Fear Street Cheerleaders – The First Evil

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This is the series I have the most memory of. My idea was to read them all in order, but Fear Street #2 is super difficult to find, as are the other originals up until #5. So here we are, the Fear Street Cheerleaders, published in 1992, I think, honestly I’m having trouble with the dates and when things were reprinted, and you know, for apparently being one of the best selling YA series of all time, you think there’d be a little more information on all of these. But let’s join Bobbi and Corky, the two most late 80s/early 90s names we could come up with, as they move to Fear Street.

The Cover

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Only one cover this time (borrowed from the GoodReads page), and I gotta say I really like it. The skull and blood in the pompom is good, and the girl looks possessed. It’s a nice, sinister cover.

Tagline

When the cheers turn to screams…

Pretty basic. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it. It does feel like they couldn’t come up with something better.

Summary

Bobbi and Corky have just moved into a house in Fear Street, and they’re looking to join the Shadyside cheerleading squad. They were all state at their last school and are looking forward to jumping in. They make it easily into the new squad, but unfortunately it ruffles some feathers. They kick out another member of the team to make room, and Kimmy, BFF of team captain Jennifer, is upset that they’ve been added even though the team had already been set. But the girls are on the team, and they all travel together to Shadyside’s first away game. But tragedy strikes, and the bus crashes. Jennifer is thrown and lands on Sarah Fear’s grave, where she seems to die and come back to life.

Weeks later, Jennifer’s in a wheelchair, Bobbi is promoted to team captain, and Kimmy is pissed off. Not helped by Kimmy’s ex-boyfriend showing interest in Bobbi, or Jennifer and Bobbi being BFFs now. The girls are getting catty, with the team splitting between people who trust Bobbi and those who don’t. It’s not helped by a weird paralysis that seems to be taking over people, causing them to get hurt or hurt others. Bobbi is frozen when Kimmy performs a dangerous stunt, and Kimmy ends up breaking her arm. Bobbi thinks she’s going insane when she sees Jennifer walking, sees lockers opening and closing on their own, and then she’s scalded to death in a shower.

This book has like three fake protagonists. Jennifer is our first perspective, Kimmy gets a chapter to herself, and then Bobbi dies in a shower halfway through. Corky is our Final Girl, even though she’s done absolutely nothing through the whole book. I kind of forgot she was there, and then she’s rocketed into protag position. She finds a pendant that belongs to Kimmy at the scene of the crime and realizes Bobbi’s death isn’t natural. She goes to confront Kimmy, who tells her that she gave the pendant to Jennifer. Corky flips out and runs to Jennifer who is driving a car. Jennifer goes to Sarah Fear’s grave and does an interpretive dance. Corky goes to fight her, and Jennifer reveals that she’s actually Sarah Fear herself. The night Jennifer landed on the grave, she died, and Sarah took over. Sarah’s plan is to hurt Jennifer’s enemies, which doesn’t really make any sense because Bobbi didn’t do anything to her, and Kimmy didn’t do anything to her, and Kimmy’s boyfriend definitely didn’t do anything to her, but whatever, ghosts be tripping. She also has a plan to put Bobbi in her grave, but it’s unclear why? Like she brings her skeleton to life and it does a little dance and I think Bobbi would have literally replaced her body or something but listen the book is almost over we don’t have time for this.

And again I think making the main character a gymnast was just a good way for Stine to get her to do some sweet flips. She gets out, grabs Jennifer, and then tosses her in her own grave. The body shrivels up and dies, and Sarah Fear is trapped. The police show up, but they’re just like “Fear Street, am I right?” and let them go.

The book ends on Corky finding Jennifer’s pendant in her room and screaming. Smash cut. Credits. Literally every chapter in this book ends with someone screaming, justified or no. Stine does suspense like this because he knows his main audience are like 9 year olds and they only get to read one more chapter before they go to bed.

Favorite Line

“Because… because it would make me feel really bad,” Bobbi said with emotion.

