Sunday, March 12, 2006

#53 Chicken Chicken



#53 Chicken Chicken

Front Tagline: It's a finger lickin' nightmare!
Back Tagline: Don't Call Them Chicken Legs!

Official Book Description:
Everyone in Goshen Falls knows about weird Vanessa. She dresses all in black. Wears black lipstick. And puts spells on people. At least, that's what they say.
Crystal and her brother, Cole, know you can't believe everything you hear. But that was before they made Vanessa mad. Before she whispered that strange warning, "Chicken chicken."
Because now something really weird has happened. Crystal's lips have turned as hard as a bird's beak. And Cole has started growing ugly white feathers all over his body...

Brief Synopsis:
Crystal, a tall redheaded girl who is told by a farmer early on that she should be a model, because that is something farmers often say, and her younger brother Cole live on a farm in a small town. Their parents made them move to a farm a few years back, and now the two kids have to do horrible chores like cleaning up after the chickens in the coop.

Cole is a bit of a prankster because this is a Goosebumps book and he's not the main character, so he is involved in hilarious pranks like how he comes down to breakfast one morning with red blotches all over his face, pretends to collapse, and as his mom is dialing for the doctor reveals that he drew the blemishes on with a red Sharpie. Of course the mom and Crystal believe him. I like to think the true prank in this case is on God, considering how stupid his creations are for confusing red permanent marker for blisters.

In this small town there lives a weird woman named Vanessa who dresses in black and is described at the beginning of the book as being roughly the same age as the main characters but at some point turns into an old spinster, and this would probably a much greater source of contention if it weren't for the vast amount of truly insultingly terrible occurrences that pop up later in the book. She's the resident weird person in a small town, so we're introduced to her as a herd of children are planning to prank her good. Cole and his friend Anthony dare Franny and Jeremy (two kids whose full names are given in the book while the main characters remain last nameless. Franny and Jeremy are never heard from again after page nine), to pour water into her mailbox. I don't know, don't ask me. And especially don't ask me why they carried the water over to her house in large pitchers. I'm a city boy, I guess, with my fancy lidded containers for water. The kids pour water into her mailbox and luckily it's somehow exactly as successful a prank as pouring water into a box can be.

Jeremy and Franny run away while Cole, Crystal, and Anthony stick around long enough to get caught by Vanessa, who doesn't do anything. This entire event that starts the book has no bearing on anything that follows. It will be the first of many times in this book that Stine seems to be daring the reader to find any reason at all to continue reading.

The next day, Crystal has to go to the market to buy her best friend Lucy-Ann a CD for her upcoming birthday. Oh, I bet she'll love Album by the Group on CD!

While in town, Cole and Anthony follow Crystal around, tossing an egg between themselves. Eventually the egg lands on Anthony's head and he gets mad because somehow he's the only person in the entire universe who didn't see how this would end. He charges Cole and the two fight for several pages until they knock over Vanessa as she is exiting the grocery store. She falls and her grocery bags rip open, spilling her purchases everywhere. Anthony runs off scared, apologizing as he scatters away. Crystal and Cole just sort of stare at her and she whispers "Chicken chicken" to them. They run away.

Back at the house, Cole teases Crystal about how one of their old classmates once upset Vanessa and she turned his head into a giant sponge. This "joke" about the sponge-head is repeated at least three or four times at the beginning of the book, until it achieves a sort of Quantum Physics moment where it becomes less funny than where it started, at the Least Funny Thing Possibly Ever point.

I'm going to move quickly through the rest of the book, because to dwell would be inhuman. Gradually the two kids turn into giant chickens. This sounds pretty funny, I know, but imagine actually slowly turning into a chicken. The kids grow feathers on their neck and shoulders, which they prick out and leave bloody holes. They continue to prick out their feathers for a span of several days in what amounts to extended periods of self-mutilation. Cole's voice is the first to go, as his singing voice during choral practice slowly devolves into nothing but clucks. I imagine that RL Stine began penning this one with the intention of making the kids turning into chickens scenario a parallel to puberty (voice changing, new hair, etc), but that's something real writers can muster. Stine avoids any chance of there being a subtextual payoff and instead turns the book into a calvacade of unpleasant events:

Crystal is at Lucy-Ann's birthday party when her lips turn into a beak. She locks herself in the bathroom, panics, and sneaks away from the party. At home, her parents won't listen to her or her brother. They're planning a big barbecue and are oblivious to their children. When the guests arrive, Cole and Crystal go into the chicken coop and pick up chicken feed with their beaks as the party guests laugh and ridicule them. This is one of many horrible scenes. I can see how this could be funny, in theory, but it's not. It's needlessly cruel and mean-spirited, making the kids not only freaks but freaks on display. The worst part is that the people laughing at them don't even notice the actual bird-like attributes of the children, thus they are humiliating the children at face value.

