Title: BEACH PARTY by R.L. Stine (Not to be confused with BEACH HOUSE, which we already recapped. Unfortunately.) [Dove: What do you mean “unfortunately”? It was better than this. It had time travel. Nothing beats time travel. Especially this.]
[Wing: This had better characters. Mostly. Also, what part of FEUDING WITH STINE means I’m supposed to be happy to recap ANY of his books. Ha!]
Summary: It’s the ultimate beach party in California. And Karen, who’s just broken up with her boyfriend, is going to enjoy every minute of it – especially having two new guys who like her. But the party takes a nasty turn when Karen realizes someone is out to spoil the fun by getting rid of her.
Tagline: Some come to party. Some come to die.
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. (Note from the future: Never had to refer to the bad guy, so no Muffin Man.)
Don’t think I’ve read this one before, but I started a recap awhile back, and now can’t access where it is saved and must start over. So it’s sort of like I’ve read it before, in that I’ve put up with this shit before, damn it, and I want to be done.
[Dove: I thought I hadn’t read this, but I have. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. So I’m consistent.]
[Wing: Unlike Point Horrors.]
Had this thought the other day and need to share: I don’t actually hate R.L. Stine. I’m a big fan of how he helped popularize middle grade and young adult horror before YA was really a huge book category. I’ve heard him on podcasts, and he’s smart and funny and delightful. I even enjoy some of his books.
Just not the books we’ve recapped so far. Damn.
We’re immediately introduced to our two main characters, so I might as well start with a roll call.
Karen: The very first sentence of the book:
Karen Mandell drove the way she did everything else in life – foot down hard on the gas, full speed ahead, never look behind.
I … I kind of love Karen already. Shit.
Anyway, Karen has shoulder length straight, black hair, wide, “shocking blue” eyes, dark eyebrows, and dark skin that always looked tan. You guys. YOU GUYS. I’m pretty sure we have a main character who is a character of color OMGWTFBBQ. I should not be so excited about this. (Both because I should not HAVE to be so excited, i.e., characters of color should not be so rare, and because I don’t trust Stine to do right by any of his characters.)
Ann-Marie: Karen doesn’t think she’s as pretty as Ann-Marie, who dresses in designer jeans and heavy sweaters, and looks “like a fashion model with her slight figure, her straight blonde hair … her emerald eyes, and her high cheekbones and pale, creamy skin.” She and Karen are childhood friends, and she hasn’t been in Los Angeles for a couple of years, after moving all the way across the country.
Vince: Beach tough guy, gets embarrassed when his friends are abusive to Karen and Ann-Marie, but joins in eventually (PEER PRESSURE, FUCKERS), and Karen is unfortunately really attracted to his bad boy nature.
Jerry and Marty: Two guys who save Karen and Ann-Marie from Vince and his “gang” of friends. Jerry is big and strong and confident, Marty is smaller, has curly hair and “round puffs of cheeks” and looks like a squirrel. Karen is only attracted to Jerry, natch, though even he’s “a little too straight, too preppy” for her. Oh dear god.
Renee and Stephanie: Two girls Jerry and Marty are supposed to be meeting when they instead rescue Karen and Ann-Marie. Renee is pretty, with big brown eyes and frizzy brown hair. Stephanie has long blonde hair
Ann-Marie has just arrived in town for a visit, and they immediately start by joking around about how much weight Ann-Marie has gained (she hasn’t) and how crappy the food was on the plane (“bright yellow, burning hot on the outside and frozen solid on the inside”). Ann-Marie then goes on to compare her young brother to Freddy Krueger, and joke about his sarcasm, so at least that’s a win.
Ann-Marie goes on to mock the crystal-on-a-chain necklace that Karen wears, teasing her that she’s gone all woo-woo and believes they have magic powers. Karen is SUPER defensive over this, but at least is aware that she’s super defensive. Karen’s ex-boyfriend, Mike, gave it to her, right before she broke up with him. That would make me way less likely to wear it, but maybe that’s just me.
Just when their friendship is starting to look like a typical Point Horror friendship (and deserving of a “Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!” point), Ann-Marie actually apologizes to Karen for acting like an asshole.
Karen and Ann-Marie won’t be staying at Karen’s house, because Karen has divorced parents and is working that Disneyland Daddy and Magic Mommy thing for all she’s worth (well, not quite that maliciously – she admits that he’s trying to buy her love. I still really like Karen, and how self-aware she is). Not only did her dad get her a Mustang convertible with white leather seats, a new wet suit, and new skis, but he’s letting them stay in his new apartment in Venice, right across from the beach, even though he and his new young girlfriend are off at a spa. (Karen’s mother doesn’t know he won’t be around. I certainly don’t see this lie coming back to bite Karen in the ass or anything. I’d give Stine a counter here, “Parents? What Parents?” but the fact that Karen is blatantly lying to her mother fixes it. See how simple that is? A good reason for no parents.)
[Dove: But why aren’t they in Europe? Everyone goes to Europe. I’m so confused.]
[Wing: I think you’re biased.]
On the drive, they talk about how much Ann-Marie’s year sucked, she had a hard time at her giant high school, and then she and her boyfriend Clay broke up … well, maybe, everything was up in the air when she left to visit Karen in L.A. Apparently, Ann-Marie and Clay had been dating for two years. That’s quite a long time, really.
