Title: Hall Pass by Robert Hawks
Summary: I have to get rid of the bodies… They’re clawing back to the surface.
The hall pass is a privilege, but Mr Elliot gives it out freely. His students are the problem kids – they need to roam.
Melissa has roamed too far and stumbled upon a gruesome truth.
Now she knows what happened to the others.
Join your classmates, Melissa.
Tagline: Don’t be too sure you want to get out of class.
Notes: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.
I had never read this before, but I do like Nightmares, because they tend to have an actual bodycount and crimes that go beyond gaslighting (which is pretty bad when you’re the victim, but when you’re the reader and have been sold on a murder-death-rampage, and all you get is an abusive boyfriend and a few poison pen letters, it’s a bit of a letdown). Also, Nightmares is the series that gave us the ISUZU TROOPER, BITCHES, so there is that.
[Wing: I had never read this before either. Now I have. It is certainly something.]
We start with a prologue. A note from the killer. Yay. You know how that thrills Wing and me. On the plus side, there are no dot-dot-dots or en-dashes in it, so I guess that’s a good thing. Basically, this was going to be a suicide note, but the Muffin Man has lost his nerve. Only he uses a lot of words to say that. It’s very pretentious.
Mwahahahaha!: 1 (Bad guy POV. Double points if the bad guy actually does an evil laugh.)
Then book starts proper and we meet our lead, Melissa Maynard, and her best friend, Holly Edinger. And this is literally the first line of chapter one.
Melissa was ten feet up the hall when Holly caught up with her and said, “Hey, Mo, I hear that new guy Russell Morse is a real psycho.”
Wing is going to love this book. And in an attempt to save a bit of time, I’m going to award a blanket 50 points per chapter (there are 17) on Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 850 (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.)
I also reserve the right to award plenty more when it gets really bad. I actually texted Wing to warn her that this should be called “Crazy = Murderer: The Novel”. [Wing: What in the world have I done to deserve this shit book? *tequila shot*]
And here’s what’s really annoying: the author shows no self-awareness with Melissa’s response.
“Psycho? Yeah, right,” she said in as sarcastic a voice as she could manage. “Absolutely everybody in Intervention is crazy, including me. Especially me.”
(Intervention is a counselling class that troubled kids have to attend.) Melissa gets to be angry that everyone thinks all the kids in Intervention are “crazy”, but nobody cares that everyone has decided that “crazy” means dangerous. [Wing: That’s just common logic though, right? Everyone knows crazy people are the most dangerous people of all.]
Holly calls Melissa “Mo”, which Mel doesn’t like (I’m going to call her Mel because I keep typing “Mellisa” by mistake and it’s annoying me [Wing: … why in the world would you spell it that way, Dove?] [Dove: I don’t know, my typing fingers just do it automatically.]), but she puts up with it because Holly’s got a pushy personality. Oh good. I’m sure in this genre that won’t be annoying at all.
Holly says she heard Russell Morse killed his brother, but Mel clarifies that he didn’t, he just stabbed him with a pair of scissors by accident. Holly dumps some books in Mel’s locker then invites her to sleep over tonight, but Mel can’t because her stepmother, known as “the Witch”, has her on probation after she ran up a $270 phone bill on a 900 teen talk number. [Wing: I think I know what this is actually about, but I can’t help picturing Mel calling porn lines all summer.] Mel has tried making amends, but the Witch adores having power over Mel, so she’s never getting off the hook. Oh good, we have a wicked stepmother. There’s a trope I was glad to see taper off. Personally, back in the day, my stepfather was a voice of calming reason in a sea of abuse from my mother.
Mel is in Intervention for basically playing silly buggers. She’s known as a practical joker, and she’s bunked off school to buy concert tickets – generally small fry, and we’re supposed to feel for her because she’s misunderstood and she’s been put in a class with really troubled people. I sort of do, but the text itself is so apologist for Mel that it kind of makes me want to hate her. Give me the facts, and I’ll side with her. Endlessly list all the ways the world is unfair to her and I get fed up. [Wing: Well, we’re also told (and I do mean told, not shown) that she is a lying liar who lies, which isn’t an endearing trait generally either. But since we’re not actually shown her pulling pranks or lying (and in fact her telling the truth gets her in trouble a lot in this book), it’s all very pointless.]
