A Revisit to Fear Street: “Into the Dark”

176586Book: “Into the Dark” (Fear Street #49) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Paulette Fox refuses to let her blindness stop her from living a full life. But one thing she’s never done is fall in love – until now. Paulette knows Brad Jones is the only guy for her. Even when her friends see Brad commit a horrible crime, Paulette is sure that he’s innocent. Her friends tell her he’s out of control, that she will be his next victim. But Paulette is sure he would never hurt her.

Is Paulette right about Brad? Or has her love put her in terrible danger?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: Before I go into this, I just want to say that if you want to experience some actually suspenseful thrillers with blind women in peril, just go watch “Wait Until Dark” or “Jennifer 8”. I do think that necessary conversations should be had about casting actors without disabilities as characters who have disabilities, just as there should also be conversations about who should be writing stories about disabled characters. But since these conversations weren’t getting attention in 1997, let’s continue with the break down of this late series “Fear Street” book.

First there is a prologue section in which the third person narrator alerts us that there is a mysterious guy who likes ‘spying on the blind girl’. Then we meet said blind girl, Paulette Fox, who is being dropped off at her music lesson by her friend Jonathan. Paulette likes that Jonathan doesn’t treat her like she’s fragile because she’s blind, and wishes that everyone could be like him. He asks her what gym class she’s going to sign up for, and she says self defense, and Mr. Doesn’t Treat Her Like She’s Fragile is worried when she says self defense because it’s ‘dangerous’. Paulette has been blind since she was a baby, dude, I’m pretty sure that she has adapted and adjusted to the world enough that she can take self defense classes, but I get the feeling this is going to be a theme of the book. Jonathan drops her off so he can go find a parking spot, and Paulette starts to walk up the slope towards the doors, when someone suddenly knocks her to the ground. Caught off guard she asks what happened, and the person tells her that a car was just about to hit her so he pushed her aside (we get our first inconsistency here; Stine just spent time describing how Paulette could hear the sounds of distant music from inside the school because her other senses are so adept, but she couldn’t hear a car on pavement that was about to hit her?). Another guy says that the emergency brake must have broken because there was no driver and the car just haphazardly crashed. Guy number 1 offers to take her to the ER (she’s FINE, dude!), but she declines, and he tells her that he’s happy he got to her in time, and addresses her by name. She says she doesn’t recognize his voice, and he says he knows her because EVERYONE knows Paulette at Shadyside High, and he’s a senior named Brad Jones, who’s a new student. She asks if he also takes lessons at the music academy, but he says that while he plays, he can’t afford it and is a part time janitor there instead. Jonathan joins them, and he knows Brad from English class. Paulette explains what happened, and Jonathan offers to take her home, but she says she’d prefer to go to her lesson. Once that’s over, Brad catches up with her and asks for her phone number. Paulette is over the moon and gives it to him, but Jonathan is skeptical. Once Brad heads off, Jonathan tells Paulette that there are rumors swirling at school about Brad and his old town of Springfield. People are saying he was involved with a robbery and that’s why he had to move! Paulette doesn’t believe it one bit because he was nice to her! So how could he possibly be a bad guy?

That night as Paulette gets ready for bed we get a pretty thorough and from what I can tell realistic portrayal of how Paulette’s life is around her house. There are mentions of Braille coded hangers, consistent placements of furniture and objects, and what can happen if things are left out of place. The phone rings and it’s Cindy, Paulette’s other best friend. Cindy asks Paulette about Brad (as Jonathan has a big fat mouth), and Paulette says that she’s hot to trot. Cindy isn’t sure that it’s sure a good idea given the rumors, but Paulette just says that Jonathan is way too overprotective of her (SO WHICH IS IT? Is he overprotective, or one of the few people who doesn’t treat her like she could break?). They say their goodbyes and hang up. After Paulette daydreams about Bran awhile, the phone rings again, and when she answers the caller says it’s Brad giving her a call! She’s surprised and asks why he’s talking so lowly, and he says he’s at a friend’s house, and then says he can’t stop thinking about her and says that she’s the one he’s been looking for, and wants to know if she feels the same way about him? Paulette is a little put off, and says they JUST met, but he says he has to know if she feels the same way about him. When she doesn’t answer, he hangs up.

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Perfectly acceptable behavior, no red flags or anything. (source)

Now we’re at school, and Paulette is doing awesome at her first self defense class. The teacher isn’t going easy on her and is telling her it’s about anticipating and concentrating, and once they’re done she tells Paulette that she still needs the signed permission slip from her parents. Paulette isn’t sure her parents will sign off, but says she will bring it in ASAP. After she gets all cleaned up it’s lunch time, and Paulette heads to the cafeteria. She’s always had a great sense of smell, so she knows what lunch is going to be just by the scent. She finds an empty table by listening to the noise levels, and waits for her friends to arrive. Cindy is first, who has the hot gossip like usual, and Paulette admits that her mind is elsewhere because she’s been thinking about Brad. She confides in Cindy about the strange phone call and how he sounded different in both voice and what he said. But before they can explore this more, Brad shows up, and Cindy, being a true wingman, makes her exit. Paulette decides not to bring up the weird phone call, and they have a nice chat. He then puts her hands on his face so that she can get a feel for how he looks, and she notices that he has a scar on his eyebrow but is otherwise pretty handsome. He says that no one can see the scar, so her senses are very well tuned. They talk about piano and he says that he doesn’t own one but is trying to practice. She invites him over to practice on hers, but he gets quiet and declines, saying that he found a piano he can use at any time. It’s in an abandoned house on Fear Street! WELCOME BACK, FEAR STREET! I feel like it’s been far too long since we’ve had any kind of mention of you!

Walking home that day Paulette thinks about the abandoned piano and the weird phone call. She gets home and remembers that her parents are going to be out late that night, and settles in to handle the house herself. She gets to her room, and runs into her waste basket. Figuring she bumped it without knowing, she goes back downstairs to practice piano. Cindy arrives soon after to work on a school project, and Paulette says they can go work in her room. But when they enter it, Cindy suddenly freaks out. She tells Paulette that someone has written all over the walls with red paint, and the phrase is ‘You Will Be Dead, Blind Girl’!!!! Paulette asks Cindy if anything else looks out of place, but Cindy says no. Paulette goes to where Cindy says it is written, and feels the paint with her hands. Cindy says that the person who did this might still be here, and Paulette says that they should investigate! They arm themselves and start looking. I would get sanctimonious about how they should call the cops, but back in college I was living in a house with some roommates and one day a roommate and I were convinced we saw someone in our kitchen (we had all the doors and windows open due to an oven cleaning mishap). Instead of calling the police on the potential intruder we grabbed knives and went to flush them out. We didn’t find anyone (a strange outcome, as there was definitely someone in the kitchen and there was no where to escape without us seeing), but it was foolish of us to do that. Anyway, Paulette and Cindy also come up empty, and Cindy thinks they need to tell someone. But Paulette says that her parents are SOOOO overprotective they will surely blow this whole thing out of proportion. But Paulette, this isn’t them maybe being worried about you taking self defense, this is a LITERAL THREAT AGAINST YOUR PERSON AND A BREAKING AND ENTERING SITUATION. But Cindy agrees, and they start to cover up the entire thing.

The next morning over breakfast Paulette gives her parents the permission slip for her self defense class. They predictably waffle on whether or not she can handle it, but she convinces them that she can, so they sign. As she’s walking to school she thinks that she better not tell them about Brad yet, given that there are those pesky rumors about him being a criminal. As she’s walking she suddenly hears shoes running up behind her. She calls out a greeting, but gets no answer. Then she’s suddenly shoved into oncoming traffic. She isn’t hit, but a car does spin out trying to avoid her. The woman in the car asks Paulette if she’s okay, and Paulette says yes. The woman offers to drive her home, but before Paulette can undoubtedly decline because her parents are SO overprotective, she’s helped up by Brad, who sounds like he has a cold. Brad says that he can take her to school, and says that he was across the street and saw the whole thing. He says he saw Paulette trip. When Paulette tells him that someone pushed her, he says no, he didn’t see anyone, she pretty clearly tripped. He then pulls her into a creepy hug, and asks if she thinks about him as much as he thinks about her. She shoves him away and asks what’s wrong with him, but he just gives her back her cane and runs off.

At the library that afternoon Paulette is thinking about the strange encounter with Brad. Jonathan and Cindy ask her why she’s so spacey, and she doesn’t tell them about what happened that morning. Brad then comes up to them and asks Paulette if they can talk. She agrees, warily, and he asks her if she would come hear him play the abandoned piano on Fear Street that night. She isn’t certain, but now Brad seems perfectly normal, so she says sure. He says that he was happy he saw her because he was thinking about her, and she said that they saw each other that morning. He soundss confused, and has to go back to class before they can discuss it more.

Cut to Paulette getting off at the Fear Street bus stop. Brad is there to pick her up and walk with her to the abandoned house, and Paulette notes to herself that Fear Street even has a different smell from the other streets in town, and I personally really like that tidbit. They get to the house, and the door is easy to open. Not only that, in a convenient twist of fate, while the electricity is out, the gas was never turned off, so it’s nice and warm! He tells her that there’s rumors that the person who owned the house was a music teacher whose family was murdered, and the piano was left behind. We get new tidbits about other hauntings in the area, and man, I missed this aspect of these books, it’s been too long. They start to play, but then they hear noises upstairs. Brad says he’ll go check it out, and she can hear him moving around upstairs. Then there’s a slam, and shouting, and footsteps running down the steps, and a door slamming. And then that’s it. Paulette calsl out for Brad, but gets no answer. She decides to try and find him in this house that she’s never been to, and uses her cane to explore the space. She eventually finds a staircase, and is about to climb it, but then someone grabs her from behind! It’s Jonathan! He tells her the staircase is rotted out and it could collapse, and she asks what he’s doing there. He admits that he followed her there, and started to get worried when the flashlight they were using stopped moving around. Jonathan says he’ll go check the house, but doesn’t find Brad. Brad’s gone. She says that he wouldn’t have ditched her in an abandoned house, and yet… that’s exactly what he did. When she and Jonathan get to his car she demands to know why he followed her. He says that he thought it was weird she was getting on a bus, and then when he saw she was meeting Brad he wanted to be sure she was safe because of the rumors about him. She says she can hang out with whomever she wants and he says he can worry about his friends, and Paulette wonders if Jonathan is hiding something. And I mean, sure, he has serious boundary issues and a hero complex, but the fact that she’s questioning HIM over the guy who has been a total weirdo the entire time she’s known him, that seems misguided to me. Once she gets home she waits for Brad to call with an explanation as to why he ditched her in an unfamiliar place, but no such phone call is to be had.

At lunch the next day Paulette and Brad finally meet up, and he says that he was ‘really sorry’ about the night before and didn’t mean for it to end up like that. She calls him out on it, but he doesn’t have any better explanation of reasoning. He also tells her that he can’t see her anymore. She asks him to tell her what is going on, but he balks and says that he ‘can’t let this happen again!’, and runs out of the cafeteria.