(It’s a little confusing about who grew up where, until we finally learn that the girls have been friends since they were nine, and both grew up in the same neighborhood in L.A.; the first part of high school was rough on their friendship, because Karen dated a guy Ann-Marie liked (GIRLS! SISTERS BEFORE MISTERS, DAMN IT), and Ann-Marie finally blew up, telling Karen that she always made Ann-Marie jealous of her. Karen thinks that’s a sad, revealing thing to say, and I agree. But they revived their friendship through letters after Ann-Marie moved to New York. I kind of love this, really. Friendships having rough patches but surviving. Long distance friendships. Childhood friends growing up. People apologizing when they hurt each other. Stine? Is that really you?)
That is all chapter one. Chapter one is full of awesome things. I don’t even know what to do with that.
[Dove: Don’t get excited. Remember how much we loved the friendship in The Mall. And how every other thing sucked, made no sense or was offensive?]
[Wing: Oh, hush. For once, I was trying to be optimistic.]
That night, the girls head to the beach. Ann-Marie is reluctant because the beach is pretty empty and Karen walks too fast. It takes a few paragraphs for me to be sure, but we’ve mostly shifted to an Ann-Marie point of view. She’s cold; the air gets cooler as they get closer to the water and the sand is wet and clammy against her bare feet. It’s been two years since she last visited the Pacific. I think she’s forgotten what it’s like. (There are beaches in NYC – and though Stine only ever says “New York,” it’s clear he means “New York City” – but the Atlantic is very different from the Pacific.)
Even though Ann-Marie is sarcastic about everything, the night is beautiful. We get a not terrible description from Stine, too:
The sun had just fallen, and the sky was pale evening purple, with tiny white dots of stars beginning to pop out and sparkle. The steady, rhythmic rush of the low waves, splashing lightly on the smooth shore, drowned out all other sounds. Against the darkening sky, the water was as blue as an afternoon sky. It sparkled and shone, as if holding the sunlight, refusing to allow the light to slip away.
Pretty or not, Ann-Marie is not feeling the cold solitude of the beach. I don’t understand that (I love the beach, even cold, the emptier the better), but at least we end up getting a little bit of an explanation as to why a beach in Venice is empty. (Summer tourist season hasn’t quite started, and Karen says most people hang out on Main Street because they’re afraid of having parties on the beach. Because of gangs. Oh dear god, is Stine going to take on gangs? This is not going to go well.)
They’re just putting on their shoes to leave when some boys appear, “five tall shadows that seemed to materialize like dark, grinning ghosts.” I am getting Lost Boys vibes here, so hard.
They wore denim and leather, angry-looking T-shirts with the names of heavy metal groups emblazoned across the fronts, visible even in the dim light. Their hair was short and spiked, or scraggly, down to their shoulders. A couple of them had diamond studs in one ear. They all wore the same amused expression.
Total Lost Boys vibes.
[Dove: *wibbles* … Paul ♥]
[Wing: … okay, okay, they’re all very attractive in their own way. Even the kid is a cutie.]
AND SUDDENLY WE’RE BACK IN KAREN’S THOUGHTS, WTF, STINE?
Anyway, Karen thinks they’re trying way too hard to look dangerous, but she thinks one of them (tall, lanky, short blond spiked hair, eight ball tattoo on the back of his wrist – this better mean something later in the book, STINE) is kind of cute. She recognizes him, sort of, from school, thinks his name is Vince. He knocked all her books out of her hands once, accidentally, and seemed very embarrassed when he helped her pick them up. Not the tough guy image he’s projecting now.
The guys give them grief (though Vince is pretty reluctant, until the end), Ann-Marie REALLY wants to leave, Karen mocks them and thinks Vince looks a little like Sting. Well, now, that’s a dated reference. [Dove: but it works on another level, Sting wrote “Every Breath You Take” and Stalking = LOVE in PH] [Wing: … fair.] The guys surround them, Karen gets even mouthier (I really like Karen A LOT), and we get a dramatic chapter break. On the one hand, this threat of sexual violence is pretty sucky. On the other hand, it’s a valid tense moment to break a chapter, so I guess I’ll hold off on giving Stine any points.
Which means we’re two whole chapters in, and no counters have appeared. STINE?! IS THAT REALLY YOU?!
Two MORE boys turn up and distract the five guys. One has a skateboard, one is tall and powerfully built, and very confident. Even though Karen has never seen him before, he comes right up to her, says they’ve been looking all over for them, thought they would wait with the others. This is actually a pretty good move, considering the potential for violence, so good job, random boys. Not so awesome with the girls needing to be rescued by boys.
Confident boy is named Jerry, and when Vince and his buddies get all chest thumping alpha male, Jerry says Karen is his sister and they’d better back off. Karen realizes she and Jerry do look alike, with their dark hair, light eyes, and perfect, straight noses. The other guys start mocking them again, saying Karen is contaminated if she’s Jerry’s sister. If Karen or Ann-Marie ends up hooking up with one of these jackasses, I am going to set something on fire.
Even after all this crap, Karen is disappointed to leave Vince. She’s attracted to him, “the way she was always attracted to danger, to excitement, the way she often was driven to pursue things she knew might not be good for her.”
I WILL SET EVERYTHING ON FIRE, STINE. EVERYTHING.
And for now, I will give you a damn counter. Congratu-fucking-lations, you made it two chapters without one.
I beat you because I love you (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.): 1
Vince tells Karen that they didn’t mean any harm, they were just messing around, and I take a quick recapping break to build up kindling for the giant bonfire that is sure to come out of me reading anything else about him in this book.
Skateboard dude is Marty, and he has a round face, round cheeks, and looks like “a fat little squirrel storing up nuts for winter.” This would be fine, except Marty is also the coward, he’s into running away while Jerry’s into being macho. BECAUSE FAT PEOPLE ARE SCAREDY-CATS, AMIRITE? [Dove: Well, when they’re not looking like killers, according to T. S. Rue.]