(This could be because in my job I’m having a lot of problems like this. People call me with issues and given the facts, I take their side and start making plans to get things sorted out to make their life easier, but while I’m coming up with ways to help, they keep bringing the conversation back to how angry/annoyed/whatever the situation makes them. I’m not your partner or your best friend, I’m a manager. I’m trying to help. Stop whining to me and help yourself a little.)
Intervention is run by Mr Elliot and has eight kids – but one, Janie, has run away, so she’s not present at the moment. Mel ran away when her father married the Witch (seven years ago), she was gone for two days. And with that, I side with her again. People don’t run away for the lolz, it’s hard, it’s scary, it’s not fun – even when you do have a friend’s sofa to crash on. Someone should be caring for her, instead of writing her off.
I’m not going to list the kids in Intervention, because we don’t really see them again, except for Russell Morse (the one Holly was talking about earlier). He shows up at the last second before class starts, wearing the obvious marks of fisticuffs. Mr Elliot offers Russell a hall pass to the nurse, and Russell refuses. Given the summary above, I was anticipating this would be like The Demon Headmaster or Disturbing Behaviour, where all the bad kids get reprogrammed to be good kids, and the hall pass was the thing that set it off. NOPE. Don’t be swayed by the stupid summary, it’s meaningless. [Wing: We’ve had some bad summaries lately, but this one manages to be both boring and wrong all at the same time.]
Mr Elliot pushes again, but Russell says they should get out of here, so Mr Elliot takes them to the library. Everyone dumps their bags with Mel and moseys off around the library. Abruptly, we start calling Russell “Russ”, despite spending all of chapter 1 referring to him by his full name. He sits down with Mel. She asks about the bruises and he brushes it off, saying he had “a minor difference of opinion with my old man.” Mel asks why he fights his dad, and he clarifies that he doesn’t fight, he accepts the bruises (and in later chapters says that he does so in order that his dad doesn’t attack his sisters).
He then says he stole Mr Elliot’s files on them and is going to read them, because he finds it creepy that Mr Elliot knows all about them, but they know nothing about him. Which I feel is probably a very real reaction to being mentally scrutinised against your will – at least to a teenager. Mel is scandalised about this, especially when Russ reads hers: “Melissa Maynard has a troubling history of elaborate practical jokes and sick humor, bordering on compulsive behavior…”
[Wing: That reads like a psych profile, but Elliot later says he’s not a psychologist or even really a therapist, so … weird. Also, taking the files is a very real reaction. The fact that Russ has also followed Elliot to his house (and does the same for other people, or at least lets her believe he does) is super fucking creepy in its own right.]
Mel tells him to put it back, because she doesn’t want to be caught up in this nonsense – she doesn’t want to be shipped off to Bannerston, which is a special education facility (she’s heard it’s more like a prison) for problem kids.
Mr Elliot comes over, and luckily doesn’t seem to notice the files. Russ asks about Mr Elliot’s house – the Vanzetti place. Mr Elliot says it’s falling apart and he never finds time for it, and he’s lucky it hasn’t crashed down on his head.
Mel goes to her next class, gets a tardy slip, and notices she’s got an extra notebook in with her things. There’s some references to Intervention, so she realises it’s a diary belonging to someone in class. Then she sees this.
I had to kill Janie, it said. She said she could keep the secret, but she lied, she was going to tell, going to tell and that can’t happen, not now, not yet.
Although I cried my eyes out after, I was really surprised.
There was hardly any blood.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss Dove and Wing the hell off.)
Then Mel decides it’s a joke. Then… wait, joking that the writer killed a girl who’s missing is not funny. But hell, Mel’s pulled pranks that nobody else found funny, so maybe it is a joke.
