Monday, May 26, 2008

iStockphoto Strikes Again

Due to unforeseen delays, there will be no
update this week. Regular entries will return
to normal next week, Monday June 02.

Monday, May 19, 2008

#54 Don't Go To Sleep!

#54 Don't Go To Sleep!

Front Tagline! Rise and shine. Forever. (What does that even mean?)
Back Tagline! It's A No-Snooze Situation!

Official Book Description!
Matt hates his tiny bedroom. It's so small it's practically a closet! Still, Matt's mom refuses to let him sleep in the guest room. After all, they might have guests. Some day. Or year.
Then Matt does it. Late one night. When everyone's in bed. He sneaks into the guest room and falls asleep.
Poor Matt. He should have listened to his mom. Because when Matt wakes up, his whole life has changed. For the worse. And every time he falls asleep, he wakes up in a new nightmare....

Brief Synopsis!
I should preface this entry by breaking the bad news: Nothing on the cover of the book actually occurs in the book. Not even the scariest thing, the drop ceiling. So, with that in mind, what does appear in the book? Well... how about a twelve-year-old geek throwing a hissy fit and beating up a life-size cardboard cutout of a Klingon? I guess that was simply too scary to put on a book cover.

How much of a loser is protagonist Matthew Amsterdam? Well, after hearing his spaz-out on poor Worf, his two much older siblings come into Matt's messy room to mock him properly. His brother Greg, a senior in high school, is making a documentary about how lame Matt is and his sister Pam, a junior, joins in with play-by-play. Even the family dog, a dachshund named Biggie, hates the kid. Matt for some reason is scared of the small wiener dog. Biggie Biggie Biggie can't you see, sometime your woofs just terrorize Matt.

Matt tries to reason with his mother to let him move into the guest room, which is twice as big as his small room. She tells him that the guest room is for guests. While he grasped the concept without her explanation, he still thinks that their only annual guests, his grandparents, wouldn't mind sleeping in his room. Then over dinner, Greg continues his documentary on how much Matt sucks and when Matt gets huffy, Matt's the one who gets punished. Though Matt is frustrated with how mean his family is, I wonder if, as the book progresses, he'll grow to appreciate what he has... hmmm.... I'm rubbing my chin in an exaggerated, sarcastic manner. It is so sarcastic, this chin-rubbing.

That night, Greg and Pam sneak the dog into Matt's room and it bites him on the face. It's not revealed, but I sure hope Matt responded by throwing his nightcap to the ground and stomping on the hat while hollering "Doggonnit!"

The next day, Matt decides that since his single mom works late at a second job, she'll never know if he sneaks off to sleep in the guest room. So his idea of defiant rebellion is to just sleep in a different room? Greg, I'd like to invest in your documentary. Matt's plan to fall asleep works perfectly, but only because he'd been practicing every night of his life. However, his plan to wake up the same as he fell asleep runs into a hitch, as he wakes up as a sixteen-year-old. That's right, it's one of those books.

Much to his surprise, Greg and Pam are now 12 and 11 and just as annoying. Shocked to discover no one remembers how life used to be, Matt finds himself stuck in a new life. His mother drops him off at the high school, where he immediately gets threatened by a bully. In English class, there's some "comedy" at the expense of Anna Karenina. A piece of advice for RL Stine: It's probably not a good idea to try to score points off a book that is actually good within a book that is unequivocally not.

Matt has a lot of trouble adjusting to his new body. He keeps running into walls and tripping over his feet. He also knocks out a girl with a volleyball during gym class. In the hall between classes, Matt runs into the bully again. Matt realizes that high school can be a scary place. He decides to leave before he encounters more typical high school situations, such as peer pressure or knocking up Manny. On his way out of the school, he bumps into a cute twelve-year-old girl with a ponytail named Lacie. I mean literally bumps into her, as he knocks her down a few times by accident-- at least I hope.

That night, Matt must again sleep in the guest room. When he awakes, he's pleased to discover he's a twelve-year-old again. He's less pleased to discover his parents have been replaced with complete strangers and he's now an only child. He gets dropped off at a different middle school and runs into Lacie again. Because of overpopulation, the school had to add more lunch periods and so Lacie's is at 8:30AM-- this is actually a pretty good joke on Stine's part and deserved to be part of a much better book.

