Title: Nightmare Hall #7: Pretty Please by Diane Hoh
Summary: Johanna Dunn is strikingly beautiful, just like all her friends. Until the accident. Now her perfect face is scarred and bandaged. She’s embarrassed by the strange looks she gets on campus – even from her closest friends. A pretty face isn’t everything, is it? Somebody thinks it is. Some thinks she’s plain old ugly now. Too ugly to live…. [Wing: Well damn, that escalated quickly.]
Notes: I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.
Love the cover of this one, with the bandaged face looking back out of the mirror. Once again, I remember the identity of the Muffin Man all these years later. The concept of a killer going after a person they consider “ugly” may sound thin, but I think it’s quite unique, living as we do in a very looks obsessed society. Diane Hoh usually delves deeper into hot button issues than other YA thriller writers did at the time, so I’m hoping she finds some time for some light social commentary in amongst the thrills.
[Wing: I’ve never read this one before, but I like the idea that Hoh is going to take on the power of beauty in our society. I hope this goes well. And I don’t think it’s too far fetched for a killer to go after someone they consider ugly; just look at how fat people, for example, are treated. People casually call for their deaths all the time.]
The prologue is from a child several years earlier. They ruminate on how they’re never allowed to go outside, and wonder what it’s like to be out in the day time, being able to play with the other kids they can hear through the window. This child is kept inside by “They”, who the child knows is only trying to protect them from the cruelty of others, and tries not to be mad at “Them”.
[Wing: Well, I’m already intrigued, even though I don’t generally like prologues.]
Johanna “Jo” Donahue (not Dunn, like on the back cover, which is a sloppy oversight on behalf of the publisher) is getting ready for Missy Stark’s party, but can’t shake a feeling of great apprehension. Her friends Kelly Benedict (short, black hair, who is also her roommate at Lester dorm) and Nanette “Nan” Solomon (long, blonde hair) think she is being silly. The three girls, along with Reed Jameson (Kelly’s boyfriend) and Carl Vader (Nan’s boyfriend) are considered “The Beautiful People” on campus because of a short series of print ads they did in the local paper for a department store. It earned them a little extra money, and a lot of extra attention. [Wing: Where oh where is Dove, who has experience with being in advertisements.]
Jo hates the term, thinking labels are silly, offensive, and don’t demonstrate the value of a person. But when she previously tried to communicate this her friends, they were all, “We are gorgeous, why pretend we aren’t?” Oh dear. Am I going to like any of these people, other than Jo? However, Jo feels being part of a group is better than nothing. She’s seen those girls on campus, the solitary ones, the quiet ones, too shy to make friends, too plain to be noticed. Now who’s throwing around labels, Jo? I’m not sure I like Jo either, at this stage.
[Wing: Seriously. Though I think her feelings about those nameless girls are more a reflection of her insecurities than anything she actually knows about them.]
Even once they reach the mansion Missy Stark lives in, Jo’s apprehension hasn’t abated. Jo escapes to the library, which is where she meets Evan Colt, noting he’s not as handsome as Reed and Carl, but she likes his smile. They hit it off, and the two of them go and dance. While dancing, Jo sees a girl sitting alone on a couch, wondering what it would be like to be on the outside, always looking in. She sounds just like Hannah from The Train. And quite judgmental. Missy rounds up all of the Beautiful People to pose for a photo, and picks a long, narrow bench to the left of the patio doors. Evan, not a part of the picture, notes that the candles over their heads will cast shadows over their faces, as there is a pair of candelabra sitting on a shelf above them.
A couple of people come in through the patio doors bringing a gust of wind with them. This fuels the candle flames outwards, igniting Reed’s jacket. In the panic, as Jo fights to reach Reed and help him, the crowd surges in the other direction and Jo feels something hit her in the small of her back. With nothing to hold on to, she is propelled forward into and through the patio doors, head first. Good, wince-inducing visuals there. [Wing: UMM. When did safety glass start being required in doors like that? I thought it was in the 90s. The glass, if it did break when she hit it, should have shattered rather than broken into big enough pieces to cut her face.] Evan gets to Jo first, and when he turns her over, her face is covered with blood from her forehead to her chin.