After class, she tells Holly about the notebook, but Holly gives this all of three seconds of consideration before being all OMG A BOY IS COMING TO MY HOUSE! A BOY! YOU HAVE TO COME TO MY HOUSE TOO. IT’S NOT A BLIND DATE. HE’S JUST BRINGING A FRIEND.
Mel repeatedly says no, because she’s still under house arrest from the Witch (as mentioned before class), but Holly won’t accept it. In fact, she advises Mel to suck up to the Witch. Nice.
She walks home, considering grunging up, gel her hair so it looks greasy, making herself smell, etc, so she can make it very clear that she’s not available to the guy – to be honest, it should be Holly she’s directing this nonsense at, because Holly’s the one pushing for a blind date, the guy in question’s probably being dragged along by his friend too. Anyway, she walks past a Texaco station just in time for Russ to attempt to fire “a grease gun of some sort” at his friend Curt, but he misses and covers Mel instead. Curt apologises, even though it’s not his fault, and Russ just laughs it off.
Then we get a bad guy POV about how the Muffin Man’s father is cremated, and how he bothers Muffin Man in dreams, and holy mothballs this is pretentious:
Still, he calls. Mostly in dreams, if you believe in those sorts of things. Most likely just another jagged piece of my sanity shearing free.
Having never read much Kipling, I have to accept as true (from the movie version) that as the Indian water bearer dragged himself through hostile fire to climb the steps of the Temple of Gold, the colonial British officer murmured, “You are a better man than I, Gunga Din.”
Anyway, I hope it is true.
Mwahahahaha!: 2 (+1)
Mel plans to try to get upstairs and changed before the Witch sees her grease-covered clothing. That plan dies on its arse, and the Witch is horrible about it. She asks what happened, then cuts off Mel’s response with an accusation that she’s lying. This one hits really close to home with me. I was forever being accused of being a liar in my youth. (I was always honest. I only started lying when I realised that people didn’t like the truth – for example, having a dead father made people awkward, so I told people my parents were divorced and I didn’t see him anymore. That made people far happier. They were comfortable with that. Because of that one lie that I told to make other people happier, I was branded a liar and a weirdo for life.)
The Witch makes Mel fetch in the dogs (which aren’t hers, they belong to the Witch), because she’s already dirty and she’s a liar, so there, be punished. And I just want to slap the Witch. But I have issues, so you might not be so invested.
The Witch grounds Mel – or reminds her that she’s grounded – so she can’t go out with Holly. Holly then calls and is all “Oh, you can’t come out. That’s your own fault for winding up your stepmother. Now, let’s make plans to sneak out.” I absolutely hate Holly. Oh, and she took the notebook from Mel’s locker, read it, and she knows who wrote it, but she won’t tell Mel unless she sneaks out. I really hate Holly.
I beat you because I love you: 1 (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)
Also, there’s a Rumpelstiltskin reference – if they know the name (of the writer), they have the power. This comes up several times, it’s a clumsy reference, and it’s awkward every single time. [Wing: And it never really goes anywhere! I mean, I know the spinning gold metaphor they clumsily use later, but no. It doesn’t work. None of this works. Also, the stolen student files never really goes anywhere either. Except to leave me wondering how the fuck the notebook got into that pile in the first place.]
On Monday morning Mel talks to her dad – he’s a postal worker, so he’s basically nocturnal – she’s honest with him, that Holly wanted her to sneak out Friday night, to meet guys, but she didn’t. And he says he’ll talk to the Witch. Mel generally feels that he starts out on her side, but eventually sides over with the Witch.
She’s running late by the time she leaves, so she misses catching up with Holly on the walk to school, and she has to cut through the Vanzetti, which is basically a run-down neighbourhood, it used to belong to a rich, powerful family, but they died and the neighbourhood died with them. Or something. Mel’s not sure. And she does not make the connection that Mr Elliot lives in this area, even though it was mentioned by name earlier, and it appears to be well known by this name locally. [Wing: She knows that story, but not the one everyone else seems to know? Weird.]