Crystal and Cole suffer various other humiliations, including Crystal finally getting a chance to be a star-player in the basketball game, but she can't stop bobbing her head like a chicken and clucking and then growing feathers as she runs away from the auditorium in tears. The two kids visit Anthony, who has had no adverse reactions in the past week except that suddenly he's a great golfer. I guess Anthony's got some sort of Bagger Vance sideplot that got cut from the final book in order to fit in more needless humiliation of the main characters. Then their hideous mutation into a chicken gets worse as their eyes move to the side of their heads and their fingers turn into claws. This isn't scary like a horror movie, it's just grotesque and needlessly sadistic.

Crystal and Cole decide the only way to save themselves is to apologize to Vanessa. They go to her house, and seeing that she's not there, they naturally do the smart thing and break into the witch's house. Crystal sees a book called Chicken Chicken Chicken, swipes it, and the two safely return home only to find out that they've stolen a cookbook. (Pause for laughter, applause) They then go back to the house again, find a magical spell book, and perform various spells that first turn them into twenty feet tall chickens, and then into baby chicks. Vanessa's cat eats Crystal, then throws her up and plays with her. What.

Vanessa finally comes home and sweeps the two chicks up in her hand. She asks them if they like the lesson she's taught them. She points to her bookshelf full of books on manners. Kids today have no manners she tells the chicks, so she turned them into chickens to teach them a lesson about not apologizing when they knocked her over. She fails to mention where deforming children falls on the politeness meter. Crystal the baby chick leaps out of Vanessa's palm and lands on a convenient typewriter and types out an apology. That doesn't do much, so she then types out a Thank You Letter to Vanessa for teaching them the error of their ways.

Vanessa is so impressed that a child would write a Thank You Letter that she turns them both back into normal kids. We've just been taught a lesson. This was about a lesson on manners. How is this any different than the eight-year old kid who gets beaten by his father with a belt for not showing the proper respect? I'm not entirely comfortable with the book's message that these kids deserved to be tortured both physically and mentally to teach them a pithy lesson in saying "Thank you."

But the Twist is:
She offers them some soda to drink, as they are probably parched from all the abuse she's doled out on them. Cole drinks his cup down and then burps. Vanessa whispers "Pig pig" and I literally threw the goddamn book across the room.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Crystal and her little brother Cole, whose chances of not being emotionally and physically scarred for life disappear halfway thru the book.

Questionable Parenting:
Crystal's parents insist on feeding her and her brother chicken for every meal during their transformation. I know, you're saying "But they didn't notice," and my response to you would be that that is hardly a defense against Questionable Parenting.

Questionable Teaching:
After Crystal grows a beak, she still goes to school, where apparently no teacher or schoolmate notices that she's grown a beak.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Lucy-Ann gets a Discman for her birthday.

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Finally, a children's book that covers the Egg Throwing fad of the early 90's!

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 6/7:
This is the actual chapter break for Chapter Six: "And that's when all the frightening stuff really started."

Great Prose Alert:
"Her black lipsticked lips were open in an angry cry."

Conclusions:
I will be perfectly honest with you, Blogger Beware reader, I had a lot of trouble coming up with things to say about this book that weren't just a string of swears and empty threats against the author. I poke a lot of fun at these books, but that's still in part due to a less than hidden fondness for the material. Some of the books in this series are bad, some more than others, but Chicken Chicken exists on a whole other plane of quality. It's not just a bad book, it's an ugly one.
For anyone who has been craving 112 pages of fantasy child abuse, I think you could do no better than this novel. For everyone else, I can not possibly foresee any other Goosebumps book I read being worse than this.

61 comments:

kevin mccallister said...

Oddly enough, I had the same reaction to the Scott Tenorman (sp) episode of South Park (the one where Cartman cooks the bully's parents). I was disgusted by it--like, physically upset by it.

But the second time I saw it, I realised how brilliant it was.

I doubt it's the same case with this book.

fungee said...

oh franny
you are full of wit
and hilaritys

mooch said...

Good review.

I'm still eagerly awaiting Camp Jellyjam (hint, hint).

kevin mccallister said...

mooch,

Anonymous said...

hey glass you should have thrown in something about the cover
that has to be the worst cover in the series i've seen yet

Anonymous said...

