The cover (borrowed from Young Adult Revisited) is, um, bad. It has the same weird colors and high contrast of the redone covers, and a stock image of a shadowy figure that looks more like an alien than a murderer.
Camping can be murder…
Generic but servicable. Inoffensive.
Three friends–Ellen, Beth, and our protagonist Maria–are planning for a camping trip. Ellen is a bungee jumper, hang glider, and experienced rock climber, Beth similarly plays sports and climbs, but poor Maria is going for the first time. She looks around the camping store flipping out. Her friends are having fun, at least. Maria’s also a little shaken up because she just broke up with her boyfriend, meaning this is supposed to be a girl’s weekend, though Beth views boys as much a sport as anything else she does. Maria gives them mommy’s credit card to pay for everything, and as they scuttle off, she runs into Bret “the Freak” Freitell.
Bret gives her a hard time in the store and picks up an axe. He starts telling her this would do the job, asking where they’re going camping, and then flips out when he thinks she’s calling him stupid. He swings the ax at her, stopping inches above her face. And then when she storms off he calls her a wimp. No one calls security or does anything else about this. Just another day in Shadyside.
The girls head out to the trail. Maria says they can’t talk about guys, which to Beth means the only other thing to talk about is shopping. I wouldn’t call the Fear Street books a bastion of feminism, but they aren’t usually this. Anyway, Bret nearly runs the girls off the road, and when they get out to yell at him, he suddenly changes demeanor, apologizing and saying he didn’t know the curve was so sharp. The girls stop at a mini-mart up ahead and decide to get some snacks and relax for a minute. There they meet Will, Andrew, and Daniel, also going camping that weekend. Daniel flirts with them a little and offers to help them out on the trail, which sends Beth and Ellen, the two experienced extreme sport enthusiasts, into giggle fits. Maria reminds them this is a no boys weekend, and the two relent, telling the boys they’re fine on their own. They pack up their cars, still chatting with the trio, when something falls out of Daniel’s pack. Maria thinks it’s a gun, but he shows her it’s a flare gun.
The girls head out on the trail as a rainstorm rolls in. Seems like someone should’ve checked the weather, but okay. As they start down the trail, they hear someone near them. A shot rings out. They flip out and see two hunters coming towards them. They apologize, saying they got lost, but, uh, there’s hunting in public camping grounds? That seems ridiculously dangerous. They also have to be close to top of the trail, where the most people would be, which either means they’ve wandered in from a very long way or they’re hunting people.
It starts raining as the girls get going, and they find their way blocked when a creek fills up with water. They debate hiking further up the trail or camping here until the rain stops, when they’re interrupted by a bear sound. It’s just the boys, being boys. Maria’s flipping done and shouts at them. Daniel offers them a beer. The boys have a raft with them, and they offer to help them cross the creek so they can continue onto their camping site. Beth and Ellen cross okay, but when Maria and Will go across, they lose the rope. The raft starts following the wild current, and they’re knocked into the water. Maria has already told us she’s a strong swimmer, and even in the current she manages to stay up until she finds Will, and she helps him to shore. Daniel yells at him for losing the raft. Maria is just happy to be alive.
They continue up the trail, which is just slush with mud. And they still plan to rock climb in this? I don’t know a lot about anything, but I’m pretty sure it’s dangerous to do that in a rainstorm. And this is Maria’s first time, so she’s already exhausted and tired of the mud. She trips and starts sliding down the path, hitting her hand into a rock. Will reaches her first and checks the wrist, making sure she can move it. The girls build a splint for the sprain, and Ellen asks if she wants to turn around. Maria almost says yes, but Daniel makes a snide comment about her not being able to handle it, and she once again feels like a wimp in a scenario where most people would be miserable and happy to turn back. So she says she’ll shoulder on. Will, at least, tells her it takes a lot of guts to keep hiking. He stands up to Daniel for her too, when Daniel gets annoyed that she wants to rest.
Daniel gets them to keep going by saying he knows a great camping spot that’ll be on dry ground. Maria’s relieved, until they reach the end of the trail, with only a steep gray wall in front of them. Beth assures Maria that she won’t be climbing, not with that wrist, and the others will pull her up. Without too much incident, they all get up on the ledge, where a large overhang protects them from the rain, and they can finally relax.
The girls set up their camp and immediately cook some dinner, while the boys remain bros, at least Andrew and Daniel. They down beer instead. Will comes over to sit with the girls a while, and he admits he didn’t know Daniel before today. He’s Andrew’s brother, and so today’s been nearly the nightmare for him as it has for Maria. The girls settle into their tent, exhausted but happy to be dry and warm, until Maria wakes up in the middle of the night. Gentle, on the wind, she hears a sound. Whimpering. Moaning. A wail. She waits and realizes the boys are playing a joke on her. She refuses to stoop to their level, and goes back to sleep.