She finds Holly, who wants to talk about the notebook, but they’re distracted by the fact that Mel’s locker has been trashed. This happens often enough in school for it not to feel like a personal attack, more like dickhead hi-jinks that randomly hit Mel. Unfortunately, Mel borrowed a white lace sweater (sounds hideous) from the Witch, and that’s missing from her locker.
Holly then says she thinks the locker was trashed by someone who knows Mel has the notepad, she thinks she knows who did it, but she can’t say to protect Mel. PUT DOWN THE IDIOT BALL, YOU MORONS. If someone’s already trashed Mel’s locker for the notebook, then they don’t know that Mel hasn’t got it, therefore telling Mel her suspicions would be safer. Morons. [Wing: Jesus, people. Stop willfully withholding information. Even the author does it, intentionally making Mel not know stories that everyone else fucking knows just to make the plot work.]
Holly then suggests Mel skips Intervention. So it’s serious enough to skip, but not serious enough to tell her which person to avoid? Fuck off, Holly.
Russ arrives, and when he realises that she actually got in trouble when he ruined her top with the grease gun he does say sorry, then they walk to Intervention together. And Mel is very vehement that it’s not together-together, just at-the-same-time-together. They read the contents of the “Somebody Box”, which is a box filled with anonymous questions and comments. There’s a few generic ones, “When do we get out of here?” and “When will we catch a break?”
Mr Elliot frowned, because the next item was a white piece of cloth, with a piece of paper pinned to it. Mr Elliot unpinned the paper from the cloth and read in a flat voice, letting the words slip out before he realized he shouldn’t have. The last question, pinned, Melissa knew, to a torn chunk of lace sweater, was, “Who do I have to kill to get my notebook back?”
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
Mr Elliot strops out, saying it’s not constructive and it’s not funny, so don’t pull this shit again. Then he asks Mel to stay after class. He says that he recognises the material from the sweater (really? Do teachers really pay that much attention to their students’ clothes? I mean the non-creepy ones? [Wing: Well, you did say “non-creepy”.] Then he basically tells her that Russ is a bit dangerous and obsessed with her. Oh, and he might have written that note in the Somebody Box.
During her next class, she finds a note in her book:
THERE COMES A TIME IN EVERY RELATIONSHIP WHEN THE REAL MYSTERY BECOMES FEAR – WHO FEARS WHO THE MOST. ME, YOU. CONSIDER THIS: EVEN THE MOST LOVING RELATIONSHIP IS BASED ON DESPERATE FEAR – FEAR OF LOSS, PERHAPS, OR FEAR OF DEATH…
Naturally, this freaks her out and she’s unable to answer when called on by the teacher. And naturally this leads to her getting in trouble again. She decides the note is from Russ, thanks to Mr Elliot’s words, and slaps him.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)
He’s like “WTF, I said sorry about the blouse”, and Mel doesn’t really explain herself, so she yells at him to leave her alone and if he wants the notebook so bad, Holly has it.
She goes to her next class, Holly’s an office runner and comes in with a note, she and Mel have a silent conversation with eye contact and subtle gestures, which Mel takes to mean, “We should talk, obviously not now, we’ll catch up soon.” Then she realises that eye contact and subtle gestures are not an exact science and Holly could have meant anything.
Holly leaves to take the note to Mr Elliot, since it doesn’t seem to be for the current teacher, and Mel reads the rest of the threatening note she received earlier.
MY SYMPATHY FOR YOU IS AS MY SYMPATHY FOR THE DEAD. FOR I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS. FOR YOU, THERE IS ONLY ME OR THE LOT. TO ME, ALREADY YOU BREATHE NO MORE.
Ok, Mel, you’ve got to know that it’s Mr Elliot, right? Russ does not strike me as the type of person to know the line “I am become death, destroyer of worlds”.
