineffectual, just like they always are in every teen horror from the ‘80s. Leslie is there but she books it after the police want to question her.
Chapter 14 is the obligatory scene in which everyone has a conversation about what happened. Sandy reveals his terrible sense of humor.
“It started out as a joke. Tania and I cooked it up,” Sandy explained. “The idea was, I’d strangle her for the movie. She’s pretend to be dead, and I’d go along with it. We just wanted to shake everyone up. For fun.”
“Huh?” Eva let out a shocked cry.
“You and Tania decided to lay game with my movie?” Keith cried.
“Yeah, for fun,” Sandy repeated.
Eva gaped at him. “That’s a terrible joke,” she declared. “How could you and Tania do something so awful?”
“Never mind that. Where is she?” Jeremy asked. “Where is Tania?”
“That’s the problem,” Sandy told him. “See after everybody got all crazy, Tania was supposed to jump up and yell ‘surprise!’”
“But she didn’t,” Eva reminded him.
Jeremy readies his choking hands and lunges at Sandy. Everyone gets a strangle!
The police separate them and conjecture that Tania just went home. Eva tries to call Tania’s home and just gets a busy signal – another relic of the ‘80s. Then she calls Keith to ask about the camcorder.
The camcorder “jammed” and didn’t record anything. Jeremy bursts in and says he heard Sandy and Cherise conspire to kill Tania. If this seems disjointed, I’m sorry, but that’s really how plot points progress in this book.
Eva encourages him not to call the police. I don’t understand that one. She goes to Cherise’s house and hears someone yelling, “I’ll kill you!”
Don’t worry, nothing interesting actually happened – it was just the television. Eva and Cherise chum it up, even though Cherise might have killed Eva’s best friend. Someone calls Cherise’s phone, asks for Eva, and tells her that she’s going to die next.
The next day at school, Leslie doesn’t even wait for Tania’s corpse to turn up before continuing her crimson whale activities. She’s been “bothering” Keith – she wants to be the new star in his movie. Remember, she really needs it for her college portfolio. You know, Harvard is always on the lookout for students who have been in high school horror films by students who can’t work a camcorder and takes months to film a terrible scene. Eva sees blood on Leslie’s sweater.
Yeah, she just cut herself on a mirror. However, something finally happens! Sandy tumbles out of a locker. He has been stabbed! And we finally have a body!
Chapter 21 is another gathering, this time at Eva’s house. We are reminded that “This is not a movie plot. This is real.” Thank you for your service, fourth wall, but it’s time for you to break. Eva gets a phone call. The person on the end is, like, yeah, Imma kill you next.
Keith chooses to do a documentary instead and interviews Eva. She leans up against a rail and it breaks.
Keith pulls her up and says the railing was sawed. So, someone, in the middle of the night, came onto the school grounds with a saw and went to town on a railing. Not conspicuous at all.
In the next chapter, Tania shows up not dead. Cool. And what is your reason for leading us and where have you been?
“When Jeremy told me about Sandy sneaking around with Cherise, I couldn’t believe it. Once I stopped crying, I got so angry. And that’s when I decided to get even.”
“Where were you all this time?” Eva asked Tania. “I mean, were you just hiding at home?”
Tania shook her head. “That’s what I was going to do. But Jeremy had a better idea. He cooked up the strangling part. But he didn’t know I was going to disappear. Anyway, I went to stay with my cousins in Waynesbridge. I told Mom and Dad not to worry, and they told the police I was perfectly okay.”
“So that’s why the cops stopped the investigation,” Keith said. “No wonder they thought the whole thing was a joke. It was.”
“It was a horrible, sick joke, Tania!” Eva declared angrily. “How could you do that to us? How could you put us through all that just because your boyfriend was cheating on you?”
“I couldn’t help it!” Tania cried. “I was so hurt and upset. And I wanted to hurt and upset everyone else, especially Sandy. I wanted you guys to feel like fools, just the way I did!”
Ugh, teenagers in horror novels and their elaborate pranks that involve death and dying. I was a teenager for about a decade and the pranks I was involved in, witnessed or was the victim of never involved dying and bodies disappearing and they certainly never ended with an actual death. What happened to Sandy?
