Monday, August 27, 2007

#30 It Came From Beneath the Sink!

#30 It Came From Beneath the Sink!Front Tagline: It's weird. It's breathing! And it doesn't do dishes!
Back Tagline: Their Luck's About To Go Down The Drain...

Official Book Description:
Kat and her brother, Daniel, are so lucky. They just moved to a new house with tons of rooms, two balconies, and a lawn the size of a football field!
But all that good luck is about to run out.
Because there's something really evil living in their new house.
Something that's moving. Watching. Waiting.
Something that comes from beneath the kitchen sink...

Brief Synopsis:
Well, seeing as how there are no scientists in this book, that can mean only one thing: The Merton family is moving into a new house! Narrator Katrina and her brother Daniel have been allowed to skip a day of school to help their parents move into their new huge yellow house. While their parents busy themselves with unloading boxes, Daniel is put to work feeding the family dog, Killer, and Kat (as her father calls her) is told to wipe down the cabinets. Thank God they took their kids out of school for those tasks! While Kat is cleaning the inside of the cabinet below the sink, she hears a noise from the far, dark corner of the cabinet. She ignores the noise and continues cleaning. Suddenly a hairy claw pokes out from the darkness and grabs her arm. Kat screams and then realizes it's not a horrible monster, but just her brother in his rat costume. His rat costume.

For some reason the dog comes trotting into the kitchen and Daniel convinces her that he too is a giant rat, and she falls for it. He calls her "Scaredy-Kat" because you can't call someone a "dumbass" in a Goosebumps book, and she responds by tickling him, which apparently you can do in a Goosebumps book. While tickling her brother, Killer the dog starts barking ferociously at the empty cabinet beneath the sink. The item to inspire Killer's wrath is revealed to be a sponge, in what amounts to a stellar homage to Samuel Fuller's White Dog, only instead of black people, sponges. When Kat goes to retrieve the contentious sponge, she discovers that the sponge appears to be breathing. Her brother at first is skeptical, but he still readily tries to claim the breathing sponge as his own, diving under the sink and hitting his head hard. He blames Kat, saying she pushed him, and the two try to justify their actions to their mother, who berates them for arguing over a "stupid sponge." I love it when a character acts the part of the reader.

Kat, armed with breathing sponge, goes to show the item to her father, who is on top of a ladder in their living room. For some reason the dad has nails in his mouth, probably because RL Stine saw a handyman character in a Gasoline Alley panel do the same, and he cheerfully agrees to examine Kat's sponge, which by this point has sprouted two beady eyes. As he reaches down to grab the sponge, the ladder tips over and her father lands on the ground, grabbing his ankle. He angrily asks her why she tipped over the ladder. Kat insists she didn't touch the ladder as the sponge in her hand pulsates wildly. Kat decides this is all too weird and disposes of the sponge in one of those big metal trash cans outside the garage.

A few days after moving in, Kat is in the process of making a list of who to invite to her birthday party. She hears a racket upstairs and upon investigating sees Daniel showing his friend Carlo the sponge she had thrown away. Kat pleads with Daniel to re-throw away the creature, as she had done some investigating and according to the encyclopedia, sponges can't have eyes and can't live out of water, so whatever the creature is, it isn't a sponge. The most amazing thing about all of this is of course that a child actually used the household encyclopedias. Carlo wants to spook his babysitter with the creature, and upon placing the "sponge" in a gerbil carrier, his hand is promptly bitten off. This event comes at the end of a chapter, so I'll let you be the judge as to whether Carlo really did get his hand bitten off or whether he I really shouldn't have to finish this sentence.

Thankfully, after Carlo and Daniel have a good laugh about his prank, Carlo does manage to get hurt, stepping on a nail sticking out of a floorboard in Daniel's bedroom. Of all the boobytraps to get re-enacted by children following the release of Home Alone, somehow this one never occurred to me. Carlo lays on the floor in agony as his sock soaks up the blood and the sponge in the gerbil cage pulsates wildly. I know it's pretty hard to spot the pattern here, so I'll spell out what's going on: their camera is taking pictures of the future!