[Wing: Wing’s favorite line.]
After class, there’s a big commotion, as there’s been an accident. “Some girl fell over the rail, down the steps.” And naturally, the girl is Holly.
There’s another Muffin Man POV, and it brings absolutely nothing new to the table except pretention and self-loathing. Mwahahahaha!: 3 (+1)
Mel’s not allowed to ride in the ambulance (I was when my friend was carted off, but then again she had alcohol poisoning, not suffered a near-fatal accident) [Wing: Generally here you would not have been allowed to do so. Usually only one family member is allowed in.], so Mr Elliot drives her to the hospital. His car stinks like dead things, he says he hit a cat (fuck you, I know it’s a lie, but still, fuck you).
Holly’s in ICU and Mel nips in while everyone else is frantically doing other things. Holly is momentarily awake and says “Yales Lot”. She gets found and escorted out of ICU, she waits a bit but feels like an intruder when Holly’s parents show up – this seems weird. If they’ve been best friends since the dawn of time, it’s odd that her parents don’t say anything to her, even if it’s just a distracted “hi”. When my alcohol poisoned friend’s mum rocked up at the hospital, she told me frankly, “I always thought you were a bad influence on my daughter, but I’m really glad you’re here for her.” Then she gave me a hug and cried on my shoulder, which we both found painfully awkward.
[Wing: Yeah, my high school best friend’s mum and grandmum still call me one of their kids. No way they wouldn’t have talked to me.]
Mr Elliot drives her home, and is very interested in what Holly said when she woke up. Oh, gee, do you think he pushed her over the railing? Gosh. No. Surely it was Russ… who was in class with Mel when it happened. Mr Elliot clarifies that it’s “Yail’s Lot”, not “Yales Lot” and once again, pushes the blame at Russ, by saying that he was the one who first brought up Yail’s Lot.
Then he backtracks, saying Mel shouldn’t say anything, because there’s no proof it was Russ, and he might not be obsessed with her, and does she want to be responsible for sending him to Bannerston? And dude, way to go on confusing the life out of someone who is emotionally wrought at the moment. Super gaslighting edition.
[Wing: Hall Pass: Where Everyone Gaslights and Crazy People Kill! *jazz hands* *tequila shot*]
He takes a different turn than would take her home and says he has to show her something. Mel suddenly realises that nobody knows where she is, where she was, when she left and who she’s with. Good think Russ is the bad guy, huh, Mel? Imagine if the bad guy were Mr Elliot.
He drives her to and abandoned-looking estate and says it was owned by Yail Vanzetti, and “That’s where the bodies are buried…”
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)
Then clarifies that it’s a metaphor. [Wing: But is it. IS IT, ELLIOT.] He drops her home, offers to talk to the Witch, and then says Mel should see him before school tomorrow for a hall pass. I really don’t get what a hall pass is. We English do not take this nonsense so seriously. You have to pee during class? You ask if you can use the bathroom, the teacher always says yes, and you go. You get called to the office during class? You go. You’re late to class? The teacher glares at you. You miss a class? You either use your words to explain it, or if you’re scared of teachers, mum or dad can write a note. Seriously, what is the point of a hall pass? No wonder people go wild when they get to uni. [Wing: Hall passes are not always the important thing they are made out to be in books and movies, but some teachers did use them when I was in high school. This was for the most part pre-Columbine, though, and smaller school districts weren’t as concerned about more than one kid being in the bathroom at a time during class, for example. Things have changed since then. However, even if every single teacher gave out a hall pass every single time a student needed to leave the classroom during class, a hall pass wouldn’t actually work in this scenario, because it’s not like they are a pass to leave campus, which is what she did.] [Dove: On reflection, releasing a book in England about a thing we don’t have in England, without explaining why you have that thing and what purpose it serves, is very fucking confusing.]
Mel gets home, explains that Holly’s in the hospital but also says that she thinks she’s “part of it”. And while I’m not excusing the Witch’s response, that didn’t help Mel’s case. The Witch decides that Mel either pushed her or used the accident to bunk off school. Mr Elliot calls to back Mel up, so that’s that.
