The Cheater

0671738674Some 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.

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The Best Friend

842655I’ve read nothing but Fear Street books all year. I think they’re rotting out my brain or I’m developing some sort of book-based Stockholm syndrome.

No murderer to ease us into our story this time around. Instead, we get to meet Becka and her irritating boyfriend. Well, before the first chapter is over, he’s her ex-boyfriend. We also learn that Becka has no control over her emotions, which I think makes her a teenager. Hopefully less common: she has a guy on the side she’s dumping her boyfriend over. Also, while she’s distracted over her breakup, she manages to run a stop sign and hit another car.

That’s a lot for seven pages.

RL Stine is adverse to showing the aftermath of any of these accidents. Since it’s just a fender bender, it’s probably just as well we got to skip that part and hear about it while Becka is hanging out in her room with her two best friends, Trish and Lilah. During this conversation, Becka managed to stab herself in the finger with a knitting needle hard enough to draw blood. I’m not an expert knitter or anything, but I’ve done my fair share with a whole lot of sizes of needles. I think she might be knitting wrong. (I did have a friend in college who sat on a knitting needle and stabbed herself in the ass so deeply she had to get a tetanus shot. She was not, however, actively knitting at the time.)

While they’re chatting, Honey Perkins comes barreling into Becka’s life like a puppy, all enthusiasm and too much physical contact. She’s got eyes and ears only for Becka, her very bestest friend ever, and it’s just so totally AWESOME how she’s moved into the house right next door on Fear Street. Becka has no memory at all of this person and knows they were never friends, but Becka is absolutely bursting with all kinds of stories and reminders about what great friends they were and how close they were and isn’t it just SO GREAT that they’ll be neighbors.

After Honey finally makes her exit, the girls figure out that they did know her–in fourth grade, she was the weird, lonely girl no one liked. Now she’s moved back with the unshakable belief that she and Becka were best friends, and of course they’ll be best friends again. It doesn’t take long for Becka to realize that on her way out, Honey managed to steal some of her jewelry. Becka plucks up her courage and heads to the house next door to confront Honey and ask for her pin back…only to find the house empty.

What follows is the kind of escalating creepy behavior that tends to get a pass under the banner of ‘socially awkward.’ Honey starts showing up in Becka’s room while no one was in the house. She has an excuse and a story for everything, and physically attacks Becka on more than one occasion while laughing it off as a game. She insists Becka gave her the jewelry she stole, lying blatantly and with ease.

Of course Becka would rather spend time with her actual friends, and she’s also sneaking around seeing her boyfriend–the boy she had on the side, who of course does not have her mother’s approval. Things take a sharp turn for the worse when Lilah’s brakes on her bike malfunction and she flips over her handlebars and directly into the way of a brown delivery truck.

We miss the immediate aftermath, but we do pick up with police and an ambulance. There’s a bicycle in a pool of blood, Lilah carried away on a stretcher, and Becka’s realization that Lilah’s rear brake cable was completely missing. Since she saw Honey doing something among the bikes just before they went for their ride, she doesn’t waste time putting two and two together. Honey is, of course, there to barge into her room, smother her with hugs, and poke at her until she breaks down into tears.

When Becka gets sick and misses a day of school, Honey also helpfully lets everyone know Becka suffered a breakdown. That’s pretty low, but considering the usual life-ruining rumors, that also seems pretty mild. (It wasn’t high school, but there were rumors in 8th grade that I was a witch. I didn’t much help at first, but it got weirdly out of control over the course of a year. Also, you’d think if people are trying to convince themselves someone has actual dark magic, they’d leave her alone. Not true.) Honey also cuts her hair to match Becka’s (creepy) and tells Becka’s mom that she’s been sneaking out to see a boy she’s banned from seeing (totally bitchy). By the time Honey turned up at a big Christmas party with an identical version of Becka’s super special outfit (a silver skirt over a black cat suit, which…sounds like it might not be a great idea for anyone), Becka has had more than enough of Honey’s shit.

The party, incidentally, is a who’s who of characters from previous books. Half of them turn up in that party. I’m sticking with my ‘time warp’ theory.

