Book: “Sunburn” (Fear Street #19) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1993
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description: You could get burned…
The perfect suntan. Soaking up the rays. Fun on the beach. That’s what Claudia Walker had in mind when she accepted her friend Marla’s invitation to spend the weekend at her cliffside beach house. Little did she know that horrible accidents—fatal accidents—would occur on the beach and in the house.
But Claudia knows they’re not “accidents.” She’s sure somebody is out to get them…out to kill them. The week of “fun in the sun” has turned dark and deadly!
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: Meet Claudia! Claudia is in a sticky situation, as we first meet her when she’s waking up on a beach, with a whole lot of sand on top of all of her but her head. And the tide is coming in! In a ‘record scratch, yeah that’s me, you’re probably wondering how I got here’ kind of moment, we then flashback to find out who Claudia is and what she’s doing on this beach.
Apparently, a few weeks prior, she got a letter from her summer camp friend Marla Drexell! Marla invited her to go spend some time with her at her summer home in the beach town of Summerhaven, sort of a reunion for them and their other friends Sophie and Joy. Since Claudia’s summer had been a bust at that point, what with breaking up with her boyfriend and losing her waitressing job, she thought why not. It may help them all forget about the accident at camp…. When she got to Summerhaven she was reunited with Marla, Sophie, and Joy (side note: casual racism alert, as not only does Stine refer to Joy as ‘exotic’ looking, she is also described as having ‘slightly slanted green eyes’. Holy. Shit. That’s problematic as hell). They got to Marla’s summer home, which was a palace to say the least, and maybe they immediately went swimming and that is how Claudia got in this situation.
So anyway, back on the beach, Claudia is panicking because the tide is coming in closer, and then a shadow starts to enfold her. Is it the shadow of imminent death? Naw! It’s a handsome guy who just came in with the tide. He asks her if she needs any help (no shit buddy, she was literally screaming about five seconds ago), and she says yeah, she’s stuck under the sand pile. He digs her out and mentions that she has a bad burn on her face. Claudia says she must have fallen asleep, but where did her friends go and why did they leave her? He helps her back towards the Drexell estate, and he says his name is Daniel. She asks if he lives around there and he evasively says ‘not really’. Somehow, though, he knows the code to the gate to the estate, and Claudia doesn’t seem to find this odd as they walk back through the grounds. Claudia finds her friends and confronts them, but Joy and Sophie say that after they buried her they went for a walk, and then they ran into Marla who told them that Claudia had gone back to the house. Marla says she thought that Claudia had gone back too, and asks who helped her out? Claudia says Daniel, and Marla asks who that is. When Claudia turns, Daniel has disappeared.
At dinner that night we are introduced to Alfred, the Drexell’s near sighted servant, who is cooking them all dinner (NOTE: in this moment there is a typo in which Stine writes ‘Marla told us’, even though it’s in the third person. Was it originally in the first person??? Mysteries!). He brings the salad bowl in, and Marta starts to serve all of them. Then Joy freaks out, as she finds a big brown WORM in her salad! Marla chides Alfred about it, and he says that he’s sorry and that the lettuce is ‘locally grown’. I feel so bad for Alfred. The girls laugh at this as he walks away, and Marla says she wishes he’d get glasses. POOR ALFRED. He’s the only servant on duty for these little brats. Marla asks Claudia about the boy who saved her, and says that it must have been a hallucination because there ARE no boys around here, just a bird sanctuary. But then she remembers about the GHOST BOY who lives in the guest house who died a hundred years ago. She’s seen him around the estate, and this “Daniel” was so cold because he’s a ghost… But PSYCH!!! Marla’s just fucking with them! There is not ghost boy. After dinner and movies, the girls are getting ready for bed. As Claudia is looking out the window, she sees a light go on in the guest house! And a figure!!! MAYBE THERE IS A GHOST BOY?! Marla comes in and scoffs at the thought, as there’s no one else at the house but them. She says the light was just a reflection. Claudia isn’t so sure, but goes to sleep.
