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Recap #54: The Boyfriend by R.L. Stine

The Boyfriend by R. L. Stine

The Boyfriend by R. L. Stine

Title: The Boyfriend by R.L. Stine

Summary: You lie, you die

Dex is madly in love with Joanna. He would do anything for her… but she doesn’t care. To her, boys are there to be used and thrown away. After Joanna breaks up with Dex, he does something no other guy has done to her before.

He dies.

Joanna tries to pretend she’s sorry. But this time she’s gone too far.

Tagline: Her boyfriend’s back . . . from the grave.

Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.

Initial Thoughts:

Oh, god, we’re back to Stine already? I thought I was taking a break from our feud! Ah, well, I guess an evil twin’s work is never truly done. That summary, at least, is an interesting twist on how “boyfriend’s back from the grave” stories usually go. Is that a sliver of hope I feel? I think it is! I’m sure it will be burned to the ground within the first few words sentences chapters.

I’d never read this before, and now that I have, I wish I hadn’t.

[Dove: This was the second PH I ever bought, once again, a promise of supernatural, and once again it’s a fucking miracle I bought any more books in this series. I hate this book. Seriously hate. There are more offensive books out there, but for some reason, this is the one I hate the most.]

Recap:

We open with Joanna Collier standing on the top floor of a mall, staring down at all the people, asking herself whether she’s really going to go through with whatever she’s planned. She then immediately knows that she will, because once she gets something in her mind, she always goes through with it. Her dad (Sherman) calls her “Daddy’s little go-getter” and says she’ll never take no for an answer. This is supposed to be his highest compliment. And certainly with no rapey undertones at all.

Joanna is bitter about her father and all his compliments, including the way he used to call her “a real Collier”, because all the compliments in the world didn’t stop him from leaving with some “cheap-looking redhead”. Joanna doesn’t even know where he lives now, because her mom refuses to tell her where he is. He didn’t even contact Joanna on her sixteenth birthday. Her mother, who is usually meek, must have fought hard during the divorce, or so Joanna thinks, because they’ve lived really well ever since he left.

So. Dead dad, life insurance policy?

She claims (to herself!) that she doesn’t miss him at all, even though she’s spent many, many, many paragraphs thinking about it; she blames the idea of breakups for why he’s on her mind, family breakups, boyfriend breakups. She doesn’t think they’re sad, she believes they lead to better things.

Joanna is supposed to be meeting Dex, but is already thinking about Shep (wavy blond hair, dimple in his left cheek, lopsided smile) and what he might be doing while she’s supposed to be with her boyfriend.

Elvis’s “Don’t Be Cruel” comes plays on the mall’s sound system, and she laughs at it, because the world is cruel, she’s about to do something cruel, and she’s already enjoying it.

Her dad used to tell her that she had “the Collier good looks”. Welp, there’s our incestuous undertones too.

Incest is relative: 1 (+1) (Yeah, so his dad is dating my mom, but I would totally give him one.)

Apparently, the Collier good looks are: high cheekbones, perfect straight nose, clear blue eyes always opened wide, proud high forehead, and sunlight-blonde hair so smooth and straight it looked beautiful even cut short.

Joanna is actually hiding from Dex at this point, but also lurking around their usual meeting place. She sees a sign for a mall band concert and thinks snobbish thoughts about suburbs, especially Middlewood where she lives, and how tacky they are; she wants to move to NYC after she graduates to be a model.

Dex finally turns up at their meeting spot, late as always, and she is super bitter about this, too; he’ll be late his whole life, she thinks, and will never catch up. Which has some interesting meta to it in-universe (and as commentary for us, the readers, to take away), but mostly I’m picturing Dove’s reaction to this. She’s going to cheer Joanna on so hard, at least on this point. [Dove: I hate Joanna so much, I can’t even give her a pass for being early. I’m one of those people who considers being twenty minutes early as “late”.]

Joanna also judges his outfit, and is bitter that he dresses so casually for their date in faded, torn jeans and a t-shirt, one she doubts is clean.

She spends a lot of time lurking, staring at him, judging him, and thinking about how cruel she is, and how that’s one of her most admirable qualities, because, again, the world is cruel and being cruel is how you survive it.

I won’t recap most of it because it is boring, but we do get a bit about how Dex wanted to be an actor and had the drama and good lucks for it; she went to his school across town to see him as Julius Caesar in the eponymous play, and she worried that her BMW would be safe parked at the school because it is a bad neighborhood and a public school.

Cheer on the killer: 1 (+1) (Because the protagonist is such an insufferable wretch that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.)

I can’t get behind her snobbery, y’all.

While Joanna continues to creep on Dex, two guys she doesn’t know come up to talk to him. They laugh, but he does not. He keeps looking for her. She thinks that the anxiety and heartbreak will help his acting career, give him real life emotions to draw on in his performance. And then she takes off.

Joanna tells her friend Mary what she did, and Mary is shocked by Joanna being so cold. Except that Joanna is always like this, so why doesn’t Mary know about it? Joanna likes shocking her, so she clearly doesn’t hide much from her; she thinks of Mary as a kind little angel.

Aaaaand then we head hop into Mary’s head. Sloppy, Stine. Very sloppy.

Mary (brown hair in tight curls, angelic face, wears oversized men’s shirts to bed) starts to question herself as to why Joanna is her friend, and then why Joanna had changed so much. They’ve been friends since they were little kids, though now that they live in different suburbs, they mostly talk over the phone. Mary blames the snooty private school for making Joanna even more snobbish than she’d already been. However, she also thinks that Joanna is smart, funny, pretty, and such a good friend. Though even Mary has to admit that since the divorce, Joanna has changed, become bitter and cruel.

Great, some social commentary on how divorce hurts people and parents should stay together for the kids. Good times, good times.

Joanna then starts talking about Shep, and how he’s gorgeous and smart and already accepted at Yale, everyone in his family goes to Yale (so, probably not actually accepted on his own merits then).

Mary tells Joanna that she thought Joanna and Dex were very serious; Joanna says that they were, but it wasn’t good for either of them, because Dex has no money and never will, and she has to be practical even though she cares about him.

Cheer on the killer: 2 (+1)

Stine, I hope you intend to make me hate your protagonist, because she is fucking terrible with her classism and snobbery. And yet, we don’t have any sort of “rich people are terrible” tropes.

Mary is shocked again, and then gets sarcastic with her, which is pretty great. Mary, can you be our protagonist instead? Though probably that would be a terrible idea for you, considering this is Point Horror. AND THEN she decides it’s just all an act that Joanna is putting on because she really feels bad about breaking up with Dex. NEVER MIND, MARY. You are cutting her way too much slack.

