Back to Fear Street – #1, The New Girl and #2, The Surprise Party
It’s a new year, and I have a new resolution. My resolution doesn’t involve improving my health and physical well-being or becoming a better, nicer person. No, my resolution is something I think I can actually pull off – reading at least two Fear Street books a month, in order, and blogging about them! Fear Street is a teenage horror series written by R.L. Stine that started in 1989 and continues to this day. In fact, a new installment in the series, Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride, will be out in August 2018. You might also recognize Stine’s name from his other series, particularly Goosebumps and Mostly Ghostly. The Fear Street series targeted an older audience and basically dealt with strange, mysterious, and often terrifying happenings that occurred in the fictional city of Shadyside, Ohio, which involved teenagers who lived either on or around Fear Street. I used to read Fear Street books all the time in the early 90’s and haven’t read any of them in probably over twenty years. So I was interested in re-exploring them for nostalgia’s sake but also interested in seeing how they hold up when read through the eyes of a soon-to-be 36-year-old. I’m not planning on giving away any spoilers but just giving my opinion on whether the books hold up. I can do this! So let’s go!
The New Girl (Fear Street, #1) – The first book in the Fear Street series is The New Girl. It’s about a teenage boy, Cory Brooks, who falls for a mysterious new girl at his school. The girl lives on Fear Street (yes, there’s an actual Fear Street named after a family who changed their name from Fier to Fear), and the story follows Cory’s adventures in trying to figure out who she is all while receiving threatening messages telling him to stay away from her. On Goodreads, I gave this book 2/5 stars, and here’s why. The premise was interesting enough, and it’s been so long since I’ve read this book that I had forgotten the twist ending. However, the book is only 168 pages, which leaves little room for real character development, especially when there are so many other characters involved. This is something I didn’t notice when reading Fear Street as a kid – that the books are so short. Most seem to be less than 180 pages. So lack of character development may be an ongoing issue as I go through this series again. Another issue with the book being so short is that it moves very swiftly to the conclusion, which means that characters, particularly our main character, have to make decisions that seem a bit ridiculous. For example, on more than one occasion Cory goes to Fear Street in the middle of the night because he gets a call from this mysterious new girl who he doesn’t even really know. Now, I know he’s a teenager and therefore prone to make stupid decisions, so maybe this is less a flaw of the book and more of me reading through the eyes of a somewhat mature adult.
My biggest issue, however, with The New Girl actually has to do with some very unnecessary updates. The edition of the book I read is from 2006, and for some reason someone decided that updates needed to be made for newer, younger readers. For example, in one scene Cory is listening to an iPod, whereas in the original he was listening to a Walkman. Some other examples include Cory’s best friend renting The Lord of the Rings (which I assumed was a reference to the Peter Jackson movie) and a school dance playing songs by Missy Elliot and Kanye West. I don’t remember the songs originally included in the book, but a look at Billboard’s Top 100 Hot Songs of 1989 included “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson, “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown, “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson, and “Bust a Move” by Young MC, so yeah I’ll take those please! These updates took me out of the story because they were unnecessary. People read books all the time that were written years before they were born and include references that they might not understand. Plus, updating is a slippery slope. The book includes Missy Elliot, Kanye West and iPods but makes no mention of cell phones. Also, our main characters have to make a special trip to the library just to use the computer, which I’m pretty sure was a less common activity in 2006 than it was in 1989 when the book was originally written. Now that I’m aware of these updates, I’ll try to stick to the original versions.
Overall, The New Girl was a decent first outing, and it kept my interest enough to make me want to continue my return to Fear Street and kept me on my toes as to the twist ending. Plus, the mere fact that I was rereading a book from one of my favorite childhood series really made this an enjoyable read despite some of its issues. So on to the next…
The Surprise Party (Fear Street, #2) – This book was also written in 1989, and the copy I have is an original, so no weird updates to report. The premise is that our main character, Meg Dalton, decides to throw a surprise party for an old friend who’s coming back to town. This friend was also the girlfriend of a guy who accidentally shot himself in the woods…or did he? Meg gets threatening messages telling her to call off the party (I’m thinking threatening messages might be a common occurrence in the Fear Street series), but instead of giving in she becomes more determined than ever to throw the party. I liked The Surprise Party a bit more than The New Girl, so I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads. I thought it had a much better twist ending that I didn’t see coming at all, and unlike The New Girl, parts of the story were told from one of the antagonist’s perspective, which I thought added an extra layer of mystery. There were more characters in The Surprise Party than The New Girl, and many of the characters had their own secrets that get revealed at the end. Another plus with this book is that our main character from The New Girl, Cory Brooks, and his best friend make a few appearances. Because this series centers around a particular street in a particular town, it would make sense for there to be some recurring characters. This gives the series a more insular feel and makes me feel like I’m not just picking up another Fear Street book but actually going back to Fear Street to see what the kids have gotten into this time. I somehow missed this when I read these books as a kid (probably because I read them out of order and also had to keep up with The Baby-Sitters Club and the Sweet Valley High crew), so I’ll make sure to keep a lookout for it in future books. Overall, The Surprise Party was a much more compelling story with way more plot twists than The New Girl, so a much better outing the second time around.
So far, my return to Fear Street is off to an exciting start, and the high nostalgia factor has been worth it alone. Seeing old covers online of the Fear Street books I had as a child is nice but when I finally get an actual copy, and better yet an original copy, it’s a pretty cool experience. I thought I had left Fear Street behind over twenty years ago, so it’s nice to know I can always go back. My trip down memory lane will continue next month! Until then…
Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’