Kat's Mom goes over the details for her birthday party. Kat is worried about topping last year's "Make your own pizza" party, which she claims was talked about for weeks after the fact. That's says a lot about the company one keeps more than anything. But this being her twelfth birthday party, Kat decides she's too old for themes. Oh come on Kat, you're not too old for reminiscing about the time you made pizza and the time you remembered making pizza. Kat's birthday party this year will be a reserved affair, as her Mom has promised to take her and her friends to WonderPark. Kat has only invited her friends and considers inviting her brother until he raises a big stink about her sponge, which she has now claimed full ownership of, and in fact is about to take to school to show her science teacher. She stores the sponge in a used potato salad container and heads off to school.

On the way to school a tree branch falls and almost kills Kat. "Luckily" Daniel pushes her out of the way just in time, spilling her bag out onto the ground. The sponge falls out the container and starts pulsating wildly. Hey, we get it.

At school, Kat shows the sponge to her teacher. It just sits there like an ordinary kitchen sponge and the teacher tosses it back to Kat like it was garbage. Then the teacher slams her fingers in her desk drawer, breaking both her hands.

Kat walks back to class from the nurses office, where she helped what became of the broken-handed, who she had helped but now departed, Kat knows she's got to find some kind of peace of mind, and she might have been searching everywhere were it not for Daniel running up to her in the hall. It seems he's found the sponge creature in a very convenient book called Encyclopedia of the Weird. It's called a Grool and is a mythic creature that causes and feeds off bad luck. According to the book, the only way a Grool can be passed on is if its owner dies. If the Grool's current owner tries to give it away, they will die within one day. Daniel also shows Kat a picture of a potato-looking creature called a Lanx, which is the Grool's more dangerous and attractive cousin. Kat gets furious with the book, as these creatures are mythical, meaning they can't exist, and also because the tome contains no mention of pizza parties.

Walking home, Kat starts wondering if maybe the stupid book could possibly have been right. Once home, Kat's mom informs her and her brother that Killer has ran away. Not to worry though, as Kat's mom has called the police and they are out searching for the dog. I don't mean to be callous, but instead of searching for a missing dog, shouldn't the police be doing something more important, like anything else? Daniel and Carlo go out to look for the dog themselves, as even they at such an early age know 9-1-1 is a joke. Kat gets frustrated and blames the throbbing sponge. Furious, she throws the sponge across the room like she was me and it was Chicken Chicken. As she looks down at her hand, she sees blood everywhere. According to the book, she had slammed her hand down on an open pair of scissors which were resting on a desk. Let's all think for a moment about how that could even begin to be physically possible. Now let's think about reading a book with merit. Sigh, it's nice, isn't it? Oh well, back to Kat's bloody hand. Clutching her bleeding palm, she walks over to the Grool, which has changed color from a dusty brown to a tomato-red color, and now appears to be laughing.

The morning of Kat's birthday, she gets dressed for her fun day at the WonderPark waterpark, except, you guessed it, it's raining outside. Kat naturally blames the Grool and pouts over her breakfast waffles when her mother tells her that she cancelled her birthday celebrations. Kat sulks upstairs and makes plans for taking care of the Grool that are so intricate that she gets out a notebook and puts pen to paper. The plan? To bury the Grool in the backyard when the rain lets out.

Kat somehow manages to master this plan and after burying Grool deep in the backyard, she can't find Daniel anywhere. Eventually she spots him cowering in the garage, afraid that something was going to happen to her for burying Grool in the ground. Well, nothing happens to Kat but the backyard doesn't fare as well, as the next day, all of the grass and flowers her father worked so hard to cultivate in the backyard have shriveled up and died, the entire lawn brown and dead. Kat concludes that the Grool is mocking and punishing her for burying it, and so she digs it up while she thinks of another plan.

The following day, Kat's favorite hippie aunt comes to visit. Since she's a hippie, Kat thinks she'll know a lot about sponges. Kat, obviously confusing mushrooms and sponges, takes her aunt by the hand immediately upon her arrival and goes to show her the Grool, which has again reverted back to looking like a regular sponge. When the aunt discovers she can't smoke it, she throws the old dried up thing on the floor and leaves Kat's room, laughing. After she's gone, the Grool immediately reverts back to its moist pulsating self. Kat gets frustrated and smashes the Grool into a million pieces with her textbook. But, like mercury, all of the pieces of the Grool pool together and reform as one entity. This book is also like mercury, as the more I am exposed to it, the more I lose my mind.