When Jo wakes up in the infirmary, Dr. Trent assures her there’s no serious harm done, but Jo is horrified by all the tape, bandages and gauze. The most serious injury was a cut on her neck, and a lesser cut on her right cheek, under her eye. Her face is a patchwork of other minor cuts and bruises. The doctors says she’s going to look like she “tangled with a tiger” for a couple of weeks, but then she’ll be good as new. She’s kept overnight for observation, and has a sleepless night, worrying about being ugly and not being able to pose for ads anymore. The next morning, her friends arrive to bring her home, and Jo can sense their discomfort around her. [Wing: If she’s supposed to heal, why is she so freaked out about it?]
While walking across campus, Jo notices people stop and stare at her, and feels like a zoo exhibit. She notices some Twin Falls police walking around. When she asks about it, Nan says she thinks they’re asking about a girl who disappeared. Nan says the girl, Sharon Westover, “wasn’t anybody,” because apparently Nan has clear ideas about who mattered and who didn’t, and if she doesn’t know them, they mean nothing. Nan, that makes you possibly sociopathic, and very much a bitch. Nan mentions that Sharon was in a car wreck, was depressed, and probably took off home. When they reach Jo and Kelly’s dorm, she is shocked to see that the wide, framed mirror hanging over the large wooden dresser has been completely draped in black.
Carl finds that the material is glued to the mirror. Evan cuts it off with a pocketknife, and asks if there are any other mirrors. Indeed, the mirror on the medicine cabinet is covered as well, which Evan cuts away. Suspicion falls on Evan as being responsible, as he’s new to the group and they don’t know him that well, and he was the only one to think about other mirrors being covered. He says it not, and didn’t even know where Jo lived up until now. Jo insists she’s going to rest, and her friends all take their leave. She’s very unnerved by the fact somebody likely broke into her room, and that somebody thinks she’s so disfigured and horrible looking that she shouldn’t even be allowed to look into a mirror at all. She takes a pill, goes to sleep, and we get a brief (but typically pointless) dream description.
Next chapter is Muffin Man POV. Jo will never be the same. If she doesn’t keep her face covered, they will have no choice but to follow their mission and take action. [Wing: WHY. WHY. Why is the Muffin Man POV so popular?]
Jo goes to her classes on Monday. At first she thinks her friends are all avoiding her, but then she finds Evan waiting for her outside one of her lectures. They manage to joke about her circumstances, and go to lunch together. Everybody stops their conversation when they walk in. Really? Did Hoh ever go to university? By now she knows this isn’t a franchise about boarding school. This just wouldn’t happen! [Wing: I still wonder if she meant it to be a franchise about a boarding school and then just couldn’t shake all the assumptions and ideas she had for it. Also, I’d love to read a boarding school series from her.] Jo and Evan join the rest of her friends. Carl also makes some light jokes, and Jo happily plays along, but Kelly and Reed aren’t amused at all, and eventually leave, followed later by Nan and Carl. Evan mentions a costume party being thrown at Nightmare Hall by Cath Devon. Jo isn’t enthusiastic, but lights up when Evan suggests she can wear a mask. She agrees to go with him.
Despite lunch with Evan lifting her mood, the stares and whispers start right up again as she goes to her Math class. When she notices two girls behind her whispering like mad, she searches through her purse for her compact, paranoid that a bandage has come loose or something. When she digs it out and opens it, she finds that the mirror inside has also been covered in black. Meh.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point. I’m genuinely perplexed why you would double up on the exact same cliffhanger as a couple of chapters ago.
Jo freaks out completely, shaking uncontrollably, and has to be taken to the infirmary. This sets her off, but not the covered mirrors in her dorm? The doctor questions her over the top of the hammering and grinding noises outside. Jo is so unresponsive (she’s thinking about all the people who were in and out of her dorm on Sunday who could have done this) that the doctor says she’ll have to administer her a shot and put her to bed. Jo insists she’s fine, and takes off to her dorm, meeting Evan along the way. She doesn’t tell Evan about what happened, assuming he’ll think she’s overreacting. (I must admit, I think Jo did overreact, considering this is no different to something that’s already been done to her, and the previous occurrence was of a much larger scale.)
Jo enters her dorm building, and the resident advisor Bev says there’s a package for her. Jo is confused, because it’s not her birthday, and it doesn’t look like it could be a care package from her mother. Then she sees that it’s a hatbox from a department store called Ogilvies, a very expensive one that Nan shops at all the time. Way to give the game away, Hoh. Thinking the package is a gift from her friends to make her feel better, Jo takes it to her room to open it. Inside is a black hat with a long black veil at the front, designed to hide her face.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 points. Same old, same old by this point.