When she wakes up the next morning, she thinks about how luxurious this house is, and we get some Drexell exposition (Dad’s a financial genius, Mom’s a socialite, they’re always traveling). She examines her burn, and is still a bit bitter that they all just left her, but whatevs. She goes downstairs and finds that Marla’s the only one up, so they go to play tennis. Marla’s game is off, and Claudia suggests that maybe she’s ‘upset to see them’ again. Because of ‘the accident’, where Marla’s sister Alison died. OH. That’s what this is. Marla yells that she really doesn’t want to talk about it and storms back to the house. When Claudia gets back Sophie and Joy are up and Marla seems okay, so they all decide to go to the beach (though Claudia puts on lots of sun protection). They get to the gate and Marla tells Sophie to open it…. And then Sophie is ZAPPED BACKWARDS because it’s ELECTRIFIED!! Marla runs and turns off the power, and Sophie is stunned but seems okay. Marla says that it’s supposed to be turned off during the day, so what gives?! Sophie insists that she’s okay, and Marla says that she’s going to talk to Alfred when they get back.
At the beach, the girls all get ready for a nice afternoon by the water. Claudia notices that Marla is pretty pale, which is weird because she said she’d been spending so much time outside all summer long. But there isn’t time to wonder, because suddenly two guys are on the beach with them from the surf. Claudia thinks one of them in Daniel at first, but it’s not. They say that they must not be at the bird sanctuary anymore, and that a riptide pulled them this far down shore. Marla is visibly angry that they’re there, and demands that they leave. But Joy and Sophie think they’re cute, and the guys say they’re Dean and Carl. Dean immediately starts rummaging through their cooler, making himself at home.
Joy and Sophie are totally down with this, though, and the boys horn in on the day as Marla goes to sulk and as Claudia feels uncomfortable at all of it. Daniel/Ghost Boy wouldn’t do this. Marla once again insists they leave, and Dean starts to get a bit menacing on her saying that they should go back to her house and ‘party’. They exchange more words, and then Dean SLAPS her (WHAT THE FUCK) on the arm. He claims there was a horsefly there, but I’m not so sure. Carl says that they should go (a little late to wrangle it all in, buddy), and Dean says that his Dad worked for Marla’s family at one time before parting. Claudia asks Marla why she was giving the guys a hard time (REALLY?), and Marla says she promised her parents no boys. As they go back to the house Claudia remembers that Marla was always weird about boys.
At the house Claudia, Joy, and Sophie are talking. They all agree that Marla’s acting weird, not like she used to, but Claudia reminds them that a lot has happened since those days (like her SISTER DYING). Joy and Sophie tell Claudia that they have a confession: they wanted to go back to check on her at the beach the other day, but Marla insisted they not. They also think it’s weird that Marla won’t talk about Alison at all. After dinner they all decide to go to a boardwalk amusement park, and when Claudia says she wants to ride the Ferris Wheel, Joy says that she’s afraid of heights ‘after what happened last summer’. Another clue. They get to the boardwalk and run into Dean and Carl, aka Predatory Squiggy and Lenny, and as Joy and Sophie each lay claim and Marla gets miffed, Claudia decides to go explore by herself…. And then she runs into Daniel/Ghost Boy! She calls him Ghost Boy, even and he doesn’t quite get it, but they still walk and talk pleasantly. He thinks her friends are jerks for leaving her on the beach, but she insists it was an accident. They then go on the Ferris Wheel together, and at the top Claudia flashes back to the night Alison died.
Apparently Alison was a bratty little sister, and after getting on Marla’s nerves during Truth or Dare at Camp Full Moon, Marla dared her to walk across a log that goes over Grizzly Gorge, at night. Alison took the dare, and they all said they’d meet after lights out. Marla was busted by a counselor before she could get there, and when Claudia and co. got to the Gorge Alison was waiting. They gave her the option to not do it, but Alison crankily insisted she could because THEY all had, so SHE COULD TOO… But, as it turned out that was false, as while the others begged her not to, and then to come back, she persisted, and when the arrival of camp counselors scared the others off, Claudia ran and heard a snap of a log, signaling Alison falling to her death.