Eva’s spidey-scene shows up and the gang runs to Cherise’s house, where they find her in a stare-off with Jeremy, whom she says killed Sandy. Jeremy says Cherise killed Sandy and that’s she’s crazy. There’s a bunch of that for a while.
And more of that in the next chapter.
And it’s finally concluded in the next chapter.
“Tania already told us that it was Jeremy’s idea for her to pretend to be dead,” Eva explained. “That was his plan for Tania to get revenge – by playing a cruel joke on us.”
“So?” Cherise asked.
“So Jeremy wouldn’t murder Sandy,” Eva went on. “He knew that Tania was already getting her revenge.”
“Oh, please – drop the innocent act!” Cherise tossed her head, glaring around the room. “I hate you all! You think you’re so smart! Hey, let’s keep a secret from poor, dumb Cherise. Won’t that be a kick? The way you were laughing at me behind my back. Don’t think I didn’t catch on!”
“Catch on to what?” Jeremy asked.
“Keith’s other video project – the candid video project, as if you didn’t know,” Cherise sneered.
“Huh?” Tania asked. “What video project?”
“You all know that Sandy pretended to like me – just for the candid video,” Cherise went on. “You all humiliated me, laughed at me – just for a stupid videotape!”
So there ya’ go. Keith and Sandy were making some other weird video where he pretended to like Cherise so she killed him. Then she lunges at Keith.
The last chapter is the police dragging Cherise away and Keith’s camcorder jamming.
That’s it. One paragraph (ish) for each of the 27 chapters of Who Killed the Homecoming Queen? By R. L. Stine. This one was fine – standard pulp fiction fare. The cliffhangers are still frustrating, the herrings are huge, and the scares really aren’t scary, but I didn’t hate my time with this book. It was fine. Now excuse me while I try to figure out what in the hell “homecoming” is.
When I was eight, during the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took my sister and me halfway around the world to the Philippines. The trip was my first venture outside the United States, my first plane ride, and my first time in a country that spoke a completely different language. It wasn’t a random trip to a random country – my mother is Filipina, and we had (and still have) extensive family out there. I spent most of my time running around, exploring the countryside where my family lived on the slope of the Mayon Volcano. My favorite haunt was a dilapidated church and the adjacent graveyard. I was obsessed with the cracked gravestones and the icon of Mary with the faded paint and a chipped hand. Unlike Gabe in Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I never came face to face with a supernatural creature, but I like to think I had an adventure, albeit a safe one.
R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was an absolute delight to read. This is what I came to Goosebumps for: kids my age (or slightly older) overcoming scary situations with a little dash of humor. While on a trip to his ancestral home of Egypt, our protagonist, Gabe, explores the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gabe a sweet kid and his uncle, scientist Ben Hassan, is a likable adult who helps his nephew. Gabe adversary is his cousin, and Ben’s daughter, Sari, who is charming in her own way. I’m looking forward to exploring this book – this reminder of why I loved these books so much as a kid.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book starts at the Great Pyramid and a thirsty child. Gabe asks his parents for water.
“We can’t you a drink now,” she answered, staring at the pyramid. “Stop acting like you’re four. You’re twelve, remember?”
“Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,” I muttered. “All this sand in the air, it’s making me gag.”
“Look at the pyramid,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “That’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to get a drink.”
Hey, Mom, you can drink and look at pyramids at the same time. The end of the first chapter surprised me. Instead of a danger that is revealed to not be a danger at all, we have an ominous passage:
“I’m afraid you’ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,” Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.
“I’ve already appreciated it,” I told him glumly. “Can we get a drink now?”
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it – probably forever.
I’m in. I’m interested. I want to know where the story is going, and I’m happy the first chapter’s cliffhanger wasn’t some fake out.
Gabe’s dismissive parents are quickly ushered away from the book and our protagonist is left with his Uncle Ben Hassan, an Egyptologist with a daughter, Sari. Gabe has an adversarial relationship with Sari. She treats him like a child despite their identical ages. She has a strained relationship with her cousin, but she has a great relationship with her father – one that sometimes forces Gabe to look at them through an invisible barrier. The father and daughter have inside jokes and play pranks on Gabe. He gets frustrated with them, but, as a reader, I never felt the jokes were too malicious, and I have the notion that Uncle Ben has played these pranks on his daughter and that the source of their inside jokes. He’s trying to pull his nephew into a relationship the only way he knows how – jokes.