And at this point, I’m going to have to say that the gift from Nan’s favourite store, and the fact that Nan is the one who knows all about missing girl Sharon Westover, lets the cat out of the bag as to who is tormenting Jo. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not glaringly obvious. Plus, now I get to change Muffin Man to Muffin Nan, and that opportunity is too good to pass up. Clever, huh? I’m here all week, folks.
[Wing: Well I laughed. Hard.]
Kelly and Nan arrive at the dorm, and find Jo sitting there with the hat. They joke around, until Jo tells them why the hat was sent to her. Kelly calls it a sick joke, and throws the hat out the window, which upsets Nan. I wonder why? She says they should have kept it to help find out who was tormenting Jo, but we all know the truth. The three girls go to a costume shop. The store manager makes an insensitive remark about Jo’s face, but later suggests Jo try the Catwoman outfit. Jo is thrilled, because she looks great in it, and it comes with a mask. [Wing: It shouldn’t come with a mask that covers her entire face and neck though, should it? A quick search tells me that while sometimes they do cover the neck, they do not cover the entire face.] Kelly and Nan are impressed, and Kelly suggests she needs a whip as well. [Wing: WELL DUH.]
Kinky. Jo gives them money to cover the rental fee and heads across the street to another store. She thinks she sees Evan while crossing the street, but doesn’t see him in the store. She can’t find a whip, but gets a jump rope instead. [Wing: OH JO NO. That is not the same at all.] She returns to the costume store, where she finds Evan, along with Reed and Carl, who are trying to convince him to go as a Marx brother. The group goes to Vinnies. Jo sees Dr. Trent there, and Reed remarks how hot she is. Carl brings up Sharon Westover, who hasn’t returned home like everybody thought. Jo changes the subject. When she returns home, she wants to check out her purchase, but something else falls out of the bag. It’s called BAN-BLEM, and it’s a corrective make-up to cover up birthmarks, scars and blemishes.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 points. Come on, Hoh. You’re better than this. It’s no longer shocking or scary after the 50th bloody time. Well, 4th time, but still.
Next chapter is more Muffin Nan POV. She can’t believe Jo is actually going to the costume party. Why? Jo’s face will be covered.
Jo wonders about when somebody could have put the BAN-BLEM in her plastic bag. It must have been at Vinnie’s, she reasons, thinking of the times she left the table. She discusses it with Kelly, who asks her if she’s going to use it. Really, Kelly? REALLY? Good grief, I’m struggling to like anybody within these pages. On Wednesday, the friends go skiing. [Wing: Skiing in the middle of the week? Do these fuckers ever go to class?] Missy Stark tells Jo that the patio doors are fixed, and that her family will be paying her medical bills, although she thinks the person who pushed Jo should pay them.
Jo is shocked. Could somebody have actually pushed her? She remembers the hit in the small of her back. [Wing: Well damn, that is quite a surprising thought for her.] She discusses this with Evan. Except this doesn’t make any sense. Muffin Nan has already stated in her POV chapters that she’s genuinely remorseful that she has to take action against Jo. In the lodge, they are joined by Tina Downs, who Jo likes. Tina’s lips are already blistering because she didn’t put on any sunscreen. At the end of the day, Jo crawls into bed, thankful that nothing sinister happened.
ANOTHER Muffin Nan POV. It’s not worth recapping. [Wing: And yet I’m glad you made the reference, because it makes me laugh every time.]
On the afternoon of Cath Devon’s party, Jo visits Dr. Trent to have her stitches checked. The racket from the construction of a wall outside is deafening. I mention this, because I figure it will be important later. Dr. Trent says everything looks good, not to get the bandages wet, and there will only be a faint scar. The group go to the party. Jo is Catwoman, Nan is Marie Antoinette, Kelly is Morticia Addams, Evan is Groucho Marx. Jo and Evan dance. He asks about the whip. Jo says where she got it from, saying she saw him. He says he actually went next door. [Wing: IT’S A FUCKING JUMP ROPE.]
Then Jo thinks she sees another girl dressed as Catwoman, and is dismayed. However, she’s reassured that it’s Tina Downs, and she’s dressed as a cat burglar. She’s wearing a ski mask, according to Kelly, to cover her blistering lips. Kelly can’t imagine wearing wool over a face peeling from sunburn. But Jo can sympathise, with her mask tugging at her tape. She says she’s tempted to find a bathroom and take the bandages off, just for tonight. Her friends, including Evan, are all quick to say she shouldn’t do that. Hurt, she takes off.