Granted a reprieve from school when a teacher's conference is scheduled, Kat relaxes at home, gradually completing an essay on why her family is important to her. She sneaks down to the kitchen for some milk and cookies and upon returning to her room she sees the Grool has disappeared! Frantically she tears up her room looking for the sponge. She finds Daniel and he tells her that Carlo just left and he must have stolen the creature. Fearful for her life, Kat and Daniel put on their jackets and race out into the street, heading for the park where Carlo has likely gone to show off the sponge. Because drug dealers and homosexuals with poor decision-making skills are very easily impressed.

They don't get far before they spot Carlo splayed out in the street, where he has broken his leg falling from his bike. He limps home by himself as the two siblings scavenge the road for the Grool, which flew from Carlo's bike basket when he fell. Daniel thinks the creature landed in the sewer and so Kat lifts a grate and sinks down into the sewer to investigate. If only Daniel still had his Rat Costume on, while down there they could have conned four turtles with superhuman powers into aiding them! After spotting a cadre of real rats swarming towards her, Kat wisely decides to exit the sewer.

Carlo excitedly prances on his one good leg down to the siblings, cheerfully telling them that he's found the Grool. Kat gives him a big ol' hug as Carlo presents her with a wet crumpled brown paper sack, which he thought was the Grool. Grool's bad luck for this kid means that in addition to his broken leg, apparently he's now also mentally retarded.

Carlo apologizes and tells Kat that he broke his leg racing bikes with some older boys, and maybe they stole the Grool once it fell onto the ground. His story makes sense because older boys love street sponges. Kat and Daniel ride their bikes over to the park, where sure enough, a circle of high school boys are leaning over the dried up sponge. Kat tells the boys that it's her favorite sponge and asks to have it returned. The boys make fun of her and their ringleader, a tall blonde, tells her that it's their sponge now. Kat, knowing how bad luck finds those in possession of the Grool, slowly walks away and waits for something bad to happen. It doesn't take long, as some kids playing baseball lob a baseball right into the tall blonde's head. The boy drops to the ground and Kat grabs for the sponge while his friends rush to his aid.

Kat hops on her bike and narrowly avoids getting hit by a large truck, which swerves at the last minute. Then not a few minutes later, her entire front tire shreds, sending her spilling into the street. She walks her wrecked bike home, listening to the croaking laughs of the Grool all the way. Steaming with anger, she starts pummeling the Grool, slamming it against the concrete with rage. Every horrible thing she spouts at the creature only makes it pulsate with pleasure, every hateful pummel feeding it's joy. Daniel rushes over to her, begging her to stop, that it's just what the creature wants, for her to get mad at it, for her to feed it anger.

Kat won't listen to Daniel and she runs a few houses down to their house. With Daniel and Carlo (whose leg injury disappears) not far behind, Kat enters the kitchen, shoves the Grool into the drain and turns on the garbage disposal. The disposal makes a lurching sound and the Grool is propelled out of the drain, safely, and lands on the counter, laughing maniacally. Daniel again pleads with her to quit trying to kill it, that the Encyclopedia of the Weird specifically says that the Grool can't be killed by any means of force. That's when Kat gets an idea.

She picks up the Grool and instead of inflicting pain on it, pets it. She then begins to coo sweet nothings into the Grool's ear, and softly rocks the creature with love. The Grool begins to lose it's coloring and shrivels up. Kat tells the Grool that she loves it and gives it a big kiss. The Grool shrinks to a small shrieking ball and then explodes into a million little particles. Kat explains for her brother/his friend/the readers still left that since the book said the creature couldn't be killed by means of force, she figured that it could be killed by means of love. Well, anyways, it worked huh.

Except there's suddenly a scratching sound on the back door! Is it the Grool, returned from the dead? No, it's Killer, the dog, who has magically returned to safety. Rushing outside to greet the dog, Kat sees the dead grass and flowers reverting back to their previous state, filling with color as they come back to life.

But the Twist is:
Killer starts barking at the kitchen counter again, and retrieves a creature that looks like a potato only it has teeth.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Kat Merton and her little brother Daniel, who disappears into the garage to cry halfway thru the book.

Questionable Parenting:
Kat's mom cancels her birthday plans due to the rain, but won't even let her have another infamous pizza party because the living room is filled with painters. Also cross-posted under Questionable PaintingQuestionable Teaching:
Miss Vanderhoff dismisses Kat's sponge as just another sponge and absently tosses it away, clearly ignoring the intent of the historic No Sponge Left Behind Act.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Super-soakers, rat costumes

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
PIZZA PARTY!!!!!!!!!

