Back to Fear Street – The Stepsister (Fear Street, #9)
The wait is over and it’s time for another trip back to Fear Street! If you’ve been keeping up, you know that the last couple of outings were pretty disappointing. But I’m happy to say I fared much better this time around! Like any book or movie named after a step-relative, The Stepsister is a tale all about the sinister side of blended families. Emily Casey, our protagonist, is excited about her new stepsister and stepbrother moving into her house on Fear Street, but then a lot of terrible things start happening. Emily knows that her new stepsister, Jessie, is behind everything but no one will believe her, and she has to expose the truth before Jessie goes too far. A basic premise but a very enjoyable read, although I again predicted the twist ending. That left me a little underwhelmed, but I still gave The Stepsister 4/5 stars on Goodreads. The story was well-paced and fun and the characters were interesting, so even though I saw the twist coming I still enjoyed getting there. I also liked that the chapters had titles – don’t know why but I did. So I definitely recommend you drop whatever you’re doing and check this book out! Or you can just read ahead for spoilers. The choice is yours.
So let’s talk about those terrible things that Jessie does because they range from serious but harmless pranks to attempted murder. She rips the head off of Emily’s favorite teddy bear, steals her sweater, deletes her school report from the computer, and puts peroxide in her shampoo. Serious but harmless. Jessie then kills Emily’s dog by stabbing it in the chest, sets a school bathroom on fire after trapping Emily inside, pushes Emily down a steep flight of concrete stairs at a concert arena, makes out with Emily’s boyfriend, and pushes Emily into an open grave during a family camping trip and tries to bury her alive. With the exception of making out with Emily’s boyfriend, I’m pretty sure these others would warrant a mental diagnosis. And in fact, Jessie is seeing a psychiatrist twice a week. But here’s the twist…
It turns out the actual culprit is Nancy Casey, Emily’s older sister (although Jessie did accidentally rip the teddy bear and steal the sweater). Nancy blames Emily for the death of their father (who drowned while boating with Emily during a family camping trip to Fear Island) and for losing her boyfriend Josh (who dumped Nancy and started dating Emily). I was already suspicious of Nancy just from knowing about her father and ex-boyfriend and also because when all signs are pointing to one character that usually means it’s someone else entirely. But the real giveaway was right after the bathroom fire scene. Before going into the bathroom, Emily had run into both Nancy and Jessie, but after getting rescued she thinks to herself that Jessie was the only one who had known she was in the bathroom. That was a pretty obvious sign to me that Nancy was involved. Now to be fair, I thought that maybe Nancy and Jessie were both involved and working together but still leaned more towards Nancy as she had the most to be upset about.
Quick aside – I think it would’ve been awesome if the antagonist had turned out to be Emily’s mother! It wouldn’t have made sense as she wasn’t always in the right place at the right time to pull some of the stunts, but how cool would it have been if she was all, “You killed my husband!!!!” I mean, that would’ve taken the Fear Street series to a whole new level. But I digress.
Now Jessie isn’t completely innocent. She definitely did some bitchy things. She was kind of insulting when she first moved in and took over the bedroom that she and Emily had to share. She also secretly talked on the phone at night and was overhead saying, “I could kill her. I really could kill her.” She also sneaked out of the house a few times. But it turns out she was talking to and meeting up with her boyfriend who her father didn’t approve of because he was three years older. As for Jessie seeing a psychiatrist, she was apparently blamed for the death of her best friend but was actually innocent. So I’m assuming she had to see the psychiatrist to deal with that, although I don’t think a specific reason is actually given. And I guess the threat she made on the phone was maybe just innocent teenage anger over her and Emily not getting along. Maybe Jessie can schedule a group therapy session at her next appointment because this family’s definitely got some issues to work through.