Lacie and Matt decide to eat outside and they're enjoying their brunch when two boys in leather jackets take a break from leaning up against cars to chase after Matt. Lacie holds the street toughs off while Matt makes his escape. Back at home, he tries to call his relatives but they don't exist, so there's no one to accept the charges. He's also a total jerk to his new mom for no reason. He tells her to mind her beeswax and whoever previously owned my copy of this book sure loved that line, as it's been underlined in brown crayon. I guess if you have to underline something, you might as well do it at this point in the book, because it only gets worse.

Matt goes to sleep in the guest room and wakes up to discover he's eight. And he has a pet monkey. And he wears a blue spandex suit. And lives with an extended circus family. And this wasn't what I was talking about when I said it got worse either, so start finding a way to deal with what's coming up.

His irate lion tamer father insists Matt practice the new lion riding trick, and so he tries to throw his son into a cage with a lion. Matt makes a break for it and hides underneath a truck in the parking lot. Then he runs into the two leather-clad toughs and they chase him back to the same lion cage. He runs inside and hides behind the lion. He threatens to sic the lion on the toughs if they come any closer. When they don't believe him, he does in fact sic the lion on them. I guess he wasn't lion after all, amirite

That night, Matt gets very excited about falling asleep, thinking that maybe he'll wake up as a sports superstar or in a different book. No such luck. Matt wakes up and discovers he's an old man. Deciding that the subscription to the AARP's magazine isn't worth it, he rushes back to sleep to will another fate for himself. This new reality is only marginally better, as he wakes up to find he's now a seven-foot lizard monster.

Monster Matt has sharp teeth and horns and striped oozing lizard skin. He flees his house and starts accidentally terrorizing his neighbors, causing car crashes and the townspeople begin to swarm away from this monster. Feeling only marginally more ostracized from others than he was at the beginning of the book, Matt adjusts remarkably well to being a lizard monster. He stops a speeding car with his claws and begins to eat it piece by piece. So he has trouble adjusting to being a sixteen-year-old boy but eating a car is no big deal? He's munching on a car door when he spots Lacie, who leads him away from the onlookers. They run down alleys and backways until they come across an isolated house.

Lacie leads Monster Matt into the house and... into the hands of the two leather-clad street toughs, who thank her for her work. Then they throw a magical net over the lizard monster. It's times like this that I am reminded of how superfluous those parody books of this series were. RU Slime has nothing on the real deal.

The three lead the netted monster into a jail cell inside the house. When Matt wakes up, he's a fourteen-year-old boy. Finally Matt and the reader are given some answers regarding what's happening. See, when Matt slept in the guest room, he accidentally triggered A Reality Warp. This is revealed to Matt as though it were obvious. Possessing well-reasoned logic that not even fanfic would touch, Lacie proceeds to explain that by triggering A Reality Warp, every time Matt wakes up, he changes reality for everyone in the universe. In the liminal justice system, reality-based offenses are considered especially heinous. Lacie and the two toughs-- who are named, hand to God, Bruce and Wayne-- are members of an elite squad known as the Reality Police. This is their story.

The Reality Police decide that the only way to stop Matt from changing reality is to put him to sleep-- forever. He thwarts their plan however by falling asleep and waking up as a squirrel. He escapes through the bars of the jail cell window and flees into the night. He decides that if he can just make his way back to his home and fall asleep in his old room again, he can undo all the events of the book. Aspiring writers, if you ever want to pour salt in your wounds, remember any time you submit something for publication only to get rejected, this book was accepted and its author paid.

An extended sequence follows between Matt the Squirrel and his sister Pam. Pam tries to keep the squirrel as a pet, which works fine for Matt because he thinks he can just squirrel into his room, go to sleep, and wake up cured. However, this plan fails and Matt the Squirrel barely escapes being locked inside a hamster cage. He climbs up a tree in the front yard and falls asleep. When he wakes up, the tree limb he was resting on as a squirrel crashes down, due to Matt now being a morbidly obese child. Ha, RL Stine sticks it to all the regular targets in this book: Fatties, Geezers, Lizard Monsters, Reality Police.

