Book: “Final Grade” (Fear Street #30) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description: Everyone thinks she killed her teacher
Intense, competitive, Lily Bancroft had good reasons to hate him. She lives to win, and he was about to destroy her dreams. But murder? That was going too far, even for someone as driven as Lily.
She’s innocent. But that hasn’t stopped the whispers behind her back. Or the weird phone calls late at night. Then someone else is brutally murdered and suddenly Lily is drawn into a nightmare she can’t begin to control. Will her final grade be her last?
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: We meet our protagonist Lily Bancroft as she’s arguing with her social sciences teacher Mr. Reiner. Seems that he gave her a B on her test and she feels that she deserves an A because she just does, okay? Mr. Reiner isn’t swayed, and after having a fantasy about killing him, Lily leaves the room, angry that she may not get the A that she needs to be Valedictorian at the end of the year to get the scholarship she needs. She runs into her friend Julie and says that she could just kill Mr. Reiner, which is poor phrasing and Julie’s older brother was murdered during a grocery story robbery, but hey, Lily is a Type A personality who is very much in her feelings. Besides, both of her older sisters were Valedictorian and she needs to keep up with them in her parents eyes. They stop by the library so Julie can drop off some books, and run into Lily’s boyfriend Alex, who used to date Julie but whatever, hormones gonna hormone. They then run into Scott, the editor of the school literary magazine The Forum, who mentions the deadline they have. But Lily says she can’t go to the meeting today, she has to work at her Uncle Bob’s pharmacy that night. See, her mother had a stroke and now Lily has to bring in a second income to help make ends meet at home. Damn, I feel like the college application essay alone will get her into any school she wants with a full scholarship, but hey, that’s not my business.
As she’s starting to walk to work Graham, Julie’s cousin and Lily’s rival for Valedictorian, offers her a ride in his sea foam green Porsche. He’s a total douchebag, but Lily accepts the ride because she doesn’t want to be late to work. He then brags about his grades and asks her if she’s ready for the state trivia contest they’re both trying to get a seat on, and she grits her teeth until she gets to work and thanks him for the ride. She really wants to win that because there’s a cash prize. While at work that night Lily is trying to do her homework as well as serve customres, when all of a sudden a guy pulls a gun and holds up the place. Uncle Bob comes out of the back room and then grabs the pistol he keeps in the drawer. The robber chickens out and runs off, and the new pharmacy delivery boy Rick runs after him (like a dope). Lily calls the police and Rick comes back empty handed. When Bob points out that he could have been killed, he shrugs in a ‘macho’ manner, and oh, he’s gonna be one of THOSE characters. He asks Lily what she’s doing, and she says homework. Then he asks her out, and is only swayed when she says she has a boyfriend. He confides that he’s a drop out because he had problems in classes, and she tells him that hey, she has problems too, and tells him all about that AWFUL Mr. Reiner. He asks her out again, and she says nope.
She gets off the bus at Fear Street and starts walking home. Then someone jumps out of the bushes, but it’s just Alex. She tells him about the robbery and he’s worried about her, but he also gets frustrated when she says that she has to go inside and study instead of sitting and talking with him for a bit. But he does agree, and lets her go inside. Her father seems less concerned about the robbery and more concerned about the B grade she got on that test, so Lily is more determined than ever to study her butt off. Her room phone gets a strange call, where the person on the line says that they know her and watch her ‘all the time’. They then hang up, and Lily focuses on her work.
The next day on the bus to school Lily is exhausted, but has decided that she is just going to ask Mr. Reiner if she can do some extra credit work to boost her grade. Alex says that’s a good idea, and they get off the bus and part ways. At her locker Lily runs into Lisa Blume, who heard about the issue with Mr. Reiner and needles her a bit. Lily says that she’s going to get her A ‘one way or another’, and Lisa, being a huge gossip, is probably not the person to say that to. When Lily goes to Mr. Reiner’s classroom to propose the extra credit idea, she finds him sprawled on the floor, a ladder and a broken lightbulb on the scene. And the poor man is dead.
