Title: Defriended by Ruth Baron
Summary: Jason has met the perfect girl. She loves indie rock, plays the guitar, quotes cheesey 80s films, and hates people who compare every book to The Great Gatsby. There’s just one small problem. Although Jason and Lacey spend hours chatting online, she refuses to meet up in person. Suspicious, Jason starts Googling, and his cyberstalking leads to a shocking discovery: According to multiple newspapers, Lacey died a year earlier. Soon, Jason finds himself caught in a disturbing mystery. Has he found a way to Facebook message the dead? Or is someone playing a dangerous trick on him? Either way, Jason has to uncover the truth before it’s time for him to meet Lacey in the afterlife.
Tagline: LACEY has changed her status to deceased…
Note: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. I never did mention the bad guy. So no Bad Guy or Muffin Man.
CAT FUCKING FISH*.
* may contain hipsters.
I told Wing I absolutely was NOT going to recap Fatal Secrets until EVERY SINGLE POINT HORROR IN THE ENTIRE WORLD had been done and I was all out of other options, I thought Defriended would be the easy option.
Insert hollow laugh.
[Wing: This is what happens when you try to avoid your nemesis.]
[Dove: Yes, I have learned from this experience.]
So, we meet the protagonist, a white boy named Jason. Because lord knows there aren’t enough stories about straight white males in this world. Thank god someone’s standing up for them. Jason is just so breathtakingly, achingly cool and awkward, and I bet he has thick glasses, and artfully rumpled hair, probably skinny jeans and an ironic t-shirt. I fucking hate him. It only took the opening page to inform me that Jason is a hipster, but he thinks he’s actually a nerd. D’aww, who’s a cute little totally-conforming “non-conformist”? *pinches cheeks*
Jason’s totally awkward because he only has 248 friends on Facebook.
Ok, that took me way longer than it should have, [Wing: … what exactly took so long?] [Dove: Took me ages to locate that information.] but I currently have 162 friends on Facebook. And I feel that is too many. Three of them I’m accidentally friends with because (a) they have the same name as people I know; (b) their user picture was of a baby/sonogram/instagram of their dinner at a fancy eatery; and (c) we had mutual friends in common. This led me to believe we knew each other. We don’t. It’s awkward.
[Wing: I have 454 friends. I hate FB. Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr 4EVA.]
Jason wants to update his FB status to “So bored I think I might be dead”. That quote is the opening line to the entire book. And it accurately sets the tone for everything that is to come. In fact, if you guys just want to peace out here, I won’t be offended. (Yes I will, I’ll sulk and I’ll cry. If I have to recap this, you have to stick with me.)
Jason cannot update his status because he’s in class.
#FirstWorldProblems: 1 (if you need this explaining, you probably live a life filled with #FirstWorldProblems)
Alex McCoy, a bespectacled kid he’d bunked with at summer camp, flooded his newsfeed with creepy photos of frogs and other unwitting specimens. Sometimes someone like Suzy Garz popped up, though the charismatic captain of the field hockey team hadn’t exchanged actual words with Jason since the fourth grade. Not that he was so unhappy about that – he was pretty sure the inspirational quotes she was posting were from a ‘90s edition of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. Either there or the back of a cereal box at Whole Foods.
Does anyone else want to strangle this bell end with his iPhone charge cable?
Then we see Jason’s BFF, Rakesh, is using his iPhone in class. Yes, because these books weren’t written in the 90s, we’re allowed a bit of diversity. Or maybe it’s a concession because instead of a female lead, we’ve got a male, so here’s an Asian character as a compromise. Anyway, Rakesh is super hot and very popular.
But Jason is not in love with Rakesh, he’s in love with Lacey, a girl he met on Facebook.