Fat Matt tries to gain entry to his house by ringing the doorbell and asking if he could sleep in their house. This plan doesn't work because Matt isn't capable of changing the universe to the extent that everyone is as stupid as he is. So the fat kid runs outside, climbs up the tree and attempts to jump onto his bedroom ledge from two stories up. Thrilling action commences as the fat kid jumps and then dangles from the gutter by his fingertips, managing to land on the ledge before he could fall to his fat death. He successfully breaks into his house and falls asleep in his bed, which exists even though he doesn't... well, I guess when the reader is this close to the end, Abraham Lincoln could have shown up and it would get the same mild confused shrug in response.

Matt wakes up and he's back in his old room. Everything is just as it was. Matt realized in their absence that he does love his family, even though they can treat him lousy at times. RL Stine realizes that the VHS rental of Home Alone can be written off on his taxes as a business expense.

But the Twist is!
Matt is so caught up in celebrating his safe return to reality that he forgets that it's his birthday. When he arrives home from school, his mother surprises Matt by revealing that she's moved all his stuff into the guest room, which is now his room. Matt responds by screaming like a little girl.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship!
Matt and Reality Police Junior Officer Lacie, who disappears halfway through several realities in the book.

Questionable Parenting!
Matt tries to tell his mom about how mean his siblings are and she just tells him that they're wonderful. I guess I know what her second job is: Night Contrarian.

I Guess No One Bothered To Read or Proofread These Books Alert!
Actual line from the book: "How can Matt can stand it?"

Has RL Stine Ever Seen a Dog? Alert!
Biggie is described as possessing "gaping dachshund jaws."

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending!
Ch. 5/6:
Matt tries to tell the high school principal that he's only twelve, to which she replies "Yes, I know" ....
"Yes, I know you read a lot of science fiction."

Great Prose Alert!
I'd much rather be on the planet Pluto than in my own house-- even with giant ants shooting spit rays at me.

Do you really need me to connect the dots on this one? In any reality, Don't Go To Sleep! eats.

Monday, May 12, 2008

#06 Let's Get Invisible!

#06 Let's Get Invisible!

Front Tagline: Now you see him. Now you don't.
Back Tagline: Disappearances Can Be Deadly.

Official Book Description:
On Max's birthday, he finds a sort of magic mirror in the attic. It can make him become invisible.
So Max and his friends start playing now you see me, now you don't. Until Max realizes that he's losing control. Staying invisible a little too long. Having a harder time coming back.
Getting invisible is turning into a very dangerous game.
The next time Max gets invisible,
will it be...

Brief Synopsis:
Before I realized RL Stine was the Tommy Wiseau of children's literature, Let's Get Invisible! was my favorite Goosebumps book. Looking back on it now, I can see why it appealed to me as a child. Certainly it's the most leisurely-paced book in the series, but it's also well-written and somewhat suspenseful. However, it contains no out-of-town scientist werewolves, so how good could it really be?

The simple story starts with our protagonist Max combing his hair in a mirror. Oh Foreshadowing Alert, how I've missed you. Max combs his hair a lot, as he wants to make sure he looks good for his birthday party. Unfortunately his kid brother Lefty keeps making fun of him with really scorching zingers like "You're stupid." The creativity of that burn shows that clearly Lefty has received his nickname not just from his writing-hand but also his use of the left-side of his brain.

Max's best friend Zack shows up armed with a lousy present (some used X-Force comics, which apparently did exist) and an even lousier haircut: buzzed on one side and combed straight on the other. I couldn't find a picture of Ellen Page in Mouth to Mouth but if I had, it would have gone here. Oh, how those of you who have seen that movie would have... well, maybe not laughed, but nodded and said "That's a reference to something and I get it."

Also at the party are two girls. Erin, whose voice sounds like a mouse, and April, whose voice presumably does not. Max excitedly tells his guests that they're gonna "barbecue"-up some hot dogs. Mm-Mmm, the delicious taste of wasted effort! What kind of marinade do you use for barbecued hot dogs, boiled water?

As if that wasn't enough to get that party started in there, Max tries to get everyone to watch "the Terminator movie" he rented. Not The Terminator, but "the Terminator movie." And it's called that more than once. I guess the parenting skills in Max's house are also invisible, so as to allow for R-rated movies and unsupervised coed mingling.