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Frankly this is how the story should end, but we still have half of the book left. (source)

That evening Paulette is moping and her friends ask her why. She tells them about Brad, and they both agree that it’s probably better this way, and Paulette doesn’t like that one bit. She tells them about how weird he acted after the car incident, and they both say that he is BAD NEWS, but Paulette doesn’t want to believe it. She goes home and her mom tells her that her grandmother fell and broke some bones, and so for the next few nights her parents are going to have to be out late taking care of her. They ask if she wants to stay and her aunt’s house, but Paulette says no. She waits for Brad to call, but he doesn’t. As she’s trying to fall asleep, she hears a scratching at the window. She gets up the shut it, but then someone grabs her! She begins to scream, calling for her parents for help, but of course whoever it is lets her go and by the time her parents arrive she’s alone. But instead of coming clean about everything (and this would be the perfect time to do so), she just says she had a BAD DREAM and that everything is okay. Her Dad goes to check the window anyway, and then finds a ring on the floor. It says ‘B.J.’, and those are Brad’s initials! Paulette lies and says she was holding the ring for a friend of hers and just forgot to give it back, and they believe her. Paulette doesn’t understand! How can Brad be so sweet and thoughtful one moment, and then trying to hurt her the next?!

At Pete’s Pizza the next day Paulette, Cindy, and Jonathan are talking about Student Council, but Paulette is so sulky the others discern that she’s still upset about Brad. Jonathan tells her that Brad dropped out of school (how Paulette didn’t hear this is beyond me). Paulette is upset, but Cindy says that this is probably a good thing because Brad turned out to be such an unstable creep. Then, someone in a mask bursts into Pete’s Pizza and holds up the place!! He also says that everyone has to hand over their cash! Paulette’s backpack slipped to the floor, and as she’s trying to find it the gunman gets antsy about her movements. Jonathan stands up to try to explain that she can’t see where her backpack is, and then the gunman shoots him! He then tells a girl (Ann Johnson, Paulette recognizes her voice) to gather up the valuables as Cindy and Paulette try to stop the blood from pouring out of Jonathan’s body. They hear police sirens, and a scuffle ensues, and Cindy tells Paulette that two guys unmasked the gunman… And it’s Brad!! The police arrive and an ambulance crew hauls Jonathan away, and the police say that they need to ask some questions. A number of people say that Brad was the gunman, but Paulette realizes that it wasn’t Brad’s voice that was yelling at everyone, and she remembers that the gunman’s scent wasn’t like Brad’s scent. Paulette decides to pipe in and says that it wasn’t Brad, but the police officers are…. skeptical to say the least. Paulette tries to explain that voices are like faces to her and that she knew that Ann Johnson was there just by her voice, which Ann confirms. The police still don’t listen, and radio out a request for a warrant for his arrest.

As Paulette and Cindy wait at Cindy’s house for news about Jonathan, they argue about whether or not it was Brad. But they get the call that Jonathan is going to be okay, and they both are too relieved to be too mad at each other about their differing opinions. Cindy asks if Paulette is going to tell her parents about all of this, and Paulette says she’ll tell them about the robbery but nothing about her and Brad. Paulette also says that she has to warn Brad that the police are looking for him, and the argument is back on. Paulette asks Cindy to drive her to the Music Academy since Brad works there, but Cindy refuses at first, but then agrees once Paulette says she will just walk then. They get to the school and ask if Brad is there, but one of the music teachers says that Brad never showed up for work. Paulette suggests that they check the locker room, and Cindy reluctantly agrees. They go to the locker room, and Cindy narrates what she finds in the locker that says ‘Jones’, and let me tell ya, it’s incriminating AF. There are a bunch of newspaper clippings about robberies in Springfield, Brad’s old town, of businesses and homes, and it names Brad as the number one suspect. Paulette laments how she could have been so wrong about him.

As Paulette is trying to fall asleep that night she pretends not to hear her mother ask if she’s okay. Then her phone rings, and it’s Brad. He tells her that he knows that it looks bad, but he’s innocent! And he can’t tell her why or how, but he just wants her to know that he didn’t do it. Oh, and that things are going to get pretty bad in the next few days….

The next evening after her parents have left to go check on grandma, Paulette is sitting in the backyard trying to do homework. She’s having a hard time concentrating, as she can’t stop thinking about Brad, but she she hears an out of place noise. She turns off her recording, and listens. She hears footsteps. She calls out, hoping it’s a neighbor or a stray animal, but we know better, don’t we? She then hears heavy breathing right next to her ear, and when she tries to get up to grab one of the handrails that should be there, they’re gone! Without any sort of marker for where she is in the backyard, she becomes completely disoriented. She knows that someone is watching her as she tries to find her way to something familiar, and this is actually a very effective scene and one of the better done moments of suspense in a long time within this series. She eventually gets hold of a landscaping stone she recognizes, and can get back into the house handily once she’s oriented again. She locks all the doors and windows and calls Cindy. Cindy rushes right over, and when Paulette asks her if the backyard looks different she says no, which means whoever was stalking her put everything back. Cindy suggests that Paulette call the police (YES, CALL THE POLICE), but Paulette doesn’t see the point. Cindy asks if she wants to stay at her house at least, and Paulette says no. Then Cindy gasps, and turns up the TV. Someone just robbed a store that is two blocks from Paulette’s house, and the description matches that of Brad Jones! The address he gave the school isn’t a real address and he’s considered armed and dangerous. Cindy practically begs Paulette to come stay with her, but Paulette still refuses. Cindy says she will at least call the check in later, and leaves.

Paulette is playing the piano to calm her nerves when the phone rings. It’s Brad! He says that he called to apologize, and his voice is so weak that Paulette can barely hear him. He tells her that he needs to tell her the truth: he has a twin brother named Ed! And Ed has been jealous of him his entire life and made things really hard to Brad wherever they lived!

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I feel like this was published the same year that “The Simpsons” Tree House of Horror also did an evil twin episode. Justice for Hugo! (source)

He says that the police are after him for things Ed did, and that’s why he moved to Shadyside. And he arrived the same time that Brad did, and saw Paulette and decided that she was his girlfriend. Ed’s the one who’s been stalking her and committing the crimes. He says that he and Ed fought and Ed hurt him, and he needs a doctor. Paulette says she can call the cops but he says he’ll be arrested. He needs to get to Ed first, then they can call the cops. He asks for her help and says he’s at the house on Fear Street, and then hangs up.

Paulette arrives at Fear Street and gets off the bus. She remembered the step count from the last time she was there, and makes her way to the house. She calls for Brad and hears him upstairs. She remembers what Jonathan said about the staircase, and slowly climbs it. When she finds Brad he tells her she has to help him trap his brother, who will be back soon. He says that when they hear the door open she should call to him, and he will come to her because he’s so obsessed. She agrees. When they hear him call for her, Brad says that he will knock him out as soon as he walks through the door. So Paulette calls for him. And indeed, as soon as he calls for her, she calls back, and she hears him run up the steps and into the room, followed by a thwack and a thud. Brad asks her to help tie him up, and she does. Soon Ed comes to, and he starts to freak out, but not for the reasons you’d expect. It’s because he’s claiming that HE is Brad, and that the guy Paulette just helped is Ed!! The twins argue both claiming to be Brad, but Paulette knows how she’ll figure it out! THE SCAR! She walks up to the standing twin and asks to touch his face. And whoops, wouldn’t you know it. No scar. Ed confirms he was the intruder at the window, he was the one who pushed her into traffic, who moved things in her backyard, who painted the message in her room. All because she was falling for BRAD, like they always do! And now she smells the cinnamon on him like she did at Pete’s Pizza (though I would have thought that she would have smelled it on a number of occasions when there was confusion given that her sense of smell has been so hyped up). Ed ties Paulette up because now she knows too much, and we get some lame thrown together reasoning for why there are no parents (both are dead) in this entire kerfuffle. Ed turns on the gas valve. He says once they’re both unconscious he’ll untie Brad to frame him for this whole thing. He’s going to take the money and skedaddle. Paulette decides to make a gambit of a move, and asks Ed to take her with him because she’s been in love with him the whole time! After some convincing he agrees, and tells her to hold up this flashlight while he pulls the fireplace apart to grab the stash. She does for a bit, but then smashes the flashlight against the hearth, making the room go black. Then we get a “Wait Until Dark” rip off moment as they play cat and mouse in the dark, and all you have to know is Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin did it better. Eventually at the top of the steps Ed grabs her, but her self defense skills kick in, and she waits until he’s off guard and slams into him. He pushes her towards the steps, and she pulls him with her. She swings him around and then tosses him down the steps as she flies back and lands on the top floor landing. Ed is not as lucky. She crawls back to where Brad is based on her memory, and helps him up, using his eyes to get them down the steps and past Ed’s broken dead body. They get outside just as the police arrive. The policeman asks if they’re okay, and Brad says that he feels like he’s ‘finally coming out of the dark.’ The End.

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This is dumb on multiple levels. (source)

Body Count: 1. And his twin wasn’t very broken up about it either!

Romance Rating: 5. Brad wasn’t a homicidal maniac, but he sure kept a LOT of secrets from Paulette that could have prevented her from getting hurt…

Bonkers Rating: 7. The sudden evil twin reveal was pretty out there, but I don’t think it was in a good way.

Fear Street Relevance: 7! As if Stine realized that he’d been neglecting Fear Street as of late, we got some good action sequences there AND got some good reminders and new mythologies as to why it’s such a scaaaary place.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“And it was obvious to Paulette that Brad was in terrible, terrible danger.”

…. And then that’s all she has to say about that in that moment. Even if this was true, Paulette should have been thinking that perhaps Brad was part of the terrible, terrible danger in some way, shape, or form.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Paulette, Cindy, and Jonathan are watching a generic slasher movie on VHS and if that didn’t take me back to high school, I don’t know what would. Also the outdated and offensive term ‘handicapped’ is used to describe Paulette.

Best Quote:

“‘Great film!’ Jonathan said.

‘If you like swimming pools full of blood,’ Cindy commented.”

Ooh! Me! I like swimming pools full of blood!

Conclusion: “Into the Dark” was just kinda boring for the most part, and I did call the big twist pretty early on. But it wasn’t as abysmal as some of the late game “Fear Street” books. You could do worse. Up next is “The Best Friend 2”! We’re nearing the end of the original run!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”

537658Book: “Who Killed the Homecoming Queen” (Fear Street #48) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Tania is having the best year of her life. She has a hot new boyfriend, she landed the starring role in a student film, and she’s just been voted homecoming queen. But someone is jealous of Tania. Someone plans to ruin her perfect year–even if Tania must be killed. Will Tania live to see the homecoming dance?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: It’s Pep Rally time at Shadyside High, and Eva Whelan is rushing through the halls to get to the gym. This is the pep rally where they find out the girl who won Homecoming Queen, so you know everyone is abuzz! Eva’s friend Tania catches up with her, and we find out that Tania is up for the position of Homecoming Queen. Tania asks Eva if she can use her psychic powers to tell her if she’s going to win, but Eva is clearly uncomfortable with this because she’s NOT psychic, she just gets intuitions and bad feelings before something bad happens. I’d say that that’s what Daphne Moon would call ‘a little bit psychic’, but that’s not my call. But Tania assures her that she doesn’t even care if she wins, because it’s already been a great year. Her Mom got remarried to a great guy, they moved into a fancy new house, and she has an awesome stepbrother named Jeremy (who it just so happens Eva has a huge crush on!). On top of that Tania is also dating the uber popular Sandy Bishop, captain of the football team who is a little too into himself but really does care about Tania. So things are going GREAT for her. As they’re walking, however, someone suddenly shoves Tania at the top of the steps! Tania almost falls but catches herself before she can, and it turns out it was LESLIE GATES did it! Leslie apologizes, saying it was an accident, but given that she too is up for Homecoming Queen Eva isn’t so sure it was very ‘accidental’. Add into the fact that Leslie has always been jealous of Tania’s life, going so far as to stop being friends with her she was so jealous, and it makes for a rather big coincidence. I’ve known a Leslie or two in my life, and they are EXHAUSTING, so I’m going to keep an eye on her. As Tania breaks off from Eva to sit in her nomination seat, Eva gets one of her ‘bad feelings’, but tries to write it off.