Uncle Ben has discovered a new burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and he invites his nephew on a tour. This is where we have our classic horror warning.
Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. “Clip them into your jeans as we go in,” he instructed. He gazed at me. “You don’t believe in curses, do you? You know – the ancient Egyptian kind.”
I didn’t know how to reply, so I shook my head.
“Good,” Uncle Ben replied, grinning. “Because one of my workers claims we’ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we’ve activated some curse.”
This is classic horror. The characters were warned. The strange old man told the teenager to avoid Camp Blood. The fortune teller told the young jock not to enter the abandoned funhouse. The cheerleader read the stories about the escaped convict who targets babysitters. They were warned, but they continued deeper into the pyramid.
Uncle Ben goes down a rope ladder first, followed by Gabe, who falls off. Sari catches him. She teases Gabe, but she would never let him get hurt.
They reach the bottom of the pyramid and Uncle Ben introduces us to his excavation team – Ahmed, a taciturn man who is obsessed with the curse, Quasimodo, which is a nickname, and Christy. It’s nice to see a woman among the archaeologists. Thank you for the representation, Stine.
Uncle Ben forbids the children from exploring on their own, but the kids do it anyway in typical kid fashion. Sari gets ahead of Gabe and he gets lost trying to find her. He stumbles on a “mummy case.”
Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.
The lid raised up another inch.
I took another step back.
And dropped the flashlight.
I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back into the mummy case.
The lid was now open nearly a foot.
I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.
I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.
The lid creaked and opened another inch.
I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.
From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.
This is a fun, scary passage, even though the single sentence paragraphs make the passage look like a poem. The mummy is just Sari, but I wasn’t mad. I just thought, “Oh, that Sari, always with the pranks.”
Uncle Ben finds the children and admonishes them for running off. The next morning, Uncle Ben leaves the children behind at the hotel after two workers come down with a “mysterious illness.” Sari and Gabe get bored and decide to go to the museum. Gabe goes over the mummification process, complete with brain pulling and intestine yanking, much to Sari’s chagrin. We see that Sari is not impervious to everything around her. Her father is an Egyptologist and she has no problems spelunking in a stuffy pyramid, but she cannot listen to her cousin say things like, “The brain had to come out first. They had this special tool. It was like a long, skinny hook. They’d push it up the corpse’s nose until it reached the brain and then wiggled it back and forth, back and forth, until the brain became mush.” Sari is complicated. Just don’t talk about guts and she’s fine.
They see Ahmed in the museum and after a brief chase scene, Ahmed tells them that Uncle Ben sent him to get the children, so the children get into his car with him. They realize they aren’t heading back to the hotel – they’re being kidnapped! That’s terrifying! Fun fact! When I was a kid, someone tried to kidnap my sister and me, but that’s a story for another review.
The kids jump out of the car and run back to the hotel. Uncle Ben returns and they tell him about their experience with Ahmed. Uncle Ben believes them. He doesn’t imply that they didn’t understand what was happening, he doesn’t dismiss the children. He actually listens to them. Thank you, Stine, for having at least one adult actually listen to a child for once.
Uncle Ben wants to leave the children in the hotel, but Sari and Gabe convince him to take them with as he returns to the pyramid. He gives them beepers in case they get separated, and, of course, they get separated. If they didn’t get separated it would be the end of the story. The floor gives out from beneath Gabe and he falls on his beeper, breaking it, but he’s in an undiscovered section of the pyramid.
There were mummies leaning against the wall. Mummies lying on stone slabs, arms crossed over their chests. Mummies leaning at odd angles, crouched low or standing tall, their arms straight out in front of them like Frankenstein monsters.
I realized that I had made an incredible discovery here. By falling through the floor, I had found a hidden chamber, a chamber where mummies had been made. I had found all of the tools and all of the materials used to make mummies four thousand years ago.