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 13/14:
Kat hears a frightening popping sound from behind her. Could it be the Grool, since it's never made that noise before and there's no reason to assume it made the popping noise, or is it just a cork popping off a bottle of sparkling cider? To find out, visit your local library!

Great Prose Alert:
"I was about to be crushed into Kat litter!"

Which will I forget first, the book or the amazing pizza party Kat threw for her eleventh birthday?

Monday, August 13, 2007

#39 How I Got My Shrunken Head

#39 How I Got My Shrunken Head

Front Tagline: Heads up!
Back Tagline: Two Heads Are Better Than One!

Official Book Description:
What has two eyes, a mouth, and wrinkly green skin? Mark's shrunken head. It's a present from his Aunt Benna. A gift from the jungle island of Baladora.
Mark can't wait to show the kids at school his shrunken head. It's so ugly. So gross. So awesome.
But late one night the head starts to glow. Because it's no ordinary head. It gives Mark a strange power. A magical power. A dangerous power...

Brief Synopsis:
A good book expands your perception of the world around you, challenges pre-existing notions, and forces you to reconsider past assumptions and positions. By this definition, and only by this definition, How I Got My Shrunken Head is a good book, as previously I had thought nothing was more boring in the world than watching someone else play video games. Turns out there's one thing worse: reading about someone playing video games. Narrator Mark, a chubby twelve year old who prefers the company of video games to actual human interaction (whoa, way to nail your market audience RL Stine!), regales the reader with in-depth discussions of his favorite video game, Jungle King. Wait, did I write "regale?" I meant "borezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." How much does this kid love his Jungle video game? He even came up with a battle cry he yells out whenever he makes a particularly good move: "Kah-lee-ah!" Ugh, had this book been written ten years later, there would be very little stopping Mark from being a YouTube sensation.

Unfortunately, it's hard to get others to share in his embarrassing hobby. His eight year old sister Jessica will only play with him if she can kill herself immediately because she likes the sound it makes in the game when she dies, and Mark's two friends, Joel and Eric, are too busy playing a version of solitaire where the cards themselves fight. So there is just no one to join Mark in his Jungle-loving adventures, including the reader, who by this point had surely stopped skimming the book at B. Dalton's and moved over to the Boxcar Kids section.

Mark's video game playing is interrupted by a visitor. Opening the door, Mark comes face to face with a leathery, authentic shrunken head. The head is presented as a gift for the boy from a older woman wearing sinister black specs, who claims the head is a gift from the boy's Aunt Benna. The woman introduces herself as Carolyn, a co-worker of Aunt Benna's on the island of Baladora, where the two do scientific work. Of course, more scientists!

Carolyn assures the family that Aunt Benna had written of her visit in advance and Mark's mother invites Carolyn to stay the night. Overnight, the strange shrunken head begins to glow as it rests on top of Mark's dresser, eventually shining brightly and floating towards him in bed. Mark understandably freaks out and runs around screaming that the head is alive. No one believes him because he's fat. He takes his mother and sister back into his room to show them the glowing head, only to find the head missing. Jessica produces the head from behind her back, where she has given it a long scratch from roughhousing. Look, little girls love playing with boiled human faces, I think Mark should have been a little more understanding. As it is though, Mark freaks out about her mishandling of the head, as now if he will have to list it as VG instead of NM, and who knows if a buyer would A+++++ Would Buy Again from him at that quality-level? Mark calms down and heads back to bed, but not before noticing Carolyn staring at him from the hallway.

The next morning, Mark's mom surprises him with the best news he could receive so early in the day. No, not that there would be both bacon and sausage for breakfast, so I guess second-best news: Aunt Benna sent Carolyn to visit so she could bring Mark back with her to the island to visit! Thanks to video games, the only thing Mark loves more than pipes and ducks is jungles, so in celebration, the fat preteen gets out of his chair and does a celebratory dance around the breakfast table. Jessica complains that she wasn't invited, since the thing eight year old girls love second-best behind shrunken human heads is hot sweaty island jungles, but twelve year old Mark continues to gloat and dance, bragging that the jungle is just too dangerous for kids.