Fear Street Trends

R.L. Stine knows what the cool kids are into. Like in New Girl, everyone is wearing GAP t-shirts and high tops. Popular girls look like popular movie actresses (Jennifer looks like Julia Roberts). I’m doubly amused that Kimmy is described as having crimped hair. I was born in the 90s, and I def had a hair crimper. That’s the realest thing I ever read.

Also from New Girl, Lisa Blume gets a shoutout. She tells them every house on Fear Street is haunted, though to be fair in her own adventure turned out not to have a ghost in it at all, just girls in need of some therapy.

Rating

This is much improved from the first one. Better prose, only slightly better dialogue, more interesting characters. Updating these books is a crime. They should be time capsules, and I’m doubly pleased that this is so. I’m giving it four screaming cheerleaders out of five.

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Fear Street #31 – Switched

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Jumping way ahead here. Switched was published in 1995 originally which is way later than the New Girl, and it shows. It also got a re-release in 2006, which is the version I read. Apparently this is one of the better loved Fear Street books, and I chose it partially because I remembered reading it, though I didn’t remember anything about it until about halfway through.

The Cover

The original cover is okay (pulled from Fear Street blog, shout out). It gets its point across pretty well, though the cartoon lightning effects aren’t doing it any favors. The hands look a little too large. Someone was not happy to paint those. Honestly the new one (pulled from the publisher’s website) is a lot better with that split down the middle, though it does kind of look like the blonde side was photoshopped to hell and back. It’s a little more dynamic and not quite as cheesy.

Tagline

A mind is a terrible thing to lose.

Well this one gives away the double twist (is it a double twist? we’ll get to that) almost immediately. It definitely has a lot less to do with switching bodies than the one on the new cover, which may be way they changed it.

Trading spaces — with a killer!

Sure, it’s obvious, but I don’t hate it. It plays into the stated theme of the novel more than the actual twist that comes.

Summary

This book goes from 0 to 100. The first chapter showcases what a dull, depressing life Nicole has. Honestly I was a little surprised to find it was written in first person, which is usually something I don’t like to read, but since it’s a body switching plot I’m giving it a pass. As amateurish as the attempt to give a reason a girl would want to switch bodies with someone is, I gotta say I identified a little too hard with her depression. She chips a nail and bursts into tears, she’s not doing her homework because she can’t bring herself to care, and she focuses hard on one project to bring meaning to her existence. It’s still a very teenage girl problems kind of life, but as someone with depression, it hit home a little.

Nicole’s life flipping stinks though. She might be failing her class, her parents are too oppressive, and her boyfriend breaks up with her for no dang reason. She goes to her BFF Lucy’s place to weep about her life, and Lucy tells her that her life stinks too! Lucy then grabs Nicole’s hand and tells her, “Let’s switch bodies.”

Listen, R.L. Stine has three hundred more books to write before the end of the year. He’s gotta get to the plot so he can get back to spending that Goosebumps money. So it’s beginning of chapter two, and we’re already on Fear Street, where some weird junk is about to go down. Lucy leads Nicole to the Changing Wall, which is the worst name for a thing possible, because her granddad was besties with the Fear Street Cemetery cryptkeeper who knew all the juicy gossip. They hold hands on the top of the wall, stare deeply into each other’s eyes, and jump down. When they get back up, Lucy is Nicole and Nicole is Lucy. Nicole has all these questions about what this means, and Lucy is just like “peace out, homie” and goes to Nicole’s house.

Nicole goes to Lucy’s house and DUN DUN DUN her parents are totes murdered! Nicole flips out and does not call the police or an adult or tell anyone what happened. She goes straight to Lucy’s boyfriend’s place, some dude named Kent, who she thinks will believe her about the body switch. Kent, unsurprisingly, does not really believe her, and after hearing her story calls the police on her. Nicole is kind of upset about this development, and she runs to her house to find Lucy. No one’s there.