Joanna then calls Dex “plain crazy” because he’s been taking the bus all the way across town in the middle of the night to climb into her bedroom window so they can talk. Mary says it is romantic. Joanna disagrees. (Joanna also disparages riding the bus. Fuck you, Joanna.)

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)

Now, I do agree with Joanna that it can be super creepy to have him climbing through her window (shades of Edward Cullen) if she hasn’t invited him there, but that’s no excuse for your damn ableism.

Then Joanna gets another call and puts Mary on hold, and we head hop back into Joanna’s point of view, because that’s good writing, Stine.

It’s Dex, and he’s upset. He’s still at the mall, and he’s been waiting for her. He tells her they had a date, they were supposed to meet, and she trills off lightheartedly that she completely forgot. He’s silent a moment, and then he hangs up on her.

As soon as she switches back to Mary’s call, we head hop back to Mary’s point of view. STINE, YOU ARE GIVING ME WHIPLASH.

[Wing: Note from the future, he drops this later. Why in the hell do you do this here?!]

Mary actually calls Joanna out on playing games with Dex, and Joanna tells her it’s more fun to make him squirm than it would be to actually tell him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. Mary can’t believe she’s serious, and Joanna says she’s not, but she’s really not sure if she is or not. They argue slightly about how terrible it is that Joanna is so spoiled, and then Joanna ends the call because she hears her mother walking around. She thinks about how sad it is that her mother is always so nervous, so restless these days (DEAD FATHER), and then she calls Shep. She wakes him up, but then they flirt for a bit. She actually asks him out, and he’s super enthusiastic once she says she’s not exactly going out with “that guy from across town.” She really likes Shep’s wavy blond hair and round cheeks which “make him look like such a little boy.”

WHY IS THAT APPEALING?! WHY DO POINT HORROR WRITERS KEEP THINKING THAT IS AN APPEALING DESCRIPTION FROM A TEENAGE GIRL? WHAT THE HELL, PEOPLE! [Dove: When Jenny thought it about Donny, the kid she babysat, totally acceptable. When a girl thinks about her boyfriend in this way: NOPE.]

Joanna imagines the date for awhile, and then dozes off. She’s not asleep long, though, when she’s woken up by Dex climbing in the window. If you know he does that, and you don’t like it, and you are breaking up with him in a really manipulative way, why aren’t your windows locked? (Not blaming her for him doing that to her; it’s on him not to do creepy shit like that. I am just confused by the logic here, and mostly I mean Stine’s logic.)

Anyway, she thinks the moonlight makes his skin look green and he has a weird expression on his face. She demands to know what he wants.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss me and Wing the hell off.)

Well, at least we made it through … one whole chapter before he started on the cliffhangers. *headdesk*

Dex tells her that it’s a beautiful night as he catches his breath. Apparently, climbing the tree to her second story window is difficult. He tells her to get her car so they can go for a ride. She asks if he’s crazy, and he agrees he is.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)

He tells her he flew there, and when she asks if he’s been drinking, he says yes, he had root beers while he waited for her at the mall. He throws her jeans at her, tells her to get dressed. Dex sounds like a real winner. He’s impatient with her, and tells her that his friend Pete is waiting for them outside.

Joanna, shockingly, doesn’t like Pete and judges him hard because he has short, spiky hair, a diamond stud in one ear, and heavy metal rattling in his Walkman (WALKMAN!!!) all the time. Soooooo, basically exactly the type of guy teen!Wing would have dated. (Or, hell, adult!Wing, too.)

Joanna decides, in a flash, that Dex was her teen rebellion phase.

Dex keeps pushing her to get dressed so they can drive out to the Promontory. He falls from bossiness to pleading, and she can never resist him when he’s like that, like a “lost little boy.”

SERIOUSLY, STINE. You’re starting to make me think we need some weird p*d*philia tag, except I don’t want to bring that kind of traffic here.

He also promises that he will never come visit her in the middle of the night again, but then he tempers it to saying he won’t come very often. He laughs, like it is a joke and not a creepy threat, DUDE, but Joanna doesn’t laugh, and he’s shocked by how angry she seems.

Joanna gives in, though, and starts to get dressed. She asks him to turn around, and he wants to know why she’s suddenly so modest. DUDE, Joanna is terrible, but you are also a piece of fucking work at this point. While she’s getting dressed, he kisses her, and for a moment, she kisses him back, because he smells so good, “soapy sweet” which, what even does that mean?

Finally she pushes him away, and they head down to her car. Joanna gets into her beloved BMW, luxuriating in the leather smell of the interior, and okay, she has a point there. That can smell so good.

She puts the car into neutral and Dex and Pete push it down the driveway so starting it doesn’t wake her mother. Except she’s spent three chapters thinking about how sad and meek her mother is, so why in the world would she be worried about that?

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 (+1) (Because why stick to what was said last chapter? Or even last sentence. Make it up as you. If your lead character says it, it MAKES IT SO!)

They have this down to a science, though, because the three of them often sneak out to take drives together. That sounds pretty threesome-ish.

The Promontory is the high cliffs at the edge of town. Pete wants them to turn on music, but Dex wants to listen to the quiet. Joanna has to concentrate hard on driving, because she’s more tired than she thought. The Promontory is a popular makeout spot, but it is always deserted this time of night. A moving truck honks its horn as it passes them, though I can’t figure out why, unless she’s been weaving into the other lane.

As Joanna turns onto Cliff Road, which is more of a gravel path than a road, the moon disappears behind clouds, and the trees start whispering and shaking in the darkness. Dex is in high spirits as they approach the Promontory. Once they arrive, Dex leaps from the car, shouting at the sky and taking off for the cliff edge, half running and half skipping. Pete follows slower, and Joanna has to close Dex’s door for him. She thinks about locking the car, but decides that’s silly because no one else would be foolish enough to be up there at 3 a.m.

I, personally, would always lock my doors, but I also always check my backseat for potential killers/monsters, so perhaps I am a bit paranoid.

Dex pulls her to the edge of the cliff to show her the town, and points out that she’s being a downer. She tells him she’s cold, it’s much colder at the top of the cliff than she expected, and he promises he’ll warm her up. Joanna can’t figure out why she’s there with them instead of home asleep like every sane person in town.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)

Dex stands ostrich-like on one leg at the very end of the cliff, and he tells her that he’s just trying to get her attention. Once he haves it, he starts hopping up and down on one foot, and then, as she shouts at him to stop because he’ll fall, he does slip and fall over the edge.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)

That is a valid cliffhanger (badumcha), but Stine overuses them so much in his books that when they do work, they lose a lot of their impact.