Immediately after, Trish falls down the stairs in the middle of her party, breaking her neck. Both of Becka’s closest friends end up across the hall from each other in Shadyside Hospital, looking at months in the hospital and years of physical therapy afterward. And it only manages to get worse from there.

So, the carnage? Um…I don’t even know how to classify this. This is one of the most genuinely upsetting Fear Street books so far. There’s not a whole lot of death, but there’s a lot of injury and just creepy stuff.

Shadyside death count: 30. That one death comes at the very end and is genuinely one of the worst in the series so far.

Additional carnage: I’m a little surprised Becka didn’t come home to dead animals. Still, one girl was hit by a UPS truck, another fell down the stairs and broke her neck.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: Someone could have listened to Becka or taken her seriously when she brought up that Honey was a problem. If nothing else, someone should have taken the frequent breaking and entering seriously. Becka did her best to handle Honey, and there isn’t anything she could have done to avoid being her fixation. Since I’m in the spoilers section, I’ll add that what made this truly upsetting was that Honey managed to successfully isolate Becka by severely injuring her closest friends, then not only murdering Becka’s boyfriend, but convincing Becka that she did it in order to make sure Honey could remain embedded in her life. Then the story ended. The rest of these books have all featured the bad guy (or girl) being caught and either heading off to prison or ‘to get the help she really needs.’ No such thing this time around. I seemed to recall there being a sequel, so I checked. There is. There’s a blurb on the front that says it’s the book readers requested of RL Stine. Nothing about that is surprising.

First Date

9780671738655We open once more in the head of a killer. Not just any killer this time, but a serial killer with his next victim. As soon as he’s dispatched her, it’s on to the next town: Shadyside.

Ah, opening narrative from a killer, how I missed you.

From there, we move on to Chelsea Richards. She plays saxophone, doesn’t have many friends, hates her life, and feels like an outsider in her family. Basically, she’s a teenager who plays saxophone. Her family recently moved into a house on Fear Street so they could start over in Shadyside. Her father always dreamed of having a restaurant, so now he has a coffee shop with the dumbest, least practical hours in history. I wouldn’t hope for a lot of success there.

So far, Chelsea has made only one friend at Shadyside High, probably because she’s actually seventeen while the rest of the kids have been seventeen for years and years now (I think all students at Shadyside are sixteen or seventeen. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors. No, wait. No one ever makes it to their senior year). I guess Chelsea’s about to be stuck in the same time warp. The good news? She’ll probably make lots of friends soon.

Nina is one of those crappy friends who’ll ditch you at a moment’s notice for a boy and who won’t pay any attention to anything you’ve got to say. While she’s out walking, Chelsea gets harassed by a carload of teenagers. I’m a little surprised to find so much rapey stuff in these books, but if you’re going to really show the life of the teenager, it would probably be dishonest to not have it ever come up. Is it unrealistic to wish for more recognition of how crappy that behavior is from early 90s teen thrillers?

Soon enough, Chelsea finds herself receiving the attention of not one, but two different boys. One shows up in her dad’s coffee shop, and he seems dangerous and edgy. The other is a new boy in school, safer, more wholesome. Just to shake things up, the same guys who harassed Chelsea rob the shop and assault her father, leaving him in the hospital (hopefully not in the new Franklin Fear Wing, since things named after the Fears tend to attract trouble. Although they do already live on Fear Street, so I guess it can’t get any worse).

Chelsea endeared herself to me a bit when she called the police after the shop was robbed. She got more points for taking it seriously when an FBI agent showed up and warned her that they were looking for a serial killer. Mostly, this bit made me love her:

Her lunch was spread out in front of her. A ham sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a container of chocolate pudding, and a Coke.

Nina must think I’m a total pig, she thought miserably. But if all I had for lunch was yogurt and an apple, I’d be starving all afternoon!

“Want some of this yogurt?” Nina asked. “I can never finish a whole container.”

“No, thanks,” Chelsea replied, taking a bite of her sandwich to keep herself from punching Nina.

Oh, Chelsea. I feel you, girl.

Mostly by dumb luck, Chelsea managed to survive her first date with a serial killer who always kills on the first date. Rather than moving on, he decides to settle on a second date so he can finish her off. By then, Chelsea’s aware there’s a serial killer around who’s totally into her type, and she goes and fingers the wrong guy, getting him badly injured in the process and leaving herself alone for another date with a killer.

