Book: “The Stepsister” (Fear Street #9) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, October 1990
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description: Emily wants to like her stepsister, but it hasn’t been easy. As soon as Jessie moves in, she takes over Emily’s room, starts wearing Emily’s clothes, makes secret late-night calls on Emily’s phone – and that’s just the beginning!
Before long, Emily is living in total fear of her stepsister. Emily tries complaining to her parents. But Jessie is such a good liar, no one will believe Emily!
Emily’s terror mounts when she picks up Jessie’s diary and learns a horrifying secret from Jessie’s past. Did Jessie really murder someone? Does she plan to murder again? Emily knows she must find out the rest of her stepsister’s dark secret. Her own life depends on it!
Had I Read It Before: No.
The Plot: So this is the story of Emily Casey and her newly cobbled together blended family. While she and her sister Nancy have been the only siblings in the house for awhile, their mother just married a man named Hugh Wallner and he has two kids, Jessie and Rich. Now that Hugh and Mom (because why should she have a name?) are married, they’re finally moving in together. There’s talk of Jessie and Rich’s mom being an absent parent, but it isn’t really harped on too much. Jessie and Emily are going to share a room, and when they both go up there Jessie establishes herself as a total cooze. First she says the room is too small, then she says that it’s a ‘dump’. It then turns into making fun of Emily’s Mom for being ‘enthusiastic’ and Nancy for having red hair, and bitching about lack of closet space. Then she says she’s sorry because she’s so ‘nervous’ and worried about the changes of becoming a blended family. Yeah, okay, because that makes it alright to be such a bitch. To make matters worse, Tiger the terrier runs in, and Jessie freaks out and shoves him away lest he get fur all over her sweater. Then, as the coup de grace, she ‘accidentally’ rips the head off of Emily’s teddy bear. JESUS. Nancy comes in and tries to quell the tension by talking about Rich and his love for Stephen King (You’re a good man, Rich), and slips in the plot exposition that Emily is now dating Nancy’s ex Josh. Yeah, I don’t think that’s so cool, Emily.
Over cake and ice cream we get to see what a dick Mr. Wallner is. He makes fun of Jessie’s anxieties, makes fun of Rich for reading and for his cracking voice, and acts indignant when his abuse isn’t seen as funny. He also likes to brag about not reading books. Emily is reminded that her Dad loved to read books. But on a camping trip to Fear Island, when he and little girl Emily were out on a boat on Fear Lake, a wind kicked up and her father fell overboard, drowning. Oof.
The next night after Emily and Josh arrange a time for him to come over, she goes down to eat dinner with the family. And then Jessie comes down wearing Emily’s sweater, but insists that it’s hers. An argument ensues, but no one believes Emily. Mr. Wallner says that he’s glad that he has ‘four women’ in the house to clean up. (SO, not only is he applying antiquated gender roles, he’s also picking on his young and shy son by calling him ‘womanly’. This fucking guy.). After dinner Emily goes to work on her big paper for school. She leaves the room to get an apple, and when she comes back Jessie is at the computer. Emily tells her she isn’t done, but when she tries to pull up her paper again, it’s been erased. As someone who has been there to some degree, I legitimately feel for her in this moment. Emily pitches a fit and attacks Jessie. Everyone runs into the room and believes Jessie when she says she didn’t do it. After they leave Jessie snarls at Emily to not embarrass her in front of her father, and then kicks at the poor dog Tiger. Emily grabs her dog and runs to Nancy’s room. Nancy tells her that Jessie is seeing a therapist a couple of times a week and that she has emotional problems.
Josh comes over. As he and Emily make out, Jessie spies on them. Emily ignores it. That night Emily wakes up and hears Jessie on the phone saying ‘I really could kill her!’
A few days later, things seem better, as Emily and Jessie are going to make a cake. Their playful natures come out and they spray whipped cream all over each other, and Nancy too. Emily goes to take a shower. But when she gets out, she sees her hair has become patchy and miscolored. Someone put peroxide in her shampoo! And this time, no one believes that Jessie didn’t do it, because Nancy says Jessie spent a lot of time in the bathroom earlier in the day. Jessie runs off crying, and Emily’s hair is somehow saved by a home haircut that Nancy performs.
Not to be outdone by his sisters, Rich is escorted home by the police for shoplifting.
A few nights later is the homecoming dance. While Emily and Josh have a great time dancing and then making out in the car afterwards, the fun is short lived. Because when Emily gets to her room, she finds that someone has killed Tiger! While Emily accuses Jessie because she always hated Tiger, Nancy accuses RICH because HE LIKES TO READ STEPHEN KING AND IS READING “PET SEMATARY”!! Rich denies it because OF COURSE HE DIDN’T DO IT BECAUSE OF STEPHEN KING, and Jessie offers to run a bath for Emily she she can relax. Emily is interested at first, but as Jessie is in the bathroom Emily decides to read her diary! In it Jessie talks about how in her old town people think that she was involved a murder! She hides the diary before Jessie can see that she was reading it, and balks at the bath because the water looks like Jessie put some kind of crazy chemicals in it! But then Jessie takes the bath instead, because water conservation, and proves that Emily is succumbing to paranoia.
Emily is awakened from a nightmare by Rich, who really wants to tell her that he didn’t kill her dog. She believes him. Later she wakes up again, and sees that Jessie’s bed is empty! She discerns that Jessie must have snuck out because the window is open, and decides to read more in her stepsister’s diary. Seems that Jessie’s friend Jolie died in some kind of awful accident and everyone assumed that Jessie had something to do with it because she was the one who found the body. I think that’s pretty flimsy, but her reputation was ruined. The next day Emily wants to get away from the house and says that she’s going to a computer lab at school. And when she opens her backpack, Tiger’s corpse is inside.