We interrupt this recap for An Almost Unrelated Rant from Dove™
Why do people friend strangers on Facebook? What the hell is wrong with you all? [Wing: Because it’s no longer a limited access social media site, it’s more open. People connect online with strangers all the time. You and I are proof of that. You can connect and still protect yourself.] [Dove: Yes, but in our day, we actually spent some time keeping things like our surname, and general vicinity (beyond continent) secret. That luxury is not present on the average user’s Facebook.] Have none of you seen Megan is Missing? Seriously, people. Protect yourselves. And on the subject of protecting yourself, do not image search that movie, ok? I gave a copy to my younger sister because I thought she was talking to/meeting random lads from BB chat too often. Put the fear of god into her. She’s far more sensible now.
Jason unwrapped his sandwich. Turkey, provolone, mustard on one slice of whole wheat bread, mayo on the other. It was the same sandwich he’d eaten for as long as he could remember. He bit into it. It tasted like yesterday.
It tasted like yesterday? For fuck’s sake. I think I’m going to need a new counter here, something to count all the times that the character is too damned cool and nihilistic to be dealing with something as mundane as eating lunch, attending class, or existing. (Mr Dove came up with this particular counter’s name.)
Too cool for school: 1 (when the character is just too fucking cool to be dealing with mundane shit)
[Wing: Who’s the author on this again? Ruth Baron? Baron, are you as pretentious as you sound from this book?]
Next up, Jason attends class and internally slags off other classmates for getting into an intellectual discussion of books, because, dude, they’re just ruining the book with all that thinking. [Wing: … if you can ruin books by thinking about them, we are destroying the literary world completely.] He uses this time to write an emo song.
It was all turning gray
It was all turning black
Then you were there
And you keep coming back
These things tend to get ugly
Or so I am told
But now that you’re here
Everything’s coming up gold
Drive out, see the stars, in the car, we’re falling hard
Wake up, feel the sun, touch your hair, see your heart
Doesn’t all this darkness in his soul just set your knickers all aquiver? He hopes Lacey will write the music to go with his music.
Too cool for school: 2 (+1)
Next up, we learn that his mother calls him names like “babycakes” and “dumpling” in public and he hates it. And he also hates his stepdad, and misses his real dad. Oh, fuck off.
#FirstWorldProblems: 2 (+1)
He has a message from Lacey on Facebook and she talks about a video of Stephen Colbert and the Mountain Goats. I googled them and it turns out they’re wrestling fans – seriously, they’re singing about Chavo Guerrero.
He met Lacey on Facebook because she had the same Mountain Goats quote on her page. Like, where? It’s not like LJ, where you have a profile page with all that silliness, is it? Am I using FB wrong?
[Wing: Yeah, I think, at least around the time this was written, that you could have quotes and things. FB has changed its layout so much since then I’m not sure that option still exists.]
Anyway, there are some back and forth emails, and they are vapid and dull. Lacey displays all the usual Catfish characteristics when it comes to meeting in real life. Totally enthusiastic in theory, but disappears conveniently when actual plans are put forth.
CATFISH: 1 (This is a brand new counter for this recap only.)
Seriously, dude. Catfish is on all the time. I find it impossible to believe you haven’t watched it. Then again, you’re all about the 80s movies, so maybe you’re busy watching Thundercats and wishing you were turning 35 this year, just so you could’ve been there at the time.
[Wing: I’ve never seen Catfish. Though at least I’m aware of the concept.]
[Dove: That’s the thing, even before the Catfish movie/show we were always told not to trust people over the internet because anyone can lie. And still this book exists.]
While bored in class, he decides to Google Lacey and finds out that she died at a house party. He wants to believe it’s a different girl with the same name, but the picture matches the Facebook profile. So he thinks of song lyrics. Is this fanfic or something?
Too cool for school: 3 (+1)
Then he thinks that Rakesh has done this as a joke, because of that times Rakesh pretended to have terminal cancer to get in a girl’s knickers.
Cheer on the killer: 1 (Because the protagonist is such an insufferable wretch that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.) I know this counter is not exactly the correct one, since this is a catfish story, but still, if there is a killer around, please kill anyone who thought that was ok. Maybe this one too: I beat you because I love you: 1 (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)
Then he realises that it’s not funny at all. Because, presumably, the cancer thing was at least a little funny? Seriously, WTF? So it’s not a joke.
