Fear Street #9 – The Stepsister

I actually took a long break from reading Fear Street books, partially because I was reading a lot of other books and partially because I needed something of actual substance for a bit. I’m a little out of the groove of this, and I don’t think this was the best one to bring me back.

The Cover

The cover to the original 1990 version (borrowed from Retro Daze) is alright. I think it hits the right amount of sinister with the figure showing up to the unsuspecting reader, and I sort of like that they keep the angelic looks of Jessie, but it makes it slightly less frightening. The updated cover (borrowed from Simon & Schuster) is terrible. It’s meaningless. There’s no indication that she’s a sinister figure or that anything is happening in this book at all. The annoying blow out and hue switches are even more annoying on this one.

Tagline

This one gets two with:

When she moved into Emily’s room, the terror began…

Which isn’t too terrible. With the image on the front, it gives it a sinister note and is plot relevant without giving anything away. Versus:

Some families hold deadly secrets.

Which, like the cover, is less than nothing. They needed a skeletons in the closet jab, or something about blood, not a phrase that isn’t even a thing. No thought was put into the updated cover.

Summary

We meet Emily and Nancy right before they’re about to accept their two step-siblings into their homes. Emily and Nancy prattle for a while, mostly about hair. Their mom just remarried after their dad’s tragic death via boat accident several years ago, and they aren’t too big fans of their new step-dad. Their step-siblings, Jessie and Rich, are kind of quiet, nervous, and weird. Rich is reading Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, and Jessie turns into a completely different person when she’s not in front of their parents. Emily and Jessie will be sharing a room, and Jessie takes over Emily’s bed, steals her stuff, and kicks at her dog. Emily argues with her, and Jessie rips the head off her teddy bear, saying it’s an accident. The new family is not off to a great start.

Nancy comes in, sees the teddy bear, and distracts her sister with idle chatter. She slips that Emily is dating her ex-boyfriend, which is extremely weird and Nancy says she is totally cool with, and it doesn’t matter who you are, you probably wouldn’t be cool with your sister dating your ex. Nancy is also super stressed with school, since she’s a senior, and she hasn’t had a date since Josh.

The family settles in. Emily calls Josh to let her know that Jessie is a weirdo, and they get called down to dinner. Rich is quiet and barely eats, which his dad makes fun of him for. Jessie comes down late and is wearing Emily’s sweater. Emily flips out a little and goes up to her room to work on her fourteen page paper. She struggles to concentrate and leaves the room for a bit, and when she comes back Jessie is messing with the computer. She apologizes, leaves, and when Emily looks the entire paper is deleted. She blames Jessie and straight up goes for her. They get in a physical fight that her mom and step-dad break up. Her mom forces her to apologize to Jessie, but Emily refuses, and Jessie plays the sweet card, saying she doesn’t need an apology. When the parents leave, Jessie makes a swipe at the dog again and like for real, even if you don’t like dogs, it’s super easy to just not be rude about it.

But Emily goes to sit with Nancy, who consoles her. Apparently mom let slip to Nancy that Jessie is in therapy and she got kicked out of her school for something major. Their mom doesn’t like talking about uncomfortable things, though, and that’s all they know. Josh comes to talk to Emily, and she’s relieved to have him. They eat, study, and start making out. Emily sees Jessie watching from the stairs and decides to give her a show. After Josh leaves, everything settles down, and Emily is woken in the middle of the night by Jessie talking on the phone to someone, whispering, “I could kill her.”

At school, Emily waits after class for Josh, who usually is never late. When he doesn’t show, she walks around and looks for him. Jessie’s BFF Krysta Meyers stops her and is kind of awkward. Emily hates on her a little, but she’s distracted by Jessie and Josh talking to each other. They interrupt, and Emily and Josh discuss homecoming plans.

At  home things seem to be more level. Jessie, Emily, and Nancy have a fun food fight, and when it’s time to clean up, Jessie tells Emily to shower first. Emily feels like things might be turning around, but after she steps out of the shower, she completely flips out. Someone put peroxide in her shampoo! And it’s super strange how it’s dyed, like half of the hair is bleached, and the other half has blue-green lines in it, which isn’t inaccurate to a bad dye job but seems weirdly uneven and makes me wonder how she washes her hair. Emily immediately blames Jessie, and Nancy kind of helps. Jessie flips out and shouts that it’s just like Jolie all over again and storms off. Then Nancy kind of suggests that Rich might’ve done it before going to console her sister. It’s at this point I’m super suspicious of Nancy.

Nancy helps Emily cut her hair short so it looks a little more intentional, and when they come back Rich is there with some policemen. Apparently he stole some cassettes from a music store, and instead of arresting him the police took him home, which is like insane to think that kids get arrested over minor shoplifting but it probably happens. I was a little surprised at the turn in Rich’s character from nerdy, quiet brother to troubled kid, but I guess he’s supposed to be a red herring? He doesn’t really do anything though and he doesn’t really have a character arc so it goes nowhere. His father gets mad but in a gentle way that I really like, because this guy clearly has two troubled kids he’s been juggling and he knows that shouting isn’t going to fix it. Jessie sticks up for her brother, which is also nice, since it’s been noted they don’t get along great.

Emily goes to the homecoming game and then the dance with Josh. In the girls’ room she runs into Krysta, who makes an underhanded compliment about her hair, which makes Emily really self-conscious. She and Josh dance to the absolute worst music and then go to his car to park and make out. She doesn’t get home until after one, and when she comes inside, she finds her dog dead, stabbed, on the ground. She is understandably upset and wakes everyone up. Her mom suggests it was a break in, but they realize that’s ridiculous. Step-dad gets weirdly chill here and tells everyone that they won’t get in trouble, that if they confess he’ll make sure they get help. Nancy again suggests that Rich might’ve done it. Emily suspects Jessie again, especially when Jessie draws her a bath and tells her to relax. Emily refuses, afraid she’ll try to kill her, and she goes to bed. Rich wakes her up in the middle of the night to promise that he didn’t kill the dog, which sort of makes it feel like he did do it.