Though, after a deep, DEEP breath, I will say that Ann-Marie is tiny and is also pretty scaredy-cat, so maybe I won’t shout at Stine for the fat hate just yet. This could have been handled better, but I can see what he’s trying to do (parallel the boys and the girls).
(We also learn that though Karen thinks Jerry is a great-looking guy, he’s “too straight, too preppy” for her. This could have made me like her more, because that’s how I feel about pretty boys, preppy boys, too, EXCEPT SHE JUST DOESN’T LIKE THEM TO LOOK A LITTLE LESS PREPPY, SHE LIKES FOR THEM TO BE DANGEROUS ASSHOLES AND THAT IS NOT OK, GOD, DO NOT BE BELLA FUCKING SWAN, KAREN. SHE DESERVED BETTER AND YOU DO TOO.)
After the girls change, the four of them end up at RayJay’s, a small coffee shop and pizza restaurant in the basement of a house on Main Street. Even though it’s busy, and Main Street the place to hang out in Venice, Karen still finds a parking place just a few doors down. HOW CONVENIENT. Not enough for me to give it a counter point, but still. They tease Ann-Marie about wanting to walk, because it’s only a few blocks from the apartment, and this is pretty cute, actually. That is a big difference between people who live in NYC (walk everywhere, public transit, driving is difficult) and places built around car culture.
We get another not terrible description from Stine:
The restaurant was a long, low rectangle with two rows of red vinyl booths going straight back to a mirrored back wall. A rainbow-colored jukebox beside the bar against the near wall was playing a Willie Nelson record. Two waitresses scurried back and forth down the wide aisle. They wore long, red aprons over black T-shirts and red short shorts, and little red plastic baseball caps with RayJay’s in black on the front. The restaurant was smoky and hot, filled, for the most part, with loud, laughing young people.
Before Karen can lead them to an empty booth, Renee turns up, angry at Jerry for making her and her friend Stephanie wait for so long. Karen decides Renee sounds like a little mouse with her high-pitched voice, and doesn’t like her after Renee snaps at Jerry a couple times. Because of course, there has to be girls competing over boys, AMIRITE?
[Dove: I would totally go on a homicidal rampage to steal your boyfriend, Wing. Totally.]
[Wing: You already have my boyfriend’s mini-me, what more do you want? Also, I hope you have a dentist on hand when you put the two of them together, because TABLE HOCKEY = DANGEROUS.]
The six of them squeeze into one booth, which is just as uncomfortable and awkward as it sounds. They order a pizza (and probably some iced coffee for Renee), and the boys eventually leave to go talk to some other people they know. Here is where I am sort of pleasantly surprised; the girls are awkward at first, but end up talking comfortably after awhile, though Karen is still pretty judgmental of Renee, and, to be fair, Renee is pretty annoying. Stephanie and Ann-Marie get along though. Go have fun adventures without the others, girls.
While they eat, Karen keeps thinking about Vince, wondering just how far the boys would have gone if Jerry and Marty hadn’t come by, trying to recreate the scared feeling she had on the beach, the creeping feeling of terror. “Scary but thrilling” she describes it, and Karen and I need to have a chat. Karen, those feelings are awesome, and that is why you do things like cliff dive and watch horror movies and drive too fast. That is not why we hang out with abusive boys, OMG GIRL GET IT TOGETHER.
Apparently, Jerry and his friends know about a secret party beach in Malibu, which requires sliding down cliffs. That sounds awesome, but Jerry is trying way, way too hard to be enthusiastic about this beach and to make a Friday party happen.
[Wing: Appropriate addition, Dove!]
They all end up having a pretty fun night, even though we don’t really get to see it, it’s just written off as a one-liner. Of course, it is then ruined, because Renee gets Karen alone as they’re leaving, grabs Karen so hard she feels like crying out, and demands that she stay away from Jerry. So that’s a thing. Awesome.
And now we’re having Jerry be our narrator? What even is going on with the point of view characters, Stine? He and Vince have another run in on the beach, this time while surfing; Jerry runs into Vince, Vince kicks sand at him, they argue, Jerry’s voice trembles to show he’s not really into the fight, I am so bored already. Vince doesn’t want to fight either, because he’s alone with his gang around. They talk about how there’s no surf, but a strong undertow. That undertow better drag someone out to sea soon, or what is the point of this conversation?
Oh, look at that, Jerry is at the beach with Renee, who is sunbathing, not surfing (because girls don’t sport, AMIRITE?). Jerry jokes around about the SPF of her sunscreen. Renee doesn’t laugh; Jerry tells us she never laughs, and I think we’re supposed to feel bad for him, like she’s ignoring his humor, but Jerry, dude, so far you’re not actually funny. He thinks about how much he likes the smell of coconut suntan lotion (gross gross gross I hate the smell of coconut), and then licks her arm, which is gross for a different reason. Do you know how bad sunscreen tastes? She tells him not to get kinky. Licking an arm as a part of a joke? Not kinky, Stine.
There’s a moment where Renee talks about Vince and tells Jerry not to mess with him because Vince is bigger than he is, but previously, Karen specifically pointed out that Jerry is bigger than Vince. I’m bored enough to give this a counter point.
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1
Renee calls Vince’s gang “bad dudes” and laughs at it. Jerry thinks this is weird. I agree, actually.