That’s creepy – a room full of dead bodies. Sari catches up with Gabe, but Ahmed is close behind. He reveals that the chamber is the “sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala” and Ahmed as trying to prevent anyone from trespassing on it. Then he the true identities of the surrounding mummies.
“They were all violators of the Priestess’s chamber,” Ahmed revealed. The thin smile that formed on his face could only be described as a proud smile.
“You mean – they’re not from ancient Egypt?” Sari cried, raising her hands in horror to her face.
“A few of them,” Ahmed replied, still smiling that frightening, cold smile. “A few of them were ancient intruders. Some are quite recent. But they all have one thing in common. They all became victims of the curse. And they all were mummified alive!”
Then he points out the one he did himself! This dude is insane and scary as shit. Uncle Ben finds them and tries to reason with him “scientist to scientist.” Ben, boobala, the man threatened your assistants by showing them what it would be like to be boiled alive. He’s not a scientist. He’s a crazy man with a knife who is threatening your daughter.
Ahmed knocks Uncle Ben out and forces the scientist into a coffin with the children. There’s a little crying and suspense before Uncle Ben wakes up and reveals that every coffin has a trap lever. That’s a little deus ex machina – I wanted the children to figure out a way out for themselves and save their Uncle, or maybe the kids could have observed the trap lever during their trip to the museum. I guess the book can’t be perfect.
The kids and Uncle Ben escape and are forced into a final confrontation with Ahmed. Gabe pulls out a mummy hand that he keeps with him. (This isn’t a deus ex machina – it’s been mentioned.)
Maybe I thought the mummy hand would distract Ahmed.
Or interest him.
Or confuse him.
Or frighten him.
Maybe I was just stalling for time.
Or maybe I was unconsciously remembering the legend behind the hand that the kid at the garage sale had told me.
The legend of why it was called The Summoner.
How it was used to call up ancient souls and spirits.
Or maybe I wasn’t thinking anything at all.
But I spun around and, gripping it by its slender wrist, held the mummy hand up high.
Ahmed stared at it.
But nothing happened.
I waited, standing there like the Statue of Liberty with the little hand raised high above my head.
It seemed as if I were standing like that for hours.
The thought of this kid holding up a mummy hand while everyone around him is just staring at him and shrugging is a hilarious. I laughed out loud. If there’s an episode of the television show based on this book, I hope that’s played with a comedic beat. (I just checked – there is no television adaptation of this book.)
But the mummy hand does something eventually – the mummies come to life and chase Ahmed out of the pyramid, allowing Uncle Ben, Sari, and Gabe to escape. Ahmed should have been run into the tar pit, but that might be too gruesome for a kid’s book, even if the book is a horror book.
It ends with the three of them sharing a moment, including a silly pun that will probably be an inside joke between them.
“We’re okay,” Uncle Ben said gratefully, throwing his arms around Sari and me. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”
“We can go now!” Sari cried happily, hugging her dad. Then she turned to me. “You saved our lives,” she said. She had to choke out the words. But she said them.
Then Uncle Ben turned his gaze on me and the object I still gripped tightly in front of me. “Thanks for the helping hand,” Uncle Ben said.
I see what you did there.
Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was a delight. It was scary, funny, and I loved the dynamic between Gabe, his cousin, and his uncle. This is what Goosebumps is all about: a kid overcoming a scary situation with gumption and humor. I had an adventure to an ancestral homeland when I was a kid and, while it didn’t involve any mummies, I keep those treasured memories in a special part of my brain. Gabe’s experience was scary, but he became closer to his uncle and cousin, and now he has a great story to tell. And I enjoyed reading it.
Next time: The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs
I was apprehensive about doing Fear Street. I have fond memories of the series, and it was included in my attempt to buy back my childhood – scouring thrift stores for books. Long before I decided to write this essay series (“Rereading My Childhood” – in case you forgot), I read Fear Street: The Stepsister. I hated that book. When I say “hate,” I mean I wanted to throw that book into a fire. I loathed every character – the sister main character who is entirely too paranoid, the inconsiderate stepsister, the fake actual sister, the dismissive mother, and the worst character in teen genre fiction history – the misogynistic father who serves no purpose other than to say creepy comments to his step-daughter and harass the mother. He should have been the killer. He should have died. However, he was not. In fact, the “twist” wasn’t really a “twist” but something so obvious I called it on the third page, making it pointless and frustrating. After reading that book (and I won’t do a Rereading of it – the thought of spending my time writing about it makes me want to destroy my computer so I have an excuse not to do it), I wasn’t sure if I could read the rest of the Fear Street series. Are they unreadable to anyone over the age of thirteen?