After the party dies down, only April and Erin are left. The four kids decide that the only thing cooler than watching "the Terminator movie" is exploring a dusty old attic. Max's dog Whitey discovers a hidden room in the attic-- Oh no, don't tell the brownshirts! The room is empty except for a large antique mirror that takes up almost the entire wall. Max begins plotting how much he could make by renting the room to a ballet troupe. A slender light rests on top of the mirror and when Max pulls the light's chain, the light comes on but he disappears, along with my hopes of the book's title being metaphorical.

After getting one of the other kids to pull the chain and turn the light off, Max reappears. You might call it a chain reaction! But seriously folks, it's a terrifying novel. Max doesn't believe he really let's got invisible. Erin and April's ride arrives and Max tries to put the whole ordeal behind him. Yet that night he has trouble sleeping and sneaks up to the attic to investigate. Max slowly takes an inventory of the mirror's construction when he spies an ominous figure behind him. Mirror mirror on the wall, who's that staring from the hall? Why, it's just Lefty!

Lefty whines until Max agrees that he can go invisible only if they both go invisible at the same time. I think we all know what these two said before they pulled the chain:



They both go invisible for a couple minutes, start to feel weak, then pull the switch again. This time however it takes longer to reappear. Max figures that it must have something to do with how they were invisible longer than Max was the first time.

The two brothers decide the best way to use this amazing new power of invisibility is to scare Zack, who wasn't there for the prior mirrorfest. And eventually they get him over to the house and they do scare him. Then they invisible him. Then amazingly April and Erin show up. Erin also wants to get invisible, but April remains hesitant and instead times everyone's excursions into invisibility. The kids will all attempt to stay invisible the longest. Before Lefty can take his turn though, his grandparents arrive for dinner and the other kids have to leave. But they agree to meet again later in the week to settle the contest.

This is followed in the book by an extended bizarre sequence involving Max's senile grandparents. The two old codgers trade marital insults, complain, and one of them laments that they don't have any strawberry soup to eat. Strawberry soup?

Max sees a spoon raise in the air and realizes that Uri Geller must be close by. Max wrestles with the invisible Lefty and drags him upstairs to the attic. Lefty brags as he comes back into sight that he stayed invisible for over ten minutes, so now he holds the record. Lefty promises not to use the mirror again but if these books have taught us nothing else, all children are liars.

That night, Max stays up late because of the weekend and hopes that his parents will let him stay up and watch Saturday Night Live. If this book were written now, he's be hoping they wouldn't let him. Erin calls and tries to convince Max that if they brought the mirror to school for the science fair, they'd be sure to get first prize and appear in People. So that's why Brad Pitt was on the cover of People, he grew some peapods! Max tells her that it's a bad idea because the wrong people could find out about the mirror, like the military. Ruh-roh sounds like Max's brother isn't the only lefty!

After five minutes of "No you hang up"-ing, Max sneaks off to the attic again. He sits against the wall opposite the mirror and stares at his reflection. As he starts to doze off, he's startled to hear a voice in the mirror, asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer: If Max wants to make the world a better place, he better get the hell out of the attic. Max runs down to his bedroom and hides underneath the sheets 'til morning.

When Max awakens, he soon discovers that Lefty is invisible again and this time using invisibility to float a shirt in Max's room. Granted, it's better he's doing this rather than molesting Kim Dickens, but it still seems like no character in this book is using this amazing discovery for anything worthwhile.

Max makes his brother go upstairs and change. When he comes back down, Max and his mother notice he's acting a little strange and there's something not quite right about him. There's really no way to talk about this part of the book without giving the twist away.

Max tells Lefty that he's decided getting invisible is too dangerous and calls his friends to cancel the invisibility championship. However, when the day of the championship arrives, Zack and the two girls show up at Max's house anyways. Turns out Lefty, who is currently hanging out at the park with his friends, called them up and un-canceled the championship. Max decides that as long as they're all there, they might as well go up to the attic.

If this book serves no other purpose, it continuously answers in the affirmative the eternal dramatic question we all ask of anything we read, "Will there be more things floating?" April finally gets to disappear but since Max's dog accidently gets invisible'd with her, he brings her back early. She's pissed but is again relegated to taking the time for the others. Erin goes next and for the first twelve minutes or so she's up to her regular hovering objects shenanigans. However, for several minutes they can't get her to respond to their questions. Eventually they spy a floating Coke can and Max brings her back by turning on the light. After she comes back into focus, she claims she just got thirsty and went downstairs and that's why she didn't reply. However, Max notices something odd about her appearance too.