They keep bickering about what to do, Renee is bored, they flirt, Renee is mad he keeps looking at other girls, I. Don’t. Care. This chapter does nothing (beyond boring me) except once again highlight Renee’s physical anger; she grabs Jerry hard enough to hurt him, just like she did Karen. Shortly after this, Karen and Ann-Marie show up on the beach. Thank god. First of all, I’m bored. Second, Jerry is not a great point of view character. I want out of his head.
Unfortunately, Karen is our point of view character now, and she spends a significant part of this chapter thinking about how much she’s been thinking about Jerry ever since dinner, and how Renee should be insecure about Jerry, because he just might be worth fighting for, and Karen won’t back down from a fight, and good lord, what this book did NOT need was girls fighting over a boy.
[Dove: That’s something I didn’t like about this entire book. It was so much about thinking about boys, and how some girl was going to ruin it.]
[Wing: Right? Every time I think it’s done, that same damn trope pops up again.]
Karen wants to try snorkeling, and suddenly Renee is acting all friendly, offering to take her over by the rocks to give it a try (both Renee and Jerry brought snorkeling gear). It’s pretty clear that the current is going to play a part here, and maybe even the undertow from that last boring chapter.
Renee gives decent tips for a first timer snorkeling, actually. Karen even tells her she’s a good teacher. (There’s a bit about how important it is to breathe slowly, normally, and that is so true. When you first go under the water and breathe, it feels so weird. Lots of people panic; your chest goes tight, your head swims, and you start to breathe too fast and too shallow. Snorkeling is awesome, though.
Sure enough, Karen gets caught in the current and slammed into the rocks; her wet suit is torn, and cold water pours in, shocking her. She calls out for Renee to help her, but Renee has her head down, face in the water. Karen believes that Renee can hear her and is ignoring her, doing all of this deliberately, waiting for her to drown.
Oh, god, another Jerry chapter. Ann-Marie is the one who notices that Karen is in trouble, but Jerry is the one who rushes into the water to save her. He struggles in the water, which is colder than when he was out in it trying to surf earlier, and he’s panicky.
When he gets close, Renee joins him, noticing Karen’s struggle for the first time (or so she pretends). Jerry needs her help to get Karen back to shore, because he has a leg cramp and the current is “so strong and so strange”. (You know, the more they talk about how strange it is, the more I expect someone to be controlling it. Don’t think it’s that kind of book, alas.)
[Dove: The Isuzu Trooper is controlling the current, Wing. Keep up.]
[Wing: NOW IF ONLY THAT WAS IN THE TEXT.]
People are crowded together on shore, watching them. (Useful.) Ann-Marie rushes up, throws herself at Karen, and proclaims her dead! I am so sure.
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1
In the next chapter, we get a few paragraphs from Jerry’s point of view while he does the chest compression part, getting Karen to hack up brackish water, and then we switch to Karen’s point of view. Multiple POV characters in the same scene is not cool, Stine, and your transitions suck.
Karen’s not sure she believes that Renee didn’t hear her, but she doesn’t say anything (yet). Cops show up to be useless assholes, which is pretty standard for Point Horror. The crowd disperses, finally, and Karen and Jerry have a weird little moment when she tells him she’s glad he’s a good swimmer, and a look of horror crosses his face while he’s lost in his thoughts. GEE, THAT WAS SUBTLE, STINE.
That night, Karen and Ann-Marie hang out in Karen’s room, eating ice cream and watching reruns on TV. This is kind of adorable and rings like a true friendship. Karen does tell Ann-Marie that she thinks Renee could hear her and ignored her until Jerry showed up, but Ann-Marie is sure that Renee just didn’t hear her. Karen says she needs to stop thinking about it, but she can’t seem to relax.
Of course that means Ann-Marie is going to leave her alone in the apartment while she goes to get milk. It’s nearly midnight. This could wait, Ann-Marie. Really.
[Dove: Is it for tea? If it is, it couldn’t wait. Tea is important.]
[Wing: Alas, no. It is because she likes to drink a glass of milk after having ice cream. Girl clearly isn’t lactose intolerant.]
While she’s gone, Karen gets a call from a weird, whispery voice that sounds like a ghost, telling her to stay away from Jerry.
When Ann-Marie returns (with her midnight milk, because that’s important), Karen tells her about the call, and says it sounded a little like Mike (her ex-boyfriend) trying to disguise his voice. Ann-Marie points out they haven’t seen each other since they broke up, but Karen says she thought she saw him when they were on the boardwalk. They talk about how it can’t be him, though, why would he be in Venice or calling her there, and decide it’s Renee, just in time for the phone to ring again.
Of course, Karen answers it by screaming for the caller to leave her alone, and of course it’s her dad. AND OF COURSE it’s her dad calling to say he won’t be home that weekend like planned, he’ll be gone at least another week.
After that convenient discussion of how Mike couldn’t possibly be in the area, Karen runs into him while she’s shopping (and Ann-Marie is visiting family, so Karen is alone). He’s apparently working on the boardwalk in Venice. More convenience. They have an awkward conversation in which Mike asks her out again, Karen points out, more than once, that they’re broken up, and Mike just won’t leave her alone.
[Dove: Can Dove asplode about this later?]
[Wing: Anytime, all the time, always.]
Vince to the rescue. Karen is spending way too much time being rescued by guys (to be fair, generally from guys as well, because guys can be shits). Vince is on a giant motorcycle. Karen leaps onto it and he carries her away from Mike. Oh dear god why?
Of course, Karen regrets her decision pretty much as soon as she makes it, but Vince doesn’t stop when she asks him to. And we get this as the end chapter/begin chapter transition:
I’ve made a mistake, Karen thought, gripping his shoulders, leaning against his jacket to get her face out of the onrushing wind.
