The Secret Bedroom

0671724835.01.LZZZZZZZThis is, I think, exactly what I expect out of a Fear Street book.

Or maybe a Goosebumps book, since they seem to have a lot in common in this case.

Lea and her family have just moved to Shadyside. Her parents bought a house on Fear Street, despite the fact that the attic contains a boarded up room that’s been closed off for the last hundred years because there was a murder committed inside it. That right there? That’s the Fear Street I know and love.

Lea’s not thrilled with the house, and she’s not really tearing it up at her new school, either, where she’s only made one friend. At two weeks in, she’s ahead of where I was after a couple of moves, but I still feel her pain. She finally got everyone’s attention when she tripped in the lunch room and and spilled chili on a popular girl’s white sweater. That’s…not really the kind of thing that usually goes over well, so I still feel for her. While Marci, popular redhead with a bad attitude, is off trying to wash chili out of a white sweater, Marci’s boyfriend Don introduces himself and asks Lea out.

I know that teenagers are terrible and all, but wouldn’t that still sound like a terrible idea? I’m pretty sure you aren’t required to accept every date request, especially when the guy issuing the request is currently dating. But Lea’s new, lacking both friends and sense, so she accepts.

Her only friend, by the way, is Deena, who we met back during The Wrong Number. I’m pretty sure she runs into either Lisa or Corey, too. This book was published three years after the first, and it’s clear that several school years have gone by since the original book, so I’m not sure why they’re all still at Shadyside High.

Don shockingly does not appear for their date. Lea locates his phone number and calls only to discover he’s not home. Unable to let it alone, she tracks down Marci’s phone number and calls her to ask if he’s there, because…really? And Marci cracks up because she’d put Don up to asking her out and it’s just unbelievable she fell for it. Really? Has anything like that ever happened anywhere but in a book or movie? Either way, we’ve now established that Don and Marci are both asses and Lea’s a little dumb.

Don finds her to apologize, then Marci follows to apologize, tell her she forced Don to apologize, and invite her to a sorority meeting after school on a floor that doesn’t exist. Lea starts showing a little brains when she figures out on the spot that the floor doesn’t exist, but Marci’s still thrilled with herself.

Since Lea doesn’t know what’s good for her, she can’t let go of the secret room in the attic, either. She’s sure she can hear someone moving around up there, so she makes her way up into the attic to check it out. She’s treated to a waterfall of blood over the door, which is really the kind of sign that you should get out of there already. To her credit, she does just that, then she calls the police. I know I’ve been begging the characters in these books to call the police, but really?

On Lea’s next trip to the attic (because of course she goes back into the attic), the door greets her with shooting metal spikes. Don happens to call while she’s busy freaking out about the door, and when he asks if she wants to meet at the local pizza place she accepts. Really? And then she heads straight there, where she meets Don and Marci, because why in the world wouldn’t that be another set up?

There’s a lot of verbiage put into how evil Marci is and how poor Don is just wrapped around her finger and it’s obvious he’s just such a nice guy, but you know what nice guys don’t do? Repeatedly set someone up for humiliation.

Because Lea’s not too good at learning her lessons, she heads up to the attic again, and finally meets a ghost girl who eventually introduces herself as Catharine. Catharine claims her parents hid her up in the attic for her entire life before eventually killing her. Lea decides the perfect chance to get back at Marci is to use Catharine to play Carrie. There’s no way that plan could go badly.

In order to get to Marci’s house, Catharine has to possess Lea. Once there, after enough demonstrations of telekinetic powers, Marci makes a break for her bedroom, and Catharine gives her a shove over the railing. Marci falls and dies right in front of her mother and Lea. Though she’s unhappy with Catharine, Lea wastes absolutely no time feeling any guilt about Marci’s death. She was kind of a bitch anyway, right? She and Della should probably hang out. They can go on a murder spree together.

In a twist I absolutely did not in any way see coming, it turns out that Catharine isn’t very trustworthy at all. Also, Don starts calling Lea because he really is terrible. I’d say she can do better, but as of her guilt-free murder, I’m not so sure.

So, the carnage?

Shadyside death count: 23. Maybe 26. Marci’s death by ghost, Catharine, and her parents. I’ve counted deaths in the past before, so I’ll go with 26.