The next day, Mel goes to see the Principal, Mr Ramirez, who thinks he’s a very sexy man with a very sexy moustache. And yeah, let’s break out this counter. Racism: business as usual: 1 (If you’re lucky enough to see a person of colour in any of these books, they’ll be stereotyped to the hilt.) It’s not so much that he’s a stereotype, but I assume he’s a person of colour from his surname and the description of his black hair, and he’s a truly awful person. And he’s the only person of colour in the entire book.
Mel explains everything and he’s all like, “lol, another practical joke? Fuck off, Mel.” He thinks she wrote the note (the “I am become death” one) herself, and that she’s the only person in the school sick enough to see her friend near death and try to pull a stunt using the accident.
Abruptly, we have another Muffin Man POV. Which still brings nothing to the table except MM’s dad didn’t like Mr Venzetti. Honestly, stop wasting my time with this bullshit. Mwahahahaha!: 4 (+1)
Mr Ramirez then says if Mel wants to file a police report, go ahead. But it will land her in Bannerston. Then he calls in Mr Elliot. Mr Elliot asks Mr Ramirez to leave so he can talk to Mel privately about this, then confesses to pushing Holly over the railing.
I mean, I know he’s the Muffin Man, but we’re only halfway through the book and we’ve got a confession. THIS HAS DEVIATED FROM THE PH MOULD AND MY BRAIN CANNOT COMPREHEND IT.
[Wing: It has deviated from the PH mould, but not from Hall Pass: Where Everyone Gaslights and Crazy People Kill! *jazz hands* *tequila shot* x2]
Mr Elliot thinks that Bannerston won’t be enough for Mel, so he intends to get her sent to a real psychiatric institute. Then Ramirez comes back, and that’s that. Back to class.
Mel decides to skip, finds Russ and he joins her in skipping class. Mel tells him that Mr Elliot confessed that he pushed Holly over the railing, because he is crazy. Yes, that’s exactly the motive. And you know what? As far as I can tell, she’s right. No other motive is given.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1,850 (+1,000)
[Wing: Need a new bottle of tequila.]
She wants to see Holly in the hospital, but they don’t have a car. Russ suggests, with some embarrassment, that they take the bus. I guess this is a real England/USA difference, because that would be the first suggestion over here, especially for teenagers. It would be a lot more likely that someone in our group knew exactly which bus to take and how much it will cost than any of us could drive. Even as adults (admittedly in a city), everyone knows the bus routes and even people who can drive will bus to work. [Wing: It is sort of an England/USA difference, but mostly large city versus smaller town. USA doesn’t really have public transit except in large cities, where people are much more likely to use it. Smaller towns, people drive everywhere, the town is designed for drivers, and if there are public transit options, it is generally just a couple buses that few people use.] They talk about how Holly woke up and that she spoke about Yail’s Lot, and Russ says what we’ve heard before: it’s where the bodies are buried.
Russ says he grew up around Vanzetti, and Yail Vanzetti had a big family and one by one they disappeared and then Yail’s house burned down with him inside. The fire destroyed the house, which led to the entire neighbourhood falling apart. There’s only one house left standing and that’s where Mr Elliot lives.
They get to the hospital, but Russ won’t go in because he hates hospitals. Mel again sneaks in to see Holly (jeez, do they have no staff there? [Wing: And the way it’s described, it is as if the staff has rushed into someone’s room for an emergency, so I totally expected Holly to be dying and everyone around her at that point.]). Holly is out of it initially, then starts gasping for air. Mel calls for help, hits the panic button and tries to help, and then when everyone rushes in, she’s accused of trying to kill Holly by Holly’s dad. [Wing: As far as I can tell, Holly was intubated and Mel’s trying to pull the tube out of her throat, which is NOT OKAY. I kinda don’t blame them for looking at that as an attack.] [Dove: Fair, I guess I missed a couple of words when reading. If you miss a couple of words in a Stephen King, you don’t lose the crux of the entire event. Just sayin’, Hawks.]