So while Lily does feel bad about her bad thoughts about him, and the fact that there are rumors about her maybe killing him instead of it being an accident where he fell off the ladder and died, she is pleased that she is potentially going to get a better grade now, as the substitute has given her more options to raise it. She’s playing a friendly couple of games of tennis with Alex, Julie, and Scott, and this is the one place where she isn’t competitive (much to Alex’s chagrin). After the games Scott suggests that they all hang out some more, but Lily says she has studying to do, which miffs Alex even more. As she’s walking home Graham drives up next to her and offers her a ride. She agrees, but gets mad at him when he insinuates that maybe she killed Mr. Reiner over her grade. She gets out of his car and storms off. That night she gets another weird phone call, and the caller says that he knows she got what she wanted. So now she thinks that Graham is the caller.
Maybe a day later Lily meets up with Scott to look over her essay and the covers for the forum. Scott says that her essay is great (natch!) and that she should come to the paper mill that night to watch them print out the new edition on a huge printing press. She says that sounds fun and that she’ll come by after work, and then he asks her to help pick a cover. Alex comes in and is jealous, and when Scott leaves he tells Lily he doesn’t like that Scott likes her. Lily assures him he has nothing to worry about, and he trusts her. At work that night Rick comes in and starts pestering Lily. He teases her about Mr. Reiner, and she blows up at him. He asks her out again and she says no, and he GRABS HER HAND and asks her if she’s stuck up and he only ‘wants to get to know her better’, and she tells him to knock it off. He then apologizes profusely (of course) because he ‘needs this job’ so please don’t say anything to Bob. Stine LOVES these characters, the assholes who are actually just ‘misunderstood’. It’s so 90s. I like me a good bad boy trope as well, but you are NO Bender in “The Breakfast Club”, Rick, so fuck off. Uncle Bob asks if everything is okay, and Lily says yes, saving Rick’s undeserving ass from a swift firing.
Lily goes to the paper mill after work to meets her friends, but as she enters a bunch of HUGE rolls of paper start rolling towards her a la Indiana Jones. She jumps out of the way before being crushed to death, and her friends and the night foreman Mr. Jacobson all find her. He says that he has no idea how that happened, but now they’ll have to reload and delay the printing until later that week. Graham says that Jacobson is an idiot and that HE would know how to run this place better, and fuck yourself Graham because he’s the foreman and you aren’t. I don’t care if your Dad owns this place. They all decide to go to pizza instead. But because of this Lily doesn’t get home until after 11, and the trivia contest is the next day. She gets another weird phone call. Now the voice is saying that it wants to ‘help her’.
At the trivia contest it’s Lily vs Graham, and at first she’s holding her own pretty okay. But then Graham tells her that he saw his midterm grades, and that he’s getting basically all A’s. So poor Lily gets inside her own head, and the stress and exhaustion prove to be too much, and Graham ends up winning. Lily is devastated. As she’s walking home, Rick just happens to be in the neighborhood making deliveries, and offers to walk with her. He actually acts like a decent human being as they walk, but then he says that he wondered if he could ‘help her’ somehow when it comes to cheering her up. She then asks if he’s the person who’s been calling her….. And he says he has. She freaks out on him, but he swears that he never actually waits for her to pick up and always hangs up before she does. Lily doesn’t believe him, and when there is no call that night she is further convinced that he was the caller all along. But it’s NEVER that easy on Fear Street.
The next day the midterm grades are posted for all to see. How humiliating for those who aren’t doing so well!! I don’t understand why schools would do this. It was bad enough that my school posted the names of those on the Dean’s List AND posted the name of the ‘most improved’ student for the semester. That’s not encouraging, it just opens up for your asshole classmates to be like ‘HOW BAD WERE YOU BEFORE?’ Anyway, Lily is indeed humiliated because she is number 2 behind Graham. When her friends try to comfort her at the magazine meeting, because number 2 is still pretty good and there is STILL TIME for her to get her grades back up to snuff, she yells at all of them and storms out because
Lily leaves work early because the store is dead and Uncle Bob takes pity on her, so she goes to the paper mill to see the magazine get printed. When she arrives Mr. Jacobson has left a sign that says he’ll be back at 9:30. It’s 9:20, but Lily finds the door open. She goes in, hearing the printing press. She figures they must have started after all, so she heads towards the pressing room. She walks in and covers her ears because it’s so loud as it prints, and she gets splattered in the face with red ink that runs through the press. But wait, it’s not red ink. It’s BLOOD!! She runs around the other side and finds Graham HEAD FIRST IN THE PRESS!! She turns it off and checks to see if he’s still alive, but he’s not. She faints, and only comes to when her other friends arrive, and ask her how she got all that blood on her. I mean, there’s a bloody corpse next to her, guys, there are LOTS of ways it could have gotten on her.