Additional carnage: No dead animals, which was refreshing.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: Not buying a house on Fear Street? I’m not gonna lie, though. If I had a chance to have an address on a street with a name as ridiculous as Fear Street, I wouldn’t pass it up. A boarded up room in the attic that was the scene of a murder a hundred years ago would just be extra incentive. Since the dangerous room in the house was apparently Lea’s bedroom instead of the attic, and since Lea was hallucinating all of the attic scenes, I’m going to have to just go with this: using a ghost to get revenge on a bully is a bad plan. Maybe it wouldn’t have been possible to avoid being possessed, but I’m pretty sure Marci didn’t have to die.

Lights Out

0671724827.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_Lights Out opens in familiar territory–we get a narration from a killer, this time in the form of a letter addressed to Chief. Then it immediately yanks us away from Shadyside to Camp Nightwing. Yup, like Ski Weekend, we’ve got another book that’s only related to Fear Street in that the main character lives there. There’s a practical joker who no one thinks is funny because of course there is, and he lampshades Friday the 13th pretty quickly.

How many Shadyside High students have lived on Fear Street so far? I should go back and count. It seems like a lot for a street that’s supposed to be filled with abandoned houses that everyone’s afraid of.

In any case, our heroine this time around does not immediately endear herself when the first thing she does it have a fit over a spider on her pillow. In a bunk at a camp. She also throws the pillow onto someone else’s bunk, spider and all, instead of either killing it or tossing it outside. She doesn’t like bugs or really anything about being outside, but she’s working at the camp to help out her uncle.

Her uncle purchased Camp Nightwing in his latest doomed business venture. I’m always curious about the kind of people with no business sense and terrible luck who somehow still manage to acquire the funds necessary for yet another bad idea. I’m not sure what kind of track record summer camps have as money makers, but a child died at the camp the previous year, so he’s desperate for counselors. You’d think he’d also be motivated to find experienced counselors, or at least someone who knows how to handle a spider. Apparently he’ll settle for his whiny niece.

Holly is ‘on a break’ from boys after breaking up with her boyfriend, which means all the boys in camp are immediately all over her. It turns out her former best friend, who hates her, is also a counselor at the camp, so everyone knows right off that their boss is also her uncle. The senior counselor Holly is partnered with is framed as a total bitch, but it seems more like a Devil Wears Prada (movie version) kind of situation with someone who just wants everyone to do their damned job already. Then it turns out that evil, bitchy Debra was the counselor on duty when the kid died, so maybe she’s got good reason to be a little touchy?

Holly doesn’t make a very good impression with Debra and likewise loses all of my good graces when a bat gets into the cabin and she tries to beat it to death with a canoe paddle, because Holly is kind of the worst. Luckily, Debra’s got shit handled.

Things start going wrong at the camp pretty quickly, starting with a big shelf in the arts and crafts cabin coming loose and falling on Holly’s uncle. Holly finds a red feather, and she finds another later affixed to a canoe that gets a hole punched in it. She tries to tell her uncle about her suspicions that someone is sabotaging his camp, but he’s got no time for her. Since she’s also got a problem with her senior counselor and one of the other counselors and she’s got an established history of being totally whiny, it’s hard to blame him, even if she’s right this time.

We get regular updates from our killer, who is planning revenge and really upset that Chief isn’t writing back. Since no one will listen to her, Holly takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of what’s going on, even though it doesn’t really endear her to anyone. She might not be my favorite, but she gets points for sticking with it. She gets more points when she walks in on the most gruesome scene in the series so far and handles herself better than she did with the spider or the bat. Debra’s necklace gets caught in a pottery wheel, dragging her down and grinding off her face. We, the readers, get all the grisly details, including mention of a battered feather in Debra’s necklace.

The police are summoned, and Holly gets more points when she actually shares her suspicion. The police, however, determine it was an accident. I bet the Shadyside PD would have listened. We’re not in Shadyside, however, because this is only a Fear Street book in name.

There’s a lot going on in this story, and unlike Ski Weekend, I enjoyed it well enough. Holly’s snooping gets her right in the middle of a forbidden affair, and there’s a particularly uncomfortable subplot with an absolute jerk who doesn’t take no for an answer and who treats Holly like crap for turning him down. He even teams up with Geri and someone else who doesn’t like Holly to chase her down and throw leeches on her. They completely get away with it, too, because Holly has figured out that everyone’s tired of her crap. I’d like to argue that hazing or bullying like that shouldn’t be tolerated, so she should have spoken up that time, but the reality is probably that her uncle was done hearing about it and wouldn’t have helped.