Speaking of the other family members, Emily and Nancy’s mother is pretty basic and falls into the trap of being more into her new husband than into believing her daughter that something terrible is going on. The new husband, Hugh Wallner, is interesting. He’s more rough around the edges than Emily and Nancy’s real father and picks on his thirteen-year-old son for doing typically stupid teenage boy things and for engaging in that dangerous gateway activity – reading! Mr. Wallner mentions that his son, Rich, is a “real bookworm” and brags that he himself hasn’t “picked up a book since high school.” Not sure that this a good bragging point. Mr. Wallner also has a couple of sexist, pervy moments. When Mrs. Wallner asks who’s going to clean up after dinner, Mr. Wallner says, “Not me. That’s what I like about living with four women. There’s always someone to clean up after dinner.” Mrs. Wallner responds, “You’re a sexist pig,” smiles, and kisses him on the forehead. Now, I’m no stick in the mud so I can laugh this off. But I can also see how Emily and Nancy would definitely not appreciate that this is the man their mother chose to replace their father with. Then during a camping trip in South Carolina, everyone except Mr. Wallner is feeling less than excited, so he says, “Come on, gang. How can I get my harem into an up mood?” EEEEEWWWW! Who uses the word “harem” to refer to their wife, daughter, and step-daughters? And I guess also Rich? I feel like Mrs. Wallner should be making some mental notes – sounds like we have another issue to address at that group therapy session.
As for Rich, Emily describes him as “that weirdo with his Stephen King books.” And of course, he’s reading Pet Sematary, so when the family dog gets killed he immediately falls under suspicion. This prompts Rich to yell out in teenage angst, “Just because I read books doesn’t mean I’m a killer!” If I had a nickel for every time I had to say that. Just kidding – I’ve never had to defend my love of reading. So it’s a bit weird that Rich has to. But I’m wondering if this was a bit tongue-in-cheek of R.L. Stine – maybe there was some parental backlash when kids started reading Fear Street books. I don’t specifically remember my mother having any problems, but who knows? Maybe it gave her pause when my reading list went from The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High to books about teenagers being murdered. This leads me to an interesting side note that Craig brought to my attention – at the age of thirteen, Rich is reading way more mature material than I was at his age, including the Fear Street series. And looking at Young Adult fiction today, the books definitely seem to be way more complicated and detailed than the books I read as a kid and teenager. It’s amazing to me when I find my old books just how small and thin they were – it seemed like I was reading full-fledged novels at the time when they weren’t even two hundred pages. So I applaud Rich for his literary maturity! And kudos to his open-mindedness as by the end of the book he’s reading The Hardy Boys. Variety is the spice of life!
As for our recurring characters, this time around we have Della O’Connor (the protagonist from The Overnight); Ricky Schorr (the character I mentioned in my last post as being the first to have two terrifying Fear Street experiences in The Overnight and Halloween Party); and our lasting couple Lisa Blume and Cory Brooks (making this Lisa’s now sixth appearance in the series – the most overall). However, they were all relegated to honorable mention status as students that Emily and her best friend just notice in the hallway or cafeteria.
Now for a bonus feature! Back in my very first Back to Fear Street blog post, I mentioned that Stine was coming out with a new Fear Street book called Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride. Well, that book has arrived and here’s what it looks like:
Gorgeous cover! And this would also make a killer back tattoo! I haven’t read it yet but definitely looking forward to it! And Amazon shows the next book in this series comes out in September and is called Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl. That’ll definitely be added to my collection!
Wait, what? There’s more? Yes! Because Stine put out ANOTHER book. It’s a short story collection called R.L. Stine Presents: Scream and Scream Again! that includes a story from Stine and stories from the Mystery Writers of America. It also has a pretty great cover:
I just got finished reading this one and gave it 4/5 stars on Goodreads. The collection included some really good stories that made me think of Are You Afraid of the Dark. They’re definitely written for kids, but they’re still a lot of fun and a few genuinely creeped me out, especially the last one, “The Platform” by Peter Lerangis. Some of my other faves were “Ring and Run” by Steve Hockensmith, “Area Code 666” by Carter Wilson, “The Only Child” by Joseph L. Walker, “The Girl in the Window” by Tonya Hurley, and of course “The Best Revenge” by Stine. A good read for adults and some family-friendly scares for the younger readers!
So happy reading and I’ll see ya in September!
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.’