[Wing: So far, everyone can die in a fire.]
The article he’s reading is dated three and a half months before he and Lacey started speaking.
CATFISH: 2 (+1)
He finds another article, a follow-up on the dead girl. This article names her best friend, Jenna.
CATFISH: 5 (+3 – because it gives the name of who is likely to be logged in to her profile)
Jason decides that she can’t possibly be dead, because nobody in the history of the internet has ever pretended to be someone they’re not. So he’s either talking to a ghost, or she’s not dead.
DED FROM STUPID: 500 (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.)
We cut to Jason’s PE class, where he’s accused of being “slower than my grandmother, and she’s in a wheelchair!”, which is just lovely. [Wing: I’d like to pit them all against murderball players.] [Dove: That would be awesome.] This is because he’s still angsting over Lacey. Jason absolutely abhors the rest of humanity, and this is pretty clear from everything he thinks. For example:
He glanced over his shoulder and watched as Marcus Segal painstakingly folded his Roosevelt High basketball shorts and lined his sneakers up perfectly in his locker. Sometimes other people’s problems were so obvious from the outside. If Marcus wasn’t so anal about everything, people would like him more. He wished someone would sit Marcus down and explain it to him, but now wasn’t the time.
Too cool for school: 4 (+1)
Seriously, Jason, what the hell is your problem? Why can’t a guy be neat and tidy? Why is this such an obvious “problem”? Just die, will you?
[Wing: And what if it’s OCD. Talking to him isn’t going to fix that. Also, Jason needs to die in a fire.]
After being Judgey-Mc-Judgey-pants, Jason meets up with Rakesh and asks him to cut class so he can tell him about Lacey being dead. They have a bit of banter about Twilight, and it would be cute, except I hate the pair of them.
“Look, as you know, I think it’s a bad idea to date anyone you haven’t met in real life, no matter how alive or dead she is. It’s like I told you when you first started messaging ‘her’” – he used air quotes around the pronoun – “for all you know, it’s a dude at the other end of your messages. Or some lonely middle-aged whack job. But if you really like this girl, then I’m going to help you.”
“Help me how?” Jason was always wary of the plans his friend dreamed up.
“Let me do a little digging tonight. There’s something about this story that’s weirdly familiar. Not to mention I want to see what the girl who’s gotten your panties in such a twist looks like.”
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
The reason, asshat, it seems familiar is because Nev and Max have a very popular show on MTV. The word “Catfish” entered the Oxford English Dictionary (online version) in August 2014. That’s why it sounds so familiar. You have to be a special brand of willfully ignorant to be online and not know what catfishing is. And before there was catfishing, if you’d prefer the hipster term, there were sock puppets. See The Ms Scribe Story, for a truly fantastical and true tale of someone pretending to be someone else. That story is much better than this one.
It takes another 800 or so words for nothing to happen. By the way, in the background Jason is constantly reading Hamlet. I think it’s supposed to be a really clever literary reference, because y’know, betrayal, confusion, the questioning of sanity, and ghosts. I also remember that Twilight kept referencing Romeo and Juliet. Didn’t help. A bag of wank is still a bag of wank, no matter whose name you drop.
[Wing: So far, there has been no betrayal, questioning of his own sanity, or ghosts. I feel ripped off.]
He goes to Rakesh’s house to find out what Rakesh has dug up on Lacey – even the damned format is the same as the Catfish show – and what he’s found is that he is vaguely aware of Lacey’s brother; and that he’s found a memorial page for her, but cannot find her profile. When Jason logs in as himself, they find the profile easily.
(In there, Jason feels a bit “crazy”. Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 6 (+5))
[Wing: And when we do get him questioning his own sanity, it’s done in a super faily way. DIE IN A FIRE.]
