Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Silent Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next day, Pam checks the newspaper. 

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

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

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

“You didn’t shoot him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the top result for “realistic mannequin.”

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

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

“I feel sorry for you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reva avoided Pam’s eyes.

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

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

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

It’s Mr. Wakely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book is for those of us who wish October was an extra two months. So, from me, I hope you’re warm and safe, you are vaccinated, and you have a very Happy Holiday Season.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #3: Forbidden Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Savannah fumed. “You have no right-”

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

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

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

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

So Savannah agrees to marry Tyler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And blood!

He opened his mouth, opened his mouth to speak.

And deep red blood spilled from his lips.

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

Well, Tyler sends them a letter.

Dear Savannah,

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

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

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

Wait for me. I will come back for you.

I promise.

Tyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I killed her.”

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

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

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

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

“You have let the evil live.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: A Shocker on Shock Street

a giant grasshopper on a suburban street

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

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

Burt I. Gordon is suing…

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

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

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

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

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

“Linda! Linda!” I screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

“No way!” Marty insisted.

Cool shock. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, Marty disappears again during the cave sequence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I tugged the mask with all my strength.

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

And felt real fur. And warm skin.

It wasn’t a mask.

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

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

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

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

Well, Marty runs through the door.

And falls while Erin has a meltdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Haunted Mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go, Mom.”

“Yeah. Let’s go. She’s crazy!”

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

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

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

But a loud cry made her stop and spin around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Why not?” Amy exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Egg Monsters From Mars

an egg creature and its green shell sits in a carton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splat! Another egg hit the garage.

Craaack! Eggs bounced over the driveway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Study me?” I squeaked. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, we are left with this final passage:

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Mind Reader

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

It’s happened. 

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

But it’s finally happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

Her smile faded.

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

“How do you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Ghost Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not really. It’s a kite! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I guess Jerri and Terri and dead now?

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just kidding. She was holding a broom. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh?” I gaped at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did he?” I asked.

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

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

I nodded solemnly. “Of course I have.”

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

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

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

“What’s that?” I asked.

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

“But what?” I demanded eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The New Girl

Listen to this on The Podcast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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