And then, SHOCKER, when she goes to the edge to look for him, he’s right there, because there’s a little ledge just out of sight, and he’s played a prank on her. She says it wasn’t funny, and he says it wasn’t supposed to be funny, it was more like performance art.

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 (+1) (Where the story tries to convince us that there really is a body count, only to later reveal the victim only sustained minor injuries.)

(I have the feeling this trope was MADE for this book and we didn’t even know it.)

Pete completely missed his performance, and Dex is really disappointed. But I thought you were doing it to get Joanna’s attention, Dex. He decides to do the trick again for Pete, but this time, the rocks under his feet crumble and he falls. Joanna hears him scream all the way down and then, from below, she hears “a cracking sound, the sound of egs breaking.”

Joanna flees, even though Pete is shouting for her to come back so they can help him. She is frantic, though, because if she stays, she’ll get caught, and her mother will know she sneaks out, and her mother will take away all her credit cards and other privileges. She tells herself she would stay if there was any hope of helping him, but she heard him fall, she heard the noise he made when he hit the bottom.

Pete keeps shouting for her to help him, but she just drives away, because she refuses to ruin her life for Dex, because he’s not her kind, and she can’t handle losing her car or her reputation. Damn, Joanna.

Cheer on the killer: 3 (+1)

She tells herself that she’ll save Dex by calling for help once she’s home, she’s not actually abandoning him, she’s going for help, and Pete will, of course, understand. She’s driving too fast, and she knows it, but she convinces herself she has to go fast so she can Dex help as soon as she gets home.

Joanna doesn’t see the truck until it is too late; the lights wash over her as the truck swerves to avoid her, but the road is too narrow. She realizes she’s going to get hit head on, and then there’s breaking glass and bending steel, and all that light gives way to darkness.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)

See, Stine, when you waste your cliffhangers on pointless chapters so often, I have to give you trope points even when you use them believably.

Joanna wakes up in her bedroom feeling just fine.

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 2 (+1)

First she thinks she’s dreaming now, and then she thinks the truck must have been a dream. She starts to get up, but stops when she sees something fluttering at the window and hears a scrabbling sound against the side of the house, a soft thud. She doesn’t understand why the window is wide open in October in the first place, or why the house is so quiet.

Dex is at the window, and he tells her it’s a beautiful night and they should go for a walk. She’s confused as to what time it is, what day, how she’s back in bed, but then reminds herself everything else was a terrible dream. She gets dressed and then touches Dex to make sure he is real. She thinks about how she needs to tell him that she wants to break up, but then they’re jogging outside, and it feels too good to be moving for her to break that peace. She picks up speed, leaving him behind, and thinks about how he’ll never be able to catch up, not in their run, not in life.

The world is silent, the wind blows but the trees don’t move, the fallen leaves seem to be glued in place. Joanna thinks this is all strange, but doesn’t do anything except for run faster. She’s pretty good at running away. Behind her, Dex becomes angry, and she doesn’t understand what his problem is. She then thinks that he’s not running with her anymore, he’s actually chasing her; as soon as she thinks that, as soon as she’s afraid, he starts gaining on her, too.

Stine, this dream is going on far too long, but it’s not doing a terrible job at setting a strange, ominous world, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. [Dove: The problem is that everything else in Joanna’s head besides this dream is so obnoxious, I can’t get into it.]

They run all the way to the Promontory, and the ground is wet beneath Joanna’s feet. She’s terrified now, and he chases her almost all the way to the cliff edge. She stops, but he runs at her even faster, mouth open in a silent scream. He runs right past her and over the edge of the cliff, and no matter how hard she tries to scream, no sound comes out.

Then she wakes up for real in a white room with her mother watching her anxiously.

Everything hurts now, but Joanna still tries to convince herself that she’s dreaming. Her mother, and some unseen women who are probably nurses in a Point Horror but who I am going to read as doctors, reassure her that she is going to be fine. Joanna doesn’t believe them, though, because she can’t sit up, she can’t even manage to move her arms.

A few days later, her mother tells her how lucky she was, because her beautiful face wasn’t touched.

UMMM. That is not what you should be concerned about right now. Especially since the rest of Joanna’s body is pretty damaged; mostly just broken bones, but still. Joanna is having a rough time of it. She falls asleep randomly, she’s not allowed visitors except for her mother, and her mother’s visits completely wear her out.

Her mother does finally ask why she snuck out of the house, but Joanna doesn’t have the strength to go into it. On the painkillers, she hasn’t even thought about that horrible night, or about Dex.

Joanna wakes later to find her mother gone, but Pete visiting, even though she’s not really supposed to have other visitors. Not clear whether he sneaked in or if this is a continuity error, but I’m going to count it anyway.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 (+1)

They sit in awkward silence for awhile, and then Pete blows up at her because she didn’t ask him about Dex, and Dex died that night. Fair point on him being in mourning over his best friend, but she is pretty beat up, Pete. You can’t even tell if she remembers that night based on your conversation. [Dove: This hospital part is the one time I can give Joanna any tiny benefit of the doubt. Given that she’s so banged up, and tripping balls on the painkillers, it’s not hard to believe she’d be numb to a lot of stuff. I lost an entire day while on morphine – during which time Mr Dove managed to convince me I’d agreed to get a dog (I’m a cat person, and so’s he) to the point where I started working out how to get our cats to accept a new dog. And everyone’s kind of judging Joanna the one time she’s got a reason why she’s so cold. I mean, she’s still an emotional icicle, but this time there’s a reason.]

Mary comes to visit her at some point later (it’s unclear if it is the same day or another day, but that is intentional; Joanna can’t keep track of time in her painkiller haze). HOWEVER, we’ve still not actually had it confirmed that she is now allowed visitors.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 3 (+1)

She sneaks Joanna a Snickers bar, which is apparently Joanna’s favourite, and Joanna is really pleased. They talk easily at first, but then it gets awkward because they don’t really have anything to talk about now that they go to different schools and have different friends. Umm, wouldn’t that give you even more to talk about? Dove and I live in separate countries and yet talk about our families and friends and lives all the damn time. [Dove: True story. I’m certain that Wing knows more gossip about my place of employment than most of its staff.]

Finally, Mary gets around to telling her that Pete told her about Dex. Do Mary, Pete and (previously) Dex go to the same school? Joanna is standoffish about it, but Mary keeps looking at her as if she’s trying to see whether she’s in mourning or not.

Joanna finally admits that she wishes she felt more, because her first reaction, which she admits is awful, was that at least now she doesn’t have to break up with him.

