Tuesday, February 28, 2006

#38 the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena


#38 the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena
Front Tagline: He's no fun in the sun!
Back Tagline: Forget Frosty!

Official Book Description:
Jordan Blake and his sister, Nicole, are sick of the hot weather in Pasadena. Just once they'd like to have a real winter. A real winter with real snow.
And then it happens. The Blakes are off to Alaska! Seems that Mr. Blake has been asked to photograph a mysterious snow creature there.
Poor Jordan and Nicole. They just wanted to see snow. But now they're being chased by a monstrous creature. A big furry-faced creature...known as the Abominable Snowman.

Brief Synopsis:
As the book opens, we are introduced to two siblings, Jordan and Nicole Baker, who are sweltering away in the Pasadena, California heat. We are told many times at the beginning of the novel that it's very hot in Pasadena. I believe this information was included as part of RL Stine's "Commitment to Education" in his Goosebumps series. In his defense, this information is still more practical than his earlier revelation that in fact, piano lessons can be murder!

Jordan is a prankster and he shows this by replacing his photographer father's latest film roll of bears with a roll of film featuring teddy bears. This moment is followed by a drastically disproportionate response by Jordan's father, who freaks out and comes about one step away from smothering the kids with a pillow and then throwing a drinking fountain through the dark room window. Nicole helpfully establishes herself as a Know It All by... well, I don't remember, but she does it a lot in this book. So we have the traits to help us keep the kids apart, we know their father has a fantasy occupation, we know it's hot (Stine 12). Everything is in place for an adventure!

But first the reader is introduced to a handful of neighborhood kids. There's Lauren Sax, who lives next door. She has no easily discernible affectatious personality trait, but I like to pretend she has a wonderful singing voice. There's the Miller Twins, Kyle and Kara, two horrible 13 year olds with red hair. What does RL Stine have against redheads exactly? One of the Miller twins stabs Jordan with a popsicle, and this turns into some sort of watergun fight and whatever, let's just skip ahead.

Jordan's dad gets a notice that he is wanted in Alaska to take photos of a mysterious creature locals have been spotting: the Abominable Snowman! And since he can't get a babysitter, he's taking the two kids with him! Jordan and Nicole are very excited about this, because they've never seen snow and now they finally will. It's very exciting.

The family arrives in Alaska and sure enough, there is a lot of snow in Alaska (Stine 31). They meet their sledsman, Arthur. Arthur is a gruff fellow, and he is very angry that the father brought his kids with him. To Arthur, the threat of the Abominable Snowman is very real. In his old fashioned way, he doesn't like the idea of the kids being eaten. Arthur tells the family several horror stories about various people and animals who were slaughtered by the creature.


Nicole greets Arthur as she exits the helicopter

Arthur introduces the family to his sleddogs. He names all of them, and I won't mention any of them except Lars, who is Nicole's favorite for no reason except plot convenience later in the book. He and the father also go over the inventory of items the dogs are dragging, such as a large empty cooler, and emergency supplies with enough food to last several days.


Lars, second from the right

The group begins their trek through the snowy wilderness towards a scientific outpost. On the way to a musher's cabin, which will serve as a rest stop midway, Jordan falls in a hidden 20-feet deep crevice. He is swiftly rescued but Arthur the guide is very upset about this, and seems to think he's in a Scooby Doo episode. I honestly kept waiting for Arthur to put on an Abominable Snowman costume to chase kids away from a competing amusement park. Arthur again tells the father that the group should head back, that the threat is very real, and that children should not be exposed to the danger. The father responds by taking Arthur's picture.

The group makes it to the cabin and they unload their sleeping bags and so forth inside. Jordan's father chastises him for trying to leave the cabin without his emergency supply backpack, and to help foreshadowing, he stresses that he should never leave the cabin without it.

The next morning everyone awakes to find giant footprints outside the cabin. The Abominable Snowman! Arthur insists that the group should head back to town. Jordan starts laughing and reveals that he made the footprints while everyone was asleep, that jokester! No one (including the reader) is amused though.

The group heads out towards the outpost. They see a herd of wild elk running in formation towards the outpost, then suddenly stopping in unison and heading back. Arthur sees this as a sign that the Abominable Snowman is close, and insists that the group head back. When the father declines, Arthur takes the dogs and heads back to the cabin anyways. The family follows him back to the cabin. They all sort of mill around a bit. Jordan sees a frozen stream and tells his father about it. He tells Jordan and Nicole to stay put while he heads out to photograph ice.

The dogs start to stir around and bark, so Arthur goes out to comfort them. The two kids get tired of hanging around the cabin and decide to head out to make a snowman. When they exit, they see Arthur stealing the sled and all the dogs. They try to stop him but he simply heads back towards town without even looking back. The two kids chase him for a while, but when they stop, they realize they have no idea where they are.

A blizzard forms out of nowhere and stops the kids from following their tracks back to the cabin. Then they fall into another giant hole in the ground. The two try to get out of the hole by screaming, which starts an avalanche, which fills in the hole, which forces the kids into a cave that was connected to the hole into which they fell. I'm not sure where the avalanche came from, the landscape is described as a valley. But that's okay, because what happens next makes even less sense.

The two kids see a light at the end of the cave. They go to investigate, and the light is never explained. They stumble into a small lair within the cave. The snow from the impossible avalanche fills in the passageway, trapping them inside the lair. In the corner of the lair: the Abominable Snowman. Frozen in a giant block of ice. I'm tempted to use a "What." here, but then I won't be able to use it at what comes next. The giant ice block breaks open, exposing a very alive the Abominable Snowman, a big ape like creature with long sharp claws and scary carnivorous teeth. The Abominable Snowman walks over to Nicole, grabs her by the backpack, slices open her backpack, and eats the trail mix inside. What.


the Abominable Snowman attacks

The Snowman then turns to Jordan, who quickly removes the trail mix from his own backpack and feeds it to the angry creature. This turns out to be the only food inside the emergency backpack. So it's a good thing their dad was so insistent that they wear them, just in case they had an emergency case of the munchies. The creature swipes up the two children and carries them under his arm as he climbs up the cave wall and up into the outside. Once outside, the creature hears an animal noise and drops the children on the ground as he scampers away. The children can see the cabin and they run towards it. Once inside, they hear sounds outside the cabin and figure the monster has followed them. They hide behind the stove and the figure enters the cabin: it's their Dad!

The father has no idea what has just happened. The kids fill him in on Arthur abandoning them, then on the Abominable Snowman. He is very excited at being told this, and insists the kids show him the lair of the horrible snow creature. He drags them into the cave, ignoring Jordan's perfectly relevant argument that there's a murdering monster inside. The family discovers the Abominable Snowman encased in another solid block of ice. The kids are as puzzled as the reader, which is Stine's way of making the characters identifiable with us.

Jordan's dad has a brilliant idea. He can't just take photos of the creature, he has to take it back to California with him. He takes the empty cooler he had been carrying around for no reason and the giant creaturesicle fits perfectly into the trunk. I know what you're saying, that makes no sense. How many times do I have to tell you guys, wait for it, because there's always something else that makes even less sense: The father enlists the help of Lars the dog to drag the trunk out of the cave. Lars the dog was already stolen by Arthur 40 pages ago when he made his escape. Did anyone proofread this book before it went to print?


the Father with Lars

The kids sneak four snowballs from the cave into the cooler, thinking it would be fun to throw snowballs at the neighborhood kids when they get back to California. When the family makes it back to the cabin, they discover that Arthur has taken the emergency radio. How are they going to call for hel-- oh wait, it was in the father's sleeping bag. I don't even want to know why.