I’ve made a terrible mistake.
He skidded to a stop at the Promenade in Santa Monica, nearly plowing into the back of a Volvo station wagon.
AND THEN KAREN DEMANDS TO KNOW WHY HE STOPPED OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Karen, I’ve held off on this, but I can’t wait any longer.
DED FROM STUPID: 1
They have a stupid exchange over being in Santa Monica instead of Venice now and then why Vince shouldn’t smoke, and Karen wants to know why Vince sounds so bitter when she gives him shit about smoking. I think Dove will have a response here, so I’ll just leave it alone.
[Dove: Personally, I don’t like it when people rag me about smoking, because of the double standard: Smoking is awful for you, the worst thing you can ever do is smoke, OMG, WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN! But would you like a drink? No. Go on, treat yourself. Have a drink. Oh, go on. It’s just one drink. Also, most of us smokers are actually respectful of non-smokers and don’t do it around them without permission, and if given permission, we try to find a way where we’re not smoking all over non-smokers. Also, fuck off, Karen. He’s a bad boy and it’s the 90s. He is literally obligated by definition alone to be a smoker.
In other news, I haven’t smoked since 9 May 2015. Smoking is cool and I miss it.]
[Wing: I could have written that myself, I know Wing’s rant well, but I like to watch her asplode.]
Within just a few paragraphs, Karen is back to thinking about how cute Vince is. KAREN STOP.
I beat you because I love you (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.): 2
Vince gets pissy, says she thinks she’s too good for him, and takes her on another wild ride, this time in the rain. Karen has no helmet and is dressed for a shopping trip in a beach town, not a motorcycle race through bad conditions. Great.
There’s no motorcycle accident, though, even though Vince is an angry, reckless driver. (It’s one thing to risk yourself and another to risk a passenger. I take my bike out on long, angry drives, too, but I wear proper clothes and never take someone with me. Fuck off, Vince.)
And of course, as soon as Karen is alone, she decides that the motorcycle ride, the one where she feared for her life, was fun and exciting and she’d like to do it again. She’d like Vince to rescue her again, because “all of that shyness, that bitterness, that quiet anger – it was kind of sexy.”
I beat you because I love you (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.): 102
Yes, I gave it 100 points. And yes, I’m lighting a match to set everything on fire. DAMN YOU, STINE.
[Dove: This is the whole “I want a bad boy, but I want to fix him” thing. I want him to scare me, and hurt me, but I want to draw a line, and he’ll love me and it won’t ever go too far. Here’s how you achieve that, Karen: you find a partner that doesn’t need their anger/violence issues fixing, then you play safe consensual games. It’ll be just as fun and much more safe.]
Karen finds the words “stay away from Jerry” spraypainted on the wall by the apartment door, in huge, black letters, the paint still wet. She just missed whoever painted it, and realizes that means they know where she lives. They might even have been inside.
She cautiously enters the apartment, and gasps in surprise. Really? REALLY, STINE?
I see Stine is back to form. Halfway through the book, and I’m going to end up hating it, aren’t I?
Karen’s gasping because Ann-Marie is in the apartment, just hanging up the phone. Ann-Marie says she changed her mind, she wasn’t in the mood to visit her family. Karen shows her the vandalism and says someone is trying to scare her. Ann-Marie asks if it’s working. Karen thinks it’s a strange question. It’s not a strange question, Karen, good lord.
Skip ahead to the next day, Friday, and Ann-Marie did visit her relatives after all. So … that whole not going on Thursday was literally just to give Karen the chance to be alone so she could fight with Mike and be rescued by Vince. I hate you, Stine.
Karen and Ann-Marie are talking about Vince. Ann-Marie calls him a gang leader. Karen says he’s not, he just hangs out with some guys.
Ann-Marie: Yeah. Some guys who happen to dress alike, just like a gang.
Ann-Marie says she’s not going to the beach party that night with Jerry and his friends because she’s too tired after visiting her family. Karen thinks she’s just jealous because Jerry pays so much attention to Karen. COME THE FUCK ON, STINE. ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO HAVE ALL THE GIRLS FIGHT OVER HIM? SERIOUSLY?
[Dove: It would be nice if Karen could also consider that it might be more a case of Ann-Marie feeling rejected because came out to visit her BFF, and Karen’s just dropping her every two seconds to go off with a different guy, rather than “OMG, why do all the hot guys like her, not me?” Because, little secret here, we females aren’t competitive cut-throat, I-want-that-guy bitches.]
[Wing: Pretty sure that never crosses her mind, even when she’s feeling guilty for abandoning Ann-Marie so often. Not guilty enough to fucking STOP though.]
BURN EVERYTHING BURN BURN BURN BURN BURN
There are a bunch of other people with Jerry and Marty when they pick up Karen for the party, but Karen promptly forgets all their names, so I’m not even going to bother. They tease each other a lot, including teasing Karen about nearly dying, so … cool story, bro?
(Karen wonders briefly why Ann-Marie has been acting so strange, so tense the past few days … except she’s not been around, and what we’ve seen of her, she’s not acting any different at all. SHOW DON’T TELL, STINE, GODDAMN.)
They slide down the (small) stone cliff to the beach and set to work building a bonfire. While Karen looks for wood, Jerry joins her and they have a little moment alone. (And a moment of weird description; Karen says his bare feet are “wiggling like field mice in the sand.” Wh-what? What even is that?) [Dove: … dude, wtf?]
Karen thanks him for rescuing her, calls him great (and he’s bitter about being called great), and when she leans in to kiss him on the cheek, he grabs her and kisses her hard enough to hurt. Even as she’s thinking about how desperate he is, how needy, she kisses him back. WHY? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS, KAREN?