[Wing: I mean, she probably shouldn’t! Especially wearing something over her face that might tear at her stitches. But they are probably coming from a much more asshole place.]
Still having trouble liking anybody in this book.
She heads up to the attic to cool off, and slowly starts to feel guilty about her anger. Why, Jo? It’s kind of justified. Your friends are so alarmingly insensitive it’s beginning to border on parody. She heads back downstairs, but before she can rejoin her friends, she’s asked by Cath Devon to go to the cellar and get some soda. She’s asked to set the soda in the fridge. Jo is concerned, because the stairs are dark, and the light from the cellar doesn’t reach all the way up. But she heads down there anyway.
DED FROM STUPID: 1 point. Come on, Jo. Grab a friend to help you!
Sodas in her arms, Jo heads back to the stairs. At the bottom step, she hears a noise. Looking up, she sees a shadowy figure in the doorway. Jo then thinks she sees a second shadowy figure appear behind the first one. The first figure lets out a surprised grunt and starts toppling down the stairs. The cellar door slams shut. The person slams into Jo, knocking them into the wall. The other person cracks their head hard against the wall. Before Jo can go get help, the door opens and Evan rushes down to assist. The lifeless figure is Tina, who doesn’t respond to their voices.
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 point
An ambulance is called. It looks like Tina has concussion and a broken leg. Come on, Tina. Lodge that lawsuit that this university so desperately needs! Jo wants to make sure of her belief that Tina was really pushed, because there was a small puddle at the top of the stairs she could have slipped on. LAWSUIT LAWSUIT LAWSUIT. Sorry. My current job is a court transcriptionist, and I’ve lost count of the number of trials I’ve transcribed involving people slipping on things at supermarkets and then suing. [Wing: Negligence! It is a tort law dream.]
Anyway, it turns out Kelly cleaned up the puddle before the paramedics arrived, in case one of them slipped. There’s a small debate about whether Tina slipped, or was pushed. Jo decides against going to Vinnie’s with the others, and Evan walks her home. He says he doesn’t believe Tina slipped, and Jo gets angry, thinking he’s trying to scare her.
Wow. There’s a turn for the books. FINALLY, we get a character other than the protagonist who thinks something hinky is going on….and the PROTAGONIST tells him to shut up. Evan simply says that when he saw the figure in black that was unconscious, he thought it was Jo for a moment, and that really frightened him. The two share a kiss. I should be charmed, but I still remain ambivalent about how I feel about these two characters. Neither of them are all that great. Jo returns to her dorm, and gets to worrying about whether the person who pushed Tina down the stairs actually did it thinking they were pushing Jo. That’s if Tina was pushed, Jo reasons. But we all know she was. Jo admits to herself how scared she is.
The next morning, after getting snotty at Kelly because she looks pretty, Jo goes with her to return their costumes. Exiting the store, she notices that the store she bought the whip from is flanked on either side by a drug store and a beauty supply store. She remembers how she thought she saw Evan, and reasons he wouldn’t have gone into a beauty supply store. UNLESS HE BOUGHT THE BAN-BLEM!!! This causes her to start to suspect him, which is all really silly, because she didn’t even know for sure that she really saw him. She has lunch with her friends and Evan at Burgers Etc. She tells Evan that she’s going to see Dr. Trent, but declines his offer to come with her. After all, she doesn’t know him all that well. She feels bad that she’s being distant the day after they kissed, but she feels just as confused as he does.
Dr. Trent checks the stitches, says they’re a little inflamed. [Wing: MAYBE STOP WEARING TIGHT MASKS OVER THEM, HUH?] Jo asks her about Sharon Westover, and the doctor confirms that the girl was horribly depressed upon returning to campus after her car accident. The change in her appearance was impossible to bear, and Dr. Trent isn’t surprised she went home. Is the doctor even allowed to say this sort of thing? What about doctor/patient confidentiality? I think it’s a case of:
Red Herrings: 1 point
[Wing: Hoh doesn’t believe in confidentiality, apparently.]
Dr. Trent says Jo has handled her injuries remarkably well, which pleases Jo. She leaves the infirmary, noticing that the construction crew aren’t there. Jo decides to take a walk along the riverbank instead of going directly back to Lester. Because the best thing to do when you’re scared, and paranoid that the person pushed down a flight of stairs was because the target was actually you, is to go for a stroll along an isolated riverbank.