Anyway, this is actually meaningless. Of course there will be a memorial page – page, not profile. And whoever is pretending to be Lacey has probably just whacked the privacy settings for the Lacey profile up to 11. If you knew my real name, you wouldn’t find me on Facebook. It’s really quite easy to hide from the average Facebook user.
And Lacey is only friends with one person now, which is Jason.
CATFISH: 6 (+1)
Jason has nightmares about sending her messages, because he can’t find the words to ask her why she’s dead or something.
World of fail: 1 (It’s meant to be scary or threatening or disturbing, and, in all honesty, it’s kinda lame.)
When he wakes up, he has a brief chat with Lacey, who asks him not to tell anyone that they’re talking and calls him a “lifesaver” when he agrees. She says she’ll explain everything on Monday. (We’re on Friday now.)
CATFISH: 7 (+1) Just FYI, author, this is not mysterious, this is dumb.
Jason has angst, because he has to wait for an answer. And he doesn’t have a cassette deck. And he’s not actually into all the “experimental documentaries and pretentious German movies” in his Netflix queue. Oh, woe is Jason.
#FirstWorldProblems: 3 (+1)
[Wing: Maybe if he wasn’t trying so hard to be hipster and too cool for school, he’d have things on his Netflix queue that actually made him happy. Like me. Even if it is a weird mix of horror and adorable cartoons.]
He then looks up Lacey in the phone book and dials the number. Then hangs up because it would be “insane” to do anything else. Then he calls Rakesh, bitches at him, and they play Xbox together.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 7 (+1)
I have to say, I hate these characters. Jason is just so damned cool that I want to punch him in the throat, and Rakesh would’ve generally been ok, but pretending to have cancer to get laid is just unacceptable, so no matter how cute the dialogue, or how supportive he may or may not be to his BFF, I just want him to die in a fire. Alongside Jason.
His mom asks if he used the phone book, and he’s tells her he’s done with it and she can put it away. GET OFF YOUR LAZY ASS AND PUT THE MOTHERFUCKING PHONE BOOK BACK, YOU HIPSTER DOUCHE.
[Wing: I zero percent believe they actually have a phone book in 2013. I haven’t seen an actual phone book at a person’s house since, oh, maybe 2005?]
Cheer on the killer: 2 (+1)
Jason goes to Lacey’s memorial and thinks about his options, which are:
- Heaven has awesome wifi and Lacey is still using her Facebook.
- Lacey’s still alive.
Is this list going from least plausible to most, or vice-versa? Either way, why is Catfish #2? Yes, this list is numbered in the book. Only it uses far more words.
Then Jenna, Lacey’s BFF shows up.
She smiled gratefully, before offering her hand to him. “I’m Jenna,” she said. Arm outstretched, the resemblance to the child in the photo with Lacey was almost eerie.
“I’m Jason. It’s nice to meet you. I hope you don’t mind my being here.”
“No, I mean, we wanted to put the memorial in a public park because Lacey liked being around other people so much.”
It was as if Jenna knew one Lacey, the social butterfly, and he knew her shadow, who only had eyes for him. He was unsettled by it, as if one of them would slip away at any moment. He wanted desperately for his Lacey to come to life, but seeing the pained expression on Jenna’s face made him feel selfish about not caring more about the one she had lost.
You mean the person you talk to acts different from the person that everyone knew?
CATFISH: 8 (+1)
Anyway, he and Jenna have a quick conversation, where they mention Facebook, and she comments that it’s odd that something terrible can happen – a teenage girl falls from a balcony at a party – and Facebook still keeps churning out lolcats and memes, which is a nice observation. I actually like Jenna, even though she’s clearly the catfish. I don’t even care why she’s doing it. I suspect by the big reveal I’ll be angry, because it’ll be something stupid like she had to pretend to be Jenna to hook someone who wasn’t at the party to get to the bottom of the mystery of what happened (Never Ending Story did this much better, you know), when I’d accept that she just really missed her friend and wanted to do something a bit weird and didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.