I second mooch's request for Camp Jellyjam.

gstuart said...

Vanessa whispers "Pig pig" and I literally threw the goddamn book across the room.

Awesome.

Also I think you mean "sadistic" instead of "masochistic."

missbekky said...

as for the cover...
did anyone notice that crystal is also turning into a ROOSTER
(hens don't have the thing on the head or the wattle thinge)

Anonymous said...

This book was painful, mostly because of the physical abuse the kids went through.

Anonymous said...

I like the goosebump books so it would be nice if you wouldn't dis them

troy steele said...

You know what else would be nice? Some ice cream. Mm-Mmm Ice Cream, Yum!

Sad Mammal said...

So wait, Anthony apologizes for the accident in real time, and he becomes a good golfer, yet the two kids attempt to retroactively apologize and they have to type a thank-you letter to not be turned into chickens? Wow, someone must have pointed at Vanessa and whispered "cunt cunt".

Ryan Ferneau said...

Yes, this cover, like Why I'm Afraid of Bees, goes for a cheap shock by sticking a child's head onto an animal's body like so many Magic School Bus episodes. But this time it makes more literal sense, as the story is about a transformation rather than a mind swap.

EC said...

I feel very unsettled because of the line:
"Don't call them chicken legs"

Seriously, WTF?

Anonymous said...

Unquestionable Parenting Alert:
My parents didn't want me to read goosebumps books because, supposedly, these books aren't of the highest quality.

Groggy Dundee said...

You make a very good case. This was never one of my favorites, and one wonders what the hell was going on in R.L. Stine's mind when he wrote this? None of the other transformation stories in the series revel so much in the gruesome physical details. Perhaps it was ghost-written by a repeat sex offender out on parole.

That said, for all that, it's still nowhere near as bad in terms of quality as certain other entries.

Kate said...

I thought this was one of the better entries in the series. Bits of it were pretty good but let down by a lame finale chapter.

Anonymous said...

Have now read most of these blog entries and found them hillarious. I was obsessed with goosebumps when I was younger, but not so much that I can't see how crap they actually were.

Strangely, I really liked Chicken Chicken. Maybe I'm just a sadist.

Anonymous said...

I really, really don't want to start a fight with anybody but the person a few comments forward said that they wished you would stop dissing the Goosebumps books, because they enjoyed them. It was anonymous, on April 3rd. I would like to tell them that if they do like the Goosebumps books, then they didn't have to read the review (which I thought was great) and that we ALL have read Goosebumps, and therefore like them in someway.
Thanks for writing this review, I love the bit about, "I threw the goddamn book across the room". Hehe!

Commander Melander said...

Agreed! I am a huge fan of Goosebumps, but I still love this blog and it cracks me up. Plus, you have to have been a long-time reader of Goosebumps to get some of the jokes (ie all the references to "the one where they all turn out to be dogs or something")

ladysugarquill said...

I'm not a fan of Goosebumps particularly, but I've read a few books when I was younger and I liked them.

I really think you missed the point. The book is not supposed to be funny, it's supposed to be terrifying. And yes, the poor children go through hell, but that's the idea, it's a horror book.

I was really hoping that their parents'd eat them, tough.

Luca Stein said...

A hitherto lost poem by William Blake:

"Chicken Chicken" burning bright,
In Troy Steele's hearth tonight.
What repulsive hand or mind
Could have writ-- Oh. R.L. Stine.

Anonymous said...

even though this book is messed up, it was always one of my favorites, SO BE NICE!

Anonymous said...

Ironically, this is the book that made me realize that I had a transformation fetish.

Anonymous said...

If there's any consolation to this awful book, is that it's actually better than the porn version. NO REALLY. Somebody Rule 34-ed this book. It is by far, the most disgusting, agonizingly bad story I've ever read.

I've seen a lot of terrible things on the internet, but the Rule 34-ed Chicken Chicken is the absolute peak. Worse than 2 Girls 1 cup, worse than Pain olympics, worse than ANYTHING. Disgusting doesn't even begin to describe this literary abomination.

Anonymous said...

Don't Call Them Chicken Legs!

This book was godawful. You're a brave man.

chicken lover said...

the cover was printed the wrong way around if u look closly u can c t.jacabus's name is back to front

ハブネスーさん said...

I'm a bit confused. Are there two versions of this book, because I recall hearing about a "Chicken Chicken" book involving a girl named Nicole and a boy named Tyler. Same basic plot, but two different stories, from the sounds of it. Anyone know?