Zack decides he's going to smother the record and doesn't want to be pulled back into reality until after fifteen minutes have passed. He then takes off outside and pulls a hilarious prank on an older neighbor. See, Invisible Zack picks up these tomatoes, right? And well he makes them hover in the air! Ha, objects hovering in the air, what a fresh, novel idea! However, once his friends stop splitting their sides in laughter at his riotous object floating, they notice that he too does not reply to their calls. Against Erin's objections, Max races upstairs and turns the light off.

Zack reappears and Max can't help but notice that his haircut has now been reversed. Max tries to say something but Erin and Zack push him under the light of the mirror and turn it on. He decides to not go anywhere and simply wait out his turn. As the time presses on, he begins to feel weaker and a white haze begins to envelop him. No matter how hard he cries, they won't pull the switch.

Now fully surrounded by white light, he sees an object floating towards him: his living reflection! (Cross-posted under Jacques Lacan Alert) The Reflection Max tells Actual Max that the reflections have already taken over Erin and Zack and now it's Max's turn. Max doesn't think living for eternity in a mirror sounds so hot, so he escapes. Somehow he manages to outrun white space and appears in the flesh once Erin and Zack pull the cord. They ask him if he's made the switch and he says no. Max, when someone asks you if you're a reflection, you say 'YES.'

Erin tells Actual Max no problem and pulls the cord again. Actual Max tries running out of the attic but Erin and Zack block his way. He yells to April to go get help but she tells him the only thing she can bring are May flowers. Just when all hope is lost, Lefty appears in the attic, sees the reflection of the invisible Max in the mirror and tosses him the ball. The ball shatters the mirror, sucking Max's reflection into the shards. Lefty holds onto the door frame while Erin and Zack also get sucked into the mirror and then spit back out again. April ends the book as she began it: doing nothing.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Well, Max likes Erin, so that's not too platonic, but she like everyone else in this book does disappear at some point in the novel.

Questionable Totally Awesome Parenting:
Max's mom tells him he can forget about his chores and go play with his friends instead.

Ghandi Alert:
"Sometimes nonviolence can be real frustrating."

Early 90s Cultural References:
SNL, "the Terminator movie," mirrors

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Kids love lifting objects.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 14/15:
Max expects his father to ask him why his brother is invisible, only he doesn't seem to notice. I can't really fault someone for not seeing an invisible person though.

Great Prose Alert:
But when he finally saw the three tomatoes spinning around in midair a few feet in front of him, his eyes bugged out and his face turned as red as the tomatoes!

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that "the Let's Get Invisible! book" still held up. Not the best in the series, but its low-key charms are undeniable. PS: When I was a kid, this was the first and last Goosebumps book I spoiled for myself by reading the ending first.

Monday, May 05, 2008

#16 One Day At HorrorLand

#16 One Day At HorrorLand

Front Tagline: Enter if you dare....
Back Tagline: The Next Ride Might Be Their Last....

Official Book Description:
The Morris family got lost trying to find Zoo Gardens Theme Park. But that's okay. They found another amusement park instead. It's called HorrorLand.
In HorrorLand there are no crowds. No lines. And the admission is free. It seems like a pretty cool place.
But that was before that heart-stopping ride on the deadly Doom Slide. And that terrifying experience in the House of Mirrors.
Because there's something weird about the rides in HorrorLand.
Something a little too creepy.
A little too real...

Brief Synopsis:
The first fifteen books in the Goosebumps series varied in quality, but all retained some sense of plausibility. Primarily because the characters, their actions, and the calamities they encounter are primarily insular: Dad's acting strange, the mirror upstairs is magical, a witch has granted me three wishes, &c. Even when the children in the books encountered massive obstacles (pyramids, camps), the events were portrayed as at least slightly plausible. After all, Carly Beth didn't put on a mask and transform into a thirty-foot lizard.

So I can say with no exaggeration that the sixteenth Goosebumps book ruined the series. There were bad novels before it, and there would be good ones after it, but nothing prior to One Day At HorrorLand exhibits what would steadily become a trademark of the series: complete and utter contempt for the audience. This is a book that is convinced that children are stupid and will accept anything presented to them. And based on the popularity of this title, perhaps Scholastic was right to loosen the reins on what Stine should and could get away with in the books, from a sales standpoint. But from an aesthetic standpoint: yikes.