DED FROM STUPID: 2 points
She is surprised when, after a while, she turns out to be a long way from campus. She starts to hear what she thinks are footsteps behind her, but whenever she turns around, they stop, and nobody is there. Jo starts to run, and hears somebody running after her. Muffin Nan catches up to her, and yanks a garbage bag over Jo’s head. Locking Jo’s arms to her side, Muffin Nan wraps something around Jo’s neck to keep the garbage bag in place. Jo punches and kicks, but because Muffin Nan is behind her, it has no effect. She hears laughter as Muffin Nan runs away. She’s alone on the river path behind Butler Hall, a plastic bag tied tightly around her neck, and she can’t breathe.
Jo spends a lot of time trying to undo the knot around her neck, before finally trying to tear a hole in the bag with her fingers, and then her teeth. [Wing: Seriously, try this first. You can work on the knot later once you can, you know, FUCKING BREATHE.] She finally creates a hole big enough to allow her to breathe, and then get her fingers inside to tear the hole bigger, tearing it away from her face. In the panic, she has nicked some of her cuts, making them bleed. Ouch. She heads back to her dorm. Kelly and Nan find her there, and she tells them the story. She briefly suspects Kelly, because Kelly has shown the most distaste in regards to Jo’s injuries. Nan tells her she should go to the police, but Jo doesn’t think the police will believe her, because it’s such an outlandish scenario and there were no witnesses. She figures if she can find out from Tina about what happened at the party, she might have some more evidence to go to the police with. Indeed, when she calls Tina at the hospital, Tina reveals she was pushed, and that Muffin Nan said to her, “I told you not to go running around without your face covered up, Johanna.” [Wing: Except … Tina was wearing a full-face mask at that point. So she was covered up. Awkward.]
By now, Jo is pretty positive that Sharon Westover is dead. She too was disfigured, and nobody knew where she was. But Jo keeps quiet about her suspicions. However, Tina told the police what was said to her, and the police will be speaking to Jo tomorrow, on Sunday. More than ready to hand the matter over to police, Jo is happy to join her friends ice skating. By the time they arrive, however, the snow is falling. Kids grabs brooms to clear snow away in front of them as they skate, and a game of sort-of hockey starts up, with music playing from a cassette recorder. It’s some nice imagery. Dang, I wish it was the 90s again.
However, the snow makes her bandages wet and a couple come loose. When Evan returns from getting her a coffee, she sees his look of shock at her exposed injuries, and is hurt. She decides to head to the infirmary to get fresh tape for her face. Someone shoves a broom at Evan, and he’s back in the game, so Jo heads to the infirmary alone. She is hurt Evan hasn’t offered to come with her, since she’s in danger. She even reasons she could ask Nan or Kelly, but the infirmary was just up the hill…
DED FROM STUPID: 20 points
Jo makes it there, but Dr. Trent isn’t on duty. The nurse at the front has to deal with an emergency, and tells Jo that the tape and bandages are in the back room, and for her to make a note for inventory on what she takes.
Would this ever be allowed?!? [Wing: Seriously doubtful. Come on, Hoh, there are way better ways to get Jo alone.]
Jo goes to the back room and finds the supply cabinet. She’s reaching for bandages when an arm wraps around her neck for the second time that day. Jo is thrown into a wooden chair, and her hands are tied around the back of it. Muffin Nan starts wrapping gauze around Jo’s head, like a mummy, from the top downwards. Jo gets a glimpse of a figure dressed in black, with a black ski mask. Muffin Nan is pissed because Jo didn’t heed her warnings. Jo shouldn’t be inflicting her hideous face on the world, and she must be stopped. The door to the back room isn’t locked, but if Jo makes a sound, Muffin Nan threatens to snap Jo’s neck, or kill the nurse, should she be summoned to the room.
As Muffin Nan continues to wrap the gauze around Jo’s face, she confirms that Sharon Westover is dead, because she didn’t listen to the warnings. Muffin Nan also gives some backstory: she never saw the daylight until she was twelve because of some sort of disfigurement. She knew it was to protect her. Muffin Nan runs out of gauze, and while going to get some more, Jo tries to walk, still tied to the chair, but stumbles sideways. Muffin Nan is pissed, and sets the chair upright, where the mummification continues, with the gauze now coming to Jo’s mouth. With only one layer, Jo is still able to breathe, but erratically.