At dinner that next week, talk goes from talking about Rich getting into fights at school to Jessie talking on the phone at late hours (which she denies of course). After dinner she’s upstairs expecting Josh, and hears voices downstairs. Josh is down there, having a VERY in depth conversation with Jessie! Emily pulls Josh outside and chews him out for talking with Jessie. Josh thinks she’s acting silly.
At school, Emily is trying to enjoy a lunch of suspect macaroni when Jessie’s friend Krysta confronts her about being so mean to Jessie. Emily spills food on her shirt and goes to the girls’ room, only to find Jessie. They rehash the usual fight, accusing each other of being awful, and Jessie leaves. Emily dawdles, and while she’s in there she hears footsteps come and go. And then she smells smoke. Someone has set the bathroom on fire! And when she tries to escape, the door won’t budge and the windows have been painted shut! Luckily the teacher Mrs. Hoffler opens the door and Emily is freed. The school is evacuated and Emily can slowly breathe again after nearly choking to death on all the smoke. Nancy takes Emily home, and it seems like she finally believes her now about Jessie.
Though a bit later they’re all going to a concert together. Emily and Nancy hadn’t wanted to take her, but their parents insisted. Jessie has been very nice to Emily since the fire, but Emily isn’t buying it. At the concert they are up in the nosebleed section, with very steep cement stairs. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that someone shoves Emily when the lights drop of the concert to start. She falls down the steps a few seconds, but someone stops her before too much damage is done. Must have been Jessie! A few weeks later it’s cold out and Emily is walking home, when she sees Josh’s car in the driveway. Did he come to surprise her? NOPE! He’s making out with someone else! JESSIE! Emily starts to run off, but then decides to go home and confront Jessie once and for all (but apparently not Josh for kissing someone else. Typical)!! She doesn’t find them anywhere, but does find a knife in Jessie’s drawer! The one that must have killed Tiger! It’s all coming together.
And now the family is going on a camping trip together. Because Mr. Wallner wants them to act like a family for once. I would argue that he’s one of the main tension factors in the house, but it’s nothing a little wilderness can’t fix. Nancy and Emily are frustrated because they were trying to organize their evidence (and Nancy has SO MUCH HOMEWORK) but now they have to go camping in South Carolina, boo hoo hoo. Once on the trip Mr. Wallner refers to his family as a harem and I think he should seriously be reported to the police, guys. Emily, Nancy, and Jessie are recruited to go get wood. Emily gets separated from Nancy, and in a paranoid moment runs away, convinced Jessie is going to kill her. She runs into an old cemetery, and falls into an open grave!!!! She screams at Jessie to let her out, and she can’t climb out herself, and thinks that she’s going to die in there as Jessie leaves her to rot. But when she looks up, she sees it isn’t Jessie… It’s NANCY!!!! IT WAS NANCY THE WHOLE TIME! Everything that Emily thought was Jessie was Nancy, the dog, the peroxide, the fire, the JOSH! Nancy blames her for their father dying, and for stealing Josh, as they were the two most important men in her life!!!!
But luckily Jessie is there, as she hits Nancy with a shovel to knock her out, and helps Emily out of the grave. I still can’t get over that there’s just a random open grave in an old timey woods cemetery. They go get the rest of the family, because there’s no way this camping trip is continuing.
So we end with assurance that Nancy is getting the help she needs, and Jessie and Emily are finally sorting out their differences. Jessie didn’t kill Jolie, of course, and would disappear at night or be up late on the phone because of her mystery boyfriend that she is seeing. Emily apologizes for blaming her for everything. Rich comes into the room with a new book. But when they ask if it’s another Stephen King story he reveals that it’s, in fact, The Hardy Boys! And the book ends with the three of them laughing and saying “Wow! Things really ARE changing around here!”
Body Count: One, in the form of poor poor Tiger. We had a good run of not killing any animals in these books, but that ended.
Romance Rating: 1. First of all, I still contend that Emily never should have hooked up with her sister’s ex, and then Josh just happily makes out with Nancy again? Terrible boyfriend. Also, Mr. Wallner is a total prick and his wife can do much better.
Bonkers Rating: 5. Sure, the fact that it was Nancy the whole time was kind of crazy, but it was clear that there was going to be some twist from the start because no way Jessie was doing these horrible things.
Fear Street Relevance: 7. Once again, our characters live on Fear Street, so that’s a given. And the initial ill fated camping trip was on Fear Island, so I’ll rate it higher than average.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Struggling to free herself from Jessie’s emotional grip, Emily realized she had never been so afraid in her life.”
…. And then the next scene is them going to a concert together. Doesn’t seem very resonant.
That’s So Dated! Moments: At a school dance, Emily is dancing a song that has the lyrics ‘pump it up pump it up’ and a description of synthesizers in it, and while it wasn’t expressly said I’m thinking it was supposed to be “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic? The timing may be off, but it sure seems to line up. Also talk of floppy discs.
“She’s totally crazy about him, Emily thought with some dismay. What on EARTH does she see in him? He really IS a sexist pig!”
I like that Emily seems to be hip to feminism.
“The Stepsister” was predictable and kind of flat, and I don’t really know how it warranted a second one, “The Stepsister 2”. But that’s a long ways off in this re-read. Next up is “Ski Weekend” .