Carolyn and Mark fly out to the small island on a little Red Baron pizza box plane and the pilot informs them that since he never learned how to land, they'll have to jump out of the plane. Oh and also there's no parachutes, so they should aim to land on something soft. The nutty pilot then reveals he's just a jokester and that he said that to prepare Mark for thinking fast in the jungle. I don't know how peeing your pants in fear will help Mark survive in the jungle, but I guess if he was a pregnant woman and needed to kill a rabbit, this would have been a very valuable lesson.

The pilot safely drops them off on the island and leaves. Carolyn informs Mark that Ernesto, the pilot, is their only contact on and off the island, but he can arrive within an hour of them calling the mainland or their flight is free. Mark is very excited to see his aunt, whom he has not seen since she last visited him when he was four years old. Carolyn leads Mark into a scientific-looking building where he meets a white haired scientist named Dr. Hawlings, whom he initially mistakes for his aunt. Hey Ernesto, I think you needed to scare this kid a couple more times before he's even ready to survive in a strip mall much less a jungle.

Dr. Hawlings introduces Mark to his twelve year old blonde daughter, Kareen, who has shining blue eyes just like her father. Mark tries to be nice to the pretty girl but Kareen's a bit of a brat and complains a lot, although granted, Mark's idea of small talk ("You're in sixth grade too?!?!") leaves a lot to be desired. Mark asks where his aunt is and is informed that, well, no one knows. They brought Mark to the island not because his aunt invited him, but because they thought he could help them find her. You see, Carolyn and Dr. Hawlings believe that Mark has-- wait for it-- Jungle Magic. As a special early Christmas gift to everyone reading, I will refrain from making a "jungle fever" joke.

Kareen tries to get her father to lay off Mark, but Dr. Hawlings is convinced that Mark's Aunt gave her nephew Jungle Magic for safe keeping when he was four years old, and that Mark can use the Jungle Magic he possesses to help them find his missing aunt. Mark and Kareen both have a hard time believing in Jungle Magic, mainly since it's Jungle Magic and is called Jungle Magic. According to the notebooks Aunt Benna left behind, since Mark saw the shrunken head glow, he must possess Jungle Magic. Other items revealed in Aunt Benna's notebook include three pages of aborted attempts to map polynomials via the Tschirnhaus transformation, a timeline of the Battle of Ringgold Gap, and several hearts with arrows coming out of them drawn around the name David Livingstone. Dr. Hawlings stresses that the ancient jungle tribe of the Oloyans were the ones who shrunk not only the head in Mark's possession but the hundreds of other shrunken heads which line the cozy outdoor decor of the scientific workstation, and that Mark must use their magic to find his aunt.

Kareen convinces her father and Carolyn to lay off Mark for a little while and they start to bond. The next night, after everyone has gone to bed, Mark sneaks out and explores the workstation. He grabs a flashlight and begins reading his Aunt Benna's journals. One particular passage, the one about how Carolyn and Dr. Hawlings are evil and want to use Jungle Magic to do evil, catches his eye. She writes in her journal that she gave her nephew the secret of Jungle Magic to keep it safe, as he lived 4,000 miles from the island of Baladora. She fears that once the two villains possess Jungle Magic, they will shrink her head. Mark doesn't stop to consider that perhaps his aunt could use the psychiatric help, because Aunt Benna also believes the two will murder Mark as well! He slams the book down and heads (pun?) out of the workstation to escape his certain fate of death, only to be stopped by Kareen, wearing only her nightshirt.

Kareen admits that her father and Aunt Benna had their differences, but assures Mark that her father isn't evil. She then offers to aid him in sneaking out to find his aunt. Armed with the shrunken head, Mark sets off into the jungle alone. Kareen tells him to let Jungle Magic guide the way. Mark still doesn't know how to do that, but Kareen tells him he'll figure it out, and that she'll stall for him back at the station.

Mark wanders around in the dark and finally stops to rest. He is later woken up by giant ants who have swarmed all around him. Oh to be attacked by ants when looking for an aunt, Stine you ironic devil!. He can't swat them off fast enough and it looks like all is lost until, gripping the shrunken head, he lets loose his video game battle cry, "Kah-Lee-Ah!" The ants instantly flee from his body. Mark realizes the key to Jungle Magic is the word he thought he'd made up, his battle cry would lead him to his aunt!