Eva takes her spot in the gym and looks at the Homecoming Queen nominees as they sit in a semi-circle looking like products of the patriarchy…. Okay fine, I’m kinda joking. It looks like a fun time, and my high school didn’t really HAVE a Homecoming Court so much as the members of the various grades of Student Council were just kind of appointed to their positions, which takes out the popularity contest aspect but also feels hollow.

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Seems a bit shady is all I’m saying. (source)

Anyway, there are only four of the five Homecoming Queen nominees sitting there (Mei Kamata being one of them, and I wonder if she’s still with that boy that Holly had such a thing for?), and Eva realizes that Leslie isn’t there. But then Leslie makes a grand entrance, fashionably late, and Eva is annoyed by her calculated attention seeking stunt. But she is distracted by Keith Hicks, a guy who dresses in black and has an earring so we better keep an eye on him too, and Jeremy, who are sitting next to each other because bromance! Eva joins them in hopes of catching Jeremy’s eye and finally getting the guts to ask him to the dance. Jeremy has barely been listening to Keith talk about movies because he’s SO nervous about Tania winning. He REALLY cares about Tania and they’ve become REALLY close ever since their parents got married, and huh… maybe we should keep an eye on him too… As Jeremy gushes about his stepsister, Keith rightfully points out that said gushing is WEIRD, but then he has an ulterior motive because he has a huge crush on Tania. Keith says that maybe he’ll write in his movie script a scene where Tania dumps Sandy for him, and Jeremy ups the ante by suggesting Keith just MURDER Sandy and Eva has probably regretted sitting next to these two. Keith says that Leslie has been pestering him to cast her as the lead in said amateur film he’s making, saying she’d do him the favor of being in it, but Keith is no dope and knows that she is desperate to get into a prestigious acting program, so him casting her would be doing HER the favor, and besides he’d prefer to cast Tania, especially if she wins homecoming queen, as his movie is titled ‘Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?’ Eva is still getting her bad feeling, but now it’s time to announce the winner! And, big surprise, it’s TANIA! But as she’s walking to get her crown, she suddenly collapses in a heap on the floor!! IS SHE DEAD? No, she has blood sugar issues, which causes her to faint. A candy bar will fix her right up! She gives a charming acceptance speech, and once the pep rally is over Jeremy says they should go say hi! He rushes ahead to congratulate her, and Eva wonders where Sandy is. She runs into Leslie, who is crying over her loss, and Eva tries to comfort her. But all of her sympathy runs out when Leslie says that Tania gets EVERYTHING, and even her blood sugar issues aren’t fair because it means she can eat candy whenever she wants and not worry about getting fat!

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Oh yes, lucky Tania with her constant fainting. (source)

Eva tells Leslie that you can’t be mad at Tania for getting the most votes, and Leslie tells her to essentially stuff it and storms off. But before Tania can think too much about it, she sees something horrible under the bleachers: SANDY IS MAKING OUT WITH CHERISE COLBY! Eva is shocked, and wonders if she should tell Tania about it, but doesn’t know if she wants to be the one to do it. She turns away to leave, but then sees that Leslie has slithered back and has seen the whole thing. She declares that this revelation would ‘kill’ Tania!

The next day Eva is watching Tania and Sandy argue about him sneaking around on her. Tania says that she knows all about it and that she’s dumping him, and he is affronted that she would dump him right before the Homecoming dance. She tells him that he should have thought about that before he cheated on her. He grabs her arm, and she tries to get away but he says that he’s not letting her go and he starts to manhandle her! Eva just keeps watching, horrified, and yells at him to stop and runs forward. Tania twists away and hits Sandy, but he starts to strangle her! Tania falls limp to the ground, and Eva screams ‘NOOOOOO!’…. But then Keith yells ‘cut!’ and tells everyone to take a few minutes. It was all part of his movie. Keith says that they have to do the scene again because a plane overhead interfered with the sound, and Sandy is pissed and tries to argue with him. But thus is the life of the outdoor shoot, dickhead. They then realize that Tania isn’t moving. She’s passed out again. Sandy starts to freak out and shake her and insists on calling an ambulance, but Tania comes to and it’s just her blood sugar again. No need for an ambulance, it’s chocolate time. I guess they haven’t been dating that long since he doesn’t know the drill. Keith goes to get some candy, and Sandy says he doesn’t know what he’s do if something happened to her. Eva thinks to herself that he’d just go fuck Cherise. She hasn’t told Tania about what she saw, and thinks it’s ironic that Keith’s movie is pretty much projecting what is going on with Sandy, Tania, and Cherise in real life. Keith says they need another take, but Tania has to go to Homecoming ceremony rehearsal. He’s mad for a bit, but the moment Tania touches his arm he lightens up about his ‘vision’ and calls it for the day. Eva follows Tania to the auditorium, thinking now is the time to tell her about what she saw. But before she can, Leslie is in there yelling at Tania about how she’s going to kill her because she got the lead in Keith’s movie! Tania says that she had no idea that Leslie wanted the role and if she HAD known she would have told Keith to cast her instead. Leslie seems convinced, but is so determined to hurt Tania that she’s about to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, but Eva stops her. She yanks Leslie off to the side of the auditorium and tells her to stop being such a nut, and Leslie says she won’t tell… for now. Eva goes back to Tania, intending to tell her, but then the rest of the Homecoming Court traipses in and Eva doesn’t want to embarrass Tania so she says they’ll talk later.

That Saturday Eva is waiting for Tania at the Mall fountain. They’re going to go Homecoming dress shopping, and maybe now would be a good time to tell Tania about Sandy and Cherise? But instead of Tania showing up it’s Jeremy! Eva is excited to see him, but he’s just there to deliver a message to Eva; Tania forgot to bring an item she wants to return, so she’ll meet her at Pete’s Pizza later. Eva, not one to miss an opportunity to spend time with Jeremy, asks him to go to Pete’s Pizza with her while she waits. He agrees, and Eva is seeing hearts in her eyes in spite of the fact he’s weirdly obsessed with his step sister. They get to the pizza place and she asks him what his Mall plans are. He tells her that she’s going CD shopping for his Mom, and then laughs in what I can only imagine is a weird awkward way and says that it’s SO wonderful having a REAL family again! He says that before Tania and her mom came into his and his dad’s life he got into trouble at his old school, but now his life has changed for the better! But he doesn’t want to talk about the ‘trouble’ either. Eva, not to be deterred by these GLARING RED FLAGS that are waving in a goddamn hurricane, asks him if he has a date to the Homecoming Dance. But suddenly Jeremy looks angry, and when Eva looks to see where he’s looking she sees Sandy and Cherise in a booth, kissing! And to make matters worse, who should walk into the pizzeria, but TANIA! Jeremy stands up and leads her out before she can see what they saw, and tells Eva to meet them by the fountain. Eva decides that she needs to tell Tania for sure.

That Monday they’re filming Keith’s art house joint again, and Eva still hasn’t told Tania about Sandy. Stine is trying to write this like it’s some kinda betrayal, but I think it’s a complicated conversation to have with a friend. What she SHOULD be doing is confronting Sandy! And while they’re on some down time, she gets about halfway there by being passive aggressively snide to him, and she must be from the Midwest because we have that on LOCK. She tells him that he’s ‘unreal’ (whoa there Eva, you can’t take THAT back), and he thinks she’s talking about his acting (LOL). She tells him she knows about him and Cherise, and he says that he can explain that, and she says he should explain it to Tania. He grabs her arm and asks her if she’s going to tell on him, and she asks why he cares, and he INSISTS he can explain it, but Eva doesn’t want to hear it. Keith says they are going to film the strangling scene again. But as they’re filming Keith yells cut because his camcorder has jammed again. Sandy stamps off in a fury (chill dude), and Jeremy yells after him, which gets TANIA in a tizzy and this is a soapy mess. Keith gets the camcorder in order and they film again, but this time they’re interrupted by Keith’s sister Mandy who needs him to take her to gymnastics practice. Nothing is going right… And even worse, Tania has passed out again. But Sandy starts to freak out because this time, she has no pulse!!!! Sandy insists he wasn’t really choking her but she died anyway. Jeremy FREAKS OUT and runs to her lifeless body, shaking it and wailing her name to the heavens. Keith goes to call an ambulance and Eva tells Sandy to go with him so she can stay with Jeremy who is having a total meltdown as he cries and shakes her. Eva tells him to stop, and he jumps up and runs away. Eva chases after him, but he’s too fast. When she hears the ambulance and police sirens she goes back to the bleachers to meet the police with Keith. Jeremy trudges back (WHAT WAS THE POINT OF RUNNING YOU WEIRDO?!) as well, but when they get back to where they left Tania’s body… IT’S GONE! Which is awkward given the police and ambulance are here for a body. The teens tell them that the body was here but now it’s gone, and it goes just as well as one would expect it to. Eva notices Leslie at the top of the bleachers, smiling down at them, and Eva points at her and says that SHE can tell them what happened to Tania’s body! The police grab her and Leslie says that she didn’t even SEE Tania, she just saw everyone running around and was curious. Eva wonders if she’s telling the truth or working on her acting. As the police try to suss out what is going on/how badly they were just had, Eva looks around at all her friends. One of them has to be lying. Sandy comes trudging back and says that he was looking for Tania, thinking she’d gone to his car. Eva asks what that even means, and one of the police officers also wants clarification. Sandy says that they had planned this all out. Tania was going to pretend to die, just to scare everyone, but then yell ‘surprise!’ and that would have been that. But she wasn’t supposed to disappear. The police officer asks if Tania was breathing when the scene ended, and Sandy admits that he doesn’t know. Jeremy says that SANDY KILLED HER (even though with no body and a witness saying that it was a bad joke there is NO reason to believe she’s dead, you obsessive weirdo!) and starts to strangle Sandy. The police officers break it up, and say that this really sounds like it’s just a dumb joke, and if it’s not they will figure it out. They offer to take the gang home.

Eva gets home and tries to call Tania’s house, but gets a busy signal. She wonders if this is all just a mean joke or if Tania’s dead and her body has been stolen in a Victorian Medical student kinda way. She then realizes that the camcorder could have caught everything on tape if it kept running, and calls Keith. He says he was just about to see what was on it, and invites Eva over to watch it with him. Because I guess what’s another half hour of not knowing? She goes to his house, and they sit down to watch the video, but it was jammed again and didn’t record anything outside of static. Keith tries calling her house again, but says he got a busy signal. He says that he has to finish his video with or without Tania. Jeremy bursts in and says that Tania wasn’t at home, and he’s called everyone in her address book asking if they’ve seen her. The police still think it’s a joke, and Jeremy says that he KNOWS that Tania is dead because he overheard Sandy and Cherise talking about how they were going to murder Tania! Keith says that he’s nuts, and Jeremy insists that he heard them whispering to each other while he was at his locker. Eva says that he could have misheard them, but Jeremy says there’s no way he did! Eva wants to ask Cherise before they tell the police, but when she calls she can’t get ahold of her.

The next day (no school because of Teacher Conferences, VERY convenient) Eva decides to go to Cherise’s house to confront her. When she pulls up across the street she sees Sandy and Cherise on Cherise’s porch, kissing. She waits until Sandy leaves and Cherise goes inside before leaving her car. She tehn knocks on the door, but hears someone inside yelling about how they’re going to kill someone. But Cherise opens the door and it’s just the TV. Eva follows Cherise inside, and asks Cherise if she and Sandy were plotting to kill Tania, as per Jeremy. Cherise is mortified and denies it, and Eva says Jeremy overheard them at the lockers. Cherise then relaxes and says that she was helping Sandy learn his lines. The phone rings, and Cherise puts it on speaker phone (because fuck privacy I guess?). The voice on the line says ‘I killed Tania. You’re next.’ Cherise asks what they’re talking about, and the voice says ‘Tania was first. You’re next.’, and hangs up. Eva says that something is wrong, in that she just feels like something isn’t what it seems…

The next day after school Eva is catching Keith up on the phone call. Still no sign of Tania. Jeremy took the news poorly and is now sulking by his car. Even after Cherise called the cops the cops still think it’s all a joke. Leslie then comes rushing across the parking lot, saying that now that Tania is missing Keith will need a new star of his video, and she will HAPPILY step in.

giphy-13
Buzz off, leech. (source)

Keith tells her that he’s not doing the Homecoming movie anymore and that he’s working on something with Sandy instead. Leslie demands to know if there’s a role in it for her, and he says ‘NAH’, so she storms away. Sandy then arrives saying that he can’t stop thinking about Tania and that he’s losing his mind. Keith tells him to go home and rest up, and offers Eva a ride home. She says she’ll ask Jeremy for one, but then notices he’s disappeared. Eva’s about to walk home, but realizes she forgot her backpack inside. She goes to her locker, and then finds Leslie covered with blood! Leslie says that she was so mad about the movie that she slammed her locker door against the wall, and the mirror hanging inside shattered and sprayed glass all over her. Eva takes her to the bathroom to try and help her clean up, but I’m more concerned about the glass spraying outward instead of just falling to the ground. Physics? Leslie leaves the bathroom and thanks Eva for helping her clear up, and when Eva goes back to her locker she finds something very bad: a pool of dark liquid pooled under her door. When she opens it, she finds something worse: SANDY’S DEAD BODY TUMBLES OUT ONTO THE FLOOR! There’s a knife sticking out of his back. And written in his blood in Eva’s locker is the phrase ‘YOUR TURN NEXT’.

Eva invites all the suspects her friends to her house that evening to discuss the turn of events. Cherise is freaking out and Keith is trying to discern who could be next, movie style. Eva wonders if Leslie REALLY cut herself on an exploding mirror. The police interrogated her and now she’s scared that she’s a suspect (just test the blood on her clothes, that should clear things up right quick). The phone rings, and it’s the voice again, reminding Eva that it’s her turn next.

Cut to the next day (that previous scene was damned near pointless) and Keith is going to film a ‘candid portrait’ of Eva and Cherise. As they wait for Cherise Eva talks about how scared she is, and Keith wishes he’d heard the voice. Eva goes to pose at the top of the bleachers, but as she leans against the rail it snaps. She almost falls off, but Keith is able to grab her in time. He also notices that the break is clean instead of jagged, which means that someone must have sawed it down in hopes that she would lean against it. They decide to take this to the police, but as they’re about to leave, then look up at the top of the bleachers.. and TANIA is there!! They call out to her and she rushes down to meet them. She says that she heard about Sandy’s death and had to ‘come home’. They ask her where the HELL she was, and she tells them that it was all a joke. She wanted to get revenge on them for not telling her about Sandy and Cherise. Because JEREMY told her after he saw them at Pete’s Pizza and told her about the cheating and that Eva knew to. So it was HIS idea to do this elaborate joke. Tania told Sandy about it to a point, but then she disappeared to go stay with cousins in Waynesbridge! They told her parents that she was fine, and the parents told the POLICE she was fine, which is why they thought it was a joke! But when she heard about Sandy she came back, feeling awful that he died, possibly because of her disappearance. Eva then realizes that Cherise was supposed to be at the bleachers an hour ago. They try to call her, but there’s no answer. So they decide to drive to her house.

When they get to Cherise’s house they hear screaming coming from inside. They enter the house and see Jeremy running away, and Cherise holding a knife in her hand. She tells them that Jeremy killed Sandy and tried to stab her, but she got the knife away from him and that he wants to kill them all. Jeremy yells at her to stay away, and when Eva asks why he did this he tries to run. Tania grabs for him but he falls and is knocked unconscious. They ask Cherise what happened and she says that he wanted to get revenge on Sandy and her for Tania, because he couldn’t stand to see her hurt as the ‘first family he’s ever had’. Eva wonders if the trouble he got into in his past was murder. Cherise also says that he was going to kill Eva because Tania spends so much time with her, and that was why he sawed the bleacher railing. Cherise says they have to call the police but Tania is reluctant because it’s ‘her brother’ (fucking Lannister vibes man), and then Jeremy starts to come to. He says that they have to get away, and when he sees Cherise he freaks out and says that SHE killed Sandy!!!! Cherise says that’s not true and he broke into her house and attacked her, and HE says that THAT’S not true and the knife belongs to her. He says he’ll tell them everything that happened, and Cherise says they have to get out of there and that she’s afraid, and he says she has no reason to be afraid because SHE has the knife and that doesn’t mean ANYTHING, asshole! But he says that she called him over and then began screaming as soon as she saw the rest of them arrive. He started to run because she was setting him up. Eva eventually comes around and says that she knows that Cherise is lying, because Jeremy already GOT his revenge on Sandy with the joke and there was no need to kill him. And besides, how did Cherise know about the bleacher railing? THEY HADN’T MENTIONED IT AND IT HAD JUST HAPPENED.

giphy-14
Cherise in this moment. (source)

So now we get the real reveal, and it’s actually pretty upsetting. APPARENTLY, Sandy never actually liked Cherise, he and Keith were using her to make a movie! Sandy would pretend to like Cherise, and Keith would film it in secret as another of his ‘candid’ movies. Cherise found out and killed Sandy, and was convinced that everyone else was in on the secret and was laughing at her humiliation. She sawed the railing in hopes Eva would fall. Eva says they should call the cops, and Cherise says they have no proof, but Keith says he’s been recording the whole time. Cherise tries to attack him with the knife, but Keith blocks her blow with the camcorder. The knife flies out of her hands, and Eva kicks it away. Cherise tries to grab the camcorder, but when it’s clear she can’t win she collapses into tears.

The police arrive, and Eva and her friends tell the cops everything. The police turn to Cherise and ask if that’s all true, and SHE SHRUGS PETULANTLY. Keith says that they have her confession on tape, and SHE SHRUGS PETULANTLY AGAIN, but then just kinda sighs and says ‘yeah okay, I did it’. The police ask where her parents are and she says they’re at a convention and the phone number is on the fridge, and they just kinda  nonchalantly take her away. It’s the most anticlimactic Fear Street ending ever. Keith and the others decide to try and watch the confession on the tape…. BUT IT WAS JAMMED AGAIN. The End.

giphy-15
Well let’s hope that the court doesn’t decide that they need that piece of evidence. (source)

Body Count: 1. Quite the dip from the previous book!

Romance Rating: 1, only because there was very little to be had and the romances that WERE present were filled with LIES!

Bonkers Rating: 3. Tania’s disappearance act was ridiculous, but everything else was standard and bland.

Fear Street Relevance: There is no mention of Fear Street or the Fear Family anywhere in this damn book, but since it does take place in Shadyside it gets a 1.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“In the sudden quiet, another sound rang out. A single, sharp, metallic sound. A piercing blast that echoed off the walls of the gym. A shot!, Eva thought with a cry. A gunshot!”

… But it was just a student crushing a soda can with his foot. How that was mistaken for a gunshot, I don’t know.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Keith is filming all his stuff on a VHS based camcorder, and at one point Jeremy refers to CD stores at the mall.

Best Quote:

“‘It really is,’ he agreed. ‘I guess it sounds weird. But having a real family is so awesome. I never really had one before. My mother died when I was a baby. And I hardly ever saw my father because he worked all the time. He stays home more now.’

Why is he telling me all this? Eva wondered.

HAHAHA, I love how even Stine had to acknowledge this plot exposition was shoved in sloppily.

Conclusion: “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?” ended up being a total misnomer and felt trite and lazy once it all shook out. We didn’t even get to go to the homecoming dance!!! Up next is “Into The Dark”!

Kate’s Review: “Inspection”

41058632Book: “Inspection” by Josh Malerman

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Boys are being trained at one school for geniuses, girls at another. And neither knows the other exists–until now. The innovative author of Bird Box invites you into a tantalizing world of secrets and lies.

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.

J is one of only twenty-six students, who think of their enigmatic school’s founder as their father. And his fellow peers are the only family J has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, but their life at the school is all they know–and all they are allowed to know.

But J is beginning to suspect that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.

In Inspection, the masterful author of Bird Box crafts a sinister and evocative gender equality anthem that will have readers guessing until the final page.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I am going to sound like an insufferable hipster for a moment, so bear with me; I liked “Bird Box” before it was cool. A few years before Netflix dropped their thriller hit, I read the book it was based on, written by Josh Malerman. I know the reception of the film was hit or miss, but I legitimately think that the book is terrifying. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I could barely put it down even as it stressed me out. So when I saw the new book by Malerman was available for request on NetGalley, it caught my eye. And when I found out it took place at a boarding school with malevolent intentions… Well….

giphy-10
(source)

While evil or mysterious boarding schools have been done before, Malerman leans into the concept and makes it feel wholly original. We first see it from the perspective of an experiment that involves all boys, in which the man heading the experiment, who refers to himself as D.A.D., has taken twenty four boys at birth and raised them isolated from modern society with no knowledge of the female gender. The hypothesis (and trust me, I will absoLUTEly be addressing this later) is that if they are not distracted by women/sexuality/attraction, they can reach their full potential as the next great thinkers and scientists of the world. Malerman covers pretty much all of his bases in this regard, accounting for the need for space, control, and isolation, and did it in ways that felt as realistic as they could be in a story like this. We follow one of the subjects, J, as he and the others start to reach puberty, and we see how he is starting to question his place at this school, and the world that is being presented to them. I liked J quite a bit, and appreciated that Malerman gave him the right amount of rebellious nuance and a believable curiosity, along with a fear and anxiety about his questions, and his fear of being ‘spoiled rotten’ and sent to The Corner, a place where two boys who questions, A and Z, never returned from. I also appreciated that Malerman took into account other aspects of this experiment that I never would have thought of, specifically the role that propaganda would have to play. I thought it was genius to have a specific propagandist on staff, a failed writer named Warren who writes morality tales for the boys that will help keep them in line and under control. It never occurred to me that propaganda would need to play a role in this kind of situation, but this subplot was so, so intriguing, especially as the propagandist starts to question his own culpability.

It’s at the halfway point that “Inspection” really grabbed me. That was when we switched to another boarding school, this one with twenty four girls. This is where Malerman made this story truly all his own. D.A.D.’s wife, who calls herself M.O.M., naturally, is running the same experiment, this time with girls, in hopes of unlocking creative potential. In this part of the story we meet K, the girl who is at the top of the class, but has potentially seen something that she shouldn’t have. Her journey is far less hesitant than J’s, and I loved seeing her creative thinking, as opposed to J’s more rigid thinking, help bring her to conclusions about her situation in a different way. And by the time the two stories converge (though I don’t want to spoil anything here), that is when this story shifts from a vaguely dystopic thriller into a full blown horror novel. While in some ways it felt a little late for the horror elements to arrive, I was so enthralled by the rest of it that I didn’t mind it.

There was one aspect of this story that I couldn’t quite swallow, and that is based within the premise that D.A.D. and M.O.M. have for their awful experiment. They both believe that by isolating the genders, they will be able to unlock the full potential of their subjects, as to them sexuality and attraction are the distractors that keep humans from the highest intellectual levels. This story takes place in a modern-ish time or perhaps a very near future. As two scientists, I don’t understand how they didn’t think about as to whether, within twenty four boys and twenty four girls, there may be the possibility of subjects who were attracted to the same gender. Given the odds, you’d think you’d get at least one, if we’re being conservative in our estimates. I wasn’t sure if Malerman was trying to say that D.A.D. and M.O.M. were so corrupted by their devious and unethical thinking that they would also be biased against LGBTQIA+ people as part of their experiment, or if such a development would immediately call for The Corner, or whether he just didn’t think of it at all. Because it doesn’t come up. And to me, it’s a pretty big question that probably should have been addressed.

That aside, I quite enjoyed “Inspection” in all of it’s creepy and unsettling glory. Malerman continues to surprise and shock me in the best ways, and my hope is that he just keeps getting more attention as time goes on.

Rating 8: A propulsive and then eerie thriller/horror novel, “Inspection” is another triumph from Josh Malerman.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Inspection” is a new book and isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Evil Schools – Public, Private, and University”.

Find “Inspection” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Will Haunt You”

42175979Book: “Will Haunt You” by Brian Kirk

Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: You don’t read the book. It reads you.

Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror. Jesse Wheeler–former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead–was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son’s future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean. But Jesse is wrong.

The legend is real–and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past. Jesse is not the only one in danger, however.

By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare.

The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end. That’s when the evil comes for you.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

“Weird” horror is a genre that, when done right, I find completely engrossing and effective. The best example of this that comes to mind is, of course, the classic “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, in which a haunted house story is told through multiple layers of narration and formats. Weird horror ought to unsettle the reader in the same way the situation should be unsettling the protagonist, but it’s a fine line to walk. If you go too weird it can be confusing and frustrating. If you don’t go weird enough you may not have the intended impact. When I read about “Will Haunt You” by Brian Kirk, I was especially intrigued by the idea of a cursed Internet book that brings pain and suffering to those who read it. Frankly it sounds like a mix of “The Ring” and the amazing Creepypasta “Ben Drowned”, and with that amalgamation solidly in my mind I was every excited to read “Will Haunt You”. I wasn’t thinking about the trappings that can come with Weird horror, and perhaps I should have been.

The premise and ideas are absolutely solid. Jesse Wheeler is our main character, and his backstory and present are ripe for the picking when it comes to conflict. Once a metal musician on the rise, he is now married and has a son who is disabled. It was Jesse’s actions that led to the accident that caused the disability, and so Jesse’s guilt, mixed with the longing for his younger years, has turned him into a tormented former shell of himself. He is the perfect person to become victim to a devious book; he’s struggling to keep it together and has nothing to lose, so of course he isn’t daunted by internet folklore. That in and of itself is a solid premise to a novel, and Jesse’s flaws and strengths are on full display throughout the story to be explored and picked apart. As a character study, “Will Haunt You” is well done and interesting. If this was a book that was solely about an aging man who has to face his guilt and his culpability towards his family’s various struggles, I would be down.

But, as this is, it is a horror novel, and for me “Will Haunt You” fell squarely in the first of the two problems Weird horror can run into: It was very confusing for me and hard to follow. We are thrown into various scenarios and situations with very visceral and graphic moments, and we are introduced to characters who may or may not be reliable, but instead of feeling tight and on point it always felt like it never quite came together. I do wonder if this disorienting narrative was meant to make the reader feel the disorientation that Jesse felt, and therein made the reading experience all the more three dimensional, but instead of feeling scared in my confusion I just felt frustrated. Eventually I think I was able to get my mind wrapped around all of the pieces of the puzzle, but it took so long that it felt like it was too little, too late. I am considering going back and reading the tie in ‘haunted book’, “Obsidio”, because I feel like part of the fun of these ‘cursed media’ stories is the cursed media itself, and we didn’t really get that here, just the fallout from it. And yes, you can find it online. Given that I haven’t read it yet, I can’t say as to whether or not it’s inclusion would have made “Will Haunt You” more satisfying, but I can’t imagine that it would hurt.

All in all, “Will Haunt You” had some very well done moments when it came to character study, but the horror aspects didn’t do anything for me. As Weird fiction it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.

Rating 5: While the characterization was spot on and the protagonist was complex and interesting, the horror aspect of “Will Haunt You” didn’t work for me and left me confused and frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Will Haunt You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think it would have a place on “Surreal Horror”.

Find “Will Haunt You” at your library using WorldCat (but as of now it appears limited).

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”

325564Book: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” (Fear Hall #2/Fear Street #47) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Having fled her dorm room, college freshman Hope hides out in an abandoned sorority house on campus where she discovers that the evil she is trying to escape has become a part of her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: When we last saw Hope, resident of Fear Hall and purveyor of multiple personalities, she was sitting on the fire escape outside her dorm, hiding from the police. And that is basically where we jump back in, with Hope and her two roommates/delusions “Angel” and “Jasmine” hiding out and listening to Melanie, Margie, and Mary (aka the 3 M’s) telling the police about Hope and how she may have committed the two previous murders in Book 1 (though Hope thinks that it’s “Darryl” that did it). We’re reminded that Hope loves Darryl SO MUCH even though he’s a violent looney toon, as she still doesn’t realize that Darryl, Jasmine, and Angel are figments of her imagination. The police then spot Hope on the fire escape, and one of the policemen grab her and yank her back through the window. Then Darryl suddenly appears and chokes the cop enough for Hope to get away. She jumps off the fire escape and lands funny, but still manages to take off into the night. She runs for aways until “Jasmine” and “Angel” tell her they need to stop, and once they do they ask Hope why she ran and didn’t tell the police about Darryl. Hope says that they HAD to run because the police think she’s crazy and believe the 3 M’s over her! She decides that they have to hide out. They walk around fraternity/sorority row, and eventually find an abandoned sorority house to hide out in. They make their way inside, and find a stray black cat the Hope names Lucky. She is also still pissed at the 3 M’s, thinking that everything that’s happened in their fault. Then Darryl shows up and says that he’s going to live there too, but Hope says no can do, buckaroo. Darryl, a dominant personality if there ever was one, tells her that he has a better idea: he’s going to kill the 3 M’s because Melanie has ruined Hope’s life! Hope tells him to get out and never come back, and man, can you imagine what Lucky the Cat must be seeing right now? Darryl gets very mad and kicks poor Lucky, and before storming out he says that she won’t be able to get rid of him that easily.

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Barely two scenes in and I’m already so tired. (source)

Hope plunks down in a chair and stares up at two portrait paintings on the wall. The woman reminds her of her terrible mother who called her Buttertubs, and we get some new anecdotes about her abusive nature. The first one takes place at a summer camp Hope attended. Her mother would address her camp mail as “Buttertubs’. The second is how in front of Hope’s crush Mark her mother said ‘let’s play the game of counting Hope’s chins!’ The third is when she found out that Hope was going to sneak out, so she handcuffed herself to Hope and wouldn’t let her leave, and then locked her in her room for two more weeks. This is the moment that Angel, Jasmine, and Eden showed up, by the way. Hope jumps up in the present and claws at the portrait on the wall.

Flash forward a week or two to Melanie’s dorm room. Melanie is studying for a French test while Mary’s getting ready for swim practice. Normally Melanie would be getting ready for that too but she has to miss to take this make up test. She had to see a therapist three times that past week because of the whole thing with Hope, who still hasn’t been caught. The two girls talk about how scary it all is and how nuts that they could hear Hope talking to herself. Melanie offers to talk Mary to swim practice, but Mary says that she’s fine. Of course, then we cut to “Darryl” and his POV, as he’s stalking the locker rooms after swim practice, waiting for Mary. And honestly, I don’t want to dwell too much on his inner monologue because it’s a whole lot of repetitive nonsense about violence towards women and how nothing is his fault and that kinda garbage. So let’s just cut to the chase. While the swimmers are practicing he finds all the chlorine, dumps gallons upon gallons of it into the therapy Jacuzzi, and then lies in wait. NEVER MIND that it’s a public therapy pool and that ANYONE could use it, but whatever. So yes, poor Mary lingers behind her teammates and gets into the Jacuzzi, and the pH levels are so basic that she gets horrible chemical burns all over her body. She screams bloody murder and staggers out of the pool, and the swim coach runs to her aid but doesn’t know what to do. And then said swim coach sees “Darryl”.

Cut to Hope in her squatter’s shack, waking up to a pounding on the door. She goes to it and it’s Darryl outside. She lets him in and he tells her with glee that he killed Mary, for Hope. Oh, and he shoved the swim coach into the Jacuzzi too because OOPS, she saw him! When Hope asks if she was dead too he says ‘who knows?’ Hope is horrified but he says he did this because the 3 M’s ruined Hope’s life and he’s doing this to show how much he cares.

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You know, at least when J.D. pulls this shit he has a moral philosophy regarding the banal evil of society and his unhingedness has purpose and reason. (source)

Hope tells him that he has to stop killing and he tells her that she doesn’t actually want him to stop. She says goodbye and closes the door behind him, and stomps back into the main room. She then finds a note addressed to her, that says ‘I’m coming for you, Hope. You can’t run away from me.’ The handwriting is familiar, but Hope doesn’t know how they could have gotten in without her noticing.

Now the perspective is from Chris! Wait, Chris? Who the hell is CHRIS? Well, Chris is a boy who has to move into Fear Hall because his apartment building burnt down and the school opened up the second floor to guys for supplemental student housing. Chris is kind of shy and not very athletic, and gee, I wonder what purpose HE is going to serve? He had talked with his former roommate Big Al, who asked him about the fact that a murderous co-ed used to live in Fear Hall, and Chris laughed it off. So now he’s moving in, and his new roommates Will and Matt greet him and help him move his stuff into their room. Chris reiterates his shyness to the reader for some reason, and then once he’s unpacked Will and Matt ask him what he knows about Fear Hall’s reputation. Chris admits not much, and they proceed to tell him about howls at night, missing students, blood in a bathtub, and a girl who keeps seeing a ghostly reflection in her dorm room mirror. Frankly, I’d read the HELL out of ANY of those stories over this lame excuse for a “Fear Street” novel! Chris tells them that he doesn’t believe in that stuff, and goes to take a shower. Of course, once he’s in the shower the water starts to turn red! Into BLOOD!! He starts to scream his head off, and then Matt and Will burst into the room, laughing at him. They put Jello in the shower head! Chris is horribly embarrassed, and you’d think he just lived the opening scene of “Carrie” he’s so humiliated.

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Come talk to me when this happens to you, buddy. (source)

Chris goes to a dorm mixer, which I imagine is a way for the new dude residents to meet the ladies they COULD be banging. He’s shy and afraid of going there alone, but has no choice. He then meets Melanie and Margie, and is immediately struck by how pretty Melanie is. They introduce themselves, and try to make small talk, but inevitably Melanie and Margie bring up the fact that their roommate Mary was murdered. Chris, having heard about it, sticks his foot in his mouth when he says he saw the footage of her body on TV (the FUCK does local news have THAT footage for?!), and Margie and Melanie get very upset. They say that with three murders and a grievously injured swim coach on their minds, they shouldn’t have come to the party, and graciously part ways from Chris. He hangs out at the party a little longer, but then leaves, opting to go get a coffee at Java Jim’s. And while he’s at Java Jim’s eating his cookie and drinking is 9pm coffee, he meets another girl! They start to talk, and he tells her that he lives in Fear Hall. She looks surprised, and he compliments her straight dark hair. She says that he probably shouldn’t talk to her because she just broke up with a jealous boyfriend. He asks if maybe he could call her sometime, and she says no and gets up to leave. But before she does, she says that she could meet him the day after the next at Java Jim’s, and he says sure! He says his name is Chris, and she introduces herself as Karen. Yeah. Sure. ‘Karen’.

Hope runs home, and tells Angel and Jasmine that she has awesome news. And yes, she has changed her hair so as not to be recognized. She tells them that she met a boy named Chris and that he’s the boy of her DREAMS! Based on the five minute conversation they had she knows that he’s perfect and she really likes him and she never expected to love again, not with the bad luck they’ve been having. Angel asks her about Darryl, and Hope says that he still wants to kill Melanie and Margie. Jasmine says that Hope isn’t ever going to be safe with Chris if Darryl is around. Before she can protest, there are suddenly voices outside the house. Turns out this house is for sale because she hears a couple say that this is the house for them and they totally want to buy it. Oh yeah, because you two random people want to buy an abandoned house, sight unseen, that is in the middle of a college campus?! They then leave, and I guess that was just there to show that Hope can’t stay forever. Then the phone rings (and by the phone rings I mean Hope’s delusions ratchet up a bit because no, there’s no phone in this house), and when Hope answers it’s Darryl. He tells her not to worry, he’s still going to kill Margie and Melanie!

So now we’re  back in Darryl’s head, so once again I’m going to skim this because I really, really hate his POVs. He stalks Margie to where she works, a dry cleaner shop, and then kills her by putting her in the steam press. Creative? Absolutely. But I hate this. The “Fear Street” books that have an actual mystery and whodunnit are far more interesting than the ones where we know who the killer is for a majority of the novel, and I have to say I’m having a VERY hard time with following this stupid prick around as much as we are as he picks people off. It’s repetitive and stupid, and it feels more gratuitous to have to see the actual deaths over and over instead of just a goofy aftermath. I don’t know. I’m getting burnt out, I think.

Hope and Chris meet at Java Jim’s for coffee the next day and Chris is upset about Margie’s death. Hope tries to play it cool even though she knows ‘Darryl’ did it. They have a nice date, and after they do a little kissing her offers to walk her home so she feels safe. She declines, as she doesn’t want him to become suspicious of the fact she’s squatting in an abandoned sorority house (whyever not, Hope?), but he gives her his number and she promises to call him. She practically skips back to her hideout, but who is on the front lawn. DARRYL. She tells him to stop killing people and he says ‘nah, I’m good’, and then says that he saw her with Chris and that he can’t ‘allow’ that. And in a moment of actual spine, Hope tells him that he has no right to ‘allow’ her to do ANYTHING, channelling her inner Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn or some shit! He tells her that Chris will only hurt her, and she tells him to go away and leave Chris alone. Darryl then reminds her about MARK and what he did to her, and we get a new flashback! Seems that Mark had asked Hope out and she was quite smitten with him. But then she found out that the only reason Mark asked her out was because he lost a bet, and it was all a joke. Hope was so humiliated, but that was around the time that Darryl showed up and swept her off her feet…. oh, and ran Mark over with a car, over and over and over again. After the memory fades, Hope realizes that Darryl has disappeared, and laments that she can’t control him.

Cut to Chris and Will playing pool at the student union. They run into Big Al, who makes a tasteless joke about the kids in their dorm dropping like flies. Chris and Will part ways with him, and while they’re walking back towards their dorm Will asks Chris about Karen and what Chris knows about her. Chris admits not much, that she doesn’t want him to know where she lives nor does she want to give him her phone number, but Will says that maybe she just wants some action. And that’s a legitimate theory. As they’re walking, though, a car suddenly revs up and speeds towards them!! THey jump out of the way just in time. Is it Darryl? Psych! It’s actually Matt! This was his idea of a joke, and to that I say YIKES. He offers to give them a ride back to the dorm, and they agree, with Chris telling the reader that he had no idea who scary the next few days were going to be.

And now it’s Darryl again. So we’re skimming again. He sneaks into Fear Hall, planning to finish off Melanie and solve all of Hope’s problems. So he creeps into the dorm she lived in with Margie and Mary, and in the dark puts a pillow over her face… But oops, she groans and rolls over… and it’s not Melanie! It’s some random other girl!!! She screams, and wakes up the other girls in the room!! YOU FUCKED UP, DARRYL!!! Darryl makes a break for it, and while the girls try to grab him he is able to get away. He’s also VERY confused that they keep referring to him as a ‘her’! He runs and runs, and then eventually fades away…. into Hope! Hope finds herself running in the middle of campus and has no idea how she got there, and no memories of leaving her squatter shack that she is still squatting in even though those two people were going to make a bid on it? Maybe they went inside and saw that it was a disgusting hovel and balked, who knows. She gets back to the sorority house, but finds the door open. And when she looks inside the place has been trashed, and there’s a note that says ‘You cannot escape from me’.

The next day Hope wanders aimlessly around campus trying to think of a plan. Then she sees Chris and Melanie talking, and jealous mode kicks in. Why is he talking with Melanie? Is she telling him about her? Are they together now? Why aren’t she and Chris together? She goes to Java Jim’s to wallow and stew, but her paranoid thoughts start to be too much and she bolts. When she gets back to the sorority house, she is shocked to see Chris leaving the property. When she confronts him, he says that he was looking for her. She points out that she never told him where she lived, and he admits that he followed her home one night after a date because he was curious where she lived. This is framed as sweet, but frankly, it’s not. Even if she is a murderer, there are boundaries! He asks her why she lives in an abandoned house, and then, wouldn’t ya know it, Darryl takes over and starts to strangle Chris. Hope begs Darryl to stop, and Chris is able to pull away. He asks Karen what the HELL that was, and she says that she can tell Darryl to go away. Chris, realizing that he’s in WAAAAY over his head, says

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(source)

and peaces the hell out. Hope, devastated that he’s skedaddled, rushes into the house looking for Darryl, but finds another note instead. But then she realizes that the handwriting is HERS!

Hope sits for hours, angsting about the note, and when Darryl finally shows up she confronts  him about it. This leads to a Yalta-esque summit of ALL of Hope’s personalities, and Angle and Jasmine agree that he needs to turn himself in. He says that if they cared about him they wouldn’t ask him to do that, and that he’s going to kill Chris tonight! And in a case of terrible timing but obvious exposition, Chris is suddenly at the door, asking to be let in. Darryl says that this is perfect, and lets him in. Chris is there, but he isn’t alone! He has MELANIE with him! And not only Melanie, but FOUR POLICE OFFICERS! Chris and Melanie NARCED HER OUT! Melanie confirms that Hope is Karen, and Chris says that he had hoped it wasn’t true, but when Melanie described Hope to him he knew it was. Hope and her personalities run up the steps, determined to get away from the police. The police follow saying that they want to help, but Hope, Jasmine, Angel, and Darryl are not to be stopped, and they gather on the balcony, say their goodbyes, and all hug each other. WHen the cops do enter the tiny porch, the railing breaks, and Hope falls to her death. Chris and Melanie see the whole thing, and she buries her face in his chest and cries. The police go check on Hope, and confirm that she’s dead. They tell Chris and Melanie that they don’t have to stick around, and that they can follow up with them at a later date. They tell the cops they live in Fear Hall, and the cops say don’t seem surprised by this. As Chris and Melanie leave, he finds a piece of paper. It’s a note that Hope wrote, that says ‘There is no escape, Hope. No escape from yourself.’ THE END.

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It’s finally done. (source)

Body Count: 4 if we count Mark in the past.

Romance Rating: 2. And that’s only a two because I feel like Chris and Melanie could have some potential. Everything else was decidedly not romantic.

Bonkers Rating: 5. It didn’t really do anything too nuts, though a couple of the deaths were wacky.

Fear Street Relevance: 6 this time, as a lot of the action was in Fear Hall again AND we find out that Hope was from Shadyside the whole time.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“I fell for a lifetime. Or a second or two. And I died before I hit the ground.”

… But no she didn’t. She was fine.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Honestly, nothing really stuck out! Stine didn’t put anything in that dates this thing, which was surprising and just another layer of disappointment to this reading experience.

Best Quote:

” ‘You don’t own me!’ I cried. ‘You can’t say what you’ll allow and what you won’t allow! Do you really think you can control my life? Do you really think you can control who I seen and who I don’t see?'”

This is EXACTLY right when it comes to relationships!

Conclusion: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” was a lame end to a lame start, and it also just isn’t how dissociative identity disorder works. Definitely a hard pass and a clear sign that “Fear Street” had started to run out of steam as it neared the end of the original run. Next up is “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Hall: The Beginning”

809538Book: “Fear Hall: The Beginning” (Fear Hall #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Turtleback books, January 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Dear Readers:

Come with me to Fear Hall. That’s the creepy college dorm built years ago by the cursed Fear family.

Hope and her roommates live in Fear Hall. Hope’s boyfriend lives there, too. They’re all good students and best friends. Everything is going great…until one of them becomes a murderer!

Now Hope is about to find out that life at Fear Hall can be a real scream!

I hope you’ll join me for Fear Hall. This story has so many scares, it took me two books to tell it all!

P.S. You’ll never believe what I came up with for the next book…

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I first want to note that I was taken aback by the sudden design change in the cover. At first I thought it was just because of the new location of Fear Hall, thinking that a college off shoot story may need to stand out from the usual Shadyside malarky. However, the last two books in the Original “Fear Street” series have the same design, even though right after the Fear Hall books the next two go back to the original, better known template. What was the purpose here? What was the motivation? Why the switch up, then rescinded switch up, back to a switch up?

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I am possibly overthinking this. (source)

Regardless, we find ourselves not in Shadyside, but at Ivy State. We haven’t heard of Ivy State yet, at least to to my recollection, but this is a college with big enough connections to Shadyside that the Fear Family gave enough money to get a dorm named after them. And that is where Hope, our first narrator, lives, on the 13th Floor of Fear Hall with her roommates Angel, Eden, and Jasmine. Here is the run down about all of the roommates. Hope is plain and ‘chubby’, Angel is thin and a boy magnet, Eden wears plaid and isn’t interested in things Other Girls™ are (but is loud and likes letter writing to her Mom), and Jasmine is shy and intelligent. Hope says that they are all super close because they’ve known each other for a few years even before this, their freshman year. They are a happy rag tag bunch in 13-B, which is why Hope is sad to tell us about the night that the ‘troubles started’.

Hope is awakened in the middle of the night by her boyfriend Darryl. He has beer of his breath, natch, and Hope asks him what he’s doing because boys aren’t allowed on this floor at this time of night. He tells her that he’s in trouble and that he did something terrible. Seems that he followed Hope earlier that night and saw her out with some guy named Brendan. She tells him that it wasn’t her out with Brendan, it was Angel, and he proceeds to grab her and scream at her about lying to him. Oh. He’s one of those guys. She keeps insisting that it was Angel who was out with Brendan, but Darryl continues to shake her and yell at her that she’s lying. Hope also lets the readers know that she LOVES Darryl so much and is so happy he’s at Ivy State with her, and that he saved her from a real creep named Mark. The only downside is that he’s just a little possessive. And by a little I mean he doesn’t even like other guys looking at her. He tells her that he ‘carved’ Brendan. Hope screams, and Angel, Eden, and Jasmine wake up. They demand to know why Darryl is there and he tells them what he saw. But Angel confirms that she was out with Brendan and had borrowed Hope’s outfit. Darryl has the gall to not only tell them that he’s pretty sure he killed Brendan, but that THEY HAVE TO HELP HIM COVER IT UP. Angel tells him that they’re going to call the motherfucking cops on his ass and Eden says that they aren’t going to help him.

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Eden and Angel, probably. I’m gonna like them, I think. (source)

Darryl shoves Angel and threatens her, and before she can scream there’s a knocking on the door. Hope thinks that it’s the police already (in spite of the fact no one has called yet) and she shoves Darryl in her closet. She answers the door, but it’s not the fuzz, it’s Melanie from across the hallway. She is one of the ‘3 M’s’ that lives across the hall, the others being Margie and Mary, and Hope hates them because they’re preppy and went to private schools and is convinced that they hate the girls in 13-B because they are all public school girls. This seems like it may be projecting. Melanie says she heard some loud noises and wanted to make sure that everything was okay, and Hope says that it’s just her and her friends having way too much fun. And Melanie, being the bitch that she is, is hesitant and concerned and asks Hope if she’s sure that everything is okay. Oh wait, that’s actually a really nice and considerate thing to do, isn’t it? She says that Mary is still out and was waiting up for her, and is about to go back to her dorm when there’s a scream. Mary comes tearing down the hallway, saying she saw a dead boy outside. Basically everyone in the dorm hear the commotion  and runs outside, and indeed it’s Brendan, his body all cut up/’carved’ (what an awkward phrase!). Melanie asks Hope if she was out with Brendan that night, and Hope gets REALLY defensive and says NO and maybe Melanie needs to get her eyes checked!!! Zing. As everyone else freaks out the sound of sirens start up, and Hope rushes back to her dorm room. She finds Darryl still in her room, and he tells her not to go out with another guy or he may kill someone again. He stumbles out.

Now it’s from Jasmine’s POV! We see her at her diner job at the Campus Corner. It’s a tough job but she likes it, and for some reason this segues into the fact her mother was always mean to her and gave her the nickname ‘fish’ because of her personality being like a cold fish. Sheesh. She wishes she could be as outgoing and cool as her roommates. She also notices the 3 M’s in a booth, talking in low tones and looking at her. She can hear them talking about Brendan, and how sad they all are, and by the time Jasmine does approach them she outright asks them why they’re all staring at her. I have a feeling this probably reflects worse on Jasmine than it does them, but the 3 M’s are gracious enough to say that they just hoped Jasmine would notice them and come take their orders. Shortly thereafter Eden and Angel walk in and take a seat, and Jasmine joins them on her break. They all agree that Darryl needs to be locked up, but that Hope isn’t going to let them call the police, as if they can’t just call the police of their own volition. As they discuss what the should do, the 3 M’s stare at them. Jasmine feels self conscious and says they can talk about it at home. At the end of her shift her boss Marty asks her if she’s okay, and she says yes, and heads for home. But on the way home she’s surprised by Darryl (gross). He asks her if she’s going to keep her mouth shut and she says yes, but tells him that he needs to get help. He in turn tells her that he’s not going to kill anyone again, ‘unless [he] has to’. I, for one, do not find this comforting.

Now it’s an Eden section! I’m excited for this because I feel like Eden is the one I am going to relate to the most! She’s writing a letter home to her Mom, and Hope makes a snarky comment about it. She then asks Eden and Jasmine if she ever told them what her nickname was, bestowed upon her by her mother. Jasmine takes this as a Bad Mom Pissing Contest and brings up ‘fish’ again, but Hope says that her mom used to call her ‘buttertubs’, and then goes on to tell a story of how her mom once made her eat four bowls of ice cream in front of some of Hope’s school friends, and then smashed her face into the ice cream carton afterwards. I think Hope wins. She then says she wants to go out, and Eden, leaving her letter to her nurturing and well adjusted mom behind, accompanies her to the Blue Tavern for pizza.

And when we arrive Stine emphasizes not once, not twice, but thrice times that YOU CAN GET BEER HERE. This is NOT Pete’s Pizza, esteemed readers! Eden and Hope order a pie before sitting down, and two guys in a booth across from them start making eyes at them. Eden is into it, but Hope is clearly uncomfortable and says they should leave. Eden asks her what the issue is, and Hope tells her Darryl is the issue. Eden asks if he’s followed them here, and Hope says he’s close by. Eden feels a hand on her shoulder, but when she turns around it’s just the cute guys from the table across from them. They ask if they can join, and Eden hesitates, mentioning that her friend may not be comfortable. They ask ‘what friend?’, and when Eden looks over she sees Hope is gone! She’s at first worried Darryl came in and grabbed her, but then assures herself she would have noticed such a commotion, and decides Hope must have just slipped off. She invites the guys to eat her pizza with her, and they introduce themselves as Dave and Gideon. They all chat and eat pizza, and when she tells them that she lives in Fear Hall, and they think that’s so cool since it’s rumored to be haunted. They ask her if she knew anything about the recent murder there, and Eden takes that as he cue to leave and to check on Hope.

Eden gets back to 13-B, but unfortunately Darryl is there, and he holds up the letter Eden was writing to her Mom, where she mentioned the murder. He demands to know if she was going to tell on him, and she tries to snatch it away but he grabs her and violently holds her in his grasp. There’s a knocking on the door again, and Darryl lets Eden go and runs into the bathroom, Hope right behind him, and they slam the door to hide. Angel wakes up briefly, and Jasmine sleeps through it all (I don’t see how!), and Eden goes to the door, opening it a crack. It’s Melanie and Mary of the 3 M’s, checking to see if everything is okay again. Hope is so catty about them, but they seem like concerned neighbors more than anything else. Eden says that it was the radio, and when it’s pointed out that the radio isn’t on she says she turned it off when they knocked. Melanie and Mary say that they’re all really freaked out, and Eden agrees that she and her roommates are freaked out too, and a moment of awkward silence happens before they tell Eden they are trying to organize a safety meeting for the dorm so they can figure out how to keep themselves safe. I have a suggestion that’s pretty proactive, and that is for Eden to just call the damn cops already! She says that she and her roommates will come to the meeting, and the 2 of 3 M’s give her another look and then say goodnight. Eden thinks that they are strange.

On the way to class the next day Eden runs into Dave from the pizza parlor, and he asks her out for coffee after her class. She says yes! But when she gets to class something weird happens. The professor doesn’t have her name on his class roster, but he does have Hope’s, even though Hope isn’t in that class. He says that she has to suss it out with the Dean, and MY question is how this just became a problem now?

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Unless….? I think I’ve cracked the code. (source)

Eden has to leave the class, and she wonders if she’s going crazy because of all this Darryl stress. She goes back into the building from whence she came and goes to a pay phone bank, intent on calling the cops, but before she can Hope taps her on the shoulder. Eden asks her if she’s taking any history classes that semester, and Hope says no, so Eden is definitely convinced the professor had the wrong class roster. Hope asks her who she was calling, and Eden tells her that she was going to call the police because Darryl is a straight up violent criminal. Hope begs Eden to wait a little bit longer, as if Hope could possibly do ANYTHING to quell that psychotic goon of a boyfriend of hers, and Eden agrees.

That night Eden goes on a date with Dave. She’s wearing one of Hope’s outfits since her closest is usually more Seattle Grunge couture, and the date is going well. She and Dave are walking around campus and the 3 M’s see them from across the courtyard, and mistake her for Hope. Eden says she’s just wearing Hope’s clothes, but she’s Eden, and asks Dave if she and Hope even look alike. He says he’s never met Hope, so how would be know? Gideon sneaks up on them and nearly gives Eden a heart attack, and then Dave suggests that he and Eden go to the driving range for the end of their date. Oh, how romantic. But Eden is game. They go to the driving range right before closing, and they are the only two there, the area lit up by big lights. But just as Dave’s about to show Eden how to do the perfect drive, Darryl shows up, grabs a club, and BEATS HIM TO DEATH RIGHT OUT IN THE OPEN. Eden, covered in blood, runs away, screaming.

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Damn, that really escalated. (source)

Now it’s back to Hope’s POV. She is comforting Eden, who is reeling and sobbing about the horrific trauma she just experienced, and Hope says that she wants to tell Eden a story. She goes on to tell her about how when she was still living at home her mother deliberately bought her clothes that were far too small for her, because she liked watching Hope try to squeeze into them and end up humiliated about the bad fit. But Darryl never cared that she was overweight, and that is why she could NEVER turn in the guy who has violently murdered two innocent people. Because she doesn’t think that anyone else will see past her weight.

ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME.

First of all, the highest size that Stine ever puts Hope at is a ten, which isn’t considered plus size at all. And even if she WAS overweight what the hell kind of fucked up message is it to give the readers that overweight people should be glad to get whatever kind of love they can, even if it’s from abusive, violent psychopaths? It would be one thing if this kind of mindset was at all pushed back against, but instead of that Eden instead falls asleep as Hope comforts her, which in turn leads to Darryl showing up and saying that now Hope can ‘strangle’ Eden. Hope is shocked, and he back paddles really fast but tells her that he can explain what happened. Hope gives him the platform to do so, but then he says that there is no explanation, but that Eden saw everything and what if she tells? Well GEE, ASSHOLE, maybe you shouldn’t have slaughtered her date right in front of her!!! Hope tells him that he has to leave, but before he does he throws a few good threats toward Eden for good measure.