Lord knows I'm harsh on the man but I always think of it like attacking a historically-constructed concept: RL Stine. Like Lincoln or William Tell. I feel a little bad because I am fairly sure he's seen the blog. In all honesty, he seems like a harmless enough once-struggling writer who stumbled upon an untapped market, and whose biggest mistake was allowing the name brand to spiral out of control beyond what he could reasonably produce. But I can't overlook the hammy tendency of the prose in these books; It's like the literary equivalent of John Barrymore in Twentieth Century. Is this the result of ghostwriters? I always joke that it is, but for me it's more accurately a Schroedinger's Cat situation: Every Goosebumps book simultaneously is and is not written by RL Stine.

For some reason, Stine's first truly vile book, the one under discussion this week, still remains highly visible. If you're reading this blog, you're well-aware that the Goosebumps series has been relaunched by Scholastic and Stine under the "HorrorLand" banner. There's also a sequel which we'll collectively encounter in the fall when I hit the Series 2000 books-- to say I have low hopes for its quality is putting it mildly. So why did young readers respond so strongly in favor of the novel if it's so bad? I can't speak from personal experience because I didn't like the book much as a kid either. I'm not bragging though. Trust me, I fell for so much awful garbage as a child that by no means is this proof of superior taste at a young age.

If I had to harbor a guess, I would say that it became popular due to it being the first book to actively deliver on what the series always seemed to promise: monsters. Particularly following the (for this series) brilliant You Can't Scare Me!, which cheated the reader, it's easy to understand the sense of release achieved by reading a book with nothing but kooky monsters doing icky things for no good reason. The book is almost unapologetically stupid. Undeniably there is no shortage of Goosebumps books worse than this, but all bad entries in the series to some degree owe their existence to this stupefying exercise in overindulgent nonsense.

But you guys came here for jokes.

Lizzy Morris is on day-vacation with her family. Her parents are bickering in the front while she rides in the backseat with her brother, Luke, and his friend, Clay. The cause of the parental frustration? They're lost and can't seem to find the Zoo Gardens amusement park. They pass three Six Flags parks in their journey, but no family is ever that desperate. Luckily their car stops beneath a horrifying billboard advertising what promises to be an exciting amusement park: HorrorLand! The family decides to scrap the search for Zoo Gardens and just go to HorrorLand. After all, they're all big fans of when two words are joined together to form one word, and if the park can channel even some of that thrill into their rides, well, hot dog!

The family quickly arrives at the park, leaving their car in the sparsely-populated parking lot. Unfortunately, they apparently gave Apollonia a ride too; Immediately after the family makes a safe exit, the car explodes. The family races to the ticket office, only to be told by the monster operating the booth that the park doesn't have any phones. They do however have plenty of pagers. The monster, who refers to himself and his coworkers as "Horrors," tells the family to enjoy complementary entrance to the park. When the time comes, the Horrors will take care of them. Get it, it's ominous. As the family heads inside, a pimp, having misheard the conversation, walks up to the counter and demands entry.

Once inside the park, their parents decide the best course of action is to quickly abandon the children inside the strange amusement park. The adults race off to find a phone, leaving the three kids to experience, yes, thank you God, a section of the park called Werewolf Village. They spot what looks like a real wolf and decide to visit a different area of the park. Unfortunately, Werewolf Lane only offers more of the same.

The kids spy a sign while wandering the park warning: 'NO PINCHING.' I know it seems silly to readers now, but the book serves as an important reminder of the grim legacy of amusement park segregation. Lobsters Only amusement parks, water fountains, and washroom facilities were a shameful feature of a less-understanding America. Thankfully we now live in time when crustaceans and caucasians can live together peacefully, so long as their either learn to breathe underwater/learn to breathe overwater.

Oh and then the kids find a giant slide and go down it. Except Clay chooses to slide down the 'Doom Slide' by accident and the siblings have to go after him. Here's a funny thing about slides: they operate via gravity. A slide can't then go up, or remain flat: it must always slope down. So perhaps someone explains how a slide can reach from one end of the park to the other side, as that is where Lizzy and her brother end up at the end of the 'Doom Slide' ride. They also pass through fake fire or something.