Back in sunny California, the two kids are suntanning in the backyard. They tell their friend Lauren Sax that they've had plenty of cold weather! The father exits his darkroom, where the trunk with the creature is being stored. He's turned the air conditioning up in the room to keep the ice block frozen. I have no idea just how cold you'd have to set the A/C, but I think it's safe to assume that the California Energy Crisis was single-handedly caused by this one household. The father warns the kids not to mess with the trunk. So once he heads to town, the kids go mess with the trunk. They want to show Lauren their creature and once they open the trunk, he's still frozen in the ice block. The kids take out a snowball and walk back into the backyard.

Alright guys, there's about 20 pages left. Imagine all the directions the story could go at this point. Now throw all of that away as you marvel at what happens next. Nicole throws a snowball at Lauren but misses, and the snowball hits a palm tree. The palm tree is suddenly covered in snow. The snow falls onto the ground, causing the ground to suddenly be covered in snow as far as the kids can see. This is a pretty amazing thing, but Lauren seems pretty non-plussed about the occurrence and nonchalantly picks up some of the snow and throws it at Nicole. Nicole is turned into a solid ice statue. Lauren and Jordan take her into the kitchen and set her in front of an open oven to defrost her. What.

When the oven doesn't work, they drag her to a furnace shed in the back yard. They have a furnace shed. What.

The furnace doesn't defrost her. Then Jordan remembers how warm the Abominable Snowman was when he was carrying them. He runs into the kitchen and gets a bag of trail mix. The two carry Nicole into the darkroom. Jordan opens the trunk and waves the trail mix in front of the block of ice until the creature smashes through the ice. The creature eats the trail mix, then sees Nicole. He picks her up and hugs her until she melts back to normal.

I quit the blog.

The Abominable Snowman then escapes out of the dark room, runs up to the snow-covered tree, and wraps himself around it, transferring all the snow to his body. Then he rolls around on the snow-covered ground until all the snow is gone.

No really, I quit.

The creature looks up at the sun and screams, then runs away into the California wilderness. What.

The three kids decide to bury the remaining snowballs somewhere safe so that no harm will come from them. They drop them in a garbage sack and bury them in an abandoned lot. When their father arrives home, the kids explain the situation. The father is disappointed, but he tells them that he still has the pictures of the creature, that'll still be worth money. When he goes to develop the photos, there's only snow. No pictures of the Abominable Snowman survived.

But the Twist is:
Jordan and Nicole notice the Miller twins yelling in the abandoned lot. They've dug up the sack of snowballs. Jordan and Nicole try to stop them, but one of the Miller kids throws a snowball right at the other.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Jordan and Nicole Blake, two siblings whose sledsman disappears half-way thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Jordan's father hears about a horrible snow creature in the Alaskan wilderness and thinks "Hey, I think I'll bring my kids with me for this!"

Dubious Relation of Previous Occurrences Alert:
Jordan tells the reader about a babysitter he once had who every night served for dinner liver, brussel sprouts, and fishhead soup with a tall glass of soy milk. No she didn't. No one ever did that ever. Why are you lying, Jordan.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Super Soakers, snow.

Great Anecdote Alert:
Jordan's father tells a story of a great prank he once played on his friend Joe Morrison, who was a photographer in Africa. He went to college with the head of a prestigious nature publication and had gotten together with her before she had a meeting with Morrison. During the meeting, after being shown pictures of gorillas, the publisher informed Morrison that he'd been duped, these were really men in gorilla suits. After Morrison panicked, the publisher revealed that she was only kidding and then buys his pictures. That is one great prank.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 3/4:
One of the Miller kids picks up a giant rock and drops it on Jordan's head! Oh no oh no oh it's a foam rock. Wait, what.

Great Prose Alert:
"I kicked Kyle off me and pounced on him again. This time I was so mad, I had the strength of two Kyles."

Conclusions:
The first 80 or so pages of this one had me really excited. It was obvious Stine was trying his hand at a Hardy Boys Adventure-type story, and I thought it was a nice change of pace. But then he manages to somehow blunder every possible good direction the story could have gone, until the story breaks down with what could be the worst 20 or so pages in Goosebumps history. Even the ending is perplexing, since the twist only occurs against minor characters. The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena is an incredibly unsatisfying and disappointing entry in the series.

Friday, February 24, 2006

#59 the Haunted School


#59 the Haunted School

Front Tagline: They're watching you learn... the hard way.
Back Tagline: He's Hearing Voices... From Another World!

Official Book Description:
Tommy Frazer's dad just got married. Now Tommy's got a new mom. And he's going to a new school-- Bell Valley Middle School.
Tommy doesn't hate school. But it's hard making friends. And his new school is so big, it's easy to get lost. Which is exactly what happens.
Tommy gets lost-- lost in a maze of empty classrooms. And that's when he hears the voices. Kids' voices crying for help. Voices coming from behind the classroom walls...

Brief Synopsis:
Tommy Frazer has just moved to a new school, and in order to make friends, he agrees to volunteer for the Dance Decoration Committee. The Dance Decoration Committee is a pretty hopping organization, what with all of three total members. Later in the book we find out that there is a Refreshment Committee too, so I think Bell Valley Middle School specializes in very specific delegation of duty.

Tommy's fellow decorators are Ben Jackson and Thalia Harpert-Rodis (it may be a mouthful, but at least it's not another Hannah). Ben is a smart aleck, which RL Stine shows by having him crack wise literally every time he opens his mouth. I won't point it out too much, but let me assure you, Ben says something sarcastic after anytime anyone says anything for 120 pages straight. Thalia is a pretty blonde girl who wears a lot of make-up and keeps re-applying lipstick every three or four pages. Be sure to read It Came From Ohio to hear more from RL Stine on how to establish character via affect traits.

Tommy volunteers to go get some more paint from the art room upstairs. On the way out of the gym he runs into a tall, intimidating girl with gray eyes. After some wandering around, he finally finds the art room, grabs some paint cans, and is about to leave when he hears faint cries for help. He can't quite figure out where they are coming from, so like most people when he hears cries for help, Tommy runs in the opposite direction. However, it's late afternoon, and the school is creepy when it's abandoned... especially when it's THE HAUNTED SCHOOL ©.

Tommy gets lost upon exiting the art room and somehow ends up in a very strange wing of the school. He opens a door and inside one of the classrooms there are roughly two-dozen lifelike gray sculptures of children. Tommy thinks they look like they are frozen in time and uses a lighter he has in his pocket to see the figures more carefully. He strokes one of the statue's hair. As he's stroking the hair it comes off in his hand, which is still nowhere near as creepy as the fact that Tommy stroked a statue's hair. The principal bursts in before Tommy does something untoward with the remaining figures and asks him what he's doing in the room. He tells her he's lost. She explains that the 1947 class of Bell Valley Middle School disappeared one day and because public schools have so much money to work with, they decided to close off the old school and build a new school structure around the old one. What.

The principal goes on to say that a local artist made an artistic tribute to the missing children by sculpting their likeness based on a class photo taken of the 25 member class shortly before their disappearance. The school then put the beautifully rendered art on display in an abandoned building.

Tommy makes his way back to the gym where Thalia and Ben are lying down pretending to be asleep since he took so long. LOL those guys are funny. Tommy asks Thalia about the strange girl he ran into and she tells him her name is Greta and that Tommy should stay away from her. Then Tommy starts to tell her about the strange voices he heard upstairs and she freaks out and leaves. It's probably Tommy's fault for surprising Thalia by not properly prefacing his comments with "Listener Beware-- You're In For a Scare" though.

