Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

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

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

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kris didn’t laugh.

Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.

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

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

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

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

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

“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.

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

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

Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But, Lindy-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye

Bring a kid sucks. There. I said it. No “Cult of the Child” Victorian bullshit here. You don’t get to do all the great things that adults get to do: stay up late, eat whatever you want, drive, go shopping, pay bills, get insurance, look at stock options, cut down on your cholesterol. Kids just sit around watching television, loading up on sugar, all while your parents force you to go to school to learn new and interesting things. Wait? What was I going on about?

That’s Mallory’s problem: she wants to be treated more grown-up at the advanced age of eleven. She wants to be older and join the BSC because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: you wish you were older and you try to impress older kids, who are practically adults as far as you were concerned. You try to impress them so much you give them all your money without much coercion. That’s not based on anything true or anything. It’s not like the girl down the street asked me for money and I gave it all to her because she was so cool and tall and as big as a real adult and she could ride her bike with her hands off the handles and she had all these cool friends who said neat stuff like “as if” and I wanted to be just like them. That never happened . . .

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory
My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory – Really, kids? You care about her hair? Not her distended torso and little legs?

Spectacles. Eyeglasses. Bifocals. Trifocals. No matter what you call them, glasses are glasses and I have to wear them.

Hello. I’m Mallory Pike. I’m eleven.

This is what we are greeted with. Synonyms for glasses. A greeting. A name. An age. Then she talks about her family: all seven younger brothers and sisters and their quirks. There are the triplets who are mean. The brother who wants to be like the mean triplets. The one who wants to be a poet and it annoying. The one who is “silly.” The one who is “etc.” She continues with her parents, who are fascinating.

My mom doesn’t have a job. I mean, a job outside of the house, like being a doctor or an insurance salesperson or something. She says us kids are her job, and that with eight of us it’s a big job.

Yeah, I imagine it would be a big job. However, if she doesn’t have a job, why does she always need a babysitter? Later in the book, Kristy refers to the Pikes as “their best clients.” That means they have enough money to live in suburban Connecticut, hire babysitters, have a house in Beach City, New Jersey, can actually go on vacation, have a woman who comes to clean, and raise this ten person family. How about Dad, Mal?

My dad is a lawyer, but not the kid you see on TV, making wild speeches ina  crowded courtroom. He’s what’s called a corporate lawyer. He’s the lawyer for a big company in Stamford, Connecticut. (We live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, which isn’t far away.) Mostly, he sits at a desk or attends meetings. Once in while, though, he does go to court, but I bet he doesn’t make speeches. I think he just stands up a lot and say, “Objection!” and things like that.

She doesn’t go into detail but a company that can pay a lawyer enough to maintain this level of lifestyle is one of two things: a corrupt company that provides an essential service but is destroying the world, akin to Amazon or BP, or, more likely, a front for the mob. Mallory Pike’s dad works for the mob. Say it with claps between each word. Louder for those in the back. MALLORY PIKE’S DAD WORKS FOR THE MOB.

Anyway, Mallory is excited because the BSC asked her if she was interested in joining the BSC. This an opportunity for growth. She thinks this will be her stepping stone to semi-adulthood as well as an opportunity to learn more about kids and baby-sitting from Stoneybrook’s premier baby-sitters.

Before her first BSC meeting, Mallory wants to look sophisticated, so she chooses to wear her “red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.” To which her little sister, Vanessa, remarks, “You look like a Valentine.” I don’t know if Martin intended this to be hilarious, but Mallory’s outfit is Hilarious, capital H. However, the funniest thing about the outfit is that Mallory has the word “Mallory” on her jumper. As if she was going to forget her name. Or it was just to establish that this red jumper is hers and there is no debate about it. I’m surprised Claudia hasn’t worn a shirt that says “Claudia” on it, but there are still more than a hundred books to go.