Gecko said...

Disturbing physical transformation, disproportionate punishment, uncaring family members...eat your heart out, Kafka.

Anonymous said...

Where's the "Rule 34" of this book? I really want to see for myself how bad it is.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Somebody Rule 34-ed this? Well, that's Rule 34 for ya. But isn't the whole point of a horror book for the kids to go through hell? I almost bought this book a couple months ago.(went to the bookstore and looked in the children's section) I'm glad I didn't get it. Mainly because the whole plot of kids being turned into chickens sounded to stupid to 12 yr. old me. Troy, you are a brave man. You deserve a brownie. Mmmm....brownie.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think there are rule 34 versions (or at least transparent ripoffs) of EVERY goosebumps book, definitely all the transformation ones.

Parker said...

Troy, remember how they made that "great I Live In Your Basement adaptation" last summer?

Well, they appear to be on a roll.... Chicken Chicken, in theaters now! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0947798/

Anonymous said...

What bothered me for the longest time is that the "Pig Pig" part got me mixed up with part one of the Chillogy Goosebumps TV show... that was similarly sick.

Anonymous said...

I read this book as a child. I remember it was treally terribly written and when I finished reading it I felt as if someone had scooped out my soul. x.X

Anonymous said...

HOW in the WORLD did Stine get published in the first place? Do publishing companies no longer care for the quality of the works they feed into the marketplace?

Anonymous said...

Actually I know what was going on in R.L. stines head at the point when he began writing this book: "DUUUUDE! Where can I get more of that Jay?"

Anonymous said...

This one was the first and only one I read, if I remember right.

No wonder I didn't get into any of his other books.

Anonymous said...

like a few people said earlier, I find it strange that you're putting the book down because of the grotesque transformation and the pure sadism involved, yet this is a HORROR book. I repeat, the genre is HORROR. I found this book to quite effective in inspiring that horrified, sick-to-my stomach feeling that horror books are supposed to produce. the fact that the adults don't even seem to notice, and even laugh at the poor children is a recurring theme in R.L.Stine's works, and indeed in captures one of the most horrifying thoughts of a child; that mum and dad can do nothing to help.

and the fact that the woman gives them a punishment that far outweighs the crime? once again, it's HORROR. the story'd go nowhere if she didn't overreact so spectacularly.

Ian said...

If my kids want something scary, I want to hand them a Goosebumps book, not rent Saw. It's a lot like Saw; it just takes the disproportionately horrible mutilations over minor slights, and adds mocking from the victim's parents. Goosebumps books try to scare kids with monsters and cliffhangers, not horrify them with things like this.

Imagine a movie about someone who kidnaps people who cut him off on the freeway, ties them up in his basement, and tears off pieces of their skin until they thank him for teaching them about driving etiquette. Scary and horrifying? Yes, but I wouldn't help but assume that its fans feel empty unless they think of a prostitute being stabbed in an alley. As opposed to fans of, say, Stephen King.

Anonymous said...

steele might kill me for this, but, i thought the book was great, but like ALMOST every goosebumps book, shitty ending

Anonymous said...

benny here. heres the moment of triuth i.........thought this one was great. I know troy hates me for this. but great story and so bizarre so why wouldn't i like it 8/10 great again.

Celine said...

MAY I PLEASE UNDERSTAND WHY YOU CALLED GOD'S CREATIONS STUPID. HE GAVE YOU LIFE FOR GOODNESSAKE. I GUESS HIS CREATION MAKEING YOU WAS STUPID THEN HUH? NEVER DISRESPECT GOD, OK. SO WATCH WHAT YOU SAY OR.......YOU'LL SEE

Celine said...

MAY I PLEASE UNDERSTAND WHY YOU CALLED GOD'S CREATIONS STUPID. HE GAVE YOU LIFE FOR GOODNESSAKE. I GUESS HIS CREATION MAKEING YOU WAS STUPID THEN HUH? NEVER DISRESPECT GOD, OK. SO WATCH WHAT YOU SAY OR.......YOU'LL SEE

cameron said...

let me read it!

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this book in the school library years ago (I was about 11 at the time). I didn't read it 'cause, to be perfectly honest, the very front cover of the book repulsed me.

Turns out I made a very wise choice.

Anonymous said...

If you think about it, the book actually does deliver on horror. Specifically the sub-genera known as 'body horror'.

Sure the genera plays more on overwhelming disgust than fear most of the time, but hey from what it sounds like this is a kids version of the 80's Fly remake (which I can never manage to sit through even to this day).


