Book: “The Stepsister 2” (Fear Street #33) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 2005
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description: The doctor says Nancy is cured…
She’s over the murderous rage that made her try to kill her sister Emily last year. Now she’s home for good…
Or evil. Emily wants to forgive and forget, but the nightmare has started all over again. Someone wants to hurt her. Is it Nancy? Or is there someone else who wants Emily dead?
Had I Read This Before: No.
The Plot: For whatever reason, R.L. Stine has decided to write another sequel to one of his more lackluster early books. While part of me is relieved that he didn’t feel a need to revisit “Missing” or “The Secret Bedroom”, why oh WHY does he pick wet blankets like “Wrong Number” to follow up on? This time we’re revisiting “The Stepsister”, which means that Emily, Jessie, and good ol’ crazy pants Nancy are back at it again. We jump into Emily and Jessie, first sworn enemies now thick as thieves step sisters, waiting for Nancy to come home from her stint at the mental institution. If you remember she was there because she tried to kill Emily because she blamed Emily for their father’s death. We are also reminded that Jessie carries her own baggage, as her friend Jolie died and everyone thought she murdered her. As Jessie is putting her favorite crystal swan (a gift from her no longer around mother) on a shelf, screams startle her and she drops it. Rich, the third musketeer in this blended family recipe, storms into the room yelling at Emily. Apparently they were at the same party and Rich drank some beer. His Dad (remember Hugh? GOD he’s awful) found out and grounded him, and Rich thinks that Emily must have ratted him out. Emily denies it, but Rich says that he’ll get her back and leaves. Jessie and Emily talk about how WEIRD he is, with his love for Clive Barker and weird splatterpunk horror novels, and he doesn’t sound so bad to me. This is that time before Columbine and after the West Memphis Three where everyone thought violent horror media was what was driving kids to violence, so perhaps we’re foreshadowing. Then we get an appearance from Butch, the family’s new dog, and oh Butch, I’m not getting attached to you.
The doorbell rings, and Emily and Jessie go to answer it, assuming it’s Nancy… But it’s not, it’s Jessie’s friend Cora-Ann! Cora-Ann lives in a house where her parents are constantly physically fighting, so she’s spending time at Emily and Jessie’s house a lot. They retreat up to the girls shared bedroom (which is a new thing, and they are both getting used to it as they snipe on and off). Cora-Ann has some gossip about the party the night before, but just before it gets intolerably boring they hear the car doors. Nancy is home for real now. The girls go to the steps and Mrs Wallner greets them SUPER politely, which we are told means that she’s nervous. But then Nancy walks in, and she’s HOLDING A KNIFE!! But not to fear, it’s a prop knife that she found in the bushes, one that Rich must have left while filming a horror movie with his friends, and frankly THAT IS SO COOL. At first Nancy is a bit quiet as everyone bustles around her, but the moment that she says hi to Emily, Emily is super happy to see her. Mr Wallner yells at Rich to come down and say hi (using the phrase ‘insane’ in the process, way to be sensitive you fucking prick), and Rich does so while still showing his anger at Emily by bumping past her. Cora-Ann breaks the ice by telling him she likes horror movies, and then Rich acts like a fucking gatekeeper and tests her on what her favorite horror movie is and I don’t like him anymore. The family scatters, Nancy goes to her room, Cora-Ann and Jessie go to play with make up, and Emily assures her mother that she’s happy that Nancy is home….. But when she goes upstairs to her room she sees that the perfume that her boyfriend Josh gave her, all the way from PARIS, FRANCE, has been shattered on the floor. Emily is immediately convinced it was Nancy. Jessie convinces her not to confront her, and then Rich appears in the doorway and mocks the mess, which makes Emily think that maybe he did it. I find it very hard to give a hoot.
The next day the entire family (sans grounded Rich) goes out for waffles in celebration. Mr. Wallner makes an ass of himself, and Emily thinks about what a boor he is, but then we also find out that she’s been calling him ‘Dad’ now and I can’t comprehend why on Earth she would do that. Nancy says that she wants to talk with Emily when they get home, and after a nice long breakfast they return to the house. Nancy leads Emily into the living room, and then WRAPS HER HANDS AROUND HER NECK! Emily freaks out, and Nancy says that she did it to ‘prove a point’, that Emily is still afraid of her. Emily astutely points out that Nancy just tried to strangle her, but Nancy says that no, she just put her hands on her neck but didn’t squeeze, which is not threatening at all.
Lucky for Nancy, this is Shadyside so Emily mostly concedes the point. They got to Nancy’s room and Emily comments on how it’s starting to look like it used to, sans a big sheet on the wall. Nancy says that’s the mural she’s working on, but no peeking until it’s finished. They chat about Emily’s life and Emily asks about the hospital Nancy was staying in, and Nancy says that it was okay. They have a heart to heart and Nancy says that she’s sorry. All seems well between the sisters, and Emily leaves to go on a date with Josh.
Josh and Emily as ice skating on Fear Lake as their date, and while that may seem like a bad idea given how cursed it is it actually sounds like a pretty tranquil evening. As they wrap up and take off their skates they suddenly hear the sound of dirt bikes, which then turns into actual dirt bikes driving very fast right at them. The bikes stop right before hitting them, and one of them is Rich (okay where did he get a dirt bike?). When Emily reminds him that he’s grounded, Rich threatens her not to tell, but then totally backs down when Josh steps in, and oh God did R.L. Stine predict the Incel movement? Is Josh a Chad and Emily a Becky? Rich rides away and Josh makes like the New York Times and tells Emily that they should feel sorry for Rich. They get back to Emily’s house and start to make out on the couch, but Emily notices someone watching them from the door. She thinks it’s Nancy, but it’s actually Cora-Ann, who gets all flustered and runs off. Emily tells Josh that she likes Cora-Ann and feels bad for her, and Josh suggests that they go out that next Saturday for a dancing date at Red Heat. It ‘takes him awhile to leave’, and what kind of metaphor is Stine throwing our way this time? Emily goes upstairs and chats with Jessie, is thinks that Emily and Josh are too gross and that Emily should try dating other guys, and mind your own beeswax Jessie. Then Emily naps, but when she wakes up to get some water she is tempted to look at the mural on Nancy’s wall. She decides not to, but when she runs into Nancy on the steps her sister must be able to smell the guilt because she tells her that she wants the mural to be a surprise and no one can look until it’s finished. Emily promises her that she won’t, and they seem to be okay. But as Emily starts to descend the staircase, Nancy’s foot shoots out and Emily tumbles down the steps after tripping on it. Emily wakes up to Nancy freaking out over her, and Emily accuses her of tripping her on purpose. Nancy tearfully insists that it’s her anti-psychotic medications make her muscle control completely non-existent. She apologizes profusely, and since Emily is somehow not a bundle of broken matter they don’t call an ambulance. Apparently in Shadyside concussions aren’t a thing.
At school that week Emily and Cora-Ann talk about their home lives. Cora-Ann confides that her father left potentially for good the week before, and when Emily tries to make it about herself by saying she too is having a bad time at home Cora-Ann shuts her down. After their heartfelt talk Emily feels SO bad for Cora-Ann, but when she tells Jessie about it Jessie snaps that Cora-Ann is HER friend. Then we fast forward to the weekend where the three of them are hanging out before Emily’s date with Josh. As Jessie and Cora-Ann lament that they haven’t had dates in a long while, I lament the fact that this book isn’t promoting the idea that a girls night of dancing could be just as fulfilling. But then it was 1995, and the Spice Girls “Wannabe” is two years away from changing all girls lives. When Emily goes to check on her perfect sexy dancing dress, she finds that it has been cut in half, which makes her scream. Jessie, Cora-Ann, and Nancy come running, and Emily accuses Nancy of cutting it. Cora-Ann thinks that it’s actually the press at the dry cleaners that does it, and Nancy runs off to her room. As Emily goes to apologize, she passes Rich’s room. He holds up a pair of scissors and says ‘snip snip’. HE’S ESCALATING!!! I’ve been watching enough “Criminal Minds” to know what escalation looks like!
The next morning Emily is talking to her mother about Rich and his ‘shenanigans’, but her mom brushes it off saying that they’re looking for a therapist for him and that until that happens Emily should ‘stay out of his way’. Christ, I can’t even with this. THEN when Emily confides that she is still kind of scared of Nancy (as she watches Nancy tool around outside), the person who tried to kill her, her mother scolds her and reminds her that she needs to be extra sensitive about this whole thing. And I get it. Nancy has problems, no doubt. But to ask her VICTIM to be a little braver and understanding is just wrong. Emily does wonder if she should be more understanding, and goes outside to talk to Nancy. They end up building a snowman to rival the one that Cora-Ann and Jessie made, and it turns into a lovely afternoon. But as Emily is driving to Josh’s house that night, the brakes give out on the car! She crashes into a tree, and wakes up in the hospital. Mr. Wallner, or “DAD”, is there, and Emily tries to tell him that she thinks that Nancy tampered with the breaks. He tells her that no, he knew that the breaks were feeling a bit loose but didn’t take the car in, and besides, how could NANCY possibly know how to tinker with a car? Even when Emily says that Nancy studied car repair during her psych ward stay, Hugh waves off this theory, most likely because Emily is a girl and what does she know?
A few nights later Emily wakes up to Jessie sobbing. She had a bad dream about Jolie again. The sisters bond over their mutual nightmares about the people they lost in their past, and reaffirm that they are good sisters to each other. Jolie realizes that Emily has never seen a picture of Jolie, and so she digs out a memory box and shows her a picture. Emily point s out that Jolie and Cora-Ann are strikingly similar. Jessie wonders if she’s been having nightmares because she’s been hanging out with Cora-Ann so much….. The next day (maybe?) Emily is trying to write a paper about what would happen to Holden Caulfield after “The Catcher in the Rye” (I have a theory: he grows up and becomes a phony). She attempts to call Josh but when she picks up the phone Rich is on the line with a friend who is encouraging him to sneak out. Emily listens in a bit but then hangs up, but Rich knew it was happening and comes into her room to yell at her a bit asking what he has to ‘do to her’ to get her out of his life.
Later, Emily and Jessie are watching a movie when there is a knocking on the door. They go to the door and find Cora-Ann with a white canvas bag. She says her Dad is back and wonders if she can sleep over. They say sure. The next morning Emily wakes up and brushes her teeth, but then can’t get her jaws to open. Then she sees a bottle of super glue in the garbage!!! Okay, this is straight up assault at this point!! She rushes out of the bathroom and demonstrates what has happened to Jessie and Cora-Ann, and Cora-Ann calls 911. She is told that they should take Emily to the ER, and as they are leaving Emily accuses Nancy through her glued teeth, who then bursts into tears, and Mr. Wallner says that they need to act like a family, dammit. But I put forth that it’s hard to act like a family when you are being assaulted by your sibling or stepsibling or WHOMEVER. After she gets fixed up and they are leaving the ER, Cora-Ann says that this is still better than HER family (not the time, Cora-Ann), and says that her Mom may be moving them back to Parkerstown. Jessie stops short, and says that Jolie was born in Parkerstown. Cora-Ann asks if Jolie was the girl who died, and Jessie asks how she knows about Jolie, because she has never mentioned her. Cora-Ann balks and doesn’t answer.
In French class later that week Jessie and Emily whisper about Jessie’s new suspicions about Cora-Ann. Jessie thinks it’s weird that she knew about Jolie, but Emily says that in Shadyside EVERYONE gossips and that must be how she knows. When Emily gets home that day she sees Rich and Nancy up in the second floor window, perhaps arguing. It’s very strange. We THEN jump ahead to Saturday night, as Emily is returning from a movie she saw with Josh. She’s thinking a lot about all the stuff that’s happened, but when she walks into the living room the worst thing that I KNEW was coming has happened: Butch the dog is dead. Emily freaks out, and starts screaming for Nancy. When the family comes down the steps to see what happened, Rich mutters ‘another dog bites the dust’ (prick), and Emily attacks him.
We cut to Jessie driving Emily down the driveway as Hugh digs a hole for Butch the next morning. That night Hugh and Mrs. Wallner are leaving their kids alone (?!?!??!!?!) because of a sick relative (do they BOTH have to go though?!), and Emily is scared that she’s going to be killed next. They drive up to Cora-Ann’s house, but then Jessie freaks out because she sees two people walking out of her house… and they are Jolie’s parents! Jessie wants to hide but they are spotted, so they get out to talk to them. After awkward pleasantries, Jolie’s parents tell them that Cora-Ann is Jolie’s cousin!!! Jessie insists that they have to leave now, and as they’re driving SHE thinks that it was Cora-Ann who did these thints!! When Jolie died Cora-Ann was devastated. Jessie had told Cora-Ann that she was going out the night that the brakes gave out, she may have thought that the dress was hers, and Jessie was always borrowing the perfume. AND Butch was always jumping on Jessie, AND she was there for a sleepover when the glue was put in the toothpaste!! Emily now feels TERRIBLE for accusing Nancy of these things!!! Because obviously it was Cora-Ann, right?