First of all, you weren’t planning on breaking up with him in the first place, you were going to ghost him.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 4 (+1)

Second, that is pretty terrible, and Mary is right to be aghast. Joanna tries to wave it off as her being numb because of the painkillers and things, but then she starts to get defensive. She immediately decides that she doesn’t need to be defensive, because her feelings are her own business and she doesn’t have to explain anything to anyone. Which is a valid point.

She feels a little guilty because she ran away and didn’t help him; she’s still trying to convince herself that she ran for help, and would have gotten it, too, if only she hadn’t been hit by the truck.

Big skip forward, and Joanna is back at home, walking around (and forcing herself to walk without a limp even though her leg still really hurts and she’s still in rehab for it), and even going out on a date now. She missed six weeks of school. Mary hasn’t been around since that visit at the hospital, and her mother asks her about it.

Her mother then asks if Dex is who she’s going out with tonight, because she’s surprised she didn’t see him even once while Joanna was convalescing. Joanna realises then that she never told her mother about what happened or why she was sneaking out that night. I’m surprised her mother never came back and asked her again, honestly. Joanna’s kind of surprised by this, too, and then tells herself that she’s lucky her mother doesn’t care enough to ask. That’s sad, kid, but you’re such a dick to everyone I can’t actually feel much sympathy for you.

Then when she tells her mother that she’s going out with Shep, her mother is thrilled because he’s Hilda Forrest’s son, and apparently he is more appropriate in her mother’s mind than Dex ever was, for the same reasons Joanna was going to break up with Dex.

So, terribleness clearly runs through this family.

Cheer on the killer: 4 (+1)

Joanna considers telling her mother that Dex fell off the cliff, to see if she can come up with an “appropriate” response, but then lets it go.

On their date, Joanna flirts with Shep about his cashmere sweater, and he tells her he’ll let her touch it if she washes her hands first. He’s joking, but it isn’t making me warm up to him at all.

Cheer on the killer: 5 (+1)

His grandmother gave it to him, apparently, and telling Joanna that makes her blush. He takes her to the winter dance at Garland High, the public high school he attended before he switched to the private Landover. How many people are transferring back and forth between public and private schools in this damn book? Also, would they really let a former student come in without being the guest of a current student? In the 90s, we could take non-students with us to dances (though the school has since changed its policy), but they couldn’t just buy tickets and show up on their own.

Shep drives a brand-new silver Jaguar, which is even more impressive than Joanna’s BMW. His grandmother gave him that, too, because she’s very old, very rich, and very lonely. Way to sound like a dick when talking about your grandmother, dude.

Cheer on the killer: 6 (+1)

Even though Shep told her going to the dance would just be a goof, he’s right at home with the other students, absolutely excited and pleased to be there. He even likes some of the outfits that Joanna calls tacky. He defends the school when she mocks the decorations, too. Shep is showing some backbone here. I like it, though it doesn’t make me warm up to him at all because of the earlier stuff.

Joanna fakes nice for the rest of the date because she can tell he’s not impressed with her snobbery and sense of humour. It works, because he asks her out the next weekend and kisses her goodbye at her door. She’s the one who turns it into a long, lingering kiss, but he’s pretty happy with that.

She’s getting ready for bed when her cell phone rings; it’s a little past midnight, and she’s confused at who would call her so late. When she answers, it’s a boy’s voice and it sounds like he’s calling from a long distance or with a bad connection. She doesn’t recognise it as Dex until he tells her his name.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 3 (+1)

Joanna doesn’t reply, just drops “the phone back into its holder.” UM. That’s not how you hang up a cell phone even back then. A car phone, maybe, but that’s not the impression I got of what kind of phone she uses.

She thinks it must be someone playing a cruel trick on her, because of course she does; then she tries to figure out who would want to make her feel bad. She settles on Pete, who is outraged at her, and is also the only one who knows she ran away from Dex that night. (Though she keeps telling herself she didn’t run away, she ran to get help. Right.

Eventually, Joanna wonders why Shep never asked her about Dex or about her accident, and finally settles on the theory that he doesn’t like to bring up unpleasant subjects.

The next day is cold and blustery, and when she finishes her French tutorial that afternoon, it is as dark as night. Her tutor only lives a few blocks away, but Joanna wishes she still had her car because it is so cold. The cold makes her foot throb, and her ribs and shoulders, as any weather change does, but she doesn’t let herself limp still. [Dove: I envy that talent. And disbelieve it. If I’m in pain, I hunch over and lumber, dragging my foot, and that’s literally the only way I can move.]

The streetlights flicker on as she approaches Trafalgar Avenue. The new light and shadows startles her; for a moment, the lights remind her of truck lights and freaks her out. Understandably, here. Probably has PTSD after that wreck.

As she turns away to calm down, she sees Dex leaning against a bus stop post across the street, absolutely still. A city bus runs a red light, keeping her from crossing the street (and also I have my doubts the bus would have done this; city bus drivers tend to be careful about things like that), and when it passes, Dex is gone.

Joanna can’t sleep that night, and as she’s lying awake in bed, she hears scrabbling sounds and scraping noises outside her window, someone climbing the tree trunk. A hand grabs the window ledge from outside, and a head pops up, hidden in shadow. She turns on a light just as Dex pulls himself into the room. He greets her in a low voice, and she has to force herself not to scream. She tells him Pete told her he was dead, and Dex seems surprised by this. I am surprised that the window is still fucking open in all this cold weather. [Dove: Possibly another trait Joanna and I share? I have the window open every night, no matter how cold it gets.]

Joanna has mixed feelings about seeing him. Mostly it makes her feel less guilty, but she’s not glad to see him, either. She then wants to know why Pete told her he had died. Dex excuses him because he was so upset about what happened that night. Joanna doesn’t buy this at all and can’t figure out why she feels so cold.

WINDOW. GHOST. Take your pick.

She then asks where he’s been, and he says that he was banged up pretty bad, broken bones, internal bleeding, and he’s been in a hospital upstate. She notices that he’s holding his left leg stiff, straight out in front of him. He tells her that his aunt tried to call her, but could never get through, and he’s not even sure she had the right number. He talks about how terrible it was to be in the hospital for so long, and this would be a prime time for her to point out she was in the hospital like that, too.

She holds off on that until he wants to know why she’s been ignoring him and why she hung up on his call. She tells him she was hospitalised, that she ran for help when he fell, but she got in the accident on the way to town. They make out for awhile, though she thinks briefly of Shep, and that she still has feelings for Dex. Maybe. She thinks. She’s not sure.