A couple days later, Greta swipes Thalia's lipstick, and Tommy actually makes a stand and forces Greta to give the lipstick back to her. When Tommy returns to his seat, he hears more voices pleading for help, but from where could these voices be coming from???

On the night of the big dance, Tommy and Thalia hang up the two banners they've spent days on and are very proud of. The two banners read:

BELL VALLEY ROCKS!
WELCOME, EVERYONE!

Now, as proud as the two of them may be of that comma, it appears that the only decorations the Decoration Committee turned out were two banners, a poster of a buffalo, and some balloons. The school has hired a band composed of five guitar players and one drummer to perform for the dance. Greta is their drummer, yet she picks up a guitar and has a jousting match with one of the guitarists, leading to the BELL VALLEY ROCKS! banner being torn in two. Actual dialog following this event:

"We need it," I declared.
"Yeah. It's our best banner."

Ben comes up with the radical idea, and stay with me on this because it's awfully confusing and experimental, to get some tape from the art room and tape the banner back together. Tommy agrees that it's just crazy enough to work and the two trek up to the art room to get the tape before the school shows up for the dance. Somewhere along the way they get lost and Ben crashes through a boarded up door, leading the two into the closed off portion of the abandoned school. The two kids are very concerned about being late for the dance, so when Tommy sees an elevator, he jumps at the opportunity to use it. Also Tommy's a fat kid, so big shocker that he doesn't want to take the stairs.

Ben and Tommy get into the antique elevator, which had to have been in the school back in 1947, and the doors shut them in immediately. None of the individual floor buttons work, nor does the basement or <> (Me and You and Everyone We Know button) button work either. The two boys argue about the buttons for, no kidding, four full pages before Tommy finally pushes the red button, which he assumes is some sort of emergency button. The elevator finally starts to move... sideways. When it finally comes to a stop, the doors open and there is complete blackness. The two kids get out of the elevator and the doors immediately shut behind them.

The two decide to walk along the wall and eventually they'll find a door. As they are making their way through the darkened door, Tommy hears a cough that doesn't belong to Ben. The lights turn on and the two find themselves in an old gray classroom. A ghostly looking girl who is black and white, like from an old movie, greets the two boys. She is dressed in old clothes and tells Tommy that "We heard you coming." Tommy asks who "We" is and several more black and white children pop out of hiding from behind desks. They are amazed at the color the two possess and they violently swarm the two boys, overcome with this forgotten experience. After they gather their composure, the black and white kids invite Tommy and Ben to have a seat so they can explain what's going on.

Mary, who is the girl who greeted them, tells the two boys that the five people in the room were original class members of the missing Class of 1947. The 25 member class had gathered in the auditorium to be photographed for their official group photo. The photographer the school had hired to take the shot was an evil man named Mr. Chameleon, and he hated kids. The whole class was goofing off and giving the photographer a hard time, so when it finally came time to take the shot, Mr. Chameleon used a flash bulb unlike any other, and the powerful blast of light blinded the kids, and when they awoke, they were in an otherworldly place. A place where there is an absence of color.

The black and white kids explain that best as they understand it, their black and white world is some sort of parallel world to Tommy and Ben's. They also explain the irony of the man being named Mr. Chameleon, as they can't change their colors but he can. Evil men are so uncreative when it comes to naming themselves. The kids reason that the elevator somehow brought the two color kids to this world, but the five black and white kids in the room have no idea how the two can leave. Tommy and Ben try to pry the doors open, but both the elevator door and room door are locked and the black and white kids assure them that they've tried everything, there's no hope of escape.

As Tommy and Ben look down at their hands, they are shocked to discover their fingers and hands are turning gray. Their bodies are rapidly losing their color.

Tommy and Ben spot a window and find it open. The children in the schoolroom beg the two boys to not leave but Tommy and Ben see their escape and take it. As they jump through the first story window, the kids in the class plead with them, "Stay away from the kids! They've all gone crazy! Stay away from the pit!"

Tommy and Ben land on the black and white ground and examine their surroundings. Behind them is the old schoolhouse, a small one story brick building. The Bell Valley town that is in front of them is not the town they know, it's a weird colorless version of the 1947 town. A thick fog starts to form around them as they walk through the town, and the two lose any sense of where they are. They want to return to the safety of the schoolhouse, but they have no concept of where it stands anymore. As they wander around, they hear the voices of children. One of the voices cries out "Get them!" The two boys try to run to safety, but where do they go? What direction are these voices coming from. Gradually they realize they are being encircled by a large group of roughly 20 kids, who quickly close in on them. The black and white kids are acting spacey and are not handling the fact that the two boys still have color very well. Tommy deduces that these kids are the rest of the missing class. He remembers one of the classroom kid's warning about how "They've gone crazy" and realizes what he meant.

As the group of black and white children finally forms a tight circle around the boys, Tommy counts exactly 19 kids, 10 boys, 9 girls. The black and white children begin to stomp their feet and chant "Turn turn turn to gray" over and over. Tommy and Ben are disoriented, and the children keep chanting "Turn turn turn to gray" as they move in unison around the two boys. Tommy deduces that the kids are trying to keep them in the black and white world until they fully lose their color, until they become one of them.

Tommy tells Ben that the two should make a break for it, with each running in opposite directions. The two put their plan into action, but neither gets very far before they are dragged back into the circle by the black and white kids. Tommy tries to reason with the kids, but they become violently angry when they hear Tommy wants to go back to the school. "No school!" they scream. Tommy asks them why they are so upset. A few of them answer: "No color! No color in the moon. No color in the sky. No color in my dreams." Ben and Tommy agree that there's no sense in reasoning with the kids. Suddenly the two color kids find themselves dragged along. They are told they're being taken to the Black Pit. One girl stops and looks at Tommy and says, "Will you jump, or will we have to push you?"

The group of children stops at the top of a hill. A few of the children are carrying buckets of steaming black liquid and they set them down on the ground. Tommy and Ben are pushed towards the buckets, and another girl distributes metal cups amongst the black and white kids. The kids take huge cupfuls of the black liquid from the buckets and gulp it down. One girl pours it over her entire face in an orgasmic display of depravity. Another girl takes a big swig and then spits the black liquid all over another child, the two spreading the black substance all over each other. The black and white kids are chanting "Drink the blackness," begging the two color kids to drink. Luckily the two resist peer pressure, but the black and white kids are now focused on the pit. "Jump into the pit," they're told, "Cover yourself in blackness like us!" The two are led to the edge of the pit and the steaming tar pit has a smell of rotting animals, which seals the not-jumping deal for the two.

Suddenly Tommy is shoved into the pit, but is saved at the last moment by one of the children from the classroom. The classroom kids left the safety of the schoolhouse to save the two color kids. The crazed black and white kids surround the classroom kids and the color kids. Tommy has an idea and produces his lighter. He sets a pile of leaves on fire and bright orange flames shoot up into the air. The black and white kids go nuts at the sudden burst of color and forget all about Ben and Tommy. The group makes its way back to the safety of the schoolhouse.

Ben and Tommy are safe, but they still have no way to leave. They look in a mirror and see that they're now almost entirely colorless. Only the tips of their nose and cheeks are still colored. They ask if there's any way of escape, haven't any kids escaped back to the color world? Well, one escaped a few weeks ago, as a matter of fact. Tommy thinks back and realizes it must be Greta!