After getting off the Ferris Wheel, Claudia loses Daniel in the crowd again before reuniting with the others. The guys aren’t the big jerks they pretend(?) to be, and the girls go back to the summer house. As Claudia is falling asleep, thinking about Daniel/Ghost Boy, she is awakened by screams!!! She runs into Joy’s room, Sophie and Marla on her tail, and Joy is covered in LEECHES! How odd! They pull them off Joy, who is hysterical. The window is open and they realize that someone must have put them on her while she was sleeping. Marla asks Alfred if he knew about any of this, but he’s confused too. After they all calm down they decide to go back to sleep, but Claudia first goes to get some water from the kitchen… And she sees Daniel/Ghost Boy!! She calls out to him, but he retreats, and before she can go after him she runs into Alfred, who says that it’s impossible for anyone from the outside of the property to get in, what with the electric fence and the guard dog. Especially since Marla changed the code that night (so don’t even try saying he knows the code, Claudia!). Was Daniel the one causing the problems? Was he a ghost?
While the police and Alfred search the house, the girls go water skiing. Sophie is up first, even though she’s not very good in the water, and all is going well… Until the rope snaps, and Sophie fallsf behind the boat! Marla tries to start it up to go help her, but the motor stalls! Claudia grabs a flotation belt and jumps in, swimming for Sophie… But then they’re BOTH taken by the riptide! Before they can drown, though, Carl and Dean to the rescue! They pull them both in, and take them back to shore. Marla and Joy catch up in Marla’s boat, and Marla says she got the engine to turn over. As they inspect the rope, they notice that it isn’t frayed, it’s been cut part way and then snapped! Marla thinks it’s Daniel, or maybe Carl and Dean, and the girls go back to the house. Joy says to Sophie and Claudia that she’s convinced Marla is trying to kill them, because she must know that Alison’s death WASN’T AN ACCIDENT! We get a NEW story now, in which Alison actively asked for their help but they still ran away. I don’t know, that still seems like an accident. Apparently Alison’s body was never found and no one knew that the three of them were there that night. The three of them make plans to try and make a break for it the next day, but Claudia’s Mom can’t come until the day after tomorrow, so it will have to do As they’re planning, though, they see Marla has been in the doorway listening.
The next day starts out okay, with the girls doing their own things. Claudia decides to go for a run on the beach. She gets close to the bird sanctuary, but then realizes that the birdsongs randomly ceased. Down the beach she sees someone who looks like Marla from a distance, but she doesn’t answer when Claudia calls for her. And then…. A HUGE DOG JUMPS OUT OF THE BUSHES, growling at her. It’s an Irish Wolfhound, and Claudia remembers that they’re bred to be killing machines.
Claudia runs into the water and tries to swim away, but the dog bites her foot. She kicks if off and decides that she can keep going back further and further and be safe. It works for a bit…. UNTIL A SHARK ARRIVES!!! So Claudia tries to swim away smoothly, so as not to attract attention in spite of her bleeding foot… AND GETS PULLED INTO THE RIPTIDE. Sweet Jesus! On TOP of that, the SHARK decides to EAT THE IRISH WOLFHOUND!!! In full, gory, upsetting details. Involving dog chunks floating away.
Somehow she washes up on shore and Marla finds her. They start to make their way back to the house, and Marla mentions that it’s Alfred’s day off. Claudia has a moment of clarity: that was Marla on the beach, and that dog was her family guard dog. Marla is DEFINITELY trying to kill her. When they get back to the house, Marla goes to find antiseptic, and Claudia checks the dog pen. Yep, the dog didn’t break out, it was let out. She limps up to find Sophie and Joy, but Joy is in town with Carl. Claudia tells Sophie they need to get to town ASAP, and then Marla walks in and tells them that they’re going to have dinner in the rain gazebo so they can watch the incoming thunderstorm over the ocean. That would sound super cool, if Marla WASN’T TRYING TO KILL THEM.