They’re interrupted by footsteps in the hallway, and she says her mom is around. He asks her out for Friday night, says he’ll prove that he’s not dead. She thinks about telling him about her date with Shep, but she’s torn because she both does and does not still want to go out with Dex. After he leaves, she thinks about how different his kisses felt, and she eventually falls into a troubled sleep.

Joanna calls Shep to break their date on Friday, and he whines about it. She likes that he’s whining, because she’s glad her breaking their date got him so upset. I hate all of you.

Cheer on the killer: 7 (+1)

Also, when Shep asked her out, he just said “next weekend” and so the fact they have a conflict on Friday night isn’t actually all that clear until now. He has plans with his parents on Saturday, so why didn’t he just ask her out for Friday night in the first place, Stine?

As they argue over whether he can stop by later (she says no, because her excuse is that her mother is really sick. Classy, Joanna), she thinks about how she’s going to be late to meet Dex at the mall, and it will be a hoot just like it was back in October that night she stalked him from afar.

She hangs up on Shep, but then wonders why she’s standing him up to go out with Dex when she feels absolutely nothing for Dex anymore. In fact, she was disappointed when she learned he was alive.

Joanna takes her mother’s new BMW. So what, Joanna herself didn’t get a new car? As spoiled as she is, I doubt that.

By the time she gets to the mall, she finds Dex pacing back and forth in front of the bookstore, looking pale, nearly as “white as cake flour” even though the fluorescent lights make everyone else look yellow.

She thinks about standing him up and running off to see Shep, but then he spots her. His smile is crooked, and she thinks that’s not his smile at all, it is a stranger’s smile. Then she gets mad at herself for looking for the differences. He fell off a cliff, broke almost all the bones in his body, of course he is different.

Then again, she got seriously hurt, too, and she doesn’t seem so different, so.

Besides, if she’s so sure it’s him, I don’t know why she’s obsessed with nothing the differences. Then again, I’m also not sure why she’s going out with him yet again when she supposedly wants him out of her life, and has since the literal first page of the book. Stine may write about her waffling over him, but the only thing that has come through clearly is her dislike of him.

She takes his hand as she apologises for being late (Joanna apologises?! Not buying it), and his hands are cold even though they’re normally warm. He’s normally warm, even when everyone else is freezing.

They go to the movie, an action comedy, and Joanna can’t concentrate on the movie. Dex puts his arm around her and she cuddles close, then notices a strange odour around him, a slightly musty smell, sour like old fruit or meat that’s gone bad. She thinks that Dex always smells sweet, so what could cause that sickening smell? I feel like you’re beating us over the head with this, Stine.

The next day, Joanna tells Mary that Dex is alive. UMM. Didn’t Dex come visit you a couple days ago? Why haven’t you told her sooner? ALSO, we’re then told it’s Sunday afternoon, except she said she went out with him the night before and they went out Friday night. Remember the whole unnecessary conflict with Shep? Fail, Stine.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 5 (+1)

Mary is, of course, stunned by this because Pete told her, too, that Dex was dead, but she hasn’t seen him since. So, question: when someone dies, there’s information about it. A notice in the paper. When a student at your school dies, especially by suicide (which is how it would have looked), there are meetings and therapists on campus and all sorts of things. So how come everyone is accepting Pete as the only source of his death?

They talk a bit about how weird it all is, and why Dex didn’t call Joanna after his fall, and how terrible it is that she now plans to string both Dex and Shep along for awhile (WHY? YOU SWEAR YOU HAVE NO FEELINGS FOR DEX OH MY GOD WOMAN). Joanna realises during this conversation that she and Mary have grown apart. Well, maybe she’s tired of you always going in for the shock value with her. And also, you’re a terrible person. Joanna reassures herself that Mary’s changed and she has no right to sit there judging Joanna.

Mary asks if she actually likes Dex, and Joanna says no, she thinks she just feels guilty. When Mary asks why she would feel guilty, Joanna realises Mary doesn’t know that she didn’t stay to help rescue him. Are you sure about that, honey? Joanna spins some story about how she feels guilty because she’s the one who drove him to the Promontory that night, and how he wouldn’t have fallen if he hadn’t been showing off for her.

Dex calls while they’re still talking, and Mary takes the phone, though she says she can’t hear him very well because he sounds like he’s very far away. Stine is really driving that detail into the ground, too. When Mary gives the phone back, Dex asks Joanna out for Friday night. She agrees, but it’s hard for her to hear him, not just the static but also because his voice is weak and thin — tired.

Next chapter opens on Joanna with her tennis instructor. He’s annoying her, and she’s grumpy. She then does some internal mocking of another woman playing tennis in the next court over (indoor private tennis club); she calls her a fatso and thinks that if she looked like that, she’d shoot herself.

Yeah.

This is a real thing that real people say to real fat people. It is terrible. It is unnecessary here, too, because Stine has already established Joanna as a terrible person. All this does is put out a terrible thing for fat teen readers to hit without any warning and without any pushback from the text itself. Fuck off with that, Stine.

As for Joanna, I hope her dead boyfriend drags her to hell.

Cheer on the killer: 8 (+1)

Apparently, she and Shep went out Sunday night, first for a long drive in his Jag and then up to park at the Promontory. At first she didn’t want to go there, but Shep really did, so she gives in, and then decides it’s just a makeout spot, she shouldn’t want to avoid it forever.

She and Shep fog up the windows until a carful of teenagers drives up shining their brights on them, laughing and honking the horn, blaring their radio, and Joanna hates that they were interrupted.

Joanna looks around the tennis club, because Shep is supposed to pick her up and she’s hoping he’s early. Instead, she sees Dex, and she’s shocked and worried, because why is he there. His limp is getting even more pronounced and both legs appear to be stiff now. His skin looks positively green, too. Between his stiff walk and his skin, she thinks he looks just like Frankenstein. Even though this predates the current zombie popularity, I’m still surprised that is the reference she made.

She’s distracted for a bit by her tennis coach, and when she looks back, Dex is gone. She tries to convince herself that it wasn’t Dex in the first place, because he has no reason to be there and no way to know she had a tennis lesson that afternoon.

Shep picks her up and they flirt over tennis (he was all-state his sophomore year, apparently, which was two years ago), until she sees Dex again, standing outside the tennis club, close enough she can see him clearly. Even in the sunlight, his skin looks green, “almost reptilian.” If this was Pike, odds would be high he was secretly a reptile. (My god, I can’t wait to recap that book. PIKE. MY LOVE.)

Dex catches her eyes, and his suddenly glow red like a dog’s eyes at night.

UMMM. I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at dogs’ eyes at night, and they generally don’t glow RED. [Dove: Wow. Stine has very different pets to us. No wonder every step he takes requires a cliffhanger. If my pet had red glowing eyes, I’d be paranoid too.]