Tommy comes up with an idea. If he lit up the room with his color lighter, lighting up the color in the room and washing away the gray, maybe that would wash away the world they're in now and allow them to escape back to the color world. He figures it's worth a shot, however the lighter flicks once and then runs out of liquid. Suddenly the whole room hears the sound of the elevator. The black and white kids cheer, their friend who escaped finally came back for them! The elevator door opens and Tommy greets Greta outloud, but who should appear but Thalia!

Thalia jumps out of the elevator and hugs her black and white friends. They welcome her back and are very excited to see her again. While she's carrying on, the elevator door closes behind her. Tommy groans, they'll never get back now he cries. Thalia explains that she escaped into the color world after she found an old tube of lipstick in her purse. The lipstick still had color, and when she rubbed it on the wall, it formed a hole between the black and white world and the color one. However, as soon as she went through the hole, it closed up. Ever since, she's been trying to figure out how to get back to the black and white world. Her body was stuck in black and white, which is why she had to dye her hair blonde and wear make-up and lipstick, to cover up the gray skin. She realizes that she'll never be able to be a part of the color world, she belongs in the black and white world. But she can still help Tommy and Ben.

She rubs a bunch of the lipstick on the wall and Tommy and Ben jump through the hole. Before the hole closes up, Thalia asks that they never forget her. The two boys examine each other: their color has returned! The two make their way back to the dance.

But the Twist is:
The principal is very glad to see Tommy and Ben, they're just in time for the dance's picture to be shot by the professional photographer the school's hired, Mr. Chameleon. Before Tommy and Ben can register this, Mr. Chameleon snaps the flash of his camera.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Tommy Frazer and Thalia Harpert-Rodis, who disappears halfway through the twentieth century.

Questionable Teaching:
When Tommy tells his teacher that he's hearing voices asking for help, the teacher mocks him in front of the entire class.

Cheap Grandparent Alert:
Tommy's grandfather gives him a red plastic lighter on his deathbed.

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
When their teacher leaves the room, one of the kids produces a boombox from under his desk and kicks out some party music. A boombox.

Foreshadowing Alert:
Number of times Thalia is described applying her lipstick: 6.
This doesn't sound like a lot, but keep in mind she's only actually in the book for like 20 pages.

Self-Reflexivity Alert:
Tommy says he likes Ray Bradbury stories because of the twist endings.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 28/29:
Ben and Tommy ask if Thalia's going to help them escape. She shakes her head and tells them sorry... sorry that she didn't explain how she's going to help them escape.

Great Prose Alert:
"Don't encourage him Tommy. He's about as funny as a dead pigeon."
"I think dead pigeons are funny!" Ben insisted.

Conclusions:
Though it starts out very comical, in a very similar vein to Attack of the Masked Mutant, the book quickly progresses into a serious and seriously entertaining read. The Haunted School has an inspired plot and some genuinely disturbing sequences (the passage where the girls spit black liquid into each other's faces would have messed me up for life if I'd read it as a child). Possibly the best or at the very least one of the best books I've read in this series, this novel lends further credibility to the theory that RL Stine finally drummed up some Hail Mary inspiration for the final few books of the series.

Monday, February 20, 2006

#09 Welcome to Camp Nightmare


#09 Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Front Tagline: It's the little camp of horrors!
Back Tagline: Those Scary Stories About Camp Are All Coming True....

Official Book Description:
The food isn't great. The counselors are a little strange. And the camp director, Uncle Al, seems sort of demented.
Okay, so Billy can handle all that.
But then his fellow campers start to disappear.
What's going on? Why won't his parents answer his letters? What's lurking out there after dark?
Camp Nightmoon is turning into Camp Nightmare.
For real.
And Billy might be next...

Brief Synopsis:
Billy (no last name, no one has any last names in the book) has just been sent off to Camp Nightmoon by his mom and dad, who are explorers and scientists and I don't know, superheroes and movie stars too. While on the bus to camp, Billy encounters many delightful stereotypes characters, such as Mike, the fat kid who's scared of everything; Colin, who wears sunglasses and a red bandana around his long brown hair; Jay, the jockish kid with wild curly red hair, so he's clearly mad at the world and will serve as the "bully" of the group; Dawn and Dori, two girls from the Girl Camp faction of Camp Nightmoon. The busdriver stops the vehicle in the middle of a desert on the way to the camp and orders everyone out of the bus. He unpacks everyone's belongings then drives off, abandoning the children in the desert. The children are suddenly surrounded by a couple of wildcats who prepare to slaughter the children until a man shows up on another bus with a rifle and shoots it at the wildcats. If none of this makes any sense, that's okay, since it's never refered to ever again.

The man who saved the children introduces himself as the leader of Camp Nightmoon, Uncle Al, and he is given the physical characteristics of Art Garfunkel by RL Stine. Uncle Al invites the children onto his bus and in a case of supreme ineffeciency, drives approximately five minutes to the camp from where they were dropped off. Stine makes it easy on the reader by having his characters question this decision outloud, but unlike the reader, the characters seem to forget anything that happened in the first 30 pages of the book ever occured once they arrive at camp. The girls head off to their camp and based on my calculations, outside of counselors and Uncle Al, all eight boys from the bus make up the entire population of the camp.

Mike and Jay and Colin all bunk together, and while preparing their cabin, Mike finds a pair of poisonous snakes in his bed. Jay jokes around and play pushes Mike into the snakes. The punchline to the joke is Mike getting bitten on his hand, which then starts copiously bleeding. He runs off to find the nurse while Billy devises a plan to rid the snakes by wrapping them up in a bedsheet and throwing them outside. This plan is heralded as brave for reasons unexplained to the reader by their bunk's counselor, Larry, who then laughs when he is told that Mike went to find the nurse because there is no nurse. I guess that's kind of funny. Mike returns and as his hand is described as bleeding profusely onto the floor of the cabin, Larry tells him to just wash his hand and wrap a bandage around it.

The boys go to eat dinner around a campfire, where Uncle Al tells them the rules of Camp Nightmoon. The campers have to write home every day to tell their parents what fun they're having. They're not allowed out in the woods or along the river that runs between the boy's and girl's camps. This is peppered with a warning by Uncle Al that the woods are dangerous and infested with Tree Bears. What.

Uncle Al also informs the campers that they're not allowed to ever enter the Forbidden Bunk, so that's why he's mentioning the thing they'd never have even known existed were it not for Uncle Al warning against it. Jay decides after the fire that he wants to sneak out to see the Forbidden Bunk. Larry overhears him and tells him he probably shouldn't, as the Forbidden Bunk is where the Sabre lurks, a red-eyed monster. Then the boys hear hideous howling from the Forbidden Bunk. Could Larry be telling the truth?

The next day the bunkmates are all enlisted to play something call Scratchball, which entails one person throwing a ball as far as they can, then attempting to run all four bases of a baseball diamond before someone catches it. I'm not a sports nut, but I'm pretty sure I know this game under it's other name: Running. Mike sits this game of Scratchball out, as his hand is swollen. Larry plays his spot and after Colin makes a move he doesn't appreciate, Larry loses his temper and throws the ball directly at the back of Colin's head from about 30 feet away. I'm not a medical sciences nut, but I'm pretty sure if you threw a baseball as hard as you could at the back of someone's head from 30 feet, they'd die. However, Colin is merely knocked to the ground and Larry helps both Mike and Colin to the main cabin to see Uncle Al.

Billy and Jay go back to the bunk and work on writing their daily letters home. Larry enters with Colin, who is miraculously just a little sore. Billy asks where Mike is but Larry just shrugs and leaves. Later, Billy discovers all of Mike's belongings removed from the cabin, and no one will tell him where Mike went.