Now rejoined with Clay, the three go into a red structure called the Bat Barn. No points awarded for guessing that the attraction consists solely of walking into a barn filled with bats. That's it. Still more fun than Superman: the Ride.

The park is filled with a few other guests, but not too many. Every little kid they encounter is crying, and the HorrorLand Horrors try to peddle black balloons and black ice cream to the guests. The order that things happen in the book hardly matters. The kids see some other kids go swimming in a pool filled with alligators. They get trapped in a hall of mirrors... It's like, you know how much fun going to an amusement park is, and then you try telling someone else about it the next day and they don't care? Well, welcome to the novelization of that.

The plot is essentially: Lizzy admits she's scared of things, Miranda has been skipping lunches and faints, Clay is scared of everything but afraid to admit it, and Luke is scared of nothing. Add to that rides that aren't rides and make no sense: A roller coaster called 'Out of Order;' A Guillotine Museum; Who Gives A Shit: the Ride.

The kids grow tired of a park that has the sole goal of trying to murder them in strange, unentertaining ways. Lizzy asks a Horror if he's seen their parents. He says he had, that they left thirty minutes ago. But I guess you can't rely on horrible monsters who work for an amusement park that's trying to kill you, as Lizzy's parents show up alive and well. Lizzy wants to leave but her mom insists that since she and their father had spent the entire time looking for them and hadn't had any fun, they should at least go on one ride together. A ride where they float down a river in coffins sounds as though it fits the bill. The coffins float down the river alright, but the twist is that the lids of the coffins close shut. No, really.
I want a written apology from every reader who since this blog began begged me to cover this book.

The coffins deliver the family to the entrance of the park. The lids open and the family climbs out. Dad flies into one of his patented rages and attempts to seek justice for their poor treatment. Only he can't find any employees and the gates are locked. Luckily a swarm of dozens of Horrors appear.

Are you guys ready for the dumb twist that comes twenty merciless pages before the book has the decency to end? The Horrors are not costume-wearing employees but actual monsters. That's not the stupid part though-- and brother, when that's not the stupid part, you know the book's in trouble. See, the monsters have been filming their adventure in the park for The Monster Channel, a cable channel seen by over two million monsters. Between reruns of Wings, the channel features hidden camera footage of humans getting scared by monsters.

Luckily the monsters are good sports and have bought the family a new car as a way of saying, "We're monsters and we tried to kill you, so here's a new car." The Horrors usher the family through a door to exit the park except, whoops, they've actually been tricked into entering a chamber of terror. Wait, you mean you can't trust horrible monsters who are trying to kill you? What a cynical book!

Now, the book is plenty terrible already, but what's passed is Evelyn Waugh compared to what follows. The family is told they have one minute to complete an obstacle course. The obstacle course consists of a giant four armed ape creature and a pair of ten-foot cranes (the bird, not the construction equipment-- though that would probably have been scarier) and some other monsters. Whatever. When the minute is up, the announcer comes over the radio to announce that only three of the five humans has survived.

But the voice meant to say five. Everyone survived. Dramatic conflict? Avoided. To celebrate, the Horrors lead the humans to a deadly pit where the reward is to be murdered. This is a book that makes you feel better about third place. Before they can all die, Lizzy is struck by inspiration and pinches a Horror. The Horror deflates like a balloon. Ironically, the book has much in common with inflating a balloon, in that it blows.

But the Twist is:
The family escapes to the parking lot, only to remember that, oh right, their car exploded. So they steal a bus. When they arrive home, a Horror jumps out from the back of the bus and hands them free tickets to the park. I don't know about you, but I definitely am left craving thirteen more books about this.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Lizzy and her brother Luke, who both disappear down trapdoor after trapdoor midway-through many a chapter in the novel. I believe the book was underwritten by the world's last surviving trapdoor salesman, who lives in a castle on a hill and must be three-hundred-years old.

Questionable Parenting:
Lizzy's parents agree to visit the park solely because they parked their car beneath HorrorLand's billboard. On the bright side, at least they didn't park under an Applebee's ad.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 16/17:
Lizzy is pushed into the alligator pit, except replace "pushed" with "pulled back." That's like if there was a chapter break that went "My sweater is red"... "My sweater was actually green."

Great Prose Alert:
I could feel the heat of the monster foot.

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