Shep wants her to go out with him both Friday and Saturday night. They flirt, she gets angry that he is trying to be playful which doesn’t work for him, and she’s annoyed his getting handsy at school. She claims she has to study on Friday night because she’s behind after her accident. Of course, what’s really happening is she’s going to see Dex again.

Cheer on the killer: 9 (+1)

Friday, she drives across town to meet Dex, who surprises her with a silver corsage that when she first sees it, makes her jump and swerve the car. They go to Barks, a small dance club in his neighbourhood. It gets its name because there are giant dogs painted on all the walls, and Joanna thinks it is super tacky. They dance awhile, she keeps thinking about how different he is now, and how he’s dancing half-heartedly at best when he used to be excited about everything all the time.

Then she smells that smell again, the musty odor of decay. When she asks if he’s wearing cologne, he laughs unpleasantly, which is something else about him she doesn’t recognise. Then he stops dancing and holds his hand over his mouth, and walks stiffly off the dance floor. She calls out to him, but he doesn’t answer; it seems as if he’s forgotten about her even as she follows him. He stops in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror and finally turns back to her, tells her he just had to fix a loose tooth. She mocks him that he’s too old to have loose teeth, then realises it must be the result of falling off the cliff.

She wants to dance more, he wants to get a drink. He goes off to get them one (just soda, though, not alcohol, which reminds me, I need liquor stat), and she thinks he sees him pull a chunk of skin off his face.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5 (+1)

Chapter break to Joanna’s mother picking on her for not standing up straight enough in her formal dress. They’re off to a winter charity drive at the armory; her mother is the chairperson, which doesn’t sound at all like the mother she’s described to us so far.

She’s grumpy that she’ll lose the entire Saturday night to it when she could be out with Dex or Shep. She hasn’t seen Dex since that unpleasant night at the dance club, but no update on whether he actually pulled skin off his face, so that’s useful. She and Shep went to a movie the night before, where he “laughed like a lunatic” at the comedy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 4 (+1)

She prefers him serious because he’s ridiculous when he tries to be funny, when he’s laughing, and I hate her so much at this point. This book is taking forever, and I like zero of the characters. Damn it, Stine.

Cheer on the killer: 10 (+1)

Some friends of her mother stop by, tell her she and Shep are the perfect couple, and that sends Joanna off into a spiral of thoughts about why she’s going out with Dex still, which is just not like her, which is crazy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 5 (+1)

Cheer on the killer: 11 (+1)

She decides that Dex is her character flaw, and she’s going to say good-bye to him the next weekend. She realises she needs to do it in person this time, so he’ll actually understand.

After the party ends, her mother goes off with the Sturbridges and the Waynes. This book would be infinitely better with Bruce Wayne, especially if he brought Babs along for the ride. Anyway, her mother will be home later, so Joanna will be alone for awhile.

She gives her ticket to the valet, and then recognises him: it’s Pete. Pete! I thought you were dead! She tells him that she’s been seeing Dex, and she’s surprised that Pete hasn’t mentioned him.

Pete cuts her off, absolutely shocked. Then he tells her she’s making a terrible joke, because Dex is dead. She tells him about their dates, but Pete shakes her off, angry. He says the only thing he knows is that Dex is dead. He went to his funeral, saw him in the box, he was dead. He then tells her maybe she’s seeing him out of guilt, and she should feel guilty because she left him there to die.

Joanna starts to explain herself to him, then gives up.

She goes home, understandably shaken by this. She knows Pete, but she’s not sure if she can believe him, because if she does, she’s been dating a ghost. Well, no, ghosts are generally incorporeal. You’ve been dating a revenant or zombie or something.

She makes herself some tea (Dove will be thrilled [Dove: Dove wants to stab Joanna, and cannot be placated with her punctual and tea-drinking nature.]), and tries to think of a logical explanation for everything. She’s still sitting up like that when her mother gets home a couple hours later, exuberant because of what a success the fundraiser was. Joanna keeps thinking about Dex, though, and how much he’s changed, the green skin, the walk, the odor — and fucking finally she thinks zombie.

But zombies aren’t logical. She focuses on that. She then tells her mother that she needs to take a short drive, relax after all the excitement of the party. Her mother is loathe to let her do that, understandably, because the last time she went out like that, she had a giant wreck. However, her mother doesn’t actually stop her, so out she goes.

Joanna drives across town to Dex’s neighbourhood, which is far more squalid than she remembers, because Joanna is terrible always.

Cheer on the killer: 12 (+1)

Joanna idles outside his house for a bit, but then decides that Dex is awake at all hours and his aunt too deaf to hear the knock, so it’s safe to do so. She starts to doubt her trip as soon as she gets out of the car, though. She knocks, pounds on the door, no answer; then, as she’s about to leave, Dex comes up behind her. He’s not surprised or excited to see her, though. He looks terrible, skin green, eyes still red, and now his skin is peeling, his forehead pocked and cratered as if pieces have fallen off, and his black hair looks like it has slipped to one side, showing skin missing from his scalp and a patch of gray showing through. She freaks out because SKULL, but doesn’t gray usually mean brain matter when you’re doing special effects?

She screams at him, but he says nothing; she realises the garbage smell is him, not the garbage cans along the street; and when he smiles at her, his front teeth are all missing. He pushes her against the screen door and holds up a corsage, stabbed by a long, sviler pin. There’s something dark dripping from the petals, and now he smells like rotting meat.

Then, with his toothless smile, he asks her for a kiss.

This is actually delightfully creepy. Points for that, Stine.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 6 (+1)

Except then we cut to the next morning when her mother is trying to convince her to get dressed, but she’s too tired and too sick to do so. Her mother really wants her to come to church, and Joanna is bitter that her mother just wants to show her off. Conveniently, her mother won’t be back until late because she has so many social things planned — and again, this doesn’t sound like the mother she’s described to us the rest of the book.

Apparently, she fell and hurt her ankle when she ran away from Dex the night before, but it’s not bad enough that she can’t walk on it. She decides she needs to tell someone, anyone, and settles on Mary, because is her only friend (are you so sure she’s your friend), and the only one who knew Dex and almost everything that happened. The only one who would understand and believe her. Not so sure anyone is going to believe your zombie story, Joanna, especially after you’ve been such a dick to everyone, but you do you.

Joanna wakes Mary up, even though it’s already 9:30 a.m., and begs her to come over; she hates sounding and feeling so honest and vulnerable and out of control. Mary wavers, but eventually agrees to come over in about an hour. While she waits, Joanna tries to get herself under control.