The next day the news breaks the story about Dave, and when Eden wakes up she wants to call the police. Hope begs her not to, but Eden, rightfully so, tells her that she’s not protecting Darryl anymore no matter WHAT Hope wants. So Hope, in a moment of panic, smashes her in the head with Angel’s hair dryer. She doesn’t kill her, but she does stun her, and while Eden is in a daze Hope ties her up, gags her, and throws her in the clothes closet. After she takes in a few breaths, she turns and sees Melanie in the doorway. She thinks she’s been caught and tries to calculate if she could do the same thing to Melanie, but luckily Melanie is just there to remind her about the campus safety meeting. After she leaves Hope’s paranoia gets the best of her, and she decides to has to tell Darryl he has to run away. But when she gets to the quad, she sees police officers taking Darryl away! She thinks that maybe she could make up an alibi for him, but remembers she still has to get dressed. She runs back to her room, and remembers as well that she threw Eden in her closet. But then, maybe she didn’t, because Eden suddenly sits up in her bed, with no memory of what Hope did! Hope is thrown for a moment, but then remembers Darryl, and goes to the window to see if she can see if he and the cops are still there. The cops are gone, but Darryl is standing below, glaring up at her.

Back to Jasmine’s POV. She is running to work, as she’s very late and doesn’t want to get in trouble. WHen she arrives, twenty minutes past her start time, her boss Marty asks to speak with her. He tells her that he needs someone who is more responsible, and that he has to let her go. She says that she won’t be late again, and he says that it’s one thing to be late, it’s quite another to not show up like she did yesterday. Jasmine is confused, she doesn’t think that she was working yesterday, and when he asks her where she was she doesn’t remember. He gives her her last paycheck, and she leaves, distraught that she can’t remember anything about the day before. And yes, this clinches my suspicions. Jasmine goes to the cafeteria to try and remember what happened the day before, but alas and alack she runs into Darryl. He tells her that Hope said he should leave, but he REFUSES to go! He also tells Jasmine that he was so mad at Hope for suggesting it, and he ‘hurt’ her.

And now we’re back to HOPE’S POV. Jasmine returns to the room to find Hope sobbing on her bed. Jasmine asks her what Darryl did, if he hit her or anything like that, but Hope informs her it’s worse, MUCH worse. He called her a fat cow, and that she’d rather be beat up than called that. Okay, I’m not going touch any of that with a ten foot pole. She tells Jasmine that she should go to the safety meeting and tell everyone what Darryl has done, and as she spirals out of mental control she suddenly screams her head off, and runs out of their room and down the hall, with Melanie calling after her. HOO boy.

Now it’s ANGEL’S POV? We haven’t gotten this yet! Angel is making out with a boy named B.J. in a car, because YAS GIRL. Apparently she just saw in at the coffee shop and one thing led to another and now they’re here. They are suddenly interrupted by, you guessed it, Darryl, and as she starts to scream at Darryl to leave them alone, Darryl throws out the usual generic threats. B.J. gets freaked out and leaves Angel alone with Darryl…

Now it’s Hope’s POV again. She’s returning to the dorm around 11 after her ‘moment’, and runs into Melanie in the elevator. Melanie says she’s sorry she missed her at the meeting, and Melanie says that they still have no leads. They part ways, and Hope goes into her dorm. Eventually Angel, Eden, and Jasmine return, and they tell Hope that they NEED to do something about Darryl, and HALLELUJAH, Hope finally, FINALLY, agrees with them! Eden calls the police and tells them everything, and they tell her they will arrive in ten minutes. Which will be ten minutes too late, because DARRYL CLIMBS THROUGH THE FIRE ESCAPE! And he heard everything, of course, and he takes it about as well as one might expect. So he attacks Eden, pulls a Bane Breaking the Bat move, and then throws her out the window! Hope screams in shock that Darryl killed her friend, as if this wasn’t a completely foreseeable conclusion given his past behavior, and Darryl nods and jumps back onto the fire escape and scampers off into the night. Jasmine and Angel are screaming, and then there’s a pounding on the door as the police announce their presence. The three remaining roommates climb onto the fire escape as well, hiding from the cops as they come in, but Hope overhears them talking to Melanie as she comes to investigate. They tell her that a girl named Eden called them, and Melanie says that no girl named Eden lives in this room. It’s just one girl named Hope, no roommates besides her! Hope listens to the 3 M’s talk to the police, and apparently not only does she live alone, but there is no boy’s floor that Darryl lives in in Fear Hall. It’s an all girls dorm! The police say that it sounds like a dangerous ‘looney’ (real professional guys) may be on the loose. Hope is offended by all of this, and she says to Angel and Jasmine that the 3 M’s won’t get away with saying all this bad shit about her. They agree. Then Darryl appears at Hope’s beck and call as well, and they agree that the 3 M’s have to die. So this whole time this was a quasi split personality psychosis kind of deal, but it wouldn’t be ACTUAL dissociative identity disorder because for that to be the case there would have to be a main personality that didn’t know that there were other personalities! We are left with the cops seeing Hope on the fire escape! TO BE CONTINUED!!

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Me, realizing there is a WHOLE OTHER BOOKS WORTH OF THIS MESS. (source)

Body Count: 2. And I’m still not over the use of ‘carved’ as a descriptor in the first instance.

Romance Rating: 0. Darryl is literally killing any boy that he sees Hope interact with, and if that doesn’t say unromantic I don’t know what does. Of course, given that Darryl doesn’t even exist it kind of makes it a non-relevant category.

Bonkers Rating: 5, just because the GIANT TWIST is so old hat and lazy that I’m not impressed by it.

Fear Street Relevance: 7, as Fear Hall is named after the Fear Family.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“A grin spread over his face. A grin of triumph. And that’s when I decided to kill him.”

…. Except she instantly clarifies that she didn’t REALLY want to kill him, just get him out of her life. I wouldn’t blame Eden if she did kill Darryl though.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Hope refers to J. Crew as ‘preppy’ clothes, and I don’t think that that label is REALLY seen as a status symbol anymore, at least not among young preps.

Best Quote:

“‘Someone told me a story about Ollie [the night guard at Fear Hall]. They said he died thirty years ago. But his ghost refused to leave Fear Hall. He takes his guard post every night, even though he’s dead!'”

… Honestly I’d rather read that book that the conclusion to this.

Conclusion: “Fear Hall: The Beginning” was lazy and paint by numbers, and the big reveal at the end didn’t get me very hyped to move on in the series. And yet, in spite of that, next up is “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”. 

Kate’s Review: “Infidel”

38812871Book: “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A haunted house story for the 21st century, INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.

Bestselling editor Pornsak Pichetshote (Swamp Thing, Daytripper, The Unwritten) makes his comics writing debut alongside artist extraordinaire Aaron Campbell (The Shadow, James Bond: Felix Leiter), award-winning colorist and editor Jose Villarubia (Batman: Year 100, Spider-Man: Reign), and letterer / designer Jeff Powell (SCALES & SCOUNDRELS).

Review: Even though horror has almost always had stories with some kind of hidden themes within their works, I feel like as a genre people are starting to really realize the possibilities of metaphor for greater ills beyond a monster or a ghost. With books like “Lovecraft Country” and movies like “Get Out”, we are starting to see more expansion and room for not only POC characters, but also critiques of racism within our culture and society. “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote is the most recent story of this kind that I have come across, and I can tell you that I was waiting very impatiently for my hold on it to be filled at my library. Given that NPR listed it on their ‘100 Greatest Horror Stories of All Time’ selection, my enthusiasm and anticipation was greater than most other books I request. It was also a lofty claim to make, and while I was open to the claim I wondered how much my own final opinion of it would line up with it.

Our story follows Aisha, a Muslim American woman who has recently moved into an apartment building with a tragedy attached to it. A few years before, a Middle Eastern man’s homemade bombs went off, killing a number of the tenants. Aisha and her friends, most of whom come from non-white backgrounds, are aware of the history, and aware of how the white tenants aren’t as welcoming to them as they are to non POCs. What Aisha and her friends don’t know is that the building is haunted by a very angry and aggressive set of ghosts. It’s Aisha that first sees the twisted and violent entities that haunt the complex, their rage focusing on her. The visual manifestations of these things are truly horrific, as they are warped and filled with rage and able to cause serious physical harm. Much like “Lovecraft Country”, racism and bigotry is the true villain of this book, with the ghosts targeting Aisha because of her Muslim faith and their association that gives them to the man whose bombs were their demise. Aisha isn’t the only one who has nasty encounters with the ghosts, as their ire holds a lot of the other characters hostage and puts them at risk as well. It starts slowly for all of them, noticing it bit by bit and making them wonder if they ACTUALLY saw something, or if it’s just a figment of their imaginations, a direct metaphor for those who are victims of racism in our day to day lives.

But the other kind of racism that Pichetshote shows in this book isn’t just the over the top obvious kind in ghost form; rather, it’s mostly micro-aggressions and fear based on ignorance and paranoia. Aisha is dating a while man named Tom, who has a daughter named Kris from a previous relationship. Kris’s mother is dead, and Kris is very connected to Aisha. Tom’s mother Leslie has just started warming up to Aisha and seems to be trying, though in the past she’s shown discomfort and flat out hostility towards Aisha and her culture. Aisha is more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, though Tom and her childhood best friend Medina are not. There are also other tenants in the buildings who are more mistrustful of Aisha because of her faith. From a neighbor who is convinced she saw Aisha committing a crime (though Aisha herself at this point is a clear victim), to a woman who is actually in Aisha’s circle of friends but still doesn’t trust her fully, it’s these interactions that left me a bit more unsettled than the ghosts that pop out of the walls. These moments are based in realism, and show how people can be influenced by fear and prejudice even if they think they are open minded and accepting.

The artwork is stunning. There is a certain jarring atmosphere that the artist, Aaron Campbell, creates, with lots of vibrant colors and use of shadows. The ghosts within the building are especially grotesque, their distorted features harkening to disease and decay. At one point Medina refers to racism as a cancer, and the entities absolutely reflect that.

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Literal nightmare fuel. (source)

I think that one of the few criticisms I did have about this book was that it ended a little too quickly. I realize that this was very much a mini series, as it was only five issues all together, but for it to build slowly and complexly and then to be wrapped up very fast left me a little feeling unsatisfied. There were a couple of plot points that were tossed out into the fold that sounded like it would take a lot of work to get through, only to be resolved quickly, sometimes off page. Because of this, I did close the book wanting more.

“Infidel” is an effective story with some genuine scares. I highly encourage horror fans to pick it up, but know that it may feel a bit rushed by the end. That said, I am very much looking forward to see what Pornsak Pichetshote brings us next.

Rating 8: A unsettling ghost story that takes on racism and xenophobia in our culture, “Infidel” is a graphic novel with as many real world horrors as supernatural ones.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Infidel” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Against the Fascist Creep”.

Find “Infidel” at your library using WorldCat!