At this point Nicole has not figured out that Lucy totally murdered her parents, even though it’s immediately obvious. She wants to switch bodies back and let Lucy handle this problem. It’s not until she heads back again (to change clothes? for some reason? I’m still not really sure what her plan was) and goes to Lucy’s room that she finds the bloody knife and confession. Lucy’s confession:

I HAD TO KILL THEM

I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

LUCY K

K, Lucy, totally sweet confession note. This girl did not even care. Nicole is understandably freaked out by this and she runs the heck away as the police come to chase her. She tries to track down Lucy and thinks she sees her with two friends, who have no idea what the flip she’s talking about. They try to stop Nicole from leaving. You know something fishy is up now because everyone keeps calling her Nicole even when they immediately see her. Nicole thinks this means Lucy is just telling everyone they switched bodies which is not something you should do if you murdered someone and then switched bodies to get away with it. Nicole’s kind of a dummy, but we’ll figure out why in a bit.

Nicole continues trying to track down Lucy, the bodies are starting to pile up, and the two detectives keep chasing her. She finds weird things, like the fact that the murders weren’t reported on in the local paper, or that Lucy’s things are gone when she goes back to the house, but Nicole’s in a bad place right now so she’s not really in a mystery solving mood. She decides to drive to Lucy’s grandmother’s house, thinking Lucy would hide out there. Lucy’s grandma is extremely confused when Nicole shows up pretending to be Lucy and asking if someone else had visited. The police show up again, she runs into the cornfield where she sees Lucy, they fight, they fight the police, Lucy drowns but then doesn’t, and then Nicole is tackled to the ground as her parents show up.

Because it turns out no one was murdered at all! Lucy died three years ago in a car accident! Nicole hasn’t been the same ever since, hallucinating, pretending to be Lucy, just not having a very good time of it. They thought she was better, but apparently whatever therapy they put her through did not have lasting effects. Nicole is taking to a facility, where she hallucinates Lucy is beside her every day, and she’s probably never going to leave, cue the Twilight Zone music.

Favorite Line

I tore a fingernail while getting dressed for school this morning and burst into tears. That’s how messed up I am.

Fear Street Trends

I didn’t notice any totally radical updates. Some kids are rollerblading on the sidewalk, but that’s a decidedly 90s thing to do. No GAP t-shirts or high tops this time around, but this story was more about the plot and not really about cool teens doing cool teen things.

Rating

I actually really liked this one? It’s all plot, which I kind of respect, and means it’s pretty fast paced throughout. The twist is pretty solid. The ending’s nice and creepy and reminded me a bit of the ending of Psycho. Overall, four headless boyfriends out of five.

Fear Street #5 – The Wrong Number

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So the early Fear Streets are pretty hard to find, it turns out, even the re-released ones. I was hoping to see the series progress and characters added, but there will be some skipping around. This one was released in 1990, and it’s all about brand new technology: phones!

The Cover

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I really like this cover (pulled from its GoodReads). It’s very old school 70s horror movie, though the titillation factor isn’t there. The background is creepy and contrasts good with the light from the lamp.

Tagline

It began as a prank… and it ended in murder!

This is so goofy and I love it. The ellipses, the exclamation point, the overdramatic MURDER is fantastic. A++ would read again.

Summary

Honest, I usually read these in an hour all in one go, but this one I ended up having to read in a couple different sittings, so I sort of forgot who people were and what we were doing. Deena is hanging out with her best friend Jade, and they start making prank calls on their phone. It’s pretty tame stuff for them, telling people they won things, pretending to be interested in boys, but it’s a fun time. My favorite part of this is it plays out pretty much how it would. No one really believes them, but they think it’s the funniest thing in the world. This mostly establishes that Deena’s dad works for the phone company, and that Deena has a big gay crush on Jade. I got textual evidence on her big gay crush. It’s all the symptoms of not recognizing her love for her best friend: being jealous of her boyfriend for some reason, pretending to like boys and then not actually going through with it, calling her beautiful over and over again. Big. Gay. Crush.