Joy gets back and Sophie and Claudia fill her in. They haphazardly pack as the storm comes in. They go towards the gazebo to demand that Marla take them to town, but are waylaid by a smell coming from a shed nearby. They open it, and MARLA’S LIFELESS BODY TOPPLES OUT!!! And boy does she look like she’s days dead. They girls freak out and run to the house! They’re alone with a killer!!! Is it Alfred? Is it Daniel/Ghost Boy!? As they run towards the guest house, they find out who it is. Why…. it’s MARLA, who is holding a gun! Except, NOPE, IT’S ALISON!!!!!! IT’S BEEN ALISON THE WHOLE TIME!!! MARLA’S BEEN DEAD FOR A WEEK!!!
Okay, I need to call bullshit on this. I will give you that sure, Alfred is near sighted, and I’m sure the Drexells tell their servants to NEVER look them in the eyes, so maybe he can’t tell the difference. But Alison and Marla were NOT TWINS!!! HOW DID THESE THREE GIRLS NOT RECOGNIZE THIS WAS ALISON THE WHOLE TIME?!?!?!?!
So Alison survived the fall at Camp Full Moon, and was rescued by a nice, down to earth family who lived in the woods! But Marla apparently DID see her fall (which doesn’t make sense because wasn’t she captured by a counselor?), and she was SMILING, or so Alison says. Alison pretended to have amnesia so she wouldn’t have to go back to her shitty family with her shitty sister who dared her to cross the gorge and was happy she fell, but now she’s back for revenge. She arrived a week prior and killed Marla, and saw that these three were coming and decided to kill them too!!! Before she can finish the job, however, a dark figure steps out of the guest house. It’s Daniel!!! Claudia tells Alison it’s the Ghost from the Guest House!! Alison starts to panic in confusion, and a lightning strike knocks out the power. Alison and Daniel struggle in the dark, and Daniel gets the gun away. Alison runs for the gate, and they all scream at her that it’s electric. She says that ‘the power is out, idiots!’… but then, the family generator kicks on JUST IN TIME as she grabs for the fence…. Well, let’s just say she didn’t fare well as Sophie. She twitches a few times, and dies.
Daniel comes to the three girls left standing, and explains that he’s Alfred’s son. The Drexells never let Alfred have enough time off to see him, and so he was secretly visiting this weekend, coincidentally the weekend the reunion was. He and Claudia kiss as they go inside to call the police. The End.
Body Count: 3. Imagine what it’s going to be like for their parents to get home from vacation. Also, the dog getting eaten by a SHARK. I will never get over that.
Romance Rating: 5. I liked Daniel quite a bit whenever he was on page, but Dean and Carl were either creepy (Dean), or a dud (Carl).
Bonkers Rating: 7. From the identity switcheroo that made no sense to a dog getting eaten by a goddamn SHARK, this book had some great batshit moments.
Fear Street Relevance: 1. Claudia lives there but we just get ONE mention of it and that’s it. Another one that could have been a standalone.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Claudia stared in horror as Daniel, his arms still outstretched, went sailing over the safety bar and fell head first to his death.”
…. But no, he actually didn’t at all. Claudia was just remembering Alison’s death.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Not so much in this one, sadly, though there is mention of watching a VHS of “Bye, Bye, Birdie” and laughing at the sexist attitudes towards women, so maybe that’s a meta moment or sorts? Otherwise, just the usual mentions of fashion that sounds fit for Lisa Frank. Oh, and the thought that tanning was still perfectly harmless.
“There, she thought with satisfaction. I look like a total jerk, but the sun won’t get near me!”
As someone who has to slather in sunblock and wear a hat at all times when outside, I felt this Claudia moment so, so hard.
Conclusion: “Sunburn” was pretty entertaining for what it was, and we finally got some over the top ridiculousness which had been sorely lacking for the past few reads. Up next is “The New Boy”.