This is quite frightening. I had an episode some months ago where I had trouble breathing and swallowing, and it is quite the terrifying experience. Mine was reflux, though, and obviously not someone deliberately cutting off my air supply, but still. I can relate. Knowing she’ll be killed if she doesn’t act, Jo slams her feet down on the floor and pushes backwards in her chair at the same time, knocking it backwards. As Muffin Nan leans in towards her, Jo kicks out with her feet and hits her target. Not in the head, but she’s pretty sure in the chest, as she hears them staggering away and crashing into something. Jo is up, bringing the chair with her (she’s still tied to it), and races for the door. However, with her hands tied, she can’t open it. She turns around and starts banging the chair legs against the door.
One of the things I love best about Hoh is her resourceful heroines. Yes, some of their silly decisions are practically begging for their stalker to attack, but that’s almost a requirement for the genre; had been for decades before this came out. However, Jo and the heroines in Hoh books before her, can think on their feet and refuse to back down in the face of danger. I find this sequence very effective, despite the illogic of being allowed to venture into a medical supply room willy-nilly. It’s suspenseful, claustrophobic, relatable, and I’d love to see it visualised in a made-for-TV movie some day.
[Wing: Agreed! How we got here is ridiculous, but the scene itself is wonderfully done.]
Before Muffin Nan can have another shot at Jo, someone else enters the room, looking to fill up their thermos. I sure hope this supply room doesn’t contain any of the ingredients for meth, because Salem University is going to have a severe drug problem on top of its penchant for having killers on campus. Jo hears Muffin Nan curse, and the sound of another door opening and closing as she escapes. The man starts unwrapping the gauze, and Jo sees that he’s a guy in a red hardhat and plaid jacket. He’s the size of a truck, so Jo assumes this is why Muffin Nan took off, rather than try and kill him like she would the nurse. He asks if this is some dumb college stunt.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 point
Jo tells him to call the police. The police arrive, and she is able to tell them about Sharon Westover. The police were already beginning to suspect they were dealing with a homicide. They escort Jo back to her room, where she thinks about how her attacker is someone she knows, since they said, “I thought you were smarter than that, Jo.” She’s also pretty sure Muffin Nan is keeping a close eye on her and following her, since that walk along the riverbank was an impromptu one. There’s a note from Kelly saying that they were starving, and they waited for ages, but went to Burgers Etc. One of them will come back to pick her up so she can eat out too.
Next chapter is more Muffin Nan POV. This is a record so far for a Nightmare Hall book! [Wing: Why do you hate me, Hoh?]
Evan arrives, and explains that they all left the pond after she did. Evan went to the infirmary, but the nurse told him Jo had come and gone. Nan and Kelly went to the dorm. Reed stayed at the pond in case Jo came back, and Carl went to Burgers Etc. Which makes Kelly’s note non-sensical, and poses a problem for the later revelation of Nan as Muffin Nan, if the two of them were together when Jo was being attacked. At this stage, though, Hoh is setting up Evan as the red herring, and may have overlooked this small detail. Evan feels really awful that he didn’t go with Jo.
Yeah, Evan you should. You may not be the killer, but you’re a dick. I don’t like you.
The two discuss Jo’s situation, wondering just how crazy is her stalker? Somebody who would attack two people who had already been victims had to be totally, completely insane.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 point
[Wing: I hate all of you characters.]
The others arrive with the food. Jo is grateful, but would prefer to be alone with Evan. Why, Jo? I know your self-esteem is low, but you can do so much better than Evan. Kelly picks up on Jo’s wishes, and the group insist they have plans. Before they leave, Evan contributes to the cost of the Burgers Etc food. When he gets his wallet out, a pink receipt falls out. It’s from the beauty supply store that the BAN-BLEM came from. Apparently their receipts are that instantly recognisable. Jo waits until the others are gone before deciding to ask Evan about it.
DED FROM STUPID: 30 points. I know Evan isn’t the killer, but good grief, Jo, if you have doubts about him, don’t be alone with him!
Evan says it was for suntan lotion, but he’s allergic to the stuff, and kept the receipt so he could take it back. As they bite into their hamburgers, Evan asks if anything’s wrong, because Evan thought she wanted them to be alone, but now it doesn’t seem she feels that way anymore, and he wants to know where that feeling is coming from. Jo makes up an excuse about her stitches and goes to the bathroom. She muses over whether she can trust Evan or her friends, and where Sharon Westover’s body might be. She cuts off a piece of bandage, and looks up into the mirror to place it. That’s when she sees a person standing behind her in the bathroom, a black ski mask on their face.