Deena’s half-brother Chuck starts living with them right as they start school, and he’s a weird character. He runs into an exploding car to save a dog, and then has a knife fight with a kid at school. I guess they’re going for jerk with a heart of gold, but he mostly comes off as two characters. On another night where they’re pranking folks, Chuck jumps on the line. He calls in a bomb threat at the bowling alley, calls a school bully and pretends to be a ghost, and then he calls a house on Fear Street and overhears a murder.

The kids rush off to figure out what happened. They don’t call the police because they think they’ll get in trouble for all their pranks, especially since Chuck has escalated it. They go to the house and find a woman murdered on the ground and a man in a mask who threatens them. They run away, but in the middle of the night the police arrive and ask them about the murder. Chuck handled the murder weapon, and he’s carted off and taken to jail. This is where R.L. Stine does his favorite thing, which is that he doesn’t know how to write a scene or push it along, so he jumps two scenes ahead and has his character remember it. That happens a lot in this book. It also means you get to leave the chapter in a suspenseful way and not deal with the consequences of that.

Deena and Jade figure out that the woman’s husband is the one who murdered her. They follow him to where he works, track down his assistant, who he’s having an affair with, and break into his house. This involves a lot of lying, wigs, stealing dead cats, and spying from cars. They continue to bring their suspicions to the police, who refuse to believe them and hold Chuck in prison. Finally they sneak into his house and find evidence that his wife was going to leave him and take her fortune with her, but the murderer comes home. They’re trapped with no way out, but they managed to block the murderer and climb out the window right as the police arrive. The police reveal that they suspected the husband all along, but they didn’t have evidence, so they let two teenage girls run around and nearly get killed several times instead of doing their own goddamn jobs. The husband is taken to jail, Chuck is released, and Deena still has a few years to figure out her own latent bisexuality.

Honestly I kept waiting for the twist on this. They figure out who the murderer is pretty quick, and then they’re menaced by him quite a bit. The police absolutely refused to believe them for it turns out terrible reasons, so I kept waiting for it to be the mistress or some rando or an actual ghost. This is like later Shyamalan movies where you expect a twist out of it but nope it’s just a regular fashioned murder mystery.

Favorite Line

“Hello, Rob?” whispered Deena, making her voice as seductive as possible. “What’s a good-looking guy like you doing home on a Saturday night?”

“I rented some movies,” Rob said.

Fear Street Trends

No update just means old fashioned trends. So many! Celebrity alert: Deena claims to look like Kim Basinger. Chuck is wearing cutoffs and an R.E.M. shirt. Lisa from New Girl shows up again trying to do her reporter thing for her. These are the coolest kids around.

I imagine around this is when they decided to stop updating the books. It’s hard to do a prank phone call plot in the modern age, not like this. Deena has a brand new phone from her dad that’s described as looking like it controls a spaceship, and they program phone numbers into it. This is pre-caller ID. I don’t even answer my phone if I don’t recognize the number, and I imagine them looking at this again in 2005 and realizing they cannot do the bomb threat subplot. Someone threw up their hands and said nah, man, there’s no way we’re doing this.

Rating

For an early Fear Street novel, it’s pretty good. It has unnecessary separation by parts, and a weird timeline that doesn’t really make any sense, but there a lot more genuinely suspenseful bits, and when I write my proposal for a Fear Street TV show, Deena and Jade’s lesbian love story will definitely be on the screen. I’ll give it three creepy phone calls out of five.

Fear Street #1 – The New Girl

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Where to start rereading Fear Street? As much as I’d love to dive right into the Cheerleader series, I realized there’s a dense history here. Fear Street locks into itself, creating a town so filled with horrors it’s amazing they haven’t burned it to the ground and salted the earth. So why not start with #1? Where did it all begin? Did the first Fear Street novel deliver all of the horror promised? Will future generations be passing around these books, claiming it to be spine-chilling and nightmare-inducing?

(Probably not that last thing, since I can’t find 90% of them in my library, but who knows! Maybe there will be a R.L. Stine library one day, and kids can enjoy their spookums to their heart’s content.)