Right up until she hears something tapping at the window. She freaks out, terrified that Dex is now climbing in her window in broad daylight. ONCE AGAIN, WHY THE FUCK ISN’T THE WINDOW CLOSED AND LOCKED? She screams at him to go away.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 7 (+1)

She realises the tapping is too light to be Dex, who would pound on the window, demanding to be let inside. When she finally turns around, she sees a pigeon standing on the windowsill, pecking at the glass. Dove, is this realistic? It’s the middle of fucking winter, are pigeons really still hanging out on random houses? [Dove: I have my “six fat pidgeys”, who lurk near our house all the time, and hope that the sparrows and starlings will drop food so they can scavenge (seriously, these are chunky beasts, they’re not hurting for food), but we never had them before we got the feeders and the bird bath out there, so I’m going with no. They follow the food. Also, even when I have food and I’m heading to the door to fill up the feeders, they don’t have the nerve to sit on the windowsill or get that close to the house.]

(Don’t you love how I’ve made Dove the bird expert of The Devil’s Elbow?)

She takes a long, hot shower to calm down, gets dressed, and then makes herself some breakfast. She’s cleaning up when Mary arrives. She needs coffee to jump start the morning, and Joanna asks if she had a late night, but Mary says no.

Mary starts out asking her why she sounded so scared on the phone, then immediately asks if she’s still seeing both Dex and Shep. Joanna admits she is, but says she’s going to break up with Dex, and then brings the conversation around to how things are weird with Dex, how she thinks he’s sick. Mary suggests the flu, but Joanna is certain it’s not that. Once the coffee is ready, she tells Mary the whole story, and Stine actually doesn’t recap it for us, which is a nice change. When she’s done, Mary says she also doesn’t know what to think of it, but that Dex must have some weird disease that makes his body fall apart. Joanna can’t think of what it would be, though, because she’s never seen anyone get a disease like that even on General Hospital (a long running American medical soap opera). Well, I mean, there’s always leprosy, but okay, we’ll go with no disease makes your body fall apart.

Mary also points out that the weirdest part is Pete, who keeps saying that Dex is dead. While they’re trying to figure out a logical explanation, Pete calls, and says that he’s so glad she’s there because she needs to listen to him. He saw Dex too, and now he’s all freaked out that Dex is back from the dead. He saw his corpse, he saw his grave, but now Dex is back, and he talked to Pete, even. Pete describes the smell and the rotting flesh falling off, and tells her that Dex is going to punish her. That’s why he’s come back from the dead, to pay her back for letting him die. Pete tells her to run, that Dex is on his way to her house now to kill her. And then the phone goes dead.

She’s about to tell Mary what happened when someone pounds at the front door. Joanna freaks out, but Mary answers the door anyway. Oh, look, it’s just Shep. He’s still a part of this story.

Joanna tells them that they need to leave, and when they ask why, she waffles about saying anything in front of Shep because he doesn’t know anything that’s going on. Finally she says that Pete called, he knows Dex is back, and Dex is coming.

Shep, of course, wants to know who the hell is Dex. Neither Shep nor Mary understand her frantic need to get out of the house, and she actually bursts out about Dex being dead and coming back from the grave to kill her. Mary and Shep do not take that well, understandably, and Joanna shrieks that she’s not crazy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 6 (+1)

Shep wants to get a doctor or Joanna’s other, but no one is around. Mary suggests they all go over to her house, where, I presume, an adult is around. Also, Mary says that Dex will never find him at her place. Mary tries to herd them out to the car, but before they can, the front door slams open. Joanna asks why Shep didn’t close the door, and he says he thought the maid would do it.

OH MY GOD. So much here to deal with.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 6 (+1)

First of all, for the door to slam open, it had to be shut in the first place. I think you mean to ask why he didn’t lock the door, which isn’t really on your damn guest, but is on you, Joanna.

HOWEVER, SHEP.

Cheer on the killer: 13 (+1)

YOU THOUGHT THE MAID WOULD CLOSE THE DOOR?!

What the fuck, dude. Have you even seen a maid? Mary opened the damn door. And even if there was a maid around, YOU CAN CLOSE THE GODDAMN DOOR YOURSELF. [Dove: This was one of the many times I metaphorically threw this book across the room.]

Dex comes staggering into the kitchen, Pete running after him, begging him to stop. He looks like a creature from a horror movie; a large patch of gray skull shows through a square bald spot on his head, all his teeth are gone, purple liquid drips from his eyes, and his skin is green as grass and peeling off his cheeks and forehead.

Why is there purple liquid coming out of his eyes?

Dex comes for her slowly, and Joanna is frozen with fear. He tells her he’s come for her from the grave because she shouldn’t have left him to die. He raises a large kitchen knife as he gets closer.

Why would a zombie need to use a kitchen knife?

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 8 (+1)

Pete tries to stop him, but Dex slams him hard into the kitchen counter. Shep knocks the knife out of Dex’s hand, and when he dives for it, Joanna gets to it first, and plunges the blade deep into Dx’s chest. Blood spurts out of his sweatshirt.

He groans that it isn’t right, and then collapses into a puddle of his own blood.

This prank is clearly going well.

Pete jerks Joanna away from him, and Joanna feels numb. Pete shouts that she killed him, and Joanna doesn’t understand, because how could she kill someone who is already dead?

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 4 (+1)

Pete checks his pulse, and says that he’s really dead this time, and before it was just a joke. Shep and Mary are freaked out over that. Pete shows them the stage make-up, says they came up with everything as a joke to pay Joanna back, to teach her a lesson. But now she’s really killed him.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 9 (+1)

Shep wants to call an ambulance, but Pete says it is too late. Why does everyone always believe Pete when it comes to people being dead?! Especially after we see that he lied hard about Dex.

Sheps points out that Joanna didn’t kill him, she was trying to protect herself. She jumps on that idea as self-defense. He goes on to say that Pete is as much to blame as Joanna because if he hadn’t done the stupid joke, they wouldn’t be where they are now. Pete admits it was a bad idea, and it was only going to go so far as the day in the hospital room when he told Joanna Dex was dead, but when she didn’t cry or ask about Dex or anything, Pete and Dex got mad, and Dex decided to take the joke as far as they could.

Shep wants to call the police, but Joanna refuses because they will never believe them. Surprisingly, Mary backs her and suggests they get rid of the body in the woods or something. Shep thinks this is a terrible idea, because Dex’s family will know where he was going and the police will catch them. Shep is actually a pretty good voice of reason here.

So this book has suddenly become I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Stine? You are not pulling it off.