When they get home Emily runs up to Nancy’s room and knocks on the door. She apologizes through the door when Nancy won’t open it. Emily says she’ll come back later, and goes to find Jessie, who can’t get a hold of their parents. The phone rings, and Jessie picks it up. And since it’s Cora-Ann, she loses her cool and yells at her to NEVER COME BACK AGAIN EVER! Then the power goes out because of a poorly timed thunderstorm during a time of year where it’s usually snowing. The girls go to grab candles, when there’s a knocking on the door. When Emily looks out the window, she sees Cora-Ann on the porch, and she’s HOLDING A KNIFE!!! Jessie tries the phone, but the line is dead. Did the storm do it, or did Cora-Ann do it?! They look out the window again and Cora-Ann is gone, but then they remember that they didn’t check the windows and other doors. And then Cora-Ann bursts through the back door in the kitchen, and comes at Jessie with the knife! But NANCY TO THE RESCUE!! She bolts out of nowhere, grabs a pan, and hits Cora-Ann in the head! Jessie and Emily are stoked, and thank her for saving them…. But when Jessie goes to hug her, Nancy hits HER with the pan as well! Then she turns to Emily and says ‘you’re next’. I guess it was Nancy the whole time, and all the red herrings proved to be nothing and we just get a repeat of the first book.
SO apparently, Cora-Ann took Nancy’s bag by accident when she left, and that bag had a huge ass knife in it. Cora-Ann was coming to warn Jessie and Emily. Nancy has been biding her time and waiting, pretending to be well and better and fooling everyone, including the medical professionals who were tending to her. But now she’s going to kill Emily. She tries to stab her but misses, and Emily goes running. She eventually runs up to Nancy’s room, and pulls the sheet off the mural. The mural just says “HATE HATE HATE HATE” a bunch of times and it doesn’t exactly sound like a Diego Rivera level masterpiece. When Nancy comes into the room and says she’s going to kill her, Emily, remembering her mother’s toxic advice about having to forgive Nancy to truly save their relationship, instead wraps Nancy into a bear hug and tells her that she forgives her, squeezing her tight. At that moment their parents come home, thanks to a washed out road, and all seems to be okay.
And in a neat little wrap up around the dinner table a few weeks later, we find out that Cora-Ann’s parents are in marriage counseling, Cora-Ann and Jessie are friends again (Cora-Ann admits that she was trying to figure out if Jessie killed Jolie but figured out right away she hadn’t), and Emily has been visiting Nancy in the hospital, where she is going to stay for a long time. They tell Rich to turn off the TV and join them at the table, and when he does he tells them that he was watching “Family Feud”. The End.
Body Count: 1. Poor Butch. I hate it when Stine kills animals.
Romance Rating: I’ll give it a 7! I liked Emily and Josh’s relationship this time around.
Bonkers Rating: 5. Not really crazy, and kind of a rehash of the first one.
Fear Street Relevance: 4? They were ice skating on Fear Lake and there were mentions of Fear Street here and there, but not much of the true action felt Fear Street related.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“‘No!’ Emily let out a cry as she saw the blood-stained knife in Nancy’s hand.”
… But it was the prop knife. Which wasn’t a prop knife after all??? I wasn’t clear on this.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Well outside of Emily overhearing Rich talk on a shared land line, at one point Emily and Jessie are watching a VHS of “Sleepless in Seattle” but I’m not even mad about it because I straight up love that movie!!
“‘Pete is such a loser,’ she murmured. ‘I’m surprised I haven’t gone out with him.'”
I applaud your self awareness, Jessie.
Conclusion: “The Stepsister 2” was just a rehash of “The Stepsister” when it all comes down to it, so I wasn’t impressed. Next up is “What Holly Heard”.