Later that nite, Jay introduces Billy and Colin to some kid named Roger who is mentioned for the first time ever only when a plan is devised for the two to sneak into the Forbidden Cabin. I bet things work out well for this Roger. Billy and Colin decline the invitation to sneak out and Jay and Roger leave for a short time. Then there are screams and Jay runs back and tells Billy that Roger was attacked and mauled by the Sabre. The three boys lock themselves in the cabin until morning.

When they do leave, they don't see any traces of the previous nite's attrocities. They find Larry and tell him what happened to Roger. Larry seems a little confused but agrees to talk to Uncle Al about the missing camper. Billy goes down with some campers to the river for a swim, where he is met by Larry, who tells him that Uncle Al searched the Forbidden Bunk but couldn't find any traces of foul play, and what's worse, Uncle Al has no record of there ever being a camper named Roger at Camp Nightmoon. Then Larry changes the subject to WHO WANTS TO GO FOR A SWIM?

At the river, Billy is accosted by Dawn and Dori, who have swam over from the girl's camp and hid in the bushes for hours on the hopes that Billy would walk by exactly where they are on the campgrounds. If this makes no sense, remember, nothing in this book does. The girls tell Billy that campers are disappearing from their camp as well, and they plan on making a break for it very soon. The three agree to meet again and Billy takes off back towards the bunk. On the way, he spots a payphone by Uncle Al's offices. He plans to call home to his parents and beg for them to come to the camp and rescue him and all his friends, yet the phone turns out to be a plastic decoy. Uncle Al walks out of the Plot Convenience Bunk and informs Billy that campers are not allowed to use the phone. And also Billy's going on a canoe trip tomorrow.

When Billy makes it back to the bunk, he tells Jay and Colin about the girls and the three of them decide to write to their parents and tell them precisely what is happening and hope for a speedy rescue. Larry stomps into the cabin and tells Colin and Jay that they are going on a special two camper hike with a counselor named Frank. If this were the real world and not Goosebumps world, this is when the book would turn into an SVU episode. However, in the book the two campers and the counselor all mysteriously disappear with no explanation. After trying and failing to get answers out of Larry, Billy stumbles into Uncle Al's office and finds a burlap sack full of all the letters he and his fellow campers had been writing, which have clearly never been mailed at all.

When Billy returns to his bunk after dinner, he meets his two new bunkmates, Tommy and Chris, who will also be joining Billy on his canoe trip tomorrow. I bet these two will have fun canoeing and nothing eventful or murderous will occur. Tommy and Chris also tell Billy that Uncle Al announced that Visitor's Day has been cancelled, so no one's parents will be arriving anytime soon.

The next morning, Larry takes Billy, Chris, and Tommy out to the canoe and the four head off downstream. Larry (in an exciting preview of Goosebumps #19: Deep Trouble) decides he'd like to look at the fish in the river and leans too far out of the canoe and falls in and drowns. What.

Billy bravely abandons his two innocent, child bunkmates in the canoe, and leaves them to float downsteam to their deaths while he rescues the drowning counselor responsible for numerous camper murders. Billy pulls Larry to safety and the two walk up the bank of the river back to camp. Larry tells Uncle Al that Billy saved his life. Billy keeps trying to get either Uncle Al or Larry to acknowledge that the two bunkmates were in the canoe, but Uncle Al finally pays attention and scolds Larry on losing his favorite canoe.

The next day, Billy is awoken early by Larry. Apparently Uncle Al has called a surprise morning hike and the whole camp is required to attend. Billy and what's left of his campmates are walking in the woods when Uncle Al instructs his counselors to remove rifles from their bags and pass them out to the children. Two girls have escaped from the girl's camp, Uncle Al informs the campers, and Billy is excited that Dawn and Dori made it out. Uncle Al then instructs the children that they are to find the two girls, who are presumed to be hiding in the woods, and shoot them. Billy refuses this order and instead turns his gun on Uncle Al and fires.

But the Twist is:
The gun doesn't go off and Uncle Al gets very excited and declares "You've passed the test!" Dawn and Dori appear from within the woods, as does Jay and Colin and everyone else Billy had met at the camp. Then his parents show up and give him a big congratulatory hug. Billy is told that his parents wanted him to go with them on their next big exploration, but first he needed to be tested by the government to see if he was ready. Uncle Al tells Billy that he passed the test by Obeying Orders (not going into the Forbidden Cabin), Showing Bravery (rescuing Larry from drowning), and Knowing When Not To Follow Orders (refusing to shoot the girls). Uncle Al doesn't mention how shooting his counselor, almost being eaten by wildcats, and letting his friend get attacked by snakes factor into the final test score. Billy is told the exciting place they're going to be exploring is Earth. Oh wow, they were aliens or something.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Billy and Dawn, who disappears until the middle of the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Billy's parents subject their child to psychological torture just to take him to Earth. Hey, my parents never made me watch my friends get murdered and I've lived on Earth my whole life.

Questionable Counseling:
What the hell are tree bears?

Word Choice Alert:
Number of times a character is described as grinning: 23.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 1/2:
The bus driver is a monster! Wait, he's a monster who's pulling his own monstorous face off! Wait, no, it's a mask. If it was up to me, Billy would fail his test right then.

Great Prose Alert:
"Then everyone laughed.
'You won't be laughing if a bear claws your head off,' Uncle Al said sternly."

Conclusions:
This was the first Goosebumps ending that really bothered me as a child, but reading it now I feel a little less cheated than I did back then. It's still a big middle finger to the reader, but compared to similar entries that tried the same sort of massive twist at the end (A Shocker on Shock Street), this one isn't so bad.

Friday, February 17, 2006

#43 the Beast From the East


#43 the Beast From the East

Front Tagline: He's a real animal!
Back Tagline: Every Beast For Himself!

Official Book Description:
Ginger Wald and her identical twin brothers, Nat and Pat, are lost in the woods. No problem. After all, Ginger did go to that stupid nature camp.
Still, there's something odd about this part of the woods. The grass is yellow. The bushes are purple. And the trees are like skyscrapers.
The Ginger and her brothers meet the beasts. They're big blue furry creatures. And they want to play a game. The winners get to live. The losers get eaten....

Brief Synopsis:
Oh man.
Our heroine Ginger Wald, a former nature camp survivor, is on a vacation with her family in the woods. Besides her mother and father, there's her two twin brothers, Pat and Nat, who are both more interested in playing videogames than nature. Ginger's father tells her to go "lose" her brothers in the woods, and sure enough her and her brothers find themselves lost in the woods. This will be the first and last time anything in this book follows a logical series of events.

While lost in the woods, Ginger and her brothers encounter some strange plants, some of which rub off different colors on Ginger's hands. They also spot some strange animals, like a small creature that resembles a squirrel and a dog. The ground begins to shake in a clearing and the kids hide behind some bushes just as a Beast appears. The Beast is an eight foot tall blue furred bear-like creature with a long snout and beaver-like tail. He sniffs around, then leaves, then re-enters, then leaves again, and continues to behave in this manner until RL Stine has reached an appropriate number of chapter breaks. Finally the Beast leaves and the kids decide to make a run for it, but only Pat manages to escape, leaving Nat and Ginger trapped by an entire community of Beasts. The main Beast approaches Ginger and, stay with me here, slaps her back and declares that she is "It." What.