Even after all that, Holly’s still gullible enough to get up before everyone else and strike off alone in a canoe with another counselor, because who needs to think anything through? She does end up with the right to the biggest “told you so” in the series thus far.

So, the carnage?

Shadyside death count: Still 22. A child did die the year before the book opened, and this one does feature a truly gruesome death, but none of it happened in Shadyside.

Additional carnage: Surprisingly, none. You’d think this would be a prime location for some horribly slaughtered animals, but we’re spared.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m going to assume that Debra is a pretty capable counselor, and the death the previous year was one of those freak accidents that you really can’t properly prepare for or avoid. Our killer was the kid’s older brother, but Holly’s uncle didn’t realize because they had different last names. I’m really going to put this on the killer’s parents. Why would you send your kid to a camp where another of your kids just died?

I want to add that I appreciate that we’ve got a killer who ‘just snapped’ who isn’t a girl this time. It’s one of my least favorite tropes, but it’s nice to see it turned a different direction from the usual.

The Fire Game

14uhlcxAfter Ski Weekend, this book was mostly a refreshing return to form. We open in Shadyside High with some kids arguing in a library. If it had just opened with some narration from a killer, I’d feel right at home.

Jill, Andrea, and Diane are in the library avoiding studying when their friends Nick and Max arrive and manage to set a file folder on fire. Admittedly, that sounds like the kind of thing I’d have done in high school…if I somehow lost about 50 IQ points. Diane has an absolute fit over it (foreshadowing!) before things can go too far…at least until Andrea dropped the thing into a trashcan in a school library, which predictably does exactly what you would expect.

It turns out a benefit to setting the school’s library on fire is getting the afternoon off. They brag about their exploits when they meet Diane’s friend Gabe, who has just arrived from “the city.” Gabe is thoroughly unimpressed by Shadyside and absolutely doesn’t buy the legends about Fear Street. It’s hard to blame him there.

We’re repeatedly reassured that Gabe is a very dangerous kind of guy, but he’s really the kind of guy who eggs other people into committing arson without actually doing anything that might put him in any danger. He manages to talk Max into setting a fire in the boy’s restroom, which…didn’t the girl’s restroom just burn down? You’d think the school would be automatically suspicious of fires in the bathrooms by now. In any case, Max sets a fire and slips out just before…the bottles of cleaning chemicals by the trash can get too hot…and explode.

Seriously, that’s not how explosions work.

It turns out Gabe is also the kind of guy who will ask two best friends out on dates. Then he’ll show up for one of those dates with a guitar. I guess he was bound to show up sooner or later. He’ll also sit in the backseat of a car with one friend and make out with her while one he’s asked on a date is sitting in the front seat. A lovely date is interrupted when Gabe’s car catches on fire…and explodes.

Again, that’s not how explosions work. Please stop.

Not to say he didn’t have it coming on some level.

The game continues to escalate until an abandoned house on Fear Street burns down. Jill sees Nick and Max fleeing the scene, so she naturally believes they’re at fault when it turns out a homeless person died inside the house. At some point everyone suspects everyone else of all kinds of wrong-doing, but no one ever gets around to calling the police. Since all of them were involved in arson or covering up arson at some point, I guess that’s less surprising than usual.

So, the carnage? Simultaneously light and still pretty awful.

Shadyside death count: 22. That one happened off-camera, so to speak, but a homeless person burned alive while trying to sleep. That’s awful.

Additional carnage: A cat gets burned alive in an oven. It turns out to be just a dream, which is cheating, but I’m counting it anyway. Also, one girl is attacked while practicing gymnastics and ends up sending some time in the hospital over it. Also, there’s an attempt to burn a character alive.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m not sure it’s even a spoiler. Probably if Andrea knew how to make sure paper is no longer on fire, the Fire Game never would have launched. Also, not competing over a guy, most especially when your friend is clearly not totally ok with all this.

Although, to be fair, you don’t normally expect your friend to snap and start trying to cleanse people with fire because she was a victim of a serious fire who survived some terrible burns. Of course, no one would expect it because that’s not how mental illness works.

I’m not sure what I expect from a guy who doesn’t know how explosions work, either.