I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?
I liked it! Like The Stepsister, this one also features a pair of sisters who don’t get along. Unlike The Stepsister, it doesn’t feature a gross stepfather and a dismissive mother. The mother in this book is a good character, and neither sister is outwardly evil. We see our protagonist’s flaws while speaking to her sister, and her sister exhibits some petty behavior. This one also has several twists, some better than others, but the biggest one is so insane I never saw it coming. It’s not a “deus ex machina,” so I wasn’t angry. Overall, this is a solid Fear Street book that centers on some great and flawed female characters.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Fear Street: Bad Dreams starts with a prologue in which a nameless character is murdered by her sister in her gorgeous canopy bed. It’s a creepy scene. There’s something in the shadows of the room. It’s her sister! Her sister with a knife! Her sister kills her – like straight-up knifes her. R. L. Stine is not fucking around. At least, not at the beginning.
Now we’re in the first chapter. The chapters are similar to the ones in Goosebumps – short. It seems Stine’s affinity for short chapters didn’t end with Goosebumps. The short chapters are back and shorter than ever!
We meet the Travers sisters – Maggie and Andrea and they do not get along. Maggie believes that their mother holds Andrea to a lower standard than Maggie, despite their close ages, and Andrea is jealous of Maggie’s inherent advantages in the looks department. Maggie is described as an effervescent, red-haired gorgeous teen, while Andrea is listless and dull. However, Andrea is a snob and resents moving to a poorer neighborhood after their father died and their mother was unable to maintain their lifestyle.
They reach their new house on Fear Street and Maggie’s dog, Gus, runs out into traffic, and we have our first cliffhanger. The dog is fine, of course. Stine knows better than to kill off a dog at the beginning of the novel.
The family enters their new house, and in one of the rooms, the one designated to Maggie, is a gorgeous canopy bed.
“Say, Mags,” Andrea began. “Mags, you know how I’ve always wanted an old-fashioned bed like this one, right?” Andrea bit her lip.
Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.
Sure enough, Andrea demanded, “Can I have it?”
Can I have it? – Andrea’s four favorite words.
Andrea stared at Maggie, pleading with her eyes. Maggie lowers hers to the bed.
What should I tell her? Maggie asked herself. What should I do?
Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?
What should I say?
If Maggie had known the horrors that awaited her in the old canopy bed, her answer might have been different.
But she had no way of knowing why the bed had been left behind.
Ooh, ominous, and a proper cliffhanger ending to a chapter. Mrs. Travers decides that since it came in Maggie’s room, and since Andrea choose the larger room, that Maggie should keep the bed. To which Andrea wails, “But that’s soooo unfair!” Mrs. Travers is completely fair, but I can imagine a girl who has been coddled her entire life thinking that she should get the canopy bed and the bigger room.
Maggie complains to her inconsequential boyfriend Justin about the house, saying it looks like The Addams Family house. (Don’t drag that house – it’s a museum. It says so in the theme song, and I would love to live in a museum.) I say “inconsequential” because he doesn’t do anything. He could be cut from the book and it would have no effect on the plot, and he’s the only dude. I wish Stine cut that sausage out so the book is a pure clambake, but we live in a world in which every story has to have at least one dude. At least he’s relegated to the “girlfriend” character like women in, oh, just about every movie ever. #progress #feminism
That night, Maggie has her first nightmare involving a blonde girl, and she wakes up screaming after a chapter break. Her mother suggests that she is overcome with stress, which is a reasonable reaction, no sarcasm at all. Stress does some crazy things to people, and nightmares are a common symptom.
The next morning, Justin comes over with sponges. How romantic. They make out, and we get a daytime scare.
When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.
Maggie’s heart was thudding in her chest. She gave Justin several quick kisses on the cheek.
Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.
And she saw that they were not alone.
Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.