But before her first BSC meeting, Mallory has to sit through school. That’s when we meet Jessi (or rather, Jessica) Ramsey – the new girl. She’s tall and has long legs and is awfully composed for a sixth grader. Later, during lunch, Mallory sits near some girls from her class.

“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.

“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.

“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”

I shrugged. “What about her?”

“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.

I nearly chocked. “So?”

“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”

“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”

Sally shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, I don’t know . . .”

You get ’em, Mallory. I was lukewarm on the eponymous jumper wearer but she does something that we should all be doing to bullshit racism. She challenges them. She makes them say what they mean to say. She puts horrible men who say nothing when their friend is gross to a waitress to shame and she’s in sixth-fucking-grade.

Also, wow, Stoneybrook. I thought this place was welcoming. Now I see you for what you really are. When I read this passage, I honestly thought they were going to have a problem with Jessi because they think she’s stuck up. I did not expect the blatant racism. Ann M. Martin is not fucking around.

During Mallory’s first BSC meeting, her “grown-up” outfit does not go over well. Also, Kristy sends Mallory on a trial baby-sitting job with Claudia at her Perkins’. Mallory also reveals that the Ramseys moved into Stacey’s old house. On the next meeting day, Mallory tones down the outfit (a sweatshirt that says “I’d rather be writing my novel” – something I would have killed for when I was a kid) and leaves for Claudia’s residence entirely too early. On the way there, she passes by Stacey’s old house to find Jessi and her siblings outside.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Mallory Pike . . . You probably know that. I mean, but I wasn’t sure. You must have met an awful lot of kids yesterday and today.”

“I have. But I remember your name.”

“I remember yours, too. Jessica. Jessica Ramsey.”

“Right.” Jessica grinned. “Call me Jessi, though.”

She has a little sister named Becca and a baby brother named Squirt (his real name is John Philip – they didn’t actually name their kid “Squirt”). Mallory and Jessi hit it off and Jessi tells her a joke:

“A farmer is driving down a highway and he sees a truck by the side of the road. It’s got a flat tire, and the driver, who is holding a penguin, looks really upset, so the farmer pulls up and says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the driver says, ‘Oh yes, please. I’m taking this penguin to the zoo. It’s right down the road. Could you take him there for me while I wait for the tow truck?’ The farmer says, ‘Sure,’ takes the penguin, and drives off. The next day the driver is going down a street and he sees the farmer with the penguin. ‘What are you doing?’ he cries. ‘You were supposed to take that penguin to the zoo!’ The farmer smiles. ‘I did,’ he answers, ‘and he had so much fun that today I’m taking him to the circus!'”

Okay, Jessi. Not a bad goof, especially for a sixth grader. And definitely funnier than Louis C.K. Sorry, it’s true.

Jessi invites Mallory up to her room and they bond over horse books and more jokes. It’s sweet and Jessi is cool. I was always ambivalent about both Mallory and Jessi when I was a kid, but I think I was just forced to be selective in my book buying. I couldn’t get every book, so I clung to specific baby-sitters (Mary Anne, mostly) so I could easily choose which books to get. Now that I’m an adult and I can buy as many as my budget allows, I can see the merit of Mallory and Jessi.

Later Mallory shows up to the next meeting and is greeted with a bit of news: she is going to have to take a test administered by the BSC. You know, totally normal things that all babysitters have to go through with questions like, “At what age does a baby cut its first tooth?” Mallory answers, “Eight months,” but Kristy says she’s wrong. The age when a baby cuts its first tooth is seven months. Because that one month is so different. Also, “What is the difference between creeping and crawling?” What I’m getting at is that the test they administer is unfair, especially when the other babysitters didn’t have to take such a test. Did Dawn take this test when she joined? No. They only administer this test to Mallory. She (rightfully) becomes frustrated with them, but there’s still hope: her trial baby-sitting job with Claudia.

Did you actually think that would go perfectly? There would be no book if everything went well. The first thing Mallory does wrong is ask Perkins’ what they want to eat. Claudia says, “Just give them something – something healthy. That way, there won’t be any arguments.” Which is fine advice but Claudia didn’t have to sound go haughtily about it, Miss I-Hide-Candy-In-A-Bag-Behind-My-Dresser. Then Mallory drops a glass and it breaks. Lastly, Mallory lets the dog in and he causes a raucous. After each minor infraction, Claudia chastises her.

During the next meeting, they agree to let Mallory join the BSC . . . if she goes through yet another test. Mallory refuses to take another test, as she should, and storms out of the club, bringing us to the second act.

Mallory and Jessi bond over more books the next day at school. Then Jessi says that no one at school has talked to her. Her sister is also having trouble making friends. In fact, the whole town isn’t talking to the Ramseys. Jessi can’t even join a ballet troupe in Stoneybrook for fear of making everyone mad.

“I’m even thinking of not taking dancing lessons here. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Can’t you just imagine it? They’d hold auditions for a ballet, but they’d never give me the lead, even if I was as good as Pavlova.”

“Who’s Pavlova?”

“This famous ballerina. You know what would happen if they did give me the lead?”

“What?” I asked.

“Everyone would be upset that a black girl got it instead of a white girl.”

That’s absolute bullshit, but it’s absolutely true. Remember when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? And they were great! And that character was actually black! Remember the bullshit when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino? That was perfect casting, and she was great, also, and people still got pissed that she got the part. Jessi is right. Jessi tells it like it is. Jessi also has horses and jokes. Nowadays, she’d have a popular horse comedy podcast.

But it’s the late ’80s and podcasts haven’t been invented yet and so Mallory and Jessi decide to start their own babysitters’ club because that’s what keeps happening in Stoneybrook.

It’s called Kids Incorporated and the idea is that you get two babysitters for the price of one. They only get one job – for the Pikes. While Dawn is on another babysitting job, she sees Mallory and a girl she doesn’t know (Jessi) babysitting the Pikes and tells Kristy. Kristy calls the Pikes “their best customers” and sees Kids Incorporated as a threat.

Meanwhile, Jessi is accepted into an advanced ballet class in Stamford so that’s nice. What’s not nice is how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook. Mallory remembers that Stacey’s family had people over every day welcoming them into the neighborhood, but not the Ramseys. That’s some stone-cold racism right there.

While Mallory and Jessi babysit Becca, they blow bubbles on their front porch.

Becca made another bubble, and another.

At the house across the street, the door opened and a face looked out.

Becca made a fourth bubble.

A little girl stepped onto the porch.

Becca made a fifth bubble.

The girl tiptoed down her front stoop and halfway across the lawn to watch Becca and her bubbles.

“Look,” I said, nudging Jessi.

“I know,” she whispered.

The girl reached the street, crossed it carefully, and ran to Becca. “How do you do that?” she asked. “Those are the biggest-”

“Amy!’ called a sharp voice. An angry looking woman was standing on the porch across the street.

Amy turned around. “Mom?”

“Come here this instant,” said her mother stiffly. Then she went back in the house, slamming the door behind her.

It’s this simple scene that shows that racism is learned not inherited. It’s a powerful message to kids: you don’t have to share the same prejudices as your parents. And we see the direct result of that woman’s racism when Becca is crestfallen.

She thought she was going to make a new friend in a town that has been nothing but cold to her. Let’s hope that the mother didn’t want young Amy to play with Becca because a bubble killed her father or something. “Don’t play with bubbles! You know what happened to your father and I can’t have that happen to you, too!”

Or we could just face the fact that Stoneybrook has a dark underbelly. We only see glimpses into the city’s connections with the mob, the orgies that all the parents go to that warrant competing babysitting companies, and the racism, but the clues are there – Stoneybrook, the epitome of American suburbia, is a synecdoche that reflects the problems endemic with American culture.

Or I’m reading too much into the book series aimed at the tween set.

Eventually, the BSC realizes that they were being silly and invite Mallory to officially join the BSC – no more tests. To Mallory’s credit, she insists they take all of Kids Incorporated – including Jessi. Like Michael Scott in The Office when Dunder-Mifflin wanted to buy out The Michael Scott Paper Company and he insisted they take Ryan and Pam as well. The BSC accepts a full takeover and Kids Incorporated is dissolved into the BSC. Good thing since Kids Incorporated wasn’t doing very well. Again, just like that Office episode. Before she accepts, Jessi brings up an important concern.

“But a lot of families around here don’t seem, um, they don’t seem to like me. Because I’m black. So I’m wondering – what if your clients don’t want me to sit for them? I mean, that’s not going to help you at all. It might even hurt the club.”

Oh, god, Jessi! My sweet Jessi!

Kristy says that basically, if they don’t want Jessi to sit for them because she’s black, then Kristy doesn’t want to sit for them. The BSC has two new members, Jessi has some new friends, and even Becca becomes friends with Charlotte Johannsen.

As a kid, I was so lukewarm on Mallory while reading these but this introduction to both Jessi and Mallory is a good book. Martin does a good job confronting racism in this kids’ book without sugar coating it or making it too hard for kids to understand. I like how Mallory doesn’t take any shit from her “friends” about Jessi’s skin color and she helps her even when the BSC sound a little ignorant about how Jessi has been treated. (There is a brief scene where Mary Anne can’t believe that Jessi has been treated poorly, but Mallory tells them about the bubble-fearing woman and how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook.) As far as I’m concerned, Mallory is cooler than me when I was eleven and she probably wouldn’t have given random older girls all their money, unlike this other person I know. You don’t know her. She lives in Canada. I mean, it’s just a story I came up with. A story about a girl who lives in Canada. I swear I’m not talking about me. Her name was . . . Blamy.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-sitters on Board

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

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

The original Fear Street novels were too tame for my sixth-grade self. I craved more blood, more mayhem, more murder. Something shocking. Something that pushes what can be done in YA fiction. Something with more petticoats.

I preferred the spin-off series Fear Street Sagas to the original Fear Street and served as historical fiction. These books went into Shadyside’s tumultuous past, and the infamous Fier (later spelled Fear) Family, starting with Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear.

Technically, this isn’t the beginning. There is a trilogy that comes before these, but I’m not reviewing those today. Instead, I’m starting where the trilogy ends, with the newly widowed Nora Goode trapped in an insane asylum, where all good horror starts.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some 1900’s reason, that’s enough to send a pregnant woman to an insane asylum. Back then, they threw women in asylums for being too mouthy, so this is absolutely believable.

What’s unbelievable is that the asylum thinks that giving an infant to a 12-year-old, who is also a patient, is an acceptable practice, but that’s what they do while they keep trying to convince Nora that the face she saw in the flames was a hallucination. She tries to escape by making a rope out of her hair, but she is caught and they cut off her hair.

Eventually, the asylum plans to take her child, Nicholas, away from her and give him to a family that “has agreed to pay [the doctor] a large sum for a male child.” Nora resists, fighting orderlies that try to pull her away from her son’s cradle. Just as the doctor takes Nicholas from the cradle, the amulet that Nora received as a wedding gift from Daniel glows.

The fire crackled and blazed. The flames grew higher and higher. They reached past the hearth. They climed the wall. The flames lapped greedily at the ceiling. They grew higher until all Nora could see was a wall of fire.

A man emerged fromthe writing flames.

“Daniel,” Nora gasped.

Her husband had come back from the grave.

“Come and join me, Doctor,” Daniel rasped. He reached past Nora and drew the doctor into the raging inferno.

Screaming, the doctor fell to his knees. His eyes bulged. Bulged out farther and farther. Then, with a moist pop, his eyes flew from their sockets and rolled across the floor. They hissed as flames devoured them.

There’s the bloodlust I craved in middle school! That was what the regular Fear Street books were missing: ridiculous body horror and talking fire ghosts.

Nora escapes with Nicholas as the asylum burns down. They stow away on a boat, where Nora eats a rat to survive. That’s a fun scene. She is discovered and the crew thinks she is a witch. Then the boat sinks. They are adrift at sea, but eventually wash up onshore. Somehow, she still possesses the amulet.

She turned it over and read the inscription: DOMINATIO PER MALUM.

“Power through evil,” Nora whispered. “Your father gave this to me as a symbol of his love, Nicholas. The amulet was special to him, because it had been in his family for a long time.”

Nora sighed. “Your father’s family had power and money. But they paid a heavy price. They let evil into their lives, and it destroyed them.”

Nora stared down into the ocea for a long moment. “I do not want that evil to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I do not want you to suffer the same fate your father did.

The amulet felt heavy in her hand. Heavy and warm.

Nora brought her arm backand flung it into the calm sea.

Relief swept through her her. She hugged Nicholas. “Now the Fear evil cannot touch you.”

Nora stared down into her baby’s face. “We are going to start a new life – with new names. From now on, we will be known as Nora and Nicholas Storm.”

And that’s how the book ends.

I’m just kidding. That’s just the end of part one. We get a huge time jump – eighteen years. Nicholas Storm is a fisherman who hates fish. He is also a fisherman who loves a woman named Rosalyn. However, they can’t get married because Nicholas isn’t worth enough money for Rosalyn’s strict father. Also, his mother, our original protagonist, Nora, dies as she was telling him about his father, her last words being, “Your father left you a legacy of…”

So Nicholas goes off to find his legacy so he can someday marry Rosalyn. He leaves Shadow Cove, where he was living, and what do ya’ know, he ends up in Shadyside after a man who looks a little like him yells, “Shadyside!” and disappears. Because that’s how you choose where you want to figure out your life. You wait for a ghost that vaguely looks like you to shout a location and then you buy your ticket. Also, Rosalyn gives him her good luck charm – an amulet she found on the beach, one with some Latin on the back. It’s the amulet her mother threw into the ocean if you haven’t figured that one out.

In Shadyside, he finds Fear Street and thinks about its “strange name.” He stumbles across a huge, dilapidated, burned house. The house “whispers” to him so he decides to enter the house. A woman yells at him, “Daniel Fear! You’re supposed to be dead!” And then she attacks him with a knife.

Instead of running away and giving up this stupid quest, like any other human, he sticks around and asks her questions about the people who used to live there. She starts to cry and says that he ran off with his wife, Nora Goode. That’s enough for him to figure out that his mother changed her name to Nora Storm and his father is Daniel Fear.

Lightning lashed. “I know who I am at last!” Nicholas cried over the booming thunder. “I am Daniel Fear’s son.”

He clenched his fists. “I am Nora Goode’s son!”

He threw his head back.

“I am a Fear!” he shouted. “Nicholas Fear!”

That’s what normal people do – they run into the rain and punch dance their name.

But Nicholas can’t move into the house. He rents a room from a woman and her daughter – a forward girl named Betsy Winter. The next day, he goes to a man, Mr. Manning, to talk about the inheritance he believes he is owed. The man laughs and tells him that there is no inheritance – just a bunch of back taxes on the land. But Mr. Manning owns a sawmill and hires Nicholas so he can get back on his feet. As he is leaving, an out-of-control woman runs into him while on a bicycle. She is Ruth Manning, Mr. Manning’s daughter.

At the sawmill, Nicholas meets his new co-workers – a fussy little man named Jason and a friendly hulking man named Ike. Both Ruth and Betsy show up at different times while they’re working to establish their overt feelings for Nicholas, and so Jason can get jealous over Ruth and be overly protective of Betsy. He is our red herring, after all.

Someone throws a rock at the back of Nicholas’s head with a note that he doesn’t belong in Shadyside. It’s hilarious. Who throws rocks like that? And to hit Nicholas without killing him, the thrower would have to be the weakest person and only a few feet away, which makes me wonder why Nicholas didn’t see who threw the rock. That or Nicholas has a very hard head.

While fixing up his wound, Betsy reveals that she is a Goode, but she doesn’t hate the Fears. This comes up later.

At the sawmill, Ike gets his fingers sliced off, Ruth expresses more interest in Nicholas, but he doesn’t return her affections, and Betsy also expresses more interest in Nicholas.

Later, Nicholas comes home and finds Betsy dead in the kitchen, tied up next to the stove.

He noticed something thick and white pushing its way out of her mouth. Nicholas dropped her wrist. He parted her lips and teeth.

The gooey white substance billowed out of her mouth.

Dough.

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

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

As the dough rose, she suffocated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #4: Happy Birthday, Claudia!

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

It looks like Dawn is back from California.

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Dawn, I don’t really want to discuss my airplane experience. I’m more interested in why the plane ride was “great.” No plane ride has ever been “great” since the chairs stopped lining up with the windows. You know why they don’t line up, right, Dawn?

July 12th is Claudia’s birthday and the BSC gives her a sweet gift.

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That’s adorable and warms this old bitch’s heart. Even I am like, “Yeah, that sounds like something I’d like. It’s personalized and it will keep me warm.” Personalization and mild warmth – two things I like. Hey! You already have two patches!

But the Claudia Birthday Celebration has to end and she asks Kristy to babysit Rosie Wilder for her.

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Poor Claudia, but if you can’t spell “school,” you should probably be in a summer one. I’m sure Kristy is happy to take the job, but Claudia owes Kristy. Not just because it allows Claudia to study, but also because this babysitting job sounds insufferable.

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Yeah, the title of that book is Madeline. It’s the name of one of those twelve little girls, the main character, and you read it yesterday. I realize that it’s summer vacation, but that doesn’t mean you should allow your brain to atrophy over fourteen hours. You read all the books. And made Onion Soup – the one dish the French are famous for because when I think of the French, I think Onion Soup. Escargot, canapes, or those little pastry sandwiches never come to mind. I guess Onion Soup is more accessible to a child. That doesn’t excuse Kristy’s memory. I’m worried Kristy. You’re too young to be experiencing memory loss. I have a book by Mary Lou Henner I think you should read…

The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

Complete candor up front – growing up, I had a difficult time relating to Stacey McGill. I had something in common with every other babysitter. I was Asian American and a daydreamer like Claudia Kishi and a west coast girl like Dawn Schafer. I had the responsibility of Kristy Thomas and the social awkwardness of my favorite Mary Anne Spier. My sister and I seemed like Abby Stevenson and her sister, although I was more Anna than Abby. I always had my nose between the covers of a book and wrote stories that I kept with me wherever I went like Mallory Pike. And finally, Jessi and I shared a sense of humor.

Stacey, on the other hand, was beautiful and boys liked her – neither of which were true about me. Stacey was distant and foreign to me – a gorgeous nymph in a waterfall that I would never reach with my misshapen body. Or, at the very least, she was a popular girl in my class who would never speak to me in the first place.

As I got older, the only thing I remembered about her was that she had diabetes. When I thought back on the series, I said to myself, “Diabetes must have been a bigger deal back then.”

After reading The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy Crazy Stacey, I still think, “Diabetes must have been a bigger deal back then.” But I also see something in Stacey – her unwavering belief in the best in people and vulnerability because of her belief.

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #8 – Boy Crazy Stacey by Ann M. Martin – Someone wanted this to be #3 instead of #8.

The book opens with Stacey and Mary Anne promising the other members of the BSC to write every day and send them postcards. The Pikes are going on a trip to Sea City, New Jersey and they hired the two as 24-hour babysitters for the eight Pike kids.

Eight kids. Mrs. Pike doesn’t work. Two-story suburban house. Beach front vacation house. Seven kids and Mr. Pike’s mystery job.

He is clearly in the mob. He offed some stooly and his mob boss paid for a trip to Sea City, which is close to Atlantic City. That is the only explanation for his ridiculous life, even during the halcyon days of the 1980’s. How can a ten-person family where the mother doesn’t work possibly afford this vacation with two 24-hour babysitters? Illegally, that’s how.

But I digress. There are eight Pike children that Mary Anne and Stacey have to corral around Sea City. The youngest is Claire, 5, followed by Nicky, 8, Margo, 7, Vanessa, 9, the triplets Jordan, Byron, and Adam, 10, and finally, future BSC member, Mallory, who is 11. I had to write down all these children’s names, but Martin does make it easy for the reader to remember who is who. Mallory is the most mature one. Jordan, Byron, and Adam are little jerks. Vanessa rhymes all the times. Nicky wants to emulate his brothers, Claire is obnoxious, and Margo is miscellaneous. That’s how I kept track of them.

Stacey goes over a few of the items she’s bringing along with her to Sea City, one of which is something called “Sun-Lite.” Apparently, if her parents found out she had a “Sun-Lite” bottle, her Mother would murder her. I had no idea what “Sun-Lite” was and I still don’t. A Google search brings me to a lighting company. When I modify my search to add “hair” I get a Florida hair salon. From context clues, it seems to be some kind of bleaching agent. Ann M. Martin fails to explain what it is and this isn’t the last time I came across something I had never heard of.

Chapter 3 starts with our first handwriting section. Stacey asks if Kristy likes the postcard, which is apparently, “wild.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a “wild” postcard. Maybe if it had a nude lady on it. To be fair, there isn’t a description of the postcard, so I guess it could be a nude lady. If you’ve seen a “wild” postcard, let me know in the comments.

The chapter is the car ride from Stoneybrook to Sea City – including a scene where Mr. and Mrs. Pike exchange instructions. Now he’d just plug in the ice cream stop into his phone and follow the directions. Some of the children get sick, sending me into flashbacks. The Pikes have a puke bucket. My family had a puke can.

At the end of chapter three, we are greeted with a lovely passage.

“The Pikes fell into silence as we entered Sea City. They looked awed, and I could see why. Their senses were suddenly overloaded with great kid stuff: the smell of hotdogs and fried food and the sea air, the sounds of the waves and of kids shouting and laughing and calling to each other, but mostly the sights. We passed Trampoline Land and miniature golf and souvenir stands. We passed stores and restaurants and ice-cream parlors. And in the distance was a boardwalk with arcades and a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster and probably plenty of head-spinning rides. And beyond all that gleamed the ocean.”

I was in. The description was exactly what I thought a family destination called Sea City would be. The exception is “Trampoline Land.” I hated the name and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Just an unsafe trampoline in the middle of the beach? This was obviously a time before trampoline misuse amputation. It doesn’t really matter, the children never venture into Accident Waiting to Happen Land.

Chapter 4 is where Stacey meets Scott, the handsome lifeguard. Stacey is instantly smitten, like any 13-year-old girl. What girl hasn’t fallen in “love” with a much older boy? Usually, the admiration is from afar where a girl can daydream about him from a safe distance. However, Stacey actually talks to him after Claire cuts her foot on a shell and Scott the lifeguard has to patch her up. Scott the lifeguard says to Stacey, “I’ve been noticing you.”

I was nauseated. Stacey is thirteen. Thirteen! We learn later that Scott is eighteen-years-old. He is an adult. He is an adult who should know not to pick up girls who have just been introduced to the idea of different teachers for different classes.

I don’t blame Stacey – she’s just a girl with a crush. I blame him. He should know better. He should have just shrugged off her affections and got back to work making sure the beach is safe. Instead, he sends her on food runs only to garnish her with the useless trinket of his summer job – a five cent whistle – and pet names like “babe,” “cutie,” and “princess.” Mary Anne remarks that the gift is stupid. I concur, gurl, I concur.

Stacey spends so much time with him that Mary Anne remarks on page 72:

“You’re getting paid as much as I am,” said Mary Anne in a huff, “and I’m doing all the work.”

Mary Anne is right. While Stacey is off fetching sodasfor an adult man and giving him googly eyes, Mary Anne is with the children, watching over them and keeping them from venturing too far into the ocean. You know, doing the job Mr. and Mrs. Pike paid both of them to do.

Mary Anne and Stacey take the children to miniature golf. This was a bizarre passage. Martin takes the time out to explain miniature golf pars, but not “Sunlite,” “Noskate,” or “lipcoat.” The next chapter is a supplemental chapter featuring Kristy’s baby-sitting adventure. It mentions an “estate sale.” So, a kid may not know what “par” means, but would totally know what an “estate sale” is?

On the other hand, I love the postcards. The contrast between Stacey and Mary Anne’s approaches to the cards is stark and the way they write to other baby-sitters separates how they feel about the other characters. The cards are full of personality. They also tend to foreshadow the chapter. I genuinely enjoy the handwritten bits and I hope I feel the same way in the other books.

In chapter 10, we finally have the fall. Mr. and Mrs. Pike give Stacey and Mary Anne the night off, so the girls go to the boardwalk. We have another term I don’t understand – pedalpushers, which I just Googled and discovered that “pedalpushers” is another word for “capris.”

While on the boardwalk, Stacey discovers Scott making out with some other girl – a girl who is his age and obviously his girlfriend. Stacey is devastated.

The next day, Stacey doesn’t want to go anywhere. She spends the day with Byron, who has been having trouble relating to his brothers. Byron reveals he is afraid of the water. Stacey helps him get over his fear in a lovely scene in which they go for a walk. Stacey comes to the realization that Scott never loved her, but she’s more effusive about it than I was.

“I decided that Scott really did like me, but just as a friend. Or maybe even just as a cute kid.”

No, Stacey. He is an adult. He should have known better. He’s an adult man who took advantage of a child.

At the end of the book, Stacey and Mary Anne hang out with two boys who are appropriate ages. In the background of the book, Mary Anne met a boy named Alex, who was watching over his brothers and sisters. He has a cousin named Toby. Stacey and Toby hit it off. Here we have my favorite outfit of the book:

He was wearing plain white swimming trunks, but his shirt was amazing – tan with silly pictures of cowboy boots and cactuses all over it. And his sunglasses – black bands with narrow slits from side to side to see through.

So our Toby is a futuristic cowboy.

Mary Anne and Alex and Stacey and Toby go on a group date. The group splits and Stacey and Toby go on a Tunnel of Love.

For the record, I have never seen an actual Tunnel of Love ride in my life, but this is a popular trope.

In the Tunnel of Love, Toby kisses Stacey in a sweet first kiss scene. This old asshole smiled when I read it.

The girls say goodbye to their summer romances and return to Stoneybrook, where I’m reminded of how insane Stacey’s parents are. Sure, she had a ridiculous crush, but she took her medicine and ate responsibility. Stacey is a good person who has a disease that she treats with the severity it deserves. Her ability to navigate life with an intrusive disease is commendable and her parents should lay off a little.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I have a few issues.

I wish Stacey realized that Scott was taking advantage of her, but I don’t think Stacey is the kind of person to feel anger so quickly. She believed the best in Scott, even though he never earned that belief. She’s a better person than me.

Also, Martin explains the things like diabetes and what a par in miniature golf is, but not what why Stacey’s parents don’t want her hair lighter, what “noskate” is (I Googled that one, too, to no avail), and other weird products. What are we supposed to know beforehand?

The handwritten parts were always a treat and I think it has a good message about expectations and responsibility. Kristy’s interlude was fun. Most of all, I’m happy to get to know Stacey bitter. Maybe this time around, I’ll find more common ground with the Treasurer of The Baby-Sitters Club.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House