Mark encounters more obstacles on the way to finding his aunt, including falling in quicksand and encountering a tiger, yet saves his own life every time by uttering the magic word while holding the shrunken head. After falling into a pit to escape the tiger, he finds himself stuck and upon uttering the magic word, Kareen appears a the top of the deep pit and she lowers a vine in to help him climb up.

Kareen explains that she got worried about Mark so she followed him into the jungle. Mark shows Kareen the head and how every time he steps closer to where his Aunt Benna is, the head glows, and when he moves in the wrong direction, it fades. He also tells her about the secret word and recites it for her, to her delight. She is convinced that he'll find his aunt and save the day. Mark expresses more doubts as to her father and Kareen assures Mark that her father isn't evil, that though Dr. Hawlings and Benna disagree, they still have respect for each other and he would never want to wish her harm. Mark buys this because he is mad-crushing on this girl.

Finally the pair come across a lone shack in the middle of a clearing. Mark calls out his aunt's name and she appears, shocked but happy to see him. She then gets angry at Mark for coming to the island, and when he tells her that he brought Kareen, Aunt Benna gets furious. Mark tries to explain that Kareen is on their side when Kareen starts hollering into the distance, flagging her father and Carolyn down to the shack. Kareen screams "They're over here" and Mark realizes he just got PUNK'D.

Dr. Hawlings tries to get Aunt Benna to reveal the secret word and she refuses. Unfortunately, Mark told Kareen, so she proudly tells her father that she knows it, but before she can vocalize it, Mark slaps his hand over her mouth and wrestles her to the ground. Aunt Benna takes the cue and tries to attack Dr. Hawlings. Unfortunately, the tag team of middle-aged woman scientist and fat child is no match for two fit sinister adults and their preteen cohort, and Aunt Benna and Mark find themselves held prisoner beneath the shack.

That night, Aunt Benna tells Mark that the secret to Jungle Magic is two-fold, and that to enact it, you must both grip the original shrunken head and utter the secret phrase. She tells him that when she gives him the signal of three blinks, he is to produce the shrunken head and utter the phrase, saving them. If she gives two blinks: slow pitch curve.

The next morning, Aunt Benna and Mark are trotted outside. Dr. Hawlings and Carolyn have been preparing a giant boiling pot. With guns (!) raised against the two, Dr. Hawlings again asks for the secret to be revealed. Aunt Benna refuses and Dr. Hawlings informs the two that since they won't reveal the secret, it will simply have to die with them. As Dr. Hawlings prepares to shrink their heads, Mark waits for Aunt Benna to give the signal. Once she does, he pulls the shrunken head out of his pocket, but before he can say the word, Dr. Hawlings smacks Mark's hand, sending the shrunken head flying into one of the exterior piles of heads.

Mark ducks away from the doctor's hands and dives into the pile of heads, trying to find the right head. They all look so similar, and then Mark remembers Jessica scratching his head. Mark grabs the head with the white mark on it and utters the secret word. The two adult villains and Kareen (!) all shrink down to the size of mice and flee into the jungle. Aunt Benna transfers the power of Jungle Magic back to herself, and her and Mark prepare for a safe journey home.

But the Twist is:
Mark is allowed to keep the shrunken head. The first morning before school starts, as he walks towards his friends to show them the head, he looks down and sees the head's eyes turn towards him as it says, "Hey kid, let me tell the part about the tiger!" Whatever.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Mark and the devil's daughter Kareen, who appears halfway thru the book.

Questionable Parenting:
Oh sure, we could be angry with Mark's mom for allowing him to go on a long trip with a strange woman, but I'm sure she thought it was the only chance the fat computer geek would ever get to spend time with a non-relative human female, so let's not be quick to judge her intentions.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Koosh balls, the name Kareen.

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Koosh balls, the name Kareen.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch 8/9:
Mark finds out he has Jungle Magic. This is confirmed as the next chapter starts. Somehow the phrase "Jungle Magic" never fails to deliver in this book.

Great Prose Alert:
"It's not a toy. It's a human head," I told my sister.

With a real and tangible threat against the protagonists (I can't remember any other Goosebumps book where the characters are threatened with guns and having their bodies boiled alive) and a fairly credible (for this series at least) plot, this is a higher-tier entry in the series, Jungle Magic and all.

Special thanks to Goosebumps Patron of the Arts Kati L. for donating this book to the blog!