The girl from the dream!
No, it’s just Andrea asking for a camera. Whomp-whomp trumpet noise. This makes Andrea seem like a voyeur, like she was going to say, “Don’t let me interrupt you – I like to watch.” That would be creepier than anything in this book.
Just two pages later, Justin can’t breathe! He’s in peril!
Oh, no. He’s just having a little goof at Maggie’s expense. End of Justin’s contribution to the book. Good riddance. Begone! Go back whence you came! A football or something.
Maggie and Andrea are on the swim team and are competing with two other girls, Dawn and Tiffany, for one of two spots on the 200IM. That’s a thing, right, Stine?
Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.
But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.
She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!
She pushed harder, harder – as she came to the end of the breaststroke. But then she made a poor turn at the wall.
I’ve blown it! She thought.
She had never lost a really big race before.
Could she still win? It was now or never.
Freestyle was her strongest stroke. But she had only two laps to catch up.
She felt as if she was skimming over the water. The shrill cheers and screams in the gym reached an ever higher pitch. Nearing the far wall, Maggie passed Andrea – then Tiffany.
The passage wrapped me up in the excitement. This was actual suspense – not that boring white boy feigning peril. More like this, please.
Maggie comes in first, followed by Dawn and then Tiffany with Andrea bringing up the rear. After the race, Maggie sees Dawn floating facedown in the pool. Danger? No, of course not. She’s just practicing breathing control. Then the girls laugh until the end of the chapter, where Maggie has another nightmare.
Andrea wakes her up and Maggie blames the bed for her nightmares.
Andrea stood up. She ran her finger down one of the bedposts. “See? I told you-you should’ve let me have this bed. It’s bad luck. And it’s giving you nightmares.”
Maggie stared at her as if she hadn’t heard. “The bed . . .” she said. That was it! She reached out and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Andrea, you’re right! The girl in the dream, the girl in trouble? She was sleeping in this bed!”
“That’s spooky,” Andrea admitted. “And she got . . .”
She let the question trail off. Maggie finished it for her. “Stabbed,” she murmured softly. “With a knife. Over and over. Don’t you see? I knew it was too good to be true,” Maggie moaned unhappily.
“The owners just leaving this beautiful bed behind. There had to be something wrong with it.”
Andrea insists the stress is getting to Maggie. Hey, Maggie? There’s a simple way to prove the bed is causing nightmares: give the bed to Andrea and see if she gets the same dreams. This isn’t complicated. Yeah, maybe your sister gets a neat canopy bed, but she might also get nightmares where nothing happens. You pass on the nightmares or you realize it’s stress and can deal with it – either way no more nightmares.
Maggie doesn’t do that. Instead, she implies that Andrea wants Maggie to be less stressed so Andrea can swim in the 200IM. They fight after Maggie’s shitty inference. Up until this exchange, Maggie has been tolerant of Andrea’s pettiness, but in this chapter, we get to see that Maggie isn’t completely innocent. Andrea was showing genuine interest in Maggie’s well-being, but Maggie had to throw in some backhanded comment. Andrea can act immature, but Maggie doesn’t act like an adult either.
The next day, Dawn falls down some stairs and breaks her arm. She thinks Maggie pushed her like Nomi in Showgirls. Maggie goes home and falls asleep on the couch. Then she goes outside and falls asleep there. She wakes up and some weird old man is staring at her.
His name is Milton Avery, and in true deus ex machina form, he and his wife tell them about the murder that happened in the house.
Mr. Avery continued. “There was a girl about your age – named Miranda. Pretty girl with blond hair.”
Maggie knew instantly that Miranda had to be the blond girl in her dream!
“Did Miranda live in my house?” Maggie asked eagerly.
“She and her family lived in your house, yes,” answered Mr. Avery.
“Milton, that’s enough,” Mrs. Avery spoke up.
“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.
“She was killed,” the old woman blurted out. “Murdered.”
“She was stabbed,” Mr. Avery said in a hushed whisper. “Stabbed right in her own bed.”
Yeah, that was pretty obvious from the prologue, but thanks, Old Man Avery, for peeping at seventeen-year-olds, I guess. He’s probably banned from the local mall.
