Some of these books feel like very special messages: don’t make prank calls, don’t lie and spend the night on an island without any adults and try to cover up a murder, don’t cheat. The messages always seem to miss something, though, since kids making prank calls discovered and helped catch a murderer. I guess the idiots on the island helped catch a couple more murderers. The ‘don’t cheat’ message seems to work, though. At least don’t cheat with someone else’s boyfriend, because you might get murdered. Or your sister might try to kill you.
Carter Phillips goes for another type of cheating: her judge father, who’s in the middle of a really big trial, is set on seeing his only child go to Princeton. Carter signed up for advanced math, and that’s proven to have been a bad move. Her father has made it clear she needs to retake a big test and get a score Carter absolutely cannot achieve even on her best day. So while wealthy Carter is spending time with her perfect, also wealthy boyfriend Dan Mason, she realizes the test is being administered in the next town over. No one involved will know her–or know that ‘Carter’ is a girl’s name. Her boyfriend sensibly asks if she’s joking and she brushes it off.
Adam Messner also heard. You know he won’t be any good because he’s poor, and since our focus character is rich, anyone poor who comes along is either going to be the bad guy or is going to die. Adam is willing to get Carter the grade she needs for the low-low price of one date. Carter isn’t quite as smart as we’re meant to believe, because she goes for it.
Adam delivers, and Carter’s father is so overjoyed he went flying out of the house to buy her a pair of diamond earrings to celebrate. Of course Adam doesn’t settle for one date. Carter is also confronted by his girlfriend, who knows he has been stepping out and who isn’t going to put up with that. It’d be nice if she’d confront him, since he’s also cheating. It’s possible she did and we didn’t get to see it, of course.
Because Carter has little sense, she enjoys some of her time with Adam, despite the fact that he’s literally blackmailing her into every single moment. She doesn’t start really pushing back until he demands she arrange a date with her best friend for his best friend. She points out that their bargain was for a single date and he answers that he can just let everyone know she cheated on her test.
So neither of them get caught by their respective boyfriends, Adam sets up the date at a club neither of them have heard about before because it’s totally full of poor people. There’s a pattern in these books now of rich girls around poor boys and super creepy, rapey scenes. Did this stuff seem less imminent-rape-like in the 90s, or did it just go right over my head back then? The girls have to literally fight there way out of a crowd of guys who clearly don’t mean them well.
Adam escalates to demanding money, forcing Carter to sell her new diamond earrings. Her father naturally immediately notices. Adam asks for more money, and Carter finally spills the whole story to her perfect boyfriend. She arranges to make a last drop-off for Adam, goes to his house on Fear Street, and leaves confident she won’t have to worry about him anymore. Since Adam was the bad guy and poor, he also turns up dead. Turns out Carter’s life could get even more awkward and difficult.
So, the carnage?
Shadyside death count: 31. Adam gets shot in his own home. We’re spared the majority of the details this time.
Additional carnage: Carter finds a bloody heart (probably pig, maybe cow, something you get from the butcher’s shop) in her tennis bag as part of a subplot where a hired man for the guy whose trial is taking up all of her dad’s time. Other suspicious things happen that she chalks up to Adam intimidating her, so the guy gets a chance to try to kill her. There’s also the numerous rapey situations scattered through the book.
Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m putting this on Carter’s dad first. She’s completely convinced the only way he’ll love her is if she achieves enough and goes to the one school he has in mind for her. That’s a lot to put on a kid. She likewise should have retaken the test herself and gone with whatever grade came her way. Really, though, what bothered me the most about this story wasn’t how it could have been avoided: it’s the absolute lack of consequences. Carter doesn’t face any real consequences for cheating. She even gets an apology from her father for putting so much pressure on her. Dan, her boyfriend, murdered Adam, and the judge arranges it so he’ll get away with it, too. Adam did get killed, and while he was a total shitheel who needed some real punishment for his actions, death was a little extreme. Sometimes these books seem like they’re trying to send a message, and sometimes those messages really, really suck.