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5 (+1)
Holly’s dad is going to call the police. Mr Elliot called him and warned him that Mel pushed Holly and may come back to finish the job. And Holly’s parents are just “sounds legit”. I guess when it’s your own kid and you’re all stressed out, you’re probably not at your most reasonable, but this feels like a leap to me. I was never my childhood BFF’s parents’ favourite person, but I don’t think they’d immediately jump to murder after friend had an accident. Still, like I said, I don’t have kids, so maybe as parents you just want to protect your child, and better safe than sorry. [Wing: I still don’t think it is a logical leap for them to take, protecting their kid or not, until they actually see her “hurting” Holly.]
Mel bolts and grabs Russ and they head off. Russ says, hypothetically, maybe she did do it. And Mel’s like, no, I was in class when it happened. And Russ is all smug, because he already knew that and he was just proving… that he was on her side, I guess?
Russ suggests they try the cops, but Mel says nobody ever believes her… except Mr Elliot.
(Sad. My BFF always believes me. Not some random teacher.)
They go to the library to research and find out… nothing new. But I suppose it fills a few pages.
Muffin Man POV: MM thought Yail Vanzetti liked kids because of that one time he had a bunny and showed the local kids. MM told his sister and she wanted to see, so they went over one evening and asked to see the bunny. Yail invited them into the kitchen and showed them a pie [Wing: Containing the bunny, at least theoretically. I realise now it might have been a prank, to more thematically tie into the story, but when I was rush reading this, I definitely thought they could see the bunny in the oven.], and nearly laughed until he peed. That was the last sound MM heard from Yail until he burned him to death.
Holy shit, what is the point of this bollocks? Other than upping this count? Mwahahahaha!: 5 (+1) Seriously, this adds nothing to the narrative. And all it does is interrupt the flow of the story by inserting these things in random places. I don’t need examples of Yail being a dick because guess what? We never see him? He’s already dead, and not in a “The Marleys were dead to being with…” kind of way.
After carefully pondering how much the Witch must be loving all this proof that Mel is dangerous and needs to be locked up, Mel decides to go home. DED FROM STUPID: 5,000 (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.)
She and Russ agree to meet back at 10pm, so they can go to Yail’s Lot because… because the plot needs them there. Ok? Duh. They’re going to look for evidence. Of what? JUST EVIDENCE, OK? STOP ASKING QUESTIONS, YOU’RE SHOWING ALL THE PLOT HOLES.
Mel’s return home goes as well as can be expected. Dad and the Witch are against her. They’ve spoken to Mr Elliot. She’s going to Bannerston.
Mel indulges in some good old-fashioned teen angst, where all the adults are against her, and you can’t call an adult “crazy” (really?), and there’s AIDS in the world (WHAT?) and weapons and blah, blah, blah. I can’t work out whether the author has truly tapped into that self-indulgent angst that teens do, or if the author thinks they’re really clever by suddenly going big picture on us all. Either way, I want to slap someone.
She meets up with Russ, who’s changed his tune. He thinks maybe there’s more to Mr Elliot than meets the eye. Like, were he and Janie a thing, and the murder was a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, because people don’t just go crazy and kill people, there’s a trigger. He doesn’t quantify that the trigger could be completely irrational, but this is as near to enlightened as we’re going to get.
Still: Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2,850 (+1,000)
He then reveals that he actually killed his dad. When he came into school with bruises, he’d killed dad the night before, they were arguing and he pushed him down the stairs. And his dad had actually killed his brother. He’s spoken to Mr Elliot and he’s going to help him with the body.
Mel maces him, scratches his face, and runs. She falls into an open grave, and then she’s lifted out by Mr Elliot.