Jason then goes home, and calls Lacey’s family again. This time he actually speaks to Lacey’s dad. He asks for Lacey, and dad says she’s dead and hangs up. Jason, asshole that he is, calls back again, says sorry for your loss, then proceeds with a b.s. story about Lacey being accepted into a music programme after an audition tape sent three weeks ago. You just acknowledged the death, you asshole, then you peppered a grieving man with questions as if she was still alive.
Cheer on the killer: 3 (+1)
The conversation hadn’t exactly been a rousing success. In retrospect he realized how foolish he’d been. There wasn’t a chance he was going to hear what he wanted. Why yes, complete stranger, my daughter is alive, but shhhh, don’t tell anyone. Also, she would like to marry you. No, instead of that totally realistic and not at all crazy response, he’d been confronted with Lacey’s dad’s raw grief, and now he felt like a terrible person. He felt something else, too. Anger at Lacey. Why was she doing this? And why was she keeping him in the dark? He would help her, but she would have to tell him how.
Oh, fuck off, Jason. And while we’re at it: Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 8 (+1)
[Wing: You are a terrible person, Jason. Also, I do not believe he’s thinking about marriage when it comes to her.]
That night he goes to a party under a bridge with Rakesh. The description is good – I really should’ve mentioned this earlier, especially since I’m so used to Cusick. He talks to a few people, then breaks off into the trees for a bit of mental peace and quiet so he can think about Lacey again. And I am left wondering why he uses a tiny keyring flashlight when anyone smart would use the flash on their phone. It gives off far more light. He thinks someone is following him and he falls over and loses his flashlight. Then he gets up and finds his flashlight. And… I have no idea why this scene even exists, other than it provides a distraction for why he didn’t notice he has a new text from a blocked number, which says:
Before you start digging around, remember I’ve got more experience hiding in the dark than you.
Why he couldn’t just notice that text after talking to a friend, I don’t know. As they leave, he thinks he sees a blonde driving a Volkswagen, which naturally has to be Lacey, right?
After a total filler scene of talking with his dad, he emails Lacey, I was going to summarise, but I’m actually going to quote the whole thing.
I don’t even know how to say this, but I Googled you last week. I know, I know, kind of stalkerish, but in my defense, I really like you and I just wanted to know more about you. Not the point. You probably know where this is going… I found your obituary. And then I found your memorial Facebook page. And then I visited your actual memorial in Brighton Park. And then I called your house.
Jesus, typing this stuff out it seems crazy, and it has FELT crazy. I want to trust you, really, I do, and I want to give you all the time and space you need to figure things out, but you have to admit it’s kind of, um, insane? That everyone thinks you’re… dead? You’re not dead, right? Because this would be REALLY weird if you were dead. Haha. Sorry, that’s probably not funny.
Look, I’m sure you have a good reason for all of this, and whatever it is, I swear, I will be there for you. I can’t even imagine what things must be like for you that you need to keep these secrets – I hate the idea that you’re in trouble or something. I think you’re great, and I don’t want to lose you, but you have to tell me what’s going on or else I don’t know if I can do this anymore.
So, um, that’s it. I’m worried about you, and I want to help you. I hope you write back soon.
PS: Were you following me at the bridge last night? Or am I just insane? Not sure I want to know the answer to that one….
That would not have been how I worded it. My letter would have gone like this:
So, funny thing. I Googled you, and before you get all defensive thinking I’m a stalker, you’re a fucking catfish, so I think we have bigger fish to fry. So, who the hell are you really? A small amount of research revealed your best friend is Jenna, so that’s my guess. Come clean or I’ll sick Nev and Max on you. And honestly, do you really want to be outed as the person who pretended to be a dead teenager? Fess up.
But that would have meant that the book would end at Chapter 11 (we’re on 10 now), so I guess that means we need this counter: Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1 (“I didn’t see anything” or “I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything about the accident”, because either would lead us to the bad guy, and we’ve still got twelve chapters to go.)