Through the eye holes, she can see blue eyes. Evan has blue eyes. Before Jo can run, she is pinned against the sink, and the ski mask is yanked down over her head backwards, so she can’t see anything. She is led out of the dorm, with the warning that if she tries anything, she’ll be killed. Jo hopes they might run into somebody, but as luck would have it, Muffin Nan is able to get her into the hallway and onto the fire escape without being seen. They head to the basement, where Jo is forced into the passenger seat of a car. Various lingering odours (hmmm) make her realise it’s Evan’s car. She’s very upset and angry, because she’d shared things with Evan, including a kiss, and had even thought she was falling in love with him. Jo, he’s kind of been a bit of a dick to you, and you’ve spent half the book wondering if he’s a killer.
He’s the killer! He’s the killer! He’s … my LOVAH!: 1 point
The word crazy is thrown around a fair bit in this chapter (a crazy cackle from Muffin Nan, crazy to think she was in love with Evan, she’s not crazy, Evan’s crazy). A one-off I would let slide, but it’s several times within one chapter, so I’m counting it.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 points
The car stops, and Jo is forced to look at the window, while the ski mask is pulled off her face, and Muffin Nan puts it back on. She reveals she’s brought Jo to her final resting place. Jo is dragged out of the car, and she sees they’re at the construction site building the new wall behind the infirmary, and she can see lights on in The Quad in the distance. She’s taken to a new section of the wall where the cement is still wet, beside a hole in the ground. This is where Muffin Nan will bury Jo, but not before making Jo write her name in the cement with a stick, as a headstone. Jo tries to write as slowly as possible, as Muffin Nan reveals that Sharon Westover is buried a few feet over, after being hit from behind on the head.
Although Muffin Nan is whispering, so Jo can’t tell whose voice it is, she begins to suspect it’s not actually Evan, because they are using words and phrases Evan would never use. Muffin Nan explains her mission, in that she is not punishing ugly people, she is saving them from the cruelty of society and being an outcast. Jo claims that they have no right to decide who lives or dies, so Muffin Nan gets to reveal her Motive to justify her actions.
As a baby, Muffin Nan was born with a “repulsive, shocking-red stain, as if dipped in berry juice” covering the entire left side of their face. She was educated at home, and never allowed to leave the house until after it was dark, never saw the light of day. Summer days were long, hot and lonely. When Muffin Nan was 12, her mother discovered a new technology laser surgery, and Muffin Nan was fixed. They moved to a small town where nobody knew them, and Muffin Nan got to experience some happiness. She grew up knowing what her mission was, and was so excited to go to college, because she knew she could finally fulfill it (her home town was very small), and make her parents proud of her. It’s a short chapter, but quite effective.
[Wing: Creepy as fuck there, Muffin Nan.]
Story over, Muffin Nan gets a shovel, and Jo realises time is up. However, Muffin Nan hesitates, because it’s much more difficult to kill someone she actually knows and cares about. Jo takes the hesitation as an opportunity to run, which pisses Muffin Nan off, so she hits Jo in the back with the shovel, knocking her into the hole.
Jo lies at the bottom of the hole, stunned, and then starts feeling dirt raining down on her. Muffin Nan intends to bury her alive. Eep. Jo gets to her feet, her chin level with the top of the hole. She sees that she’s still holding the stick she wrote her name with. Above her, Muffin Nan is tossing dirt into the hole, talking and singing to themselves. Just behind Muffin Nan, Jo sees car keys in the dirt, glinting off the light from The Quad – Muffin Nan must have dropped them while getting the shovel. Muffin Nan seems to be in a world of her own, so Jo stealthily reaches for the keys, taking three attempts to get them. But what does she do now?
Jo listens to Muffin Nan’s pleading and singing, and feels anger towards Muffin Nan’s parents. Couldn’t they see what they were doing and that it was wrong? Despite Muffin Nan’s protestations that she believes her parents were only protecting her, Jo knows she still experiences a lot of rage, and that rage was making her kill. She would only be claiming her parents were protecting her, because then she wouldn’t have to hate the only two people in her small, insular world. It’s a good observation by Jo, without bandying about of the word “crazy”. It’s actually one of the sadder, and oddly believable, motives in the Nightmare Hall world.