So, the carnage? Shadyside got off pretty easy this time around.

Shadyside death count: Still 29. Our killer has enough murders behind him to have the FBI actively hunting him, but he failed to kill anyone in Shadyside.

Additional carnage: Chelsea is working when the coffee shop when the place is robbed and her father is bludgeoned. The killer tries to strangle her to death, and the reader is left to believe she’s dead. He then tries to kill Nina. There are also descriptions from him of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. (On a rant relating to that: I appreciate that a lot of the main characters in these books have been women. Some of those women have been pretty awesome, and Chelsea managed to pull out some smarts and some impressive tricks at the end of this one. A lot of our killers have been women, too, which would be nice in its own respect if it weren’t that they’ve typically ‘snapped’ and gone all murderous. One of them went serial killer over her damned boyfriend. We’ve got one serial killer whose a guy, and he’s got a far more typical ‘abandoned by my mother, beaten regularly by my father’ storyline.)

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m laying the finger on the Shadyside High administration. The occasional story makes it into the news about an adult posing as a teenager and attending high school, but this makes three so far in the series. That is inexcusable. If we want to go back further, then when the killer’s mother took off with his sister, she could have taken him, too. Or better social services maybe could have intervened. Either way, our main character here doesn’t have any responsibility in the events, except in that she turned kind of badass at the end.

The Prom Queen

thepromqueenI’m not sure if this was the first Fear Street book I read or not. I do know that it was the first book I ever got to pick out brand new. I remember sitting on the floor in the bookstore (Walden Books in the mall in my grandparent’s town), looking through all the Fear Street books and trying to pick the right one. I don’t know if I was already familiar with Fear Street or if that was the moment I discovered it. I do know that instead of picking a book for a good reason, I totally judged by the cover. I know I picked this one because it featured a poofy pink dress and a skull. You couldn’t get more up my alley than that.

On rereading this one, I was surprised to discover how much of the plot I remembered. This one doesn’t start with a prologue or a peek into a killer’s mind. It’s another one in first person. The kids at Shadyside High are all worked up because a murdered girl from a neighboring town was found in the Fear Street Woods. This would have been a perfect occasion for the kids to swap stories about Fear Street, including callbacks to the previous books. That’s not RL Stine’s style, though.

The kids all move from gossiping about the murder to an assembly where the candidates for prom queen are announced. I have absolutely no memory of how the whole prom king and queen thing worked at my school or if there was an assembly with nominees or what. I barely even went to my prom and tended to skip out on assemblies, though, so I guess I’ll just have to assume it’s basically accurate in the book. In any case, we meet our prom queen nominees: Elizabeth McVey, our narrator, Simone Perry, the literal and figurative drama queen, Elana Potter, the popular girl, Dawn Rodgers, the hyper-competitive one, and Rachael West, the shy, poor one.

We soon learn that Simone has a chronically unfaithful boyfriend. She caught him at school that day flirting with one girl and catches him out with another while the potential prom queens are all having a celebratory pizza together (on an unrelated note, I sincerely hope that the kinds of girls who get nominated for prom queen get to go out and have pizza together to celebrate without counting fat or carbs or whatever. Sometimes life calls for pizza, y’know?).

Simone then misses rehearsal and when Elizabeth stops by her house to check on her, she finds a puddle of blood in the floor and sees a boy in the school’s colors running toward the woods with a person-sized bundle in his arms.  Shortly after, Dawn is attacked in a theater, then Rachael is murdered. Sandbags on the stage are sabotaged in another attempt on Dawn’s life, and by the time Elana is found dead on the stage after a fall from the catwalk, the remaining two prom queen candidates are sure someone is targeting them.

Because it’s a Fear Street book, the truth is actually so much dumber than that.

Also, Lisa Blume, now the student council president, makes an appearance in this book. How many summers have gone by since the first book? I stopped keeping track, but at this point she should at least be in college, and she might be able to legally drink. I think I’ve figured out what’s wrong in Shadyside–and it’s not Fear Street. The whole town is in a time warp. All of the students of Shadyside High are trapped there forever. They’ll never graduate. No wonder they’re all killing each other.