Of course, unlike all the other guys we’ve seen so far, Jerry actually stops the moment she says stop. So that’s something.
Of course, as they’re going back, they see Renee, who just arrived, and Karen is worried she saw everything. DEAR. GOD. Now Karen is thinking about how she’s meant to be with Jerry because he saved her life. Karen, I thought you were wonderful, but now I’m done. DONE.
(Well, maybe not done, she calls herself on that, tells herself to chill out. YOU ARE ON PROBATION, KAREN.)
Stine does give us another Lost Boys moment: Glowing orange and yellow faces greeted them from around the camp fire. The flickering, bright colors and the twisting shadows made everyone look strange, eerie, like characters in a horror movie.
That’s nice. If only there was a vampire attack about to happen.
[Dove: *fires up “Walk This Way” by Run DMC*]
Renee takes Karen aside later that night to talk about Jerry. Turns out, she was trying to warn her because Jerry needs special care. His brother, Todd, died last summer. They were swimming, Todd got a leg cramp, and he couldn’t make it back. Jerry wasn’t able to save him.
Of course, this all boils down to the girls fighting over Jerry again, because Renee says that they’ve been through some hard times and she’s not giving him up easily, and Karen gets mad that she’s using the story of Todd’s death to threaten Karen. I am just pissed at Stine.
When Karen gets home, around 1:30 a.m., Ann-Marie isn’t in the apartment. Karen thinks this is a little weird, because earlier, Ann-Marie was too tired to go to the bonfire. Then as she starts picking up Ann-Marie’s clothes, she realizes that Ann-Marie used to be neat but now is as sloppy as Karen, and maybe she doesn’t know her friend as well as she thought she did.
As she’s putting away Ann-Marie’s clothes, she finds a can of black spray paint hidden in one of the drawers.
The next chapter is a dream, Karen back in the water, fighting not to drown, and it’s actually pretty creepy.
Of course, after Karen wakes up and is in a terrible, grumpy mood, she chooses to confront Ann-Marie about the spray paint. She thinks about other times when Ann-Marie’s jealous made it hard for them to be friends. Damn it, Stine, I was enjoying their friendship, the way they worked through hard times and came out stronger. DON’T FUCK THIS UP.
In the end, she decides Ann-Marie is innocent. She keeps being a dick, though; when she says they are going to the beach and Ann-Marie doesn’t want to go, she scoffs about why Ann-Marie came to L.A. if she didn’t want to spend time on the beach. Ann-Marie says she came to see Karen, and Karen feels like crap. GOOD. YOU ARE BEING A DICK.
Karen remembers she can’t do anything, actually, she made a date with Jerry to go roller skating. Really? You did? When? Because we never saw you with Jerry again after Renee confronted you.
Jerry’s late, leaving Karen to people watch. She sees Mike staring at her, but he goes back to work when she notices. When Jerry finally turns up, he apologies, says he had to see someone. Karen guesses it was Renee, but he doesn’t want to talk about her.
They skate, they hang out on the boardwalk, they have dinner, so much for Karen spending any time with Ann-Marie. She stays out for hours, and when she finally gets home, Ann-Marie has gone out with friends. Karen is super happy thinking about Jerry and how nice he is, how great, and finally she gets tired enough to go sleep.
Only to climb into a bed filled with jellyfish. Awesome.
Ann-Marie comes home while she’s still freaking out, they clean everything up, and then sit up talking. Ann-Marie admits she got into a fight with Renee around lunch, Renee confronted her first, griping about how Karen was trying to steal Jerry, that Karen was looking for trouble and didn’t know how much trouble she was going to get, just screaming and screaming at Ann-Marie. Finally, Ann-Marie pointed out she wasn’t Karen and just walked away.
(Also, dude, you cannot steal a person from another person. That’s not how it works. People make decisions.)
[Dove: Did we (you, me and Mr Dove) have this conversation last week, or was it someone else? But yes, this trope does my head in. If someone doesn’t want to stay with you, it really wouldn’t matter if new girl/boy was a super-flirt or almost a nun, your significant other is halfway out the door — and, honestly, one of you ought to call it quits, rather than hanging on, making each other miserable.]
[Wing: … actually, I think we did.]
Karen is frequently an asshole to Ann-Marie throughout this scene. Damn it, Karen, be better.
Karen doesn’t sleep at all, and by 8 a.m. on a Sunday, she’s headed to where Renee is staying to confront. While throwing out some casual ableism about only “angry lunatics” being out so early. I’ve ignored a lot of the casual ableism in this book, but I’m done. It got to me.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1
Karen ends up walking into the house without knocking, calling out for Renee but no one answers. Finally, she finds Renee dead, an enormous bump on her forehead.
Cut to the police station. They question Jerry a long time, they question Ann-Marie, Karen’s mom shows up with an attorney in tow, Ann-Marie is frantic, thinking the police believe she did it. Detective Franklin tells them Ann-Marie is not a suspect, but she is suspicious of that.
(TROPE ACTIVATED. Renee’s parents are in Europe and the police can’t get ahold of them.)
Parents? What parents?: 1
It’s Karen’s turn to be interviewed by Detective Franklin, and the conversation soon turns to Jerry, but we don’t really learn anything new. As Karen is leaving, she sees them bringing in Vince, who is struggling with the cops. He sees her, but doesn’t seem to recognize her.
Karen’s mom wants her to come home, but Karen says they need to get back because her dad’s waiting. She called her mom for help instead of telling him even though he’s supposed to be at home with her because her mom’s better in an emergency, and her mother believes this. WTF.