Mary decides she and Pete will take the body. Shep says he won’t stop them, but he won’t help them either, because it isn’t right. Joanna says she and Shep will clean up instead. Why the hell are you trusting Pete at all, Joanna?

Helen, the maid, conveniently comes home just then, and they rush Dex out of the kitchen. Joanna has to cover up the blood on the floor, so she grabs a knife and advances on Shep, who freaks out.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 10 (+1)

She just cuts his palm, though, to give a cover story for the blood on the floor. DUH. Joanna then calls Helen in to clean up the blood, because of course she does. Shep is angry at Joanna and storms out; she follows him to apologise for hurting him, but he brushes her off because she’s cold and not really human.

Joanna keeps telling herself she’ll be okay, but she can’t stop shaking.

She sees Shep at school on Monday, but he ignores her. She feels sorry for herself and thinks about how much she cares for him (SINCE WHEN?) and how they have to get back together because they’re so right for each other.

She calls Mary that night to find out what happened to Dex’s body, but Mary’s parents are in the room and she can’t talk.

Joanna stumbles through the week, fucking up on her midterm exams and trying to calm down. She actually goes to her tennis lesson on Friday, but she can’t concentrate, and takes off early because she keeps thinking about seeing Dex there. She goes home, watches the local news, waiting to hear a story about Dex’s body being found, but there is nothing there.

She goes through the motions with her mother over dinner, and then goes to her room to call Mary, but the phone rings before she can, and it is Dex, saying that he really came back from the grave this time.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 11 (+1)

He tells her he’s coming for her soon, and then the line goes dead.

She tries to convince herself that someone is pretending to be Dex, but it sounded just like him, even his laugh.

She calls Mary, terrified, but Mary’s mother says she can’t come to the phone. Joana can’t stay in the house, she’s too scared, so she decides to head to Mary’s house instead of waiting. When she gets to Mary’s house, everything is dark, including the streetlights, and she gets a chill. Then finally she sees lights on at the back of the house.

Before she can knock, though, she smells Dex, that raw, rotting smell that is different from the fake garbage smell from before. When she sees him, he looks terrible, one of his eyes gone, nothing there but an empty socket.

He asks, in a harsh whisper, why she killed him.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 12 (+1)

She runs, screams for help, and he chases her, catches her, drags her to the ground. She realises that he’s solid, she can feel him, and he’s breathing hard from the chase. When she touches his face, plastic makeup comes off.

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 5 (+1)

HOW MANY FUCKING TIMES IS THIS STORY GOING TO THAT WELL?

Dex admits that he is alive, but the joke is over, and pulls out a switchblade. She screams at him to put it down, and a porch light snaps on. He tells her the knife is real and he’s going to show it to her, then stabs it down fast.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 13 (+1)

Into the ground. Fuck you, Stine.

Dex tells her that he did it all because she didn’t care about him while he loved her, and she was the best thing that ever happened to her; when he fell off a cliff, she didn’t care whether he lived or died. She claims that isn’t true, she was hurt and drugged in the hospital when Pete came to see her. He tells her that all she cares about is protecting her life and her rich boyfriend’s life, and that he’s not going to die a third time.

She thinks he’s cold and calm (sound familiar, Joanna) and crazy. FUCK OFF.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 7 (+1)

He lunges at her with the knife, but stumbles over a rock. He drops the knife, and she picks it up, telling him it’s his turn again. ARE WE REALLY GOING THROUGH THIS AGAIN?

Mary runs out of the house and grabs the knife away from her, telling her to get away from him because she’s done enough to him. She kisses him on the cheek and holds him. Joanna goes weak.

It was all Mary’s idea from the beginning, because Joanna had everything, big house, expensive car, and Dex, the one thing Mary wanted.

SO ALL THIS WAS OVER A FUCKING BOY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS SHIT, STINE?

Mary rants and raves, Joanna tells her to have Dex and tries to walk away, Mary lunges at her, but Dex stops her, tells her they’ll forget all about Joanna and this crazy time. Fuck you.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 8 (+1)

They walk away together, don’t look back.

The knife turns out to be a prop knife.

At home, Joanna thinks that the knife is as phony as she is, and that Mary was right about everything, about how Joanna uses people and is needlessly cruel and on and on. She breaks down crying, something she hasn’t done since the night her dad left. She cries until she’s all cried out, and it leaves her feeling better. I still have no sympathy for her, because she’s been so terrible the entire damn book.

Then she calls Shep. He’s reluctant, but she tells him that she needs to talk to him because she’s back from the grave. He doesn’t understand what she means, but she hopes he’ll give her a chance to explain.

And that’s how it ends. Seriously, Stine?

Final Thoughts:

NO, SERIOUSLY STINE? What the fuck even is this story? You pull the same sleight of hand multiple times, you overuse cliffhangers (which is at least normal), and every single character is terrible. Why did I read this book again?

[Dove: This book is why I avoid Stine. Beach House is the reason I don’t hate him forever.  This is a truly awful book, stupid plot, unlikeable characters, and the big reveal is that it’s not even about how Joanna’s been cold and hateful, it’s because Mary fancied Jo’s boyfriend.  For fuck’s sake.  What a waste of time and an insult to anyone who read it.]

Final Counters:

Cheer on the killer: 13

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 6

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 13

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 5

Incest is relative: 1

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 8

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I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with R.L. Stine, who is terribly prolific. Every story needs more werewolves.

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3 Comments

  1. Paul P
    Posted 20 December 2016 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Oh dear. I forgot the fact it was all over a boy. Otherwise, I quite admired the fact Stine gave us an unlikable protagonist decades before it was trendy. (And I’m fairly certain Joanna WAS supposed to be unlikable).

    I love the idea that Joanna’s mother actually bumped off the father. A better book would have gone somewhere with that!

    The whole premise was flawed in regards to Dex’s death. Even back in 1991 it wouldn’t have been hard to find out if somebody was dead or not! The fact Joanna’s mother had no idea if Dex were dead or not should have given it away.

    Not a great book, but I think Stine actually took some storytelling/character chances in his early days that many of the other YA authors didn’t.

  2. Anonymous Anne
    Posted 23 December 2016 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Oh, the nostalgia! This blog helped 7th grade me 2 years ago, when I used your blog to help me write an summer-reading review essay the DAY BEFORE it was due. I got an A on it, so thanks for that, lol!
    It’s been so long since I’ve been here, and I saw that you guys basically died, and I come back to see all these book reviews! GG. I’ll never forget you. 😛

  3. Posted 9 November 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, this was pretty terrible. Finished it early this month. I still can’t get over that she cut Shep’s hand for the cover story. I mean cut your own hand maybe? I think Stine truly hates women.

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