Every month, Scholastic provided Cloverland Elementary School with a glossy magazine filled with promises of new books, like the latest Baby Sitter’s Club or Sweet Valley Twin title. The year I was betrayed by my fifth grade teacher (she told my mom I was hiding contraband Stephen King novels in my messy desk and reading the nastier parts to the other kids at recess), a new series started showing up on the pages of that glossy magazine: Goosebumps. It immediately appealed to me, twisted little kid that I was.
I did not read all of the Goosebumps books, but for a couple years, I read each installment. My interest waned when I stopped being interested in the mystery and/or surprised by the twist. Goosebumps was not twisted, violent, or gory enough to satisfy my dark heart. One night, my friend had a sleepover for her birthday. Because I was easily overwhelmed by being around so many people, I sneaked into her older sister’s room to take a look at her bookshelf. I was mostly interested in the Sweet Valley High books, but a familiar name caught my eye. This was the night that I discovered R. L. Stine had written another series: Fear Street.
I smuggled a couple out of the sister’s room and huddled on the couch the rest of the evening. I would not say that Fear Street changed my world. I already had a couple of Stephen King books under my belt, after all, and Fear Street is to Stephen King and Dean Koontz what Sweet Valley High is to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Lisa Kleypas. But they were dark, savage, and Stine clearly relished writing about evil teenagers killing people as much as Lurlene McDaniel relished writing about teenagers dying of cancer.
The Best Friend stands out as one of the creepier installments. A young teen with an obvious mental disorder attaches herself to her new next door neighbor and tries to take over her life. Another favorite, The Stepsister, had a similar theme, though the stepsister was widely viewed as a goody two-shoes until the heroine revealed her as a cunning murderess. Some of them even had moral lessons. In What Holly Heard, I learned that listening to gossip could end with me being brutally murdered; I was cautious of going on a Double Date, aware that it could lead to a hostage situation. Wrong Number taught me that my happy-go-lucky love for prank-calling could summon a being of ancient evil. And, above all, I learned that Cheerleaders are vicious gangs of evil, second only to Satan.
After a number of the loosely connected books in the series were published, R. L. Stine decided to write the origin story. Fear Street Saga turned out to be the pinnacle of what the series as a whole has to offer: stark betrayal, teenagers in extreme peril, evil teenagers, an evil that is passed down from generation to generation, hauntings, lost loves, and suggestions of reincarnation. Of the series, it was the most maturely written.
R.L. Stine took a long break from his young adult horror book franchise. Right around when I was in high school, the time between releases grew longer and longer. Finally, they petered out until Fear Street faded from my memory. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I discovered I had a chance to review the new book. I jumped at it.
The Lost Girl is the third book in the new six-book series set to take place in Shadyside. Like its predecessors, it is a standalone. The only connections it has to previous books – unless, of course, I am missing some deeply hidden Easter eggs – are the location and some of the magic tricks. The story and the characters are entirely new.
Michael Frost is a teenager at Shadyside High School. His father owns a snowmobile rental shop, and his mother is sweet and kind. His girlfriend, Pepper, has the temper to go with her bright red hair, and his several close friends make up a pack of fairly normal teens. Everything changes when he meets a beautiful girl who tells him she is lost, and asks him to help her. He is drawn to her immediately, despite his conscience telling him it was wrong, he had a girlfriend, and something about the lost girl was just a little off. Before he could extricate himself from the lost girl, a terrible accident occurred. I can’t say any more without giving away a couple of spoilers, but we all know how much R. L. Stine likes his twists.
The writing itself is mature, assured, and unhurried. For all that I enjoyed Fear Street (and I still do), I knew even then that the books were rushed, the chapters were abrupt, and the story sped along much too swiftly to really and truly care about the characters. This was part of the charm of the books: they read like slasher films. This one is a little more relaxed. R. L. Stine gave us time to care about the character, and to nurture our curiosity. This was partly achieved by the fact a third of the novel is set in the past. Stine was able to maintain the swift pace of a traditional slasher, while also adding layers to the story. In the past, this book would have been two different installments in the series, rather than knit together into a book that is actually a fine example of all the best things about a Fear Street novel.
Reading this book and writing this review has been a bit of a trip down memory lane. These books are not going to win any huge awards, but they were a pretty big part of my adolescence. That made it a joy to read, and this review a joy to write.
Fear Street by R.L. Stine will be published by St. Martin’s Griffin on September 29, 2015