Parents? What parents?: 101
As Karen and Ann-Marie head to Karen’s car, a tall, red-haired girl approaches them. She asks if Karen is Karen, and tells her to stay away from Jerry. Karen wants to know if she’s his girlfriend too, but the girl ignores her questions and begs for Karen to please stay away from him, then tries to hurry away. Karen catches up to her, demands to know who she is, and she admits she’s Jerry’s sister, then takes off again. Ann-Marie keeps Karen from going after her again.
Karen has a new theory; what if the sister killed Renee?
[Dove: … because they’re Flowers In The Attic siblings? Motivation would help sell the theory. Otherwise you’re just listing people who might have killed him. Which includes me and Wing. And our commenters, Gemma and Mimi. I think it’s Gemma. Anyone who subjects us to Teacher’s Pet is a little evil.]
[Wing: Right? I mean, come on. Literally no logic behind anything. Even the girls jealous of each other thing has more logic than the sister theory, and I hate to admit that.]
Jerry’s waiting for them at the apartment building when they get home. Karen brings up his sister, and Jerry says he doesn’t have a sister.
Karen, Ann-Marie, and Jerry go to dinner at RayJay’s again, and spend the whole time talking about Renee and who might have killed her. Jerry said that at first he thought Renee had committed suicide because he was going to break up with her. Really, Jerry? Really?
Karen notices Mike standing outside, staring in at them, but when she goes to confront him, he takes off.
The next afternoon, Karen and Ann-Marie are on the beach (even though Ann-Marie doesn’t like the beach, so how this is supposed to be calming for her …). Ann-Marie goes off for a walk by herself, leaving Karen to burn. (No, really, she’s not wearing sunscreen, she wants to burn for awhile. EVERYONE CAN GET CANCER, KAREN.) [Dove: Remember that time we sat in the pool, in the shade, drinking far too much wine, and got burned? Imagine if we’d been stupid enough to do that deliberately.]
[Wing: And we have since learned to put on sunscreen. Well, all but Mr Wing, who buys it, uses it once, and then forgets where he put it.]
Karen dozes off, only to be woken by Vince smiling down at her. He scares her, he attracts her, they go for a walk, she thinks about how he’s strong enough to kill someone, strong enough to be the rock she needs right now. KAREN. STOP.
They walk off into isolation, have a weird conversation about whether he looks like a killer or not and whether Jerry is her boyfriend or not, and then he kisses her, hard, hungry. He needed her, and she needed him, and Wing needs a barf bag and some gasoline.
Karen finally goes back to her stuff, and finds a typed note, all caps, no punctuation, stuffed into her beach bag: STAY AWAY FROM JERRY STAY AWAY FROM JERRY STAY AWAY FROM JERRY STAY AWAY FROM JERRY
It’s not whimsical, so no point, but oh, I wanted to give it one. Karen doesn’t give it much thought, and starts to put on sunscreen, except it burns, and she starts screaming.
Next chapter opens with Karen at her doctor’s office, and he tells her she’s very lucky because she only put the cream on one shoulder. It’s going to keep aching as it heals, and it itches some, but she has to keep from scratching it. Apparently, someone mixed a hydrochloric acid solution into the lotion. Her doctor asks if any of her friends into chemistry, and Karen says no. That’s disappointing. Chemistry is amazing. Anyway, he also calls this a really cruel trick, then a deadly trick. Because tricks usually end up being super deadly, and shouldn’t instead be called violence, but whatever. I’m giving that a point.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1
Karen asks if it could have come from the factory like that, and her doctor admits that’s what he would normally first assume (so he doesn’t just jump to deadly pranks, good to know), except the bottle is partly empty, and Karen has used it before. She doesn’t want to inform the police, which the doctor allows, but he says he has to inform her parents because she’s a minor. Karen flat out lies and says both her parents are out of the country. Her doctor gets called away then (convenient), and tells her to stay put, they need to keep talking, but of course she takes off as soon as he’s gone, even though someone is calling her name.
That someone is Vince. Apparently he’s the one who rescued her on the beach and took her to the hospital on his motorcycle, which I’m not actually buying, considering she’s burned her hand on one side and her shoulder on the other. Motorcycle ride would not be the best.
Karen keeps getting lost in her thoughts, trying to figure out who did it, while she’s talking to Vince, but eventually she tells him very little, just that she’ll heal, she has to change the bandages, etc., but lies that the hospital is still running tests.
She also has this thought:
How can I be interested in him? Karen thought. He’s not my type at all. My mom would have a fit if she knew I was hanging out with a gang leader. Vince’s tattoo would probably give her the cold shakes for a month!
Stine, I just … I don’t think you really understand anything about gangs.
Vince gives her a ride home on his motorcycle, and again, I’m not sure I buy this would work for a novice rider, but whatever. On the way, she thinks about poor, dead Renee (you certainly weren’t so sympathetic about her when she was alive), and then about Ann-Marie. At first I’m pissed because it took her so long to think about her alleged best friend who has no idea where she disappeared to.
And then I am pissed because Karen continues to build a case against Ann-Marie, all the ways she could be the person who threatened and hurt Karen, how Ann-Marie always had jealous rages before she moved to NYC, and Stine, if you make this be all about Ann-Marie and Karen always competing over boys, I am going to BURN EVERYTHING AND START THROWING KNIVES.
[Dove: I have a gif on standby if that happens.]