[Wing: Teens these days don’t really think that Googling someone is stalkery behavior, either. Literally everyone does it.]
He doesn’t get a reply all weekend, but at school he does finally. There’s a sidenote about how Twitter and Facebook, etc are all banned, but Jason was one of the first kids to figure out how to get past the ban. Because of his MAD HAXOR SKILLZ, RITE?
[Wing: Mr Wing is the tech director of a school district, and I call bullshit on this, because he blocks the shit out of the sites the students visit using the wifi, but if they use their actual phone data, it’s much more difficult to control, so not actually all that elite a skill, JASON.]
[Dove: And it specifically says that he’s using a computer. I’m guessing some kind of proxy — like when your ISP bans certain websites, like torrent sites, and geniuses set up proxies in countries where the law isn’t quite so aggressive. That said, I would be very wary of putting my login details in a proxy site. I’m calling BS on this. Jason is a moron, not a member of Anonymous.]
You weren’t supposed to find out this way. I don’t want you to get hurt, but now that you’ve seen what you’ve seen, I need your help. I didn’t disappear because I wanted to. Someone made me, and they will destroy you if they know we’re talking.
I know you met Jenna yesterday. I know you didn’t tell her anything about me, but I think she can help us. You have to find out if she’s my real friend; if we can trust her.
Jason, I’m sorry I lied to you. But you have to know that what’s between us is real – the realest thing I have right now – and as complicated as everything else is, you can’t doubt that.
She knows Jason met Jenna? CATFISH: 9 (+1)
[Wing: Here’s the thing. She didn’t disappear. She died. There was a body, right? How the hell does he think she’s faking this?]
[Dove: And if she is faking her death, who the hell thinks, “Now that’s a chick I want to date!” She’s just put her entire family and friends through the utter grief of her death, and the only person she trusts is a random hipster she friended on FB? Uh-huh. That girl’s a keeper.]
He has lunch with Rakesh which serves no purpose other than to highlight that (a) Rakesh strings girls along with no intention of telling them the truth; (b) said girls have no bloody dignity, presumably because Rakesh is so hot; and (c) to rehash what happened in the previous chapters.
Rakesh has a moment of sense, which Jason promptly shuts down.
“What have our parents been telling us since the day we started using computers? It could be anyone we’re talking to online.”
“Okay, Mom. But this isn’t anyone. It’s Lacey.”
Yeah. It’s so much more likely that she’s either dead and IM-ing or faked her death, than it is you’ve been catfished. He later friends Jenna and asks her to meet him. She agrees to meet him at a coffee shop.
Jason admits that he knew Lacey online, but is vague about when they started chatting, which Jenna accepts (no catfish points there, because it was neatly done). Then Jenna says that she thought that might be the case and she wanted to meet him because he might know what happened to her.
Lacey had changed before her death, kind of zoned out and spending all her time with a guy called Max who was teaching her to play guitar. Lacey fell off a balcony at Roxy Choi’s party, but it was not an easy accident to have.
That night, Jason thinks someone’s in his room, and when he turns the light on, someone has left a photo of Lacey and some guy in a varsity jacket on his desk. The same intruder has rifled through this desk too. And they stole his song that he’d been writing for Lacey. Seriously, WTF?
Jason and Rakesh meet up to get an update on the situation, and during this time Jason gets a message from Lacey giving him the go-ahead to tell Jenna that Lacey’s not dead. Yet again, nothing happens with the Jason/Rakesh conversation. I swear Rakesh only exists to give diversity. He’s of no help and he’s a complete bimbo. So it’s not even good diversity. I would find him amusing – he has some nice lines – but the problem is the “prank” mentioned before where he pretended to have cancer to get into a girl’s knickers. That’s a horrible thing to do and there’s no coming back from it. So well done, we have our first Asian character in Point Horror and he’s a terrible person.