So, the carnage? Piling high and deep this time around.

Shadyside death count: 29. I’m not counting the girl whose body was found in the Fear Street Woods because she was from Waynesbridge. I haven’t counted other deaths from outside Shadyside, so same with this one. Still, Elizabeth found the puddle of blood in Simone’s room, was the last one to see Rachael alive, and found Elana’s body. That’s all rough for one girl.

Additional carnage: On a rainy night, Elizabeth thinks she hits a small child with her car. It turned out to be a raccoon, but RL Stine was sure to spare us no details. There’s also a graphic description of a girl’s broken leg after a sandbag lands an her, and another is stabbed in the chest, but survives. If this was my first Fear Street book, it was a hell of an introduction.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: Someone should have taught Simone that if your boyfriend is constantly cheating on you, the problem is not with the girls he’s cheating with. I’ll agree with her that going out with your friend’s boyfriend is tacky as hell, but it’s not really worth faking your own death so you can murder your competition at leisure and blame it on the serial killer from the next town over. Additionally, two different girls go out with her boyfriend within the first three chapters, but she only went after the prom queens, so her plan seems extra-flawed.

The Knife

28iyp14Full disclosure: this is the first of the Fear Street books so far that I know for sure I read as a kid. I clearly remembered the cover and one particularly gruesome scene, but I completely forgot the whole plot.

This one opens with a prologue, but we’re with a victim fleeing for her life instead of with the killer stalking her. This particular trick–opening with a scene from the climax of the story–irritates the crap out of me. It may be possible to do it in such a way that it doesn’t ruin the entire book that follows, but it always destroys at least some of the tension, even if there’s always a twist.

Laurie Masters is working for the summer at Shadyside Hospital, where she immediately sets out getting on the wrong side of one of the older nurses. There’s also construction going on at the hospital–building the new Franklin Fear Wing. Apparently the Fear family is still around and still super loaded, which explains why no one in Shadyside has yet managed to get the troublesome street renamed.

While working in the children’s ward, Laurie is drawn to a little boy whose room is barren of flowers, toys, balloons, or other gifts. Laurie is one of the most genuinely decent kids featured in these books so far, and she sets about rounding up something to cheer up the kid. She manages to find him as he’s being checked out suspiciously early in the morning. She manages to hand him a teddy bear, and just before being dragged away, the little boy confides that the woman taking him isn’t his mother.

This doesn’t rule out her being a step-mother or something, but Laurie isn’t the kind to let things slide. Of course, because this is a teen thriller, there’s a cute, mysterious new guy. Never mind that Laurie is already dating someone else who happens to be the stepson of the hospital administrator. The new guy starts acting suspicious and Laurie keeps getting herself in trouble over the little boy until she walks into the unfinished Franklin Fear Wing and finds the body of the troublesome nurse.

Laurie gets more points from me for summoning hospital security and the police. Of course, now that someone finally called them, there’s no body for them to find. The nurse in question doesn’t show up for work, but she had a vacation conveniently scheduled. SHe does turn up–dead in her car after an apparent accident.

Laurie sticks with it, and with the little boy, whose home is located on Fear Street. This isn’t a Fear Street book that features ghosts or teen hijinks as imagined by an adult man. In some ways, it’s the most disturbing of the assorted goings on in Shadyside, though just how deeply unsettling passed me by as a kid.

So, the carnage? The body count wasn’t high, but we’re still getting really gruesome views of the gore.

Shadyside death count: 27. Including one nurse murdered by way of scalpel plunged into her throat. Her body was discovered by our main character, though her death wasn’t personally witnessed, so I suppose there’s been worse. Then her body was disposed of by way of a faked car accident.

Additional carnage: No dead animals this time around. It’s always a bit of a relief.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m going to give Laurie a pass here. Since she insisted on snooping around and wouldn’t let anything stop her, she broke up a ring responsible for kidnapping and selling children. She managed to expose the hospital administrator who was behind it, and not only rescue the kid she wanted to save, but the kid’s twin brother, along with the missing sister of the mystery boy. All in all, not bad work.

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.