The next morning at breakfast her mother asks her why she’s not eating. I ask HER why Lily hasn’t been taken straight to a therapist after seeing what she saw. Lily gets in Alex’s car to go to school (!?!?!), and he tries to comfort her. It doesn’t help that a bunch of Graham’s friends proceed to cut them off and stare at them, and Lily thinks that this is somehow all her fault, even though the police said that it was a tragic accident. When she gets to school she can’t help but gleefully think about how she is number one now. Kinda ghoulish. You get me to a sympathetic point and then knock it all down, Lily.
At the funeral Lily is really starting to lose it. She feels like people are looking at her, and when she goes to the viewing of the closed casket she hallucinates that Graham sits up and accuses her, but she gets her wits about her enough to understand that Julie is really hurting, as she just lost her brother and now her cousin is dead too. The funeral retreats to Julie’s house for refreshments (this officially isn’t the Midwest small town dynamic because it’s not in the church basement and there isn’t a spread of various bars to go with an unabashed reluctance to a bother anyone in any way), and as Lily and Scott are talking, but when Graham’s mom gives her a suspicious stink eye Lily takes that as her cue to leave. She rushes home to her empty house, and has a nice cry. As she empties out her purse looking for some tissues, she instead finds Graham’s glasses!! Suddenly there’s a bang and footsteps coming up the steps, and Scott is there! He says he was worried about her, and she tells him about the glasses. Which which Scott says that of course he knew about it, as he put them there! He wants her to know everything that he did for her to prove his love, aka killing Graham!!! He got the idea after Mr. Reiner’s freak accident with the light and slipping off the ladder. He told Graham to meet him at the printing press at nine, knowing the foreman would be on a break and then pushed him into the press so that Lily will be number one! He also was the one making the phone calls, and now they can be together forever! Lily tries to leave the room to call the cops, but he says that he’ll kill her if she leaves the room. Oh, and if she DOES try to turn him in, he’ll say that it was all her idea and that she also killed Mr. Reiner because she wanted to badly to be number 1. He grabs Graham’s glasses for collateral, and tells her that they can be together now. He leaves, and Lily doesn’t know what to do.
At the magazine meeting the next day Scott suggests that they make a special tribute issue to Graham. Lily thinks he’s demented but goes along with it. Julie is driving her to work afterwards and apologizes for being so distant lately; she’s just sad that Lily has no time for her outside of studying and Alex. Lily is relieved that Julie doesn’t blame her for Graham’s death. But then Julie, being a regular Nancy Drew, says that she isn’t convinced that Graham died in an accident, and believes that he was murdered! After all, his dad owns the paper plant, so of COURSE he knows how to use the press and not get caught in it. Julie assures Lily that she doesn’t believe the rumors and thinks that someone else killed him. Lily is scared that Scott will hurt Julie if she voices her suspicions or goes too deep. That night Scott calls Lily and tells her to break up with Adam and start dating him. Lily tries to deflect, saying people may be suspicious if she does that and may ask more questions. Then she IDIOTICALLY tells him that Julie is suspicious. He then threatens Julie, so Lily agrees to go out with him.
The night of the shitty date she has to go on, Lily runs into Alex outside her house and makes up a lame excuse about the library and studying. He gets miffed and walks off. She then meets up with Scott and has the actually pretty good idea of making it a terrible date for him so he’ll not want to do it again. She makes him drive to a town twenty miles away to see a movie, won’t hold his hand, and then makes him take her to a scary pool hall frequented by bikers and potential meth heads for dinner. Unfortunately they run into Rick, who just makes polite conversation, which gets Scott all possessive. As they leave he says that she better not be into Rick and that she better dump Alex or else. He drives her home, basically assaults her when he tries to kiss her and won’t let her go, but she squirms away and he walks her to her door. He tries to kiss her again but she ducks inside, and tries to figure out what to do…. Maybe CALL THE COPS!!! SCOTT HAS THE GLASSES!! There is EVIDENCE that he says he’s holding on to for collateral but EVIDENCE IS IN HIS POSSESSION!!!!