Suddenly, crying out that it’s too hot, Muffin Nan rips away the ski mask, revealing her true identity. Jo is shocked – it’s Nan, not Evan! Nan reminds Jo that the disfiguring birthmark was removed when she was 12. She then gives the standard monologue about how she did all her little tricks. She bopped Evan over the head, stuck him in the closet, and took his keys. She says she can’t believe Jo thought it was Evan, and that she should be more trusting. As Nan resumes shoveling dirt into the hole, Jo looks at the writing stick in her hand, and asks Nan for one final wish.
Nan obliges, saying she wishes she didn’t have to do this at all, because Jo had always been really nice to her, while most other girls were intimidated by her looks, and didn’t even get to know her. Probably because you’d kill them for being less than perfect, Nan. Jo mumbles her answer, and Nan kneels down to listen closer. Jo swipes the stick at her, creating a cut from beneath Nan’s eye, to her chin. Nan staggers around, screaming about her face. Jo uses the opportunity to make a run for it, hauling herself out of the hole and running towards Evan’s car. She can hear Nan running after her. Jo gets into the car, starts it up, and unseeing in her terror, hits the gas, and the car races forward. Nan runs to meet it. She smacks into it, onto the hood, cracking her head on the windshield, and bouncing back off the vehicle and onto the ground. Her arms and legs flop lifelessly as she lands, lying still and silent.
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 2 points
Jo was never aware of who called the police, but they arrive. Dr. Trent is there too. She says Nan is still alive, but in a bad shape, physically and emotionally. It would be a long time before she was okay, but the doctor believes with a lot of help, she’ll make it. Jo tells the police where to find Sharon Westover. Evan and Kelly arrive. Kelly has to be taken away by Dr. Trent to be treated for shock. I’ve always suspected Kelly might have known what Nan was doing. They were always apparently together when Nan was supposed to be off playing tricks on Jo or attacking her. [Wing: Oooh, that’s an interesting theory. I’d like to see more of it.]
Evan tells Jo not to feel guilty for thinking it was him. He could tell that was what she thought after she saw the pink receipt, and understands how she felt when she realised she was in Evan’s car. He says she doesn’t know him well enough to trust him, but he’s going to show her she can. Jo remembers how Nan told her to be more trusting, and that this is a good time to start.
He’s the killer! He’s the killer! He’s … my LOVAH!: 2 points
That was certainly a suspenseful and exciting cap off to a story that was a bit hit and miss, though definitely more hit than miss. I suppose, after the surprising depth of Guilty, I was hoping that this might offer us a little insight into the pressures teenagers face to fit a certain standard in terms of looks and style in society, especially since many of those expectations still exist today, 14 years later. We get a bit of that with Nan’s backstory, but it’s not enough. Here, it’s mostly just Jo being bitter about her injuries and focusing an awful lot on other people’s looks.
That was another problem for me: I had a disconnect with the characters. Like all Hoh heroines, Jo is resourceful and tough when it counts, but I can’t say I felt much for her other than that. Evan was a terrible love interest, though that may have more to do with his character being the victim of one, giant big red herring. You’ll note I don’t have a red herring counter, because I pre-empted that with calling the villain Muffin Nan, as I would otherwise have spent all month trying to add in every damn red herring. Nan was an interesting character, if only for the late reveal of her background, but I can’t say I liked her or Kelly that much. Reed and Carl were so underdeveloped as to be barely distinguishable. Even minor character Missy Stark had more personality than the two boyfriends.
The tricks Nan played on Jo got a little repetitive, although they make sense as warnings, because Nan was obviously very reluctant to carry out her mission on Jo. Nan’s motivation was unique, but explained well and sadly believable. The attacks on Jo were suspenseful scenarios, and I really loved that climax. I guess it was a tough act to follow in coming after Guilty, but Pretty Please is a solid, enjoyable thriller.
[Wing: That ending upped the entertainment of the book a lot, but you’re not wrong about all the rest. The red herring stuff is really getting predictable in this series, and I hope later books knock it off.]
I didn’t remember that thing about the “stain” on Nan’s face and assumed there wasn’t anything actually wrong with her face, but her parents were such vain perfectionists they probably labeled her a freak when she was just born because, hello, babies are always a bit ugly at the beginning.
The parts I did remember were Jo’s face being cut up and her getting that jar of cream to hide the scars.
Fake Nightmare Hall Summary:
”Pretty Please”- Jasmine wishes to be beautiful so that she can win her school’s beauty pageant.
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Evil twins, Wing and Dove, and their friends recap Point Horror and other teen genre fiction.
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