Emily gets her hand on Jessie’s diary, and she reads through some of the passages. The page repeats that Jolie is dead and Jessie didn’t do it. In the morning everyone is sort of pretending the dog isn’t dead. Step-dad tries to get Emily to spend the day doing something, but she leaves the house. She goes to hang out with a friend, only to find someone has stuffed the corpse of  her dog in her bag. In usual Stine fashion, this is not resolved.

Emily and Jessie avoid each other for several days. Jessie still makes her midnight phone calls, Emily talks to Josh, and Rich gets into a fight at school. Step-dad asks Jessie directly if she talks on the phone at night, and she lies. Emily sees Josh and Jessie talking a little too cozy.

At school Krysta comes up to Emily and asks her why she’s so mean to Jessie. Something spills on Emily’s shirt, and she runs into Nancy going to the ladies’ room. In the bathroom she sees Jessie, who confronts her, saying she can’t take the silent treatment and she doesn’t know why she hates her before storming off. After the most realistic description of a high school bathroom I’ve ever read, Emily starts washing off her stain when she smells smoke. Someone lit a trashcan on fire, and the blaze gets high very fast. Emily tries to escape through the door, but it’s been jammed shut. She almost suffocates on the smoke when a teacher breaks her out, and the whole school is evacuated. Nancy finds Emily and asks if she can take Emily home, which is definitely not what a school would do but they allow it anyway. Emily is convinced Jessie started the fire and is afraid for her life.

Jessie tags along with Nancy and Emily to a concert, and Emily is nearly pushed down the stairs. Emily sees Josh parked outside her house, but he’s making out with someone else, who looks to be Jessie. She finds Rich hanging out in her room when no one’s there which is weird but not very threatening. Emily finds a blood covered knife in Jessie’s drawer.

Step-dad can’t take the drama anymore, so he takes everyone on a camping trip. The fam used to camp all the time, but no one seems excited about it. Everyone whines, and step-dad sends off Jessie, Nancy, and Emily to find dry wood to start a fire with. Emily brought the knife with her for no reason, I guess to confront the family with? But it makes her look like the crazy person. Nancy disappears while they look for wood because she’s the murderer, and Emily tries to get away from Jessie to find her. She’s followed all the way to a graveyard, where someone pushes her into an open grave (there’s always just an open grave lying around). She almost climbs out, but a shovel comes at her, and in the moonlight she sees Nancy there trying to kill her. See, Nancy’s the one who’s been making Emily’s life a living hell because she blames her for their dad’s death. She put peroxide in the shampoo, made out with her boyfriend, and killed her dog, and like two out of three of these are exceptionally petty.

Nancy starts to bury Emily alive, but Jessie comes out of the forest and wrestles the shovel away from her. Nancy comes at Emily, but Jessie hits her with the shovel, and she crumples to the ground. Jessie goes to get the rest of the family while Emily holds her unconscious sister.

At the hospital, as Nancy gets treatment, Jessie explains that her late night phone calls and sneaking around were because of her boyfriend Darren, who’s a few years older than her and she’s not allowed to see. She also explained that she and her friend Jolie had a big fight, and then Jolie fell while they were out camping and everyone assumed Jessie killed her. All this made her paranoid and combative when Emily started levying accusations against her. They agree to be real sisters now, and the book ends with a joke about Rich starting to read Hardy Boys now instead of Stephen King. Freeze frame on laughter, credits play.

Favorite Line

“Pump it! Come on–pump it! Pump it up! Pump it up!” the song insisted.

Fear Street Trends

It is good to be back to our favorite 90s fashion blog, and boy is there a lot of it. The book opens with one of the girls reading Sassy magazine, and Nancy wears a fashionable turtleneck (with designer jeans). The “punk” style Emily adopts is short, spiky, and with blond highlights. Nancy wears what’s described as a man’s striped shirt, but Stine probably means the boyfriend shirt, though that might actually have evolved as a fashion trend. Rich wears blue corduroys, and Krysta is described as wearing a “garish” neon orange blouse.

Emily says hi to all of our favorites, primarily Lisa and Cory, as well as Ricky Schorr. Gary Brandt is also a name that pops up often but I think he’s only ever been a background character.

This book felt more Old Man Stine than I think he intended. Dying your hair with peroxide is a thing I completely forgot about and seems like a very 1950s thing to do. They also make an icebox cake which I had to Google and was apparently popular in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s literally wafers and whipped cream. My absolute favorite is the discussion of the homecoming dance:

There wasn’t much school spirit in Shadyside. Kids didn’t seem to have time for old-fashioned things like a Homecoming dance. Most of them would rather be cruising around town in their cars or partying in someone’s living room with their parents away.

“Do you think I’m really out-of-it for wanting to come to this dance?” Emily asked Josh…

“I think you’re very retro,” he said, grinning.

“That means backwards, doesn’t it?” she joked.

“It means out-of-it,” he said.

It delights me. I also like to think there’s not much school spirit in Shadyside because this school has been actively trying to kill its students.

Rating

Compared to some of the summer reads, it’s not the worst book, though I don’t think it was enough to get back into the groove of things. Rich is a red herring that goes nowhere, and Nancy is suspicious from like page 10. The climax is a little stilted and I don’t think that knife she brought with her is ever used, ruining a perfectly good Chekhov’s gun. I’ll give it two shovels to the face out of five.

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