The Beasts explain in perfect English that they are playing a game called "Beast From the East" and Ginger is now "the Beast From the East." HEY GUYS, THAT'S THE NAME OF THE BOOK. She has until the sun sets to tag another player or she gets eaten, so it's very similar to normal tag. Ginger tries to get the Beasts to explain the rules to her but of course for that to happen RL Stine would have had to have come up with a concrete series of rules, so of course the Beasts act as though this request is an absurd one.

We are also introduced to several of the Beasts. One's named Fleg, another Gleeb, and a third is called Spork. Spork is missing an eye, which is important because... April Fools, it's not important at all. The creatures also speak in a sort of pidgin English that is combined with made-up words like "trel," which really adds sparkling detail to the complete and utter bullshit of the novel.

Again, Ginger attempts to get the Beasts to tell her the rules, but they are under the impression that these kids have played before, in part because the children keep saying, and I'm quoting here, "We have no idea how to play. We've never played before. Tell us how to play." However, the Beasts do manage to spell out a few rules, such as how if they rest on a Free Lunch square, which is a brown square in the woods, they can be eaten. Again, these are basically normal Tag rules.

The Beasts give the two kids a head start and then a series of misadventures occurs. First Ginger is wrapped around a tree by a bunch of snakes. Fleg appears and frees her by tickling the snakes. She is also awarded 20 points for being wrapped in snakes. Fleg tells her she could get 60 points if she was bitten. She is also awarded points for all those colors she rubbed off on her hands from the strange landscape. He tells her that she missed her chance to tag him and that sets in motion Ginger's determination to tag one of the beasts. After this happens, Nat climbs a tree but the tree comes to life and tries to kill him or something, I don't know. What I do know is Ginger stops the tree from killing her brother by tickling it. She tickles the tree. This works. This book sucks.

Nat spots a group of Beasts hiding behind a large boulder. When Ginger approaches the boulder, she finds the Beasts have all scattered away. Nat touches the boulder and it splits open at the top and smoke comes out and the Beasts appear to tell her that her brother has touched a Penalty Rock and must now face the penalty. Ginger follows the Beasts to a large wooden cage where her brother will be kept until he is eaten. Ginger tags one of the Beasts, but the Beast informs her that the game is paused so it doesn't count.

Ginger is on the run again, night is closing in. If she doesn't tag another Beast by nightfall, she will lose and be eaten. She falls into a Free Lunch pit and the Beasts gather around, prepared to eat her. However, a cloud appears overhead and the Beasts tell her that she was lucky, according to the rule of "Made in the Shade" she can't be eaten. They help her out of the pit. Did RL Stine just publish a first draft or something?

Ginger spots a child Beast and assumes (correctly) that there's an adult Beast, perfect for tagging, hiding nearby. And sure enough, there's Spork, hiding behind a boulder. She tags him and is victorious until Spork tells her that it doesn't count because she didn't tag him from the east. Oh, right, of course, because there's still 30 pages left. Ginger tricks the Beast into pausing the game to play another game with her. He agrees to this, since Beasts apparently act without motivation pretty regularly according to this book. She tells him the two of them are going to spin around and around as fast as they can and then stop and the first person to fall down loses. As he's spinning, Ginger declares the game unpaused and tags Spork. It worked, Spork is now the Beast From the East. He tells her that he still has a little time before the sun sets to tag her back, and Ginger is given another head start.

Ginger runs through the woods and finds Pat, her other twin brother that escaped earlier in the book. The two of them make their way through the strange jungle and are approached by one of the squirrel-dogs, who tells them they can hide in "the Hiding Cave." The two kids go into the cave and then the squirrel-dog tells them that the cave is also used by bugs to hide. They are soon covered with millions of different insects, and Ginger wants to scream but at that very moment the Beasts walk by the cave. Seeing nothing but insects inside, the Beasts pass on their way and the two kids exit the cave. The squirrel-dog wishes them luck, but tells them that according to the rules, they can only use the Hiding Cave once.

The two kids find the strange tree that is the homebase for the game, just as the sun sets. Ginger has made it! She's won! She's... tagged. Silly Ginger, the game isn't over until the game is declared over. Ginger is the Beast From the East, she loses. And Pat, as her "Helper," thus also loses. The two are brought before a big fire, where they are informed that it's barbeque night.

As the Beasts prepare a cooking dish for stewing the two kids, Nat appears in the clearing! He has escaped the cage and came back to rescue his siblings. But instead he is captured fairly quickly by the Beasts. Seeing the two twins together, Fleg gets furious. The kids did not tell the Beasts that they were going to double, thus using the move called "the Classic Clone"! That's a Level Three move, these Beasts are only Level One players! The Beasts let the kids go, apologies. The kids are told which way through the woods will lead them back to their parents and all is well.

But the Twist is:
On the path, they are stopped by a Beast. Ginger informs the Beast that he must not stop them, for they are Level Three players. The Beast is quite pleased to hear this, as so is he! He tags Ginger.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Ginger Wald and her twin brothers Pat and Nat, one of whom disappears half-way through the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Telling his daughter to lose his sons probably sounded like a funny joke at the time, but imagine how awful that dad must feel once it came true. He should have told Ginger to find a sack of money.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Gameboys, baggy jeans, skater shirts.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 29/30:
Ginger has to scream, she just has to, she's going to scream... Eh, maybe not.

Great Prose Alert:
"The explosion roared like a million firecrackers going off at once."

Conclusions:
Basically a novel-length account of a game of Calvinball, the Beast From the East is a pretty odd and unsatisfying entry in the Goosebumps series.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

#35 A Shocker on Shock Street


#35 A Shocker on Shock Street

Front Tagline: It's a real dead end.
Back Tagline: Talk About Shock Treatment!

Official Book Description:
Erin Wright and her best friend, Marty, love horror movies. Especially Shocker on Shock Street Movies. All kinds of scary creatures live on Shock Street. The Toadinator. Ape Face. The Mad Mangler.
But when Erin and Marty visit the new Shocker Studio Theme Park, they get the scare of their lives.
First their tram gets stuck in The Cave of the Living Creeps. Then they're attacked by a group of enormous praying mantises!
Real life is a whole lot scarier than the movies. But Shock Street isn't really real. Is it?

Brief Synopsis:
Erin Wright and her best friend Marty are big fans of a series of horror movies made under the Shock Street banner. Luckily for Erin, her father happens to be the designer of the new studio theme park for Shock Street! Erin's father has designed an intricate system of robotics for the new theme park attraction and he wants Erin and Marty to be the first kids ever to tour the park! And if I told you that Erin and her best friend Marty look like twins even though they're not related, can you too figure out the ending of the book before it even begins?

Erin and Marty are dropped off at the theme park and are introduced to their tour guide Linda, who isn't much of a tour guide as this is the first and last time in the whole novel that she makes an appearance. She hands the kids red toy guns and informs them that they are special monster-freezing guns. She then drops one of the guns and it fires off on her and she pretends to be frozen, but a ha she was just kidding... well, maybe it's okay that she doesn't show up again in the novel.

Erin and Marty are told that they will be the only ones on the tour, which like in Jurassic Park is led thru the entire park on a tracked tram. The tram first leads the kids through a haunted house, which then turns into an indoor roller coaster. Luckily the trams are not fitted with safety belts and the two kids almost fall out of the carts to their deaths, which makes the ride still comparatively safer than riding the log flume at Magic Mountain.

After the kids exit the haunted house, their tram is approached by various "stars" of the Shock Street movies, including ApeFace and a man who looks like a toad. In the single scariest moment of the book, the stars sign autographs for the kids.