[Wing: I’m not sure he’s our first Asian character. He might be our first Indian character, though. I now want to actually track racial diversity in the books, but not enough to actually go through and do all the research. I already spend too much time raging over these stories.]
[Dove: You may be right about that, if we factor in Nightmares, but I’m pretty sure the PHs are white throughout. I will be delighted if I’m wrong on this.]
Jason has a late-night Skype session with Jenna, and reveals that Lacey is alive. Lacey gave him a detail about a penguin shirt in Jenna’s closet to prove that she really is her. Or, you know, that she’s Jenna. Jenna reacts appropriately and by the end of the conversation, they’re all buddy-cop-let’s-solve-this-mystery. The jock in the photo is Troy and Jenna’s going to talk to Max (the guy who was teaching her guitar) about Lacey. So, Jenna’s going to do something and Jason’s… probably going to mope and listen to vinyl LPs or something.
Just so you know, Jenna is the only person I like in this story. And she’s clearly the catfish.
(Fucking ROFL: Jason does in fact go and buy a load of vinyl LPs. And then he watches Goonies. I swear I typed the above before reading the next chapter.)
Too cool for school: 5 (+1)
Entire chapter on the analysis of Hamlet. Renaissance Man did this much better. They did a rap about it. (1994: doing humour, intelligence, diversity and literary analysis better than 2015)
Jason meets up with Jenna again, and this time she has Max with her. Max is also a hipster douche and Jason has a love/hate reaction to him:
When Jenna had arrived at Michael’s, she’d introduced Max, a tall, dark-haired boy with pale wrists poking out of a leather jacket and string-bean legs clad in stiff skinny jeans. Before Jason could ask what he was doing there, Jenna slid into the booth and urgently whispered the news to him. As he heard it, he felt the earth tilt under him, as if any moment the three of them, complete with their booth, would slide away, like deck chairs on the Titanic. The weirdest part was that he felt even more betrayed than he had when he found the obituary. He told himself it was silly – he was overreacting, and slowly his vision righted itself. The booth wasn’t going anywhere. Like so many other things, this was just a misunderstanding.
“I’m sorry, what are you doing here?” His eyes were locked on Max and his own voice sounded unfamiliar.
In another life, Jason and Max could have been friends. In another life, they could have met up at shows and traded playlists, even started a band together. But right now, in this restaurant, Jason was filled with angry envy that Max had spent time with Lacey, had seen the light of day move across her face and the swing of her hair, the movement of her arms.
So far, I ship Jasax more than Jacey. And I’m so bored, I made up ship names. Or there’s also Mason and Lacon. The former sound better.
Anyway, he and Jenna (after a chunk of jealousy from Jason) let Max in on the secret that Lacey’s alive, and Jason quotes some facts (like her favourite album, what she sings in the car, etc) to prove that he knows it’s really her, and Max is all “woah, it really is her, she’s not dead” instead of “Huh, so you know some facts that everyone at this table is privy to? Still doesn’t prove it’s her. In fact, all it does is suggest strongly that one of the people at this table is pretending to be Lacey.”
CATFISH: 10 (+1) (It is killing me not to Wing out and throw thousands of points on this counter. Yes, Wing, you are now a verb.)
So, Max’s story is that he taught Lacey guitar, after she proved her hipster cred, and then one night at a party she hit on him, in front of her brother (Luke) and his friends. She was also arguing with Troy. Luke’s friends gave him a hard time. And after that Lacey cooled off their friendship. Lacey did have a secret boyfriend, but it wasn’t him. One night she left her phone at his house and there was a message from someone called Casey saying “911 – I need to see you tonight”, but they only know two Caseys, a younger girl and a gay guy.
This is fucking fascinating. The plot moves at a glacial pace and everything is so teen drama. Who cares about her secret boyfriend? I’m BORED.
Then we check in with Rakesh, who decides to say what every reader is thinking:
“Whoever she was seeing has to be part of the reason she disappeared. So what if she had another boyfriend? I’m the one she’s talking to now. And I said she could trust me.”