The Cover

I bought the Kindle version of this (that’s right folks! I paid eight whole dollars for it!) which came with a different cover than the updated version or the original, so for comparison:

The New Girl in its original 1989 edition (pulled from its Wikipedia page) is pretty solid. Scared looking girl seems to be disappearing. It’s got a good 80s Final Girl vibe to it and probably does a lot more to hide Anna as the true villain. Apparently these books were updated in 2005 (to be covered below) with these covers, and I gotta say I’m disappointed in the print edition (pulled from its Amazon page), which is a little too sexy. I get it, girls are dangerous monsters who will lead you down a path of darkness, but the schoolgirl plaid is a little too much for me. Is she carrying a tiny briefcase? Is it a lunchbox? Who knows! Meanwhile the edition I paid money for (pulled from the publisher’s website) is a better update. She’s coy and shy, but still has a hint of sexuality, which hints more at Anna’s true nature. Also she’s disappearing again, so you still think she’s a ghost.

Tagline

He has to learn her secret — or die trying!

Honestly, terrible. Very much a first pass. This is the sort of thing written on fake movie posters on a TV show.

Summary

These books are so tiny. This book is a hundred some odd pages. The prologue is two pages long and features an unknown narrator screaming, “Anna is dead!” It’s incredibly unnecessary because everyone else will be screaming this through the rest of the book, but I guess you need some good chills so you know you picked up the right book.

Cory Brooks is a regular high school boy with a cute female friend and a handful of bros. He’s a gymnast for no reason other than so Stine can have him do some sick flips later on in the book. He’s introduced to us proving he can do a handstand while eating his lunch, which is only slightly less bro-y than if he was introduced doing a kegstand but still totally believable for a teenage boy to do. His bros are Arnie and David, who do absolutely nothing except high five the whole time. (Is their slashfic for Fear Street? These two are definitely going to make out during a party in college is all I’m saying.) Cory’s BFF is Lisa, who is described as looking like a movie star. She’s ridiculously cool and asks out Cory like thirty times before he figures out she might be into him. It’s like Abe and Joan in Clone High except not a joke.

Cory meets beautiful and mysterious Anna, who is so pale she might as well be transparent, who seems to float around everywhere, who no one else seems to notice except him, and appears, and I quote, “hauntingly beautiful.” (Italicized in book, in case you didn’t get it.) Cory goes out of his way to find her house by talking to an operator who is terrible at their job, and when he gets there he meets Brad, who’s got a weird face and is super intense and likes screaming “ANNA IS DEAD” given any opportunity.

So Anna’s a ghost, right?

Wrong! Through a series of wacky antics, including a dead cat stuffed into a locker, Cory doing a sweet flip out of one window only to land in the one below it, and a creepy dude with a rottweiler who does nothing but say menacing things and add a few creeps, Cory discovers that Anna is not dead at all! She’s Willa, Anna’s sister, who pushed Anna down the stairs in the prologue because she was so jealous of her beauty and looks. Brad has been taking care of her and didn’t realize how wildly out of control his sister has gotten, and chose to take action by being as menacing as possible. Anna tries to slit their throats with a letter opener, but luckily she’s pretty small and not very strong and is thus easily subdued. The day is saved! Brad calls the police on his sister, ensuring she’ll never get the help she needs, while he goes back to an empty house because all of his family has serious issues, and Cory and Lisa hook up at the end. Happy endings all around!

Favorite Line

“This must what it’s like on the moon,” he told himself.

Totally Radical Updates

There were so many! I’ll be honest, I did research before picking up this book. I knew I’d be getting the updated edition, but I did not realize how jarring those updates would be.

Cory goes over to Lisa’s house to hang out.

She walked over to the counter under the TV and held up a DVD box. He gave her a double thumbs-down. “I’m not into Lord of the Rings.”

Admittedly not the worst, but knowing this was re-released in 2005 it’s hilarious to me that someone had to sit down and rename a movie, and they just chose whatever made major money recently. If someone has the original version of this and would like to tell me the original movie named, I’d be delighted to have that information.

Also a fun addition, computers!