Next up the tram enters "the Cave of the Living Creeps!" Apparently the Shock Street Theme Park is looking to be both cost-inefficient and criminally negligent, as upon entering the cave, large snake-sized white worms drop on the kids, followed by a trip through a giant spider web filled with hundreds of crawling, real spiders. When the tram stalls in the middle of the cave, the two kids get out and decide to walk to find an exit, only to find themselves surrounded by a half-dozen giant praying mantises. What.

In another rip-off homage to Jurassic Park, the praying mantises spit hot sticky tar at the kids, until Erin has the brilliant idea that to stop the mantises, they need to step on them, like with real insects. What.

After kicking away what proves to be the pussiest group of giant mantises ever, the kids finally exit the cave and find themselves on a to-scale representation of the Shock Street, which is a locale featured repeatedly in the series of films these two enjoy. Marty, in accordance with the plot's requirement that he make the worst decisions possible, decides to visit the graveyard. Marty falls in an open grave and as Erin attempts to fish him out, hundreds of green hands thrust out of the ground in all directions. The hands pin Marty to the ground and Erin kicks away at them, with the two kids both losing their shoes and socks in the process of freeing Marty. As they run to escape the cemetery, they decide that they need to find the main service road so they can find their way back to the main studio building. Erin spots an elevated stone wall to assist in being able to spot the road from a higher vantage point. As the kids hop barefoot towards the wall, they get trapped in quicksand. What.

The two kids sink down to their noses and death is certain until they are rescued by two werewolves, who pull them out of the mud. What.

The two werewolves are Wolf Girl and Wolf Boy, two more stars of the Shock Street series. The kids try to reason with the stars of the attraction, but after the wolves try to eat the kids, they realize that they're not actors or robots at all, but actual monsters. Erin and Marty make it to the top of the wall and the wolves try jumping up to snatch the kids repeatedly. Erin finds one of the red toy guns they were given and aims it at the monsters, yet just like any souvenir you get at a theme park, it turns out to be useless junk. The two kids fall backwards on the other side of the wall at the same convenient time that the wolves make their way to the top of the wall. The two kids spot their tram moving quickly in the distance and they try to run to catch it. As Erin and Marty are running towards the tram, the wolves are in hot, yet apparently lackadaisical pursuit of the kids. The two manage to jump into the last seatcar of the tram and they speed away past the wolves in triumph.

But the tram is full of skeletons. What.

Then the tram of skeletons heads right towards a giant stone castle! The two kids jump out just in time as the tram crashes through the stone castle! Wow, I don't care!

The two kids run around a little while until they find themselves back on the street they call Shock, cursing themselves because they got there too late. "Cut!" Yells the director, who then walks over to the two kids and tells them how successful filming has gone. Erin is confused, which is understandable because nothing that happens in this book seems to have any relation to the events that preceded it, and she wants to see her dad. The director tells the kids that all they have to do is run through "Shockro's House of Shocks" and take a left and they'll find Erin's dad. Erin knows from watching the movies that the entryway to Shockro's House of Shocks would normally cause anyone entering to be killed instantly by thousands of volts of powerful electricity. The director explains that the kids have nothing to fear because this is a movie set after all.

Marty runs towards the house with Erin right behind him. Erin looks behind her and sees that the director has a giant plug running through his back-- HE'S A ROBOT! She screams to stop Marty but she's too late and he enters the house and is hit with a powerful shock that drops him to the ground. Erin runs after him to save him. As she runs over to the body, she sees her dad inside the building. But then she realizes it's not really her dad at all. And that's when...

But the Twist is:
...her speech slurs and grounds to a halt. Both the Marty and Erin robots have stopped working correctly. Erin's "Dad," the robotics expert, tells his co-workers that they just need some new chips and then the robotic kids'll be fine to finish testing out the theme park.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Erin Wright and her identical friend Marty, whose socks and shoes disappear halfway through the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Erin's dad programs his robot daughter to not recognize a mother. Focus on the Family stresses that the only successful parental relationships a child can forge are with both a mother and a father. There aren't like special rules for robots, you prick.

Foreshadowing Alert:
Erin's dad tells Marty not to "blow a fuse" by getting too excited about the theme park. He then facetiously suggests keeping Marty on a leash, to which Marty responds by acting like a dog. What.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Hall of Fame Cliffhanger! Ch 3/4:
Erin's dad has some bad news for Erin, some very bad news... Except not really, he was only joking!

Great Prose Alert:
"It was darker than the darkest night."

Conclusions:
More like A Shocker on Shit Street.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

#60 Werewolf Skin


#60 Werewolf Skin
Why is "werewolf" written upside down on the box top?

Front Tagline: All dressed up and no place to howl!
Back Tagline: It's A Full Moon...Do You Know Where Your Werewolf Is?

Official Book Description:
Picture this-- Alex Hunter, photography freak, hanging out in Wolf Creek. Who lives in Wolf Creek? Alex's uncle Colin and aunt Marta. They're professional photographers.
Uncle Colin and Aunt Marta are pretty cool. They only have two requests. Don't go into the woods late at night. And stay away from the creepy house next door.
Poor Alex. He just wanted to take a couple off pictures. But now he's about to find out the secret of Wolf Creek. Late one night. When the moon is full...

Brief Synopsis:
Alex Hunter has been sent to the small town of Wolf Creek the week before Halloween to live with his Aunt Marta and Uncle Colin while Alex's parents conduct business in Paris. Luckily for Alex, Marta and Colin share his love of photography. While driving home from the bus station, Alex tells his aunt and uncle that he would like to dress as a werewolf for Halloween. This news causes Uncle Colin to drive into the incoming lane of traffic and almost get hit by a truck.

When the family unit arrives at the house, Alex learns of the next door neighbors on either side: the Marlings, who are apparently not very friendly and Alex is warned to stay away from them, and Hannah, the young girl who lives in the other house and probably has a family although they are never mentioned or referred to in any way.

Hannah and Alex go exploring the vast series of woods behind all three neighboring houses. Hannah warns Alex that the woods are dangerous, and also gives another vague warning about the Marlings. While in the woods Hannah and Alex run into two teenage boys who have a dark and disheveled look to them. The boys swipe Alex's camera and Hannah engages in a fierce verbal defense of Alex that goes on for like five pages. By the end of reading all of Hannah's tenacious fighting of Alex's battle, even I felt emasculated.

Hannah and Alex return to the house and Hannah stays for dinner. After she leaves Alex goes back to his room and while daydreaming out the window spots an animal-like creature leaving the Marling's home. Reaching for his camera, he realizes he left it outside. With the night air threatening rain, Alex runs through the house getting ready to venture out into the woods to retrieve his camera. Along the way he runs into Hannah and Aunt Marta in the attic. In a turn of events that makes even less sense typed out, Hannah returned to the house and enlisted Marta's help in procuring a Halloween costume, all without Alex ever knowing she was there. Alex grabs a flashlite and safely retrieves his camera, but the downpour disorients him and he becomes lost in the woods. While stumbling about, he encounters some freshly slaughtered animals. He also sees animal footprints leading into the Marlings' backyard.

The next morning, the Marlings are calling Alex's relatives to complain about him snooping around their house. Apparently they saw Alex the night before outside their house. Uncle Colin explains that the neighbors are very unfriendly and also that they have two giant german shepards. Alex makes the connection and feels a lot better about the whole thing, at least until he tells Hannah about it on the way to school. Yes on the way to school. Even though he's only living with his Uncle and Aunt for two weeks, he still transfers schools. What. Anyways, Hannah informs Alex that the Marlings don't have any german shepards. Also they're werewolves.