“Yeah, but you can’t trust her.” Rakesh’s argument was echoing his own concerns, but Jason wouldn’t admit it. “She’s been lying to you about her past, and mad shady about her present. You don’t owe her anything, and if I were you, I would get out of this situation yesterday.”
Then Rakesh peaces out of the book once more, after doing nothing of importance.
Lacey then sets Jason a task to break into her brother’s car in the middle of the night to get something (unspecified) out of the glove compartment. (“Luckily, there’s no alarm, and my dad makes him keep a spare copy of the key taped under the back bumper.” – yeah, I would’ve bought that in the 90s, but not now.) He must do this alone. And what’s more, he’s going to. No way would I break the law for a catfish.
[Wing: I can’t decide whether I buy it or not, because I know people who do this and I can see them telling their kids to do it, too. However, taping it under the back bumper is stupid. There are magnetic boxes specifically for that use. Plus better places to store it if you don’t want to use a box, e.g., under the license plate itself.]
[Dove: The story does actually mention that Luke has upgraded to one of those magnetic boxes.]
DED FROM STUPID: 501 (+1)
The unspecified something turns out to be a flash drive. Why was this information held back from Jason? What if he’d decided that Luke’s registration papers were the evidence he was sent to get?
DED FROM STUPID: 502 (+1)
Lacey’s dad possibly spots him as he’s leaving and Jason hides by Lacey’s VW. It’s definitely the car that nearly ran him down after the party, because his flashlight is on the seat. Ah, so that’s why he used a flashlight instead of a phone. It was a clumsy anachronism of a McGuffin.
The drive has a video on it. In it, Lacey is flirting with Max, and her brother’s friends (who are doing the taping) talk amongst themselves about how pissed Luke is going to be when he finds out.
Incest is relative: 1 (Yeah, so her dad is my dad, but I would totally give her one.) Even in the updated ones, the incest is heavy.
Then the video goes black and when it comes back, it catches a conversation between Troy and Lacey. Lacey wants to go public with their relationship, but Troy is scared of Luke’s reaction. Lacey storms out.
Screen goes black, then comes back to Luke and his friends giving Max a hard time saying he’s not welcome at the party. So this is the night that Max told them about.
Lacey swiveled toward Troy and really lost her temper.
“And you! You’re not my father, you’re not my brother, and you’re not my boyfriend!”
Even the protagonist sees the incest!
Incest is relative: 2 (+1)
After that comment, Troy announces that Lacey’s a mess and he doesn’t want to date her. It reads like announcing you’re not fucking your brother is a major boner-killer for Troy. So Lacey probably had a lucky escape.
And that’s that. He messages Jenna and says he has something to show her (dirty), and the next day Rakesh tags along because brown skin has +5 to diversity.
Max is at Jenna’s house too, and Jason is feeling jealous again. Rakesh asks if they can listen to Rihanna and all the hipsters hate him forever. Including Jason, given that in the car on the way over, Rakesh was listening to Ke$ha and Jason said he’d never talk to Rakesh again if he dated her. (Side note: Ke$ha is actually very bright and completely in love with history, so she’d actually probably watch all of those documentaries in your Netflix queue that you’re not actually into, Jason. So fuck you. Fuck you, Max as well. And Jenna. I hate you all now.)
Too cool for school: 6 (+1)
They watch the video and theorise that Luke is dangerous, and they don’t know how to talk to him, because if he is dangerous, he might just kill them all. Or something. So Rakesh suggests they stalk him/Troy instead.
The next day, Jason and Jenna stalk Troy together and have some amazingly hipster banter and I just want someone to murder Jason right now.
“All Hail West Texas has more heart in a single song than all of Sunset Tree combined!”
“I swear, it’s like you and Lacey are the same person when it comes to music.”
CATFISH: 12 (+2) and DED FROM STUPID: 504 (+2) – bumped two because there’s also a conversation about American Dolls where Jenna says that she loves them and Lacey mocked her for it, and Jason remