sq5nuqI think this book could be used to start discussions with girls and boys about unacceptable ways to be treated or to treat other people, because this is pretty much a novel-length exploration of how not to look out for your own safety.

We skip the prologue from a killer and go straight to Melissa Dryden waking up the house because there are tree limbs knocking on her window and she’s afraid of the Fear Street Prowler. Melissa is rich, lives on Fear Street, and is the same 16-17 as the other main characters through the series. It’s the end of summer, and considering the focus on that one street, you’d think she’d have been mentioned sooner. Especially since her best friend is Della, who didn’t actually kill anyone, but would probably be fine with it if she did. Della is still dating Pete, which might be one of the better dating decisions anyone in these books has made so far.

Despite the family being rich enough to have a live in housekeeper, there’s no air conditioning in Melissa’s room, or most of the house. I’m not sure where Shadyside is supposed to be located, but in the space of a week or so, it goes from ‘too hot to have the window closed while sleeping’ to ‘requiring a sweater to go out after dark.’ I think this book is meant to explore rich vs poor dynamics a bit, but it’s a really clumsy attempt.

Melissa is soon confronted by a ghost in her room. He introduces himself by trying to shove her out a window as revenge because she killed him, but as far as she knows Melissa’s never killed anyone. Considering the way she drives, that’s surprising. Also, it’s only a matter of time. To stop him from killing her, she promises to find out what really happened to him.

She and Della are unable to think of a single teenager who died in the last few years, which means everyone’s forgotten about Evan. He was a jerk anyway, but he got shot not too far from Melissa’s house, so you’d think someone would bring it up. A kid from the poor school on the other side of town remembers a guy who died in a diving accident, but it’s definitely not Melissa’s ghost.

Finally, she runs into her ghost outside of Shadyside’s dance club, Red Heat. Only he doesn’t remember her, he’s definitely alive, and he’s been drinking. He and his buddies unquestionably would have raped her in one of the most upsetting sequences in all of these books so far. This doesn’t stop Melissa from hunting him down and nearly being assaulted by him a few more times because girl has absolutely no stranger danger. She also starts nursing a crush on him–both the living guy and the ghost, because a guy who has tried to kill you or who has tried to rape you and has real problems taking no for an answer is real boyfriend material. Especially when he’s a time traveling ghost and you’ve got a boyfriend.

Considering how much time she spent during this book worrying about killing someone, she never did start paying attention while she was driving. She’s also up there with Della on making terrible decisions, which might explain why they’re such good friends.

So, the carnage? Simultaneously pretty light and also fairly traumatic.

Shadyside death count: 17. I’m including the kid who died in a diving accident.

Additional carnage: No dead animals this time around.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m not sure how that works with time traveling ghosts without causing some sort of paradox. Avoiding paradox may be asking too much of Fear Street books, however, especially since this probably would have been entirely avoided had the ghost never made an appearance. I guess that’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a paradox, though. In any case, calling the police about the time the guys nearly assaulted her wouldn’t have been a bad move. Not continuing to hunt the guys down after that close call also wouldn’t be a terrible idea, especially after the guy you’re afraid of killing informs you that he knows where you live. Finally, not lying to your parents and spending the night alone with a prowler and a violent jerk out there ready to hunt you down would probably also be good.


The Sleepwalker

fear_street_the_sleepwalkerThis is a Fear Street book that breaks the mold by not starting with a first person narration by a murderer and also doesn’t ever feature any menacing phone calls. There is a prologue featuring our main character sleepwalking, in case you weren’t sure why the book was called that. It’s also got cover art by an artist who may have read the book, or at least part of it.

(I’m going to pause to say I adore the covers on this series. The last book in the original run–and the last one I’ll be reading this year–was republished as the beginning of the new series, and I’m a little heartbroken that the copy I found has the new cover instead of the classic cover.)

Mayra Barnes is getting ready to start a summer job with Mrs. Cottler, who may or may not be a witch, but whose home may or may not be based on the home of a number of neopagans I’ve known (or may or may not be based on mine). She appears very young for her age, and her hair is still black instead of grey, which is suspicious because no one in Shadyside has heard of hair dye. She also has a black cat, a huge library, and lives on Fear Street. The job seems to mostly consist of making lunch, going on walks by Fear Lake, and reading out loud to Mrs. Cottler. I want that job.

Mayra lives with her mother, a nurse who previously had the privilege of having Mrs. Cottler as a patient who filed a complaint against her. Her parents divorced and her father disappeared, and I’d like to assume that’s because he’s been arrested on federal charges for being part of that cult from Missing. She also has a little sister who appears exactly twice and does nothing for the story or plot. She’s also recently broken up with Link, who’s a creepy stalker, in favor of Walker, who’s dating the girl with a reputation behind her back (who you know is trouble because she wears band t-shirts, spikes her hair, and has too much jewelry), Suki (who appeared in The Overnight. Of all the characters who’ve appeared in Shadyside so far, I think I’d be most interested in getting a story from her).

Even if he weren’t cheating on her, Walker would still be pretty awful. He constantly seems unhappy to be around Mayra, who is blissfully oblivious because she has even worse taste in boys than Lisa, who finally doesn’t appear in this book. I’ve given up on a Fear Street timeline, but I’m pretty sure Lisa and Corey should have graduated at the beginning of this summer. I also can’t tell if the boys in these books are the worst or if teenage boys in general are the worst. I was really only ever a teenager on technicality and didn’t get them back then, either.

Mayra’s sleepwalking starts shortly after she starts working for Mrs. Cottler, and she entertains the idea that her employer may be a witch or that her ex-boyfriend’s sister, who used to be a good friend of hers, might be one. She starts getting chased around by an angry man who also lives on Fear Street, and when her best friend borrows her mother’s car, she’s run off the road because there weren’t any menacing phone calls, so the inevitable high speed chase had to up the game a bit. Donna gets badly hurt–broken leg, broken arm, broken ribs. Mayra proves she not only has terrible taste in men, but is just the worst friend when she goes to visit and makes every one all about her and her sleepwalking. The narration even mentions how disappointed Donna is when Mayra spends a whole visit on her sleepwalking, then cuts it short.

She sleepwalking keeps escalating, taking her further and further from home, until she walks right out in to Fear Lake and almost drowns. Her mother sends her to talk to a psychiatrist, which seems like a good call, and at one point a police officer picks her up and brings her home. It really is a pity no one around Shadyside seems to want to let the cops do their jobs. They actually seem pretty good at it.

So, the carnage? As light as it’s ever been.

Shadyside death count: 15 total. This time, the death happened before the book opened and is only revealed at the very end.

Additional carnage: No dead animals this time around. Considering how badly Donna was hurt in the car accident, though, it deserves mention here.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m having a hard time pin-pointing an exact moment. In this case, Mayra really needs better taste in men. And to not get in cars she doesn’t recognize. This book does deserve credit for being one a little like The Surprise Party. The mistakes made were fairly understandable (except accusing everyone of being a witch), and even the consequences were somewhat realistic, up until the big plot device that lead to the sleepwalking. Unlike The Surprise Party, that plot device was kind of stupid, but this is still one of my favorites so far.

The Wrong Number

9780671694111Do you know what happens when a car that has crashed catches on fire? RL Stine apparently doesn’t.

In the real world, a car that has caught on fire burns. In Hollywood and in Shadyside, however, every car is a Pinto.

We’re back in familiar territory when the book opens with a first person narrative from a murderer. In this case, a murderer-to-be, as he’s planning rather than gloating.

We then go to Deena Martinson and her friend Jade Smith. The two of them have nothing better to do over the weekend than make a few prank calls, primarily to boys at school because that’s totally what teenage girls do (is that something teenage girls do? I was one, but I wasn’t very good at it). Deena has a half-brother who is coming to live with her family so he can repeat his senior year and hopefully graduate this time around.

Chuck is introduced as sullen, which sounds about right for the kind of kid who got in some kind of trouble, got expelled, and is now being sent to live with a father who must not have spent much time with him the rest of his life. I’m assuming the last bit, but considering that Deena is unfamiliar with him and mentions having only met him a couple of times before, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of family time.

As soon as Deena was ready to write him off, the family narrowly avoided being part of a large accident. Their father sent the two out of the car for safety, and Chuck immediately ran off to rescue a dog in a burning car, which is quite heroic enough without the car then exploding like no car ever.

Chuck then goes on to get into a fight during lunch on his first day in school, and he pulls a knife. I know that the world has changed a whole lot, and weapons policies may not have been a thing yet in 1990, but I’m pretty sure that pulling a knife during a fight has always been the kind of thing that’ll get you kicked out. There’s another interlude from the would-be murderer, clearly meant to make you think it’s Chuck.

This seems like an unfair and unnecessary setup, since Chuck gets involved in the prank calls, then gets involved with Jade. He doesn’t take the legend of Fear Street seriously because why would anyone? We get the legend repeated that there are no birds in the Fear Street Woods. I’m still not sure if this means Fear Island counts or not. So the girls got worked up about it again and he picked up the phone book, found the first address on Fear Street that came up, and called it just in time for it to be answered by a murder victim who was in the middle of being killed.

Naturally, the kids can’t call the cops because no one in Shadyside is willing to let the police do their jobs. Maybe they’re really good at it. We may never know. Instead, they all pile in a car and head over to check out the scene. They are confronted by the actual murderer, and Chuck is dumb enough to pick up the murder weapon, conveniently leaving his fingerprints behind. They’re involved in a car chase because Shadyside has an unusually high number of car chases, and all the menacing phone calls this time were outgoing instead of incoming.

They do finally call the police, and it doesn’t take the police long to arrest Chuck because all of them are idiots. I feel like I’m going to drop a spoiler here, but you’d have to be as dumb as the characters to not figure this out. If you’ve got a problem with a spoiler, skip the rest of this paragraph. The victim’s husband insists that he walked in on them breaking into his house and murdering his wife and he was able to supply their car’s tag number, so it takes our intrepid detectives a depressingly long time to figure out who the real killer is.

Not that this stops the girls from trying to do the job for the police. Jade does have better investigating chops than Meg, I’ll give her that.

So, the carnage?

Shadyside death count: 14 total. The kids did walk in and see the body and the bloody murder scene, however, so the violence in these books is still on the way up.

Additional carnage: One dead cat. It was a pet that probably died of natural causes, but it did make the girls dig around in a dumpster just to find the body, so I’m including it because it died for cheap shock value.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m going to assume ‘don’t make prank calls’ isn’t really a viable solution here. They didn’t want to call the police because Chuck had already called in a bomb threat to a bowling alley (after which Corey was interviewed because you can’t escape him). They were looking for a boy, so if the girls called the police and admitted to the other prank calls, they might have escaped serious trouble. At least they wouldn’t have ended up going through all of the rest of the plot.