In a refreshing change of pace, Alex our narrator doesn't buy into the ridiculous theory. He even makes fun of Hannah, which is always the way into a girl's heart. At school Hannah and Alex's teacher, reading from the lesson plan entitled "Plot Extrapolation,"conveniently talks at length about Lycanthropy. According to Mr. Shein, a werewolf has an actual coat-like "skin" of fur that they wear when hunting and during the day they shed the skin and keep it in a safe place. To kill a werewolf, one must find the skin and burn it. When the teacher asks the class who among them believes in werewolves, every hand but Alex's goes up. After class, the two troublemaking teens from earlier stop Alex and tell him that since his hand didn't go up, maybe he'd like to see a real werewolf? The two tell Alex to meet them in the woods at midnight and to bring his camera to take lots of pictures of the werewolf that is always spotted in the woods.

Later that nite, Alex readies himself to go out and snap pics of the werewolf. He's nervous but also quite excited, and also locked in his room he discovers. Not only did his Aunt and Uncle lock his door from the outside, but they also installed metal bars outside his window. He's trapped in his room and unable to escape to capture pics of the werewolf with the two boys from class.

The next morning his aunt and uncle apologize for locking him in but they explain that the Marlings threatened to call the police, so they wanted to make sure he didn't get into more trouble. Later at school, the two kids tease Alex about going to see the werewolf, as they were only joking and assumed he had actually gone to the woods last nite. He tells them he did and that he saw the werewolf and snapped off a whole roll of pics. That night, Hannah reveals her new Halloween costume to Alex: A Rag Doll. In the single scariest moment of the book, Aunt Marta sings a song about a rag doll while Hannah dances an impromptu jig.

Later that nite, after jamming some bubblegum in the doorjam to ensure it doesn't lock correctly, Alex sneaks out with his camera. He stops by Hannah's window, the location of which he knows despite having never been to her house, and attempts to get her to accompany him on his werewolf photo shoot. She tells him that she really believes in what she said and that it's too dangerous to go out into the woods. Dejected, Alex heads out into the woods on his own and spots a couple exiting the Marling's house wearing wolf capes. As he watches he can just barely make out the human forms slowly morphing into the wolf forms, the cape growing over their entire body until the two are fully werewolves. Alex attempts to take their picture when he accidently drops his camera, alerting the two werewolves. This leads to an extended sequence in the novel that is actually quite tense and suspenseful as Alex and the werewolves play cat and mouse in the woods. At one point the wolves grab a bunny and one snaps its neck and the other rips out the rabbit's belly with its jaws. Later the wolves snatch a baby deer and are about to feast on it when Alex distracts them with a wolf call of his own and startled, the two wolves let the deer go. Once Alex is fairly sure he's safe (apparently a rabbit being slaughtered infront of you isn't a good enough motivator-- between this and the Hannah thing, this kid is hopeless), Alex indeed takes a full roll of photos of the wolves.

Morning breaks and apparently eight hours of werewolf watching have passed and Alex hides behind another in the long line of Hiding Trees in the book and watches as the Marlings return home and transform back into their human shape. They look awfully familar. Turns out Aunt Marta and Uncle Cecil are the werewolves! The two bring their werewolf cloaks inside and then exit through the front of the Marlings' house, running across the lawn back into their house. Alex is worried about what they might have done to the Marlings so he goes into the Marling House to investigate. Once inside he is shocked to find the house is abandoned save for two neatly folded werwolf cloaks in the living room closet. Realizing that there never was a Marling family, he decides to warn Hannah and her family so they can escape before his Aunt and Uncle try to harm them.

Alex explains everything to Hannah and she comes up with a plan. Since they don't want to kill his aunt and uncle, they can't burn the werewolf skins. However, if they hide the skins where the two can't find them and the full moon passes without them being able to transform, the curse will be lifted. The curse will be lifted just because she said so, I guess. Hannah decides that the best way to keep the skins hidden from the aunt and uncle is for Hannah and Alex to wear the cloaks themselves. They'll leave in their planned costumes and then go next door, change into the werewolf costumes, then go out trick or treating where they can't find them. Alex agrees to this, probably more because he's in love with Hannah than because it makes sense, as the plan of course makes less sense than anything ever has.

Halloween nite, Hannah goes next door to get into the werewolf skin and Alex soon follows. She hands him a skin and they both exit the Marling home in werewolf skins. As they're walking down the street, they hear the loud scream of Alex's aunt and uncle yelling after them "GIVE US OUR SKINS!" The two give chase after the kids and eventually collapse on the ground in agony. After some anguish, the aunt and uncle burst into joy as they inform Hannah and Alex that they've successfully lifted the curse! The two kids remove their skins and all four head back home to celebrate.

But the Twist is:
On the way home, Alex tells Hannah that they should both drop the skins back off at the Marling house. She seems hesitant to go back so Alex goes alone. Once inside he sees that there's an extra werewolf skin on the floor near the closet. He turns around to see Hannah in the werewolf skin. She explains that there's an extra because she didn't use the skin from the Marling house, she brought her own. Hannah attacks and presumably kills and eats Alex.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Alex Hunter, amateur photographer, and Hannah, a young girl without a last name, who's family disappears throughout the entire novel.
Just a note here, this is one of the few Goosebumps books where the boy-girl relationship is not entirely asexual, as Alex clearly lusts after Hannah and spends copious amounts of time describing how much he loves her deep smoky voice. Yeah, Alex might be gay.

Minority Alert
In a rare non-caucasian showing, Arjun, half of the dubious schoolmate twosome is Native American for no reason.

Creepy Crush Alert
Alex sneaks a few photos of Hannah, who clearly doesn't want him photographing her.

Questionable Parenting:
Alex's parents are in Paris on "Business," yet apparently they don't have phones in Paris because Alex is forced to communicate with his parents via letter-writing.

Questionable Teaching:
For some reason, Hannah and Alex's teacher Mr. Shein spends an entire day-long class period talking about Lycanthropy. This would be bad enough but he also doesn't even get the made-up facts right.

Confusing Chronology Alert:
Sometime between when he got home from school and when he went to bed, Alex's Aunt and Uncle somehow constucted an entire set of metal barring over his window.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 11/12
Lost in the woods, strange animals chasing after him, something horrible drops on Alex's head. What is it, what is it, what is it... it's a bird's nest.

Great Prose Alert:
"You guys are about as funny as dog puke," Hannah sneered.
"You ought to know, you eat it for breakfast!" Sean replied.
He and Arjun laughed and slapped each other a high five.
Hannah sighed. "Remind me to laugh later," she muttered, rolling her eyes.

Conclusions:
Werewolf Skin reads like a reaction to Goosebumps rather than an actual book in the series. It takes every boring, predictable convention of the series and completely messes with it. The chapter endings where a character jumps to a conclusion and there's something horrible happening, in this book the horrible things are happening. The main character is a little slow but he also doesn't immediately start irrationally assuming that something supernatural is going on. The novel is also filled with numerous misdirections, as with the two kids in the woods, who are repeatedly set up to be the werewolves. The most important aspect of the book is the Hannah-Alex relationship and the English major in me recognizes the quite genius sexual undercurrent to the book, which is a really clever statement about the dangers of prepubescent idolization and sexual romanticization. But let's leave deconstructing the book to a community college term paper.
This is one of the last books in the series and I have two theories:
One, RL Stine was nearing the homestretch of the series and his enthusiasm for the project shines through in the text.
Two, it's a fairly well-accepted suspicion that many of these books were ghostwritten. This is probably one of them. If more of these books were as well-crafted as Werewolf Skin, this blog wouldn't exist.