Then Stine reveals he’s not so clear on how things work on a motorcycle, because Vince stops suddenly and Stine says he almost sent Karen flying over the handlebars. That’s not what would happen to a passenger. She would have slammed into Vince’s back, probably hurt her wounded shoulder again, and started to fall sideways after.
Meanwhile, Mike runs out the front door of Karen’s apartment building, sees her, and then turns away and takes off running at high speed. Karen says good-bye to Vince and goes inside, only to find Ann-Marie lying facedown on the floor inside the apartment. OH NO! SHE’S DEAD! MIKE KILLED HER!
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 2
She’s not dead.
There’s some awkward conversation, until Karen finally says she saw Mike, and they need to talk. Ann-Marie admits that she’s been seeing Mike, and that’s why she’s been sneaking off, looking so uncomfortable and guilty. Don’t you feel bad now, Karen? Jackass.
[Dove: I said I’d asplode earlier, and here it is. It’s not really a splode, it’s just I wanted to ask something: If Mike’s been here dating Ann-Marie, why did he ask Karen out again? I know we don’t know anything about the exclusivity, I’m just saying, this seems shady on Mike’s part (like, did Ann-Marie know he asked Karen out, if she said yes, would he tell Karen he was dating Ann-Marie, etc). Why are all guys in this book dicks?]
[Wing: … that is a really good point. Unless Ann-Marie and Mike didn’t start dating until after Vince rescued Karen from Mike via terrifying motorcycle ride, Mike was trying to get back with Karen while secretly dating Ann-Marie. God, girls, you all deserve so much better.]
Karen’s weird laughter over all of this is interrupted by a phone call from “Jerry’s sister” even though Jerry told her he doesn’t have a sister. Karen tells her that and hangs up. Her laughter is gone after that, because she’s tired and in pain and very, very scared.
Next chapter, Karen and Jerry are going snorkeling. Jerry’s not sure she should go into the water with her injured shoulder and hand, and I agree. Back at the hospital, she told Vince she could swim in a few days if she wore a wetsuit, but it seems like that would only protect her from the salt water (until she tears it again, whatever), but not from how much it will hurt her healing skin to, you know, actually use her arm to swim. I give up.
Anyway, there’s nearly a hundred people at a party on a Friday afternoon, including Vince and his “gang.”
Apparently, a couple days ago, Karen told Jerry everything that was going on, including her theory that the girl pretending to be his sister is the one trying to murder her. Of course we get this in a flashback, and of course Jerry is even more upset when she tells him than she is, but she needs him to know, she needs him to help her. Except they haven’t talked about it since, so he’s super helpful.
Stine does a decent job of describing how pretty it is under the water. Karen’s concerned about the current (understandably, considering what happened last time), and she does end up regretting going into the water so soon. I’ll support this writing choice, because it’s in character for her to make a rash, impetuous decision. It originally read like a lack of continuity, but this is nice.
Jerry swims back to her, and she kisses him; he does not take that well, and demands to know why she did it. She’s weirded out by that response, but tells him she was thanking him in advance, because she needs his help getting back to shore. He’s angry that she wants to go back so soon, and then he tells her he can’t help her.
And then he says, eyes hard, staring, unblinking, that he’s not Jerry, he’s Todd.
“Todd” says that Jerry hasn’t been the same since he died, and Jerry could have saved him, but didn’t, and that’s why he keeps coming back to warn people to stay away from Jerry. He warned Renee, but she didn’t listen, so he had to do something bad to her. He steals her snorkeling mask and throws it away, then leaves her. We then switch, briefly, to his point of view (STINE WTF) so he can watch her sink under the water and not come back up. Switching to his POV just for a few lines in order to pull of this trope is a cheat and sloppy writing and infuriating.
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 3
Again, she’s not dead.
Back to Karen’s point of view (convenient, Stine), to see her do a surface dive under the water, searching for her snorkeling mask. She figures out that she can use her flippers only to swim back if she keeps her head under the water with the snorkel, and give her poor arms a break.
And then she starts her litany of “poor, crazy Jerry.”
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1001
Yes, I’m giving it 1000 points. I’m furious.
Karen finally makes it back to shore, Vince is waiting for her, worried, Jerry’s sister turns up again and actually is his sister, she claims, he’s very, very sick, and she’s been trying to get him help. Vince starts chasing down Jerry, and then Jerry runs to them. He’s friendly and calm, goes happily off with his sister, is very gentle, but oh, poor, crazy Jerry. He’s so dangerous and he doesn’t even know it.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: BURN EVERYTHING
And then Vince carries Karen off across the sand.
NO, SERIOUSLY, BURN EVERYTHING.
[Dove: here’s that gif I promised:]
[Wing: I love you.]
This started out so well, and then: Violent, abusive boyfriends are the way to go, unless they are ~crazy, and then they are dangerous.
R.L. STINE, I AM BURNING THE WORLD AND COMING FOR YOU.
[Dove: I have to be honest, I was so uninvolved with this story — and let’s be honest, it’s a bit weaksauce, even by PH standards — that I really couldn’t keep straight who was who. Also, I felt like nothing happened, not because what happened was smaller than other books (let’s face it, Martha’s problems in Trick or Treat sometimes were as small as a closet that refused to stay shut), but more because of the chapters seemed to go boys-boys-boys-boys-boys-horror-BOYS! It felt like it wanted to be Sweet Valley rather than Point Horror.]
[Wing: I really, really liked the girls in the first few chapters. A lot. There was friendship and bickering and apologies and forgiveness and WE COULD HAVE HAD IT AAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL.]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1
DED FROM STUPID: 1
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 3
I beat you because I love you (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.): 102
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: BURN EVERYTHING
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1
Parents? What parents?: 101