Maggie dreams more and mistakes common household items (a curling iron) for various murdering paraphernalia (a knife). Her mother sends her to a therapist after Maggie yells, “I’ll never calm down!” That’s a totally normal thing to say there, Mags. That’ll work.
During swim practice, Tiffany wins the 200IM. Coach pulls Maggie aside and encourages her to work things out internally, within herself, and externally, with her sister. Maggie leaves Coach’s office and finds Tiffany covered in blood. Tiffany was stabbed! But she doesn’t die so that makes the current death count for this book just one unfortunate sister during the prologue. I understand not killing off Dawn – it’s an early incident in the book and Dawn is Maggie’s best friend. Tiffany, however, is a completely expendable character who we never see again.
The novel culminates in an attic showdown, but it starts during a barbeque with the teen peepers.
I’m tired enough to go to sleep right now, Maggie decided.
I have to get to the end of the dream. I have to put this nightmare behind me.
“I’m going to get some more soda,” she lied, getting up from the table.
Everyone was staring at her. Her mom started to her feet with a worried look.
“I’m just going to the refrigerator, Mom,” Maggie said. “Chill out.”
She smiled at everyone, but she smiled too hard – which only made her feel like a lunatic.
I can imagine this unhinged, wide smiling. It’s unnerving. Maggie goes upstairs to sleep (how she planned to deal with her mother when she didn’t come back after getting a soda, I have no idea), but the canopy bed is, just like, gone. That night, Maggie finds the bed in the attic with a person asleep in the bed.
“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.
“Gena,” the girl replied. “Wasn’t I in the dream?”
“I-I don’t know,” Maggie told her. She edged toward the attic stairs.
“I’m Miranda’s sister,” the girl said angrily. “Why wasn’t I in the dream?”
After Gena murdered her sister Miranda, she lived in the attic! This bitch lived in the attic Hugo from The Simpsons style, listening to everything happening in the house. She was appearing in corners. She was stealing knives. She pushed Dawn down the stairs. She stabbed Tiffany. Why?
“But I’m going it for you, Andrea,” Gena replied, sounding hurt. “She’s mean to you. She’s mean – like Miranda.”
“For me?” Andrea cried. “What did you do for me?”
“I did everything for you,” Gena replied softly.
“I did everything for you, Andrea,” Gena continued, ignoring Maggie’s terrified cries. “I hurt those two girls for you. So you could be on the swim team.”
“You what?” Andrea shrieked.
‘Oh, no,” Maggie gasped. “She’s the one who hurt Dawn and Tiffany. I don’t believe it.”
“And I pushed the knife into your sister’s pillow, Andrea,” Gena confessed proudly. “You know. To give her a little scare. To get her ready for tonight.”
“But I don’t want you to kill her!” Andrea wailed. “Who are you? What is going on? How did you get into our house?”
“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.
She lowered her gaze to Maggie. “It’s time for mean sisters to die.”
Andrea is forced to save her sister and together they defeat Gena, tying her up and, I’m assuming, handing her over to the local law enforcement. (Does Shadybrook have a police force? They must be busy with all the disproportionate murdering and attempted murdering.) Miranda and Gena are a reflection of Andrea and Maggie. By actually confronting what their relationship could be, they are able to overcome their issues and become better sisters.
Admittedly, the twist came out of nowhere. I conjecture that the prologue was added later, but the addition rendered the teen-peepers-exposition-Averys useless.
The Averys could be cut. The boyfriend is extraneous. Tiffany should have been killed to show how close the danger is to Maggie. Despite this, I still had a great time reading it. I think my opinion is a bit skewed. The last Fear Street I read (The Stepsister) made me livid. Frankly, I was happy with the flawed female characters, and I was even happier there wasn’t a terrible, misogynistic, creepy male character. I was happy with the twist that came out of nowhere, but at least I didn’t predict it on page three. If the rest of the Fear Street books are at least as good as Bad Dreams, we’re in for a glowing series of reviews. I don’t think that will happen, but at least I’m committed, and if I hate the book, you’ll read all about it.
We’re going back to Stoneybrook next week, but the next book in the series isn’t a normal one. I’m reading The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook next time, and that should be a quick one!