And then he’s washing her wounds and patching her up. And this is where I totally bug of out this story. All of a sudden he’s calm and zen. He explains that he loved Janie and he killed her – but that wasn’t her grave. That was one of the dead that Yail killed. Mr Elliot inherited the property and has now gone completely crazy because he inherited sin?
[Wing: At least this book gave us a chance to use the inappropriate teacher-student relationships tag. We haven’t had one of those for awhile.]
Wing, did you get anything else out of this exchange? Like, I don’t know how he went from “Oh, gee, letter from a solicitor. Oooh, free house,” to “SLEEP WITH STUDENT. KILL. TERRORIZE.” [Wing: DIG UP DEAD BODIES. GASLIGHT EVERYONE. RAMBLE AT STUDENTS. WRITE TERRIBLE JOURNAL ENTRIES. WHINE.]
He inherited a house with the grounds full of bodies and no-one will ever believe he didn’t kill them – except, y’know, PEOPLE WHO USE LOGIC AND SHIT – so he decided to keep a diary and kill himself, but now he doesn’t want to die. He didn’t want to kill Janie, and he didn’t mean to lose his temper and hurt Holly. Mr Elliot asks what happens now, police or press or both?
Mel says they could all just leave. Mr Elliot says he didn’t kill anyone, but doesn’t want to be a fugitive. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? HE DEFINITELY KILLED JANIE. Continuity? Fuck that shit: 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!)
Then he says that his dad burned Yail Vanzetti to death, and he knew about it. [Wing: Pretty sure earlier he said he helped burn Yail to death, but clearly continuity is not needed.]
Hey, Hawks, even Cusick is rolling her eyes at this clusterfucky ending. At least she can do dialogue. If Cusick had handled this, I might actually understand what’s going on, because it requires no action.
There’s lots of talking, and I don’t care, there’s nothing new, maybe Wing can highlight stuff I missed. But it ends with Mr Elliot basically saying since things are all fucked, they may as well suck it up, embrace it all, and help each other. They could get rid of the Witch, and make her life easier. [Wing: I don’t think you missed shit. None of this makes sense, it is all terrible, and I hate this book. *chugs tequila*]
Mel leaves, goes home and finds the Witch basically doing a happy dance because they’re going to ship Mel off to a psychiatric institute. Mel is officially someone else’s problem. Mel tries to reason with her, saying that Mr Elliot and Russ have killed people and the Witch says she can tell her counsellor tomorrow. She also adds that she thought Mel was suicidal and wished that Mel would actually kill herself. Nice. A+ parenting.
Mel dreams that Russ and Mr Elliot are exhuming the bodies, and glancing at her “as if she was the master and they the nervous servants, fearful of being caught inattentive to their work”. The last body has the face of the Witch.
Mel wakes up and decides to go back to Mr Elliot’s house and learn how to spin straw into gold. Y’know, because of the Rumpelstiltskin reference. It’s so clever.
[Wing: And thus concludes Hall Pass: Everyone Gaslights and Crazy People Kill! *jazz hands* *tequila shot* x1000]
Well, that was a great big pile of steaming unwashed Y-fronts, wasn’t it? That was utterly not what the summary suggested. It was also completely baffling towards the end, and the only thing I can walk away with is everyone went “crazy” by choice, and “crazy” = CRUSH-KILL-DESTROY (+ and write pretentious diary entries). I really hope Wing can make some sense of this, but to be honest, Wing is probably setting fire to things right about now. Wing is really not going to like this book.
[Wing: Wing is chugging tequila and burning things.]
Also, what happened to Holly? Did she live? Isn’t Mel still viewed as dangerous, so how is hanging out with Mr Elliot going to help? She’s supposed to go to the psychiatric centre today, and they’re aware of her history, so a dead stepmother would raise a lot more issues than a live one. Urgh. I really hope Paul has read this and can break it down for me. In case you hadn’t noticed, Paul knows everything about YA Horror from the 90s!
[Wing: MORE TEQUILA!]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1
DED FROM STUPID: 5,000
I beat you because I love you: 1
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2,850
Racism: business as usual: 1