On the subject of the actual transformations, from your synopsis I thought that maybe the kids hadn't changed and it was all mental, but that theory quickly melted away during the portion where they turned into chcks and typed out a message by hopping up and down on the keys.

All in all while I haven't read it myself and while it certainly sounds unpleasant and vastly pointless it SOUNDS like there are at least a small handful of the promised 'scares' in the book.
It's all just child self-mutilation is all, and that's pretty damn grisly.

Katy said...

It's more body horror than child abuse, really.

Nyxthekingofthenight said...

To the idiot who said goosebumps are supposed to be scary ,not funny,shut up.Goosebump books are supposed to be funny and scary.Why the helicopter do you think Stine slips so many jokes and puns in?Okay,maybe the jokes are bad ones,but there still jokes.Also I red this one and it's an abomination against literature.This is a kids book .I mean yes it is incredibly scary,but to market a book like this to kids?And its badly written too.Seriously though,it's sadistic and you can say that it's a good book because of that all you want ,but that just proves that you need help( like Stine himself).Try creating a sentence with the words "sadism" and "children's book" without being sarcastic or saying some variation of "children's books and sadism don't mix". You can't ,can you?I disagree with Troy on about 20%of his reviews(though I think they're still funny and witty)But this time I agree with him.This book is so stupid I rank it below Maximum Ride:Nevermore(a horrible book that ruined the greatest series of all time).Keep going Troy,you're awesome.

By the wy I have decided that I shall,after a year and a half a being anonymous I shall hench forth be known as Nyxthekingofthenight!

Anonymous said...

Um...Troy wasn't saying all God's creations were stupid,just those ones.So how is he disrespecting God?Lots of God's creations are stupid and that's not God's fault.He gave us free will,so we are responsible for who we are and how stupid we are.Besides,since Stine created those idiots Troy probably meant God as a metaphor for Stine since Stine controls what happens in these books.That's not disrespectful either because its not like Troy is comparing God to Stine.

Anonymous said...

with this super sensitive character trait, no surprise why Vanessa is still single now. what kind of man who would want to marry her? LOL

Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere that the story was thought up when one of Stine's friend was acting like a chicken.

I don't know either...

damkylan said...

Just got done reading this one a little while ago. Honestly, after building it up in my head so much with this entry, the abuse wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would. Although the parents definitely secured a place in the Questionable Parenting Hall of Fame, to the point where it just got ridiculous. In a book where two kids become human/chicken abominations, somehow the most unrealistic thing was how stupid the parents were.

That said, the book is still just as bad as you said, Troy. I lost count of how many awful Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Endings there were, and the whole thing was just badly written all around. And no, person who may be reading this and thinking "well, it *is* a kid's book", as many excellent kid's books have shown, being intended for a younger audience is not synonymous with, "Well, fuck it, why bother trying?"

Anonymous said...

It was actually would be avoid book if it weren't for all the fake scares and terrible ending

Anonymous said...

It basically sounds like the scene from Pinocchio where Lampwick turns into a donkey, only the horrific process is drawn out and agonized with relish.

Sam Monk said...

I agree with the above post on the Pinocchio comparison. That always scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, so I don't know what the flying garfunkel compelled me to go through this exercise in mindfuckery. Seriously. This book MESSED ME UP when I read it at the age of 11-12.

There's got to be some sort of line drawn as to what is acceptable to such a young audience. Unfortunately, Mr Stine's flagship series seems to have sailed the blockade without hindrance. I guess I shouldn't have read it so young.

Anonymous said...

The tag line was "Don't Call Them Chicken Legs!" but it should have been "Like A Cronenberg Movie Except Cronenberg Has Actual Talent!"

Gary said...

As a kid, I loved the book cover to this for some reason.

Kenny said...

Fun reading your review, please keep posting, really interesting !

kontoculai said...

Kind of Goosebumps stories about kids who found their body gradually changes always bore me

Rose said...

I had quite a few Goosebumps books as a kid, the only one I found genuinely scary was Camp Cold Lake, actually, I was so scared I cried (good review on it, too). I liked the silly and implausible ones, the weirder and more sci-fi the better (thanks to Goosebumps...John Wyndham is my favourite author as a 26 y.o.!).

I never had this book, but I did have How I Learned to Fly which had a sort of preview of Chicken Chicken on the last page. Anyway, after reading this blog I felt I had to go straight to ebay and buy it. It arrived today and I've just finished reading, so OK, it's not going to win any awards, but it was fantastic! So silly and hilarious!