Maria’s the first to wake in the morning, and she spends a few minutes enjoying the scenery. Then she notices Daniel and Andrew have already packed their tent and were putting their supplies together. They barely acknowledge her. She asks where Will went, and they tell her he wandered off after an argument he and Daniel had. Instead of being instantly suspicious of this, Beth gets distracted by a bunny she wants a picture of and gets the girls to heard it. This places Maria next the edge of the cliff, and she can see below Will’s dead body. Andrew and Daniel insist they didn’t hear anything last night, but Maria remembers that she did. He must’ve been laying there for hours. Bleeding out. Begging for someone to help him.
Ellen insists on checking on the body, even when Andrew and Daniel tell her not to. She climbs down to the ledge his body landed on and lets them know he is, in fact, dead. She also discovers huge bruises on his body, not from the fall, but like he was beaten. Ellen yells this to the people above her, which is fantastic. She also finds Daniel’s walking stick broken in two. And instead of quietly keeping this to herself to give her friends a chance to escape, she lets everyone know, so Daniel can freak out right away.
Basically, for the next twenty pages, Andrew and Daniel go back and forth. They’re going to cut Ellen’s rope! Except they want her to climb to the top. They’re going to shoot Maria with a flare gun! But it needs to look like an accident. The girls promise to tell everyone it’s an accident! But they can’t trust them. They’re going to toss them over the ledge! But they might live.
Finally, Maria convinces them to take her hostage, use her credit card to buy a raft to escape, and then the boys say they’ll tie her to the raft and let it go over the falls. They bring the other two along as well, so they can’t get to a ranger or any help. She says they need her to sign for the credit card, but even if it did flag for fraud, it’d be a minute before anyone realized what had actually happened. Luckily, these boys are not real thinkers.
They get to the raft place, and Maria goes inside alone. She chats with the guy, who gives her all the safety information, and she uses the time to try to figure out an escape. But the boys have her friends hostage right outside. As she goes to pay, instead of signing her name, she writes: “Help. Brothers holding us hostage. Killed someone already.” Behind her Daniel walks in. The man doesn’t even glance at the receipt and just tosses it in the register. I will say, this man probably sees a hundred signatures a day, but I think I’d notice if someone wrote a full sentence instead of the usual scribble.
Daniel and Andrew force them into the boat. They tie up Ellen and Beth, but when they reach for Maria, she punches them instead. They’re already in the rapids, and the raft starts to rock wildly with the water and with the fight onboard. Maria desperately holds onto her friends, who can only bounce along with the current. She gets a Telltale moment, where they’re coming on a big boulder, and she has to choose which friend to help, so she leaps at Beth, while Ellen is tossed into the water. Maria reaches into the water and manages to pull her out as the raft gets past the rapids into calm water. Maria lunges for the flare gun, which goes off as she struggles with Andrew. With the water calm now, she leaps over the edge and swims for shore, Daniel following after her.
Maria gets to dry land, where she books it. She runs into the road and flags down the first car she sees, which–of course–has the Freak in it. Bret calms her down until Daniel bursts from the trees, and the two start chatting like old friends. Daniel openly admits to Bret that he did a murder, and he needs to murder these three girls, Bret is like, anything you need man. Daniel says if they’re not back in about five minutes, Andrew will kill the other girls anyway, so Bret helps him drag Maria through the forest. He grabs his pack first, promising there’s something good inside.
It’s pretty obvious what Bret is doing, but boy does he go along with it. He helps them get all the girls in the raft, and he pulls out the ax to threaten them. He convinces the boys to untie all the girls, and when he gets ready to chop the rope, he hits Andrew instead (with the flat side, I guess, so no one actually dies). Daniel tries to stab him, forcing him to drop the ax. Maria jumps out of the boat and grabs for it. She gets her friends out and then stands there watching Daniel and Bret fight with actually doing anything about it. Daniel comes out on top and starts towards her, but she gets him into the boat, letting the raft go, and watches him fly down the river.
Just in time for a park ranger to arrive! The guy at the boat rental did read her note! Everything’s okay! Even Bret isn’t as big a creep as we thought he was! The girls go home, and Maria is ready to relax, only to find her parents in her living room, ready to take her camping. Cue laugh track, freeze frame, fade to black.
Andrew glanced at his brother. “She’s right, Daniel. It’s bad enough that we killed Will. We can’t kill four people.”
“Why not?” Daniel asked.
“For one thing, it’s daylight.”
Fear Street Trends
There’s not too many, since most of the story takes place on the camping trip. None of the boys have an earring to let us know they’re dangerous but cool. In the first scene, Beth pulls out a Lycra catsuit that’s just for sale at the camping store? And calls it cute? And Ellen’s reply is, “We’re going camping in the mountains, Beth. Not to the country club.” UM, I don’t know if country clubs are all about shiny catsuits. She then convinces Ellen to try on a pair of spandex shorts, which are actual things someone might work out with.
This book is just kind of flat for me. I will say it’s short, straightforward, with only one real “twist”, if you can call it that, which is kind of nice. Still, the actions of the murderers don’t make a ton of sense, and it might’ve been more thrilling as a “chase through the forest”/”run for your life” narrative rather than having the girls be held against their will. I’ll give it two blunt axes out of five.