Lily avoids Scott okay at school that Monday, but at the magazine meeting he talks about their date in front of everyone. Including Alex. Alex, angry that Lily has been lying to him and has made time for Scott but not him, dumps her. Later that week (maybe? Time is being weird in this one), Lily is at work and Julie calls her telling her that she thinks she knows who killed Graham, because someone left a message for Graham at the paper plant the night he did. She asks Lily to meet her there the next night, because she wants to tell her in person. Lily tries to dissuade her, but when a customer comes in she has to hang up but says she will call her back. But she never gets the chance, because after a number of customers and Rick take up her time with all their bullshit, Scott comes in with a flower and an urge to make out. He starts to get grabby again (so much casual sexual harassment and assault in these books), and Lily blows up at him, saying that they won’t be together forever because Julie is figuring it all out!
So Scott says that they’re just going to have to kill her then. Ugh, SEE? She tries to get him to think that they can talk to her together and change her mind, and then SWEET KIND UNCLE BOB, in a moment if ill timed kindness, tells Lily that she can leave for the night and go have fun. Thanks, Uncle Bob! When he goes back to the back room with Rick to build some shelving, Scott tells Lily they’re going to take care of Julie now. Lily opens the drawer, hoping to grab the gun to intimidate him into stopping this whole thing, but oops, he grabs it first, and points it at her saying she better call Julie.
So they go to the paper plant, and Scott lets them in with his personal key the magazine has. Mr. Jacobson is nowhere in sight, and they wait for Julie. When she arrives, Lily screams at her to run before Scott can get the jump on her, but sweet idiotic Julie just stands there asking what’s going on. Scott confesses that he’s the one who killed Graham, but then tries to pin it on Lily as well. Julie doesn’t know what to think, but what does it matter because Scott presses her up against the press and points the gun right at her as Lily begs him to leave her alone. There’s a scuffle, and Lily almost gets the gun away from him, but to no avail. Scott aims the gun at Julie and shoots, and she falls to the floor. Lily cries over her best friend, and Scott says that they can be together now. He lets his guard down and puts the pistol in his pocket, but Lily gets the gun and aims it at him. She says that she’ll shoot him, but he calls her bluff. And he’s right, she wont’ shoot. So he embraces her…. BUT THEN JULIE STANDS UP, GRABS A LARGE METAL BAR, AND HITS HIM IN THE HEAD. He collapses, and the BFFs are reunited. Lily says she thought Julie was dead, but Julie says that nothing hit her. As they try to figure out why, Scott rallies for a moment, but then does drop dead while saying Lily’s name over and over.
So the police and medics come, as do Uncle Bob and Rick to pick them up and take them home. And turns out the gun was a starter pistol, and that’s why Julie wasn’t shot. Bob thinks real guns are too scary, and I LOVE Uncle Bob. Julie then eyes Rick and asks Lily if he’s single, and Lily says that Julie can have him because SHE needs to make sure that she keeps her grades up! After all, there’s still time to finish first, and she KNOWS that she will. THE END.
Body Count: 3. I feel bad for poor Mr. Reiner. Dealing with entitled kids all day and then he dies because maintenance won’t fix the damn light in his classroom is a rough way to go.
Romance Rating: 2. Alex was okay and I felt for him, but he didn’t support Lily’s need to succeed and was more focused on his own entertainment. Scott is a sexual extortionist, and Rick is definitely toxic in his own right so JULIE DON’T DO IT DON’T GO OUT WITH HIM.
Bonkers Rating: 4. Because of the printing press death. Everything else was pretty run of the mill.
Fear Street Relevance: 3, if only because Lily lives on Fear Street and because the past two books had absolutely NOTHING to do with Fear Street so that’s no doubt shading my opinions.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Then she realized there was an answer. An answer that had been there all along. ‘I’ll kill him’, she thought.”
…. And then it’s NEVER brought up again. EVER. She goes back to just wondering how she’s going to get out of this mess.
That’s So Dated! Moments: There’s the fact that Lily says that Julie prefers reading while most kids their age like spending their time watching MTV, and I have to assume that it was a reference to the music videos and not to shows about teen pregnancy. Also, there’s a mention of Winona Ryder’s new romantic movie. But to be fair Winona has made a comeback and I’M SO PROUD OF HER!
“She moved the press. She tugged at his waist. She pulled frantically. ‘Are you alive? Graham? Are you?'”
NO HE’S NOT ALIVE, HE’S HEADFIRST IN A PRINTING PRESS!! This reminded me of the scene in “Tucker and Dale vs Evil” where that one kid jumps head first into the wood chipper and Tucker freaks the hell out, turns if off, and asks ‘hey, you okay?’
Conclusion: “Final Grade” was better than “Dead End” but that’s not really saying much. Up next is “Switched”.