The computer lab. They have all the local papers from all over the state on LexisNexis there. I use this room a lot to do research for articles I write for the Spectator.

Again, not terrible, though I don’t know a single teenager who could tell me what LexisNexis is. I went to library school and even I don’t really get LexisNexis. But times they are a’changing, and it isn’t really hip with the kiddos to go through old newspaper catalogues.

(That being said, do any public libraries actually keep local papers? I’ve never worked at one that did. And in 2005 they definitely would not be ready to digitize like that yet. /librarytalk)

But Jimmy, I hear you say, these are all pretty tame. Computers exist now! It’s a whole new world in 2005! What more could be said? Well, reader, you haven’t gotten to the school dance, or its hip new playlist.

The floor vibrated to the music, a Missy Elliott album with a driving, machinelike drumbeat and pulsating bass that nearly drowned out the singer’s voice.

…Cory asked, shouting over the music, a new album by Kanye West that was extremely difficult to shout over.

Okay, here are some things. First of all, if R.L. Stine can name a Missy Elliott song, I would be genuinely surprised and delighted. I mean, Kanye West will be famous forever, so dropping “a new album” isn’t too far fetched in this modern world, but do you know what songs would not get a pass at my high school? We definitely couldn’t play Missy Elliott at school dances, much less a Kanye song. Some intern just googled popular albums and jammed some words in there. And again, if someone wants to tell me what originally went there, I’d drop in the original quote and everything.

Edit:¬†I did manage to track down someone’s review who’s using a few of the same grading categories I am. Lisa and Cory watch Star Trek together on VHS, and it’s Phil Collins playing at the dance. Shout out to the Fear Street Book Club on Tumblr for keeping track of these dated references for me.

Rating

The prose is pretty basic and nothing special, and the scares and tension are pretty minimal. It’s Fear Street #1, and according to Wikipedia one of R.L. Stine’s first horror books, so it’s a little rough around the edges. I’ll give it two dead cats out of five.

Welcome to Fear Street

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Fear Street, a narrow street that wound past the town cemetery and through the thick woods on the south edge of town, had a special meaning for everyone in Shadyside. The street was cursed, people said.

(Fear Street #1 – The New Girl, page 18)

One of my earliest memories is sitting in the young adult section of the library and going down the stacks to read the books. This is before “young adult” was as big a genre as it was. There was I think two bookshelves dedicated to it, and I read Christopher Pike’s the Last Vampire and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street. I would sit on the floor and read them right there in the stacks.

Now I’m a librarian, specifically a young adult librarian. I spend a lot of time reading YA books and keeping up on the genre. YA horror has come a long way. For one, every YA book seems to deal with the inevitably of death and destruction. It’s no longer just in horror. Current generations are seeing the state of the world, of real life horrific events, of real fears come to life, that we’ve thrown up our hands and said fuck it the world is ending anyway. Monsters are real and we are they and suddenly axe wielding psychopaths don’t seem so scary do they?

I suppose that’s why I return to Fear Street. It’s such a simple idea of horror. People just want murderous revenge and monsters are relegated to a deadly street where hundreds of people have gone missing and no one will do a thing. Now with your Scream Queens and Teen Wolfs and Spooksvilles, I’m a little sad to see Fear Street hasn’t been translated to television. You could make it like American Horror Story but interesting or ease it down to a Spooksville for the kiddos (seriously go watch Spooksville it’s on Netflix it’s great) or make it some drawn out Dark Shadows type melodrama where the Fear Saga is happening in the background of all these other weird things.

My point is, Fear Street was formative for me, but I don’t seem to remember much about it. I’m sure the books are outstanding and hold up to my perceived image of them. I’m sure there’s nothing cringe worthy within them. I’m sure I’m not pushing myself down a wormhole of nostalgic horror fiction that will replace all my reading the next year.

So come with me down this road. Travel with me through the thick fog, listening to the wolves howl outside our window, avoiding our eyes of the burned out mansion that once belonged to the Fear family itself, and we’ll make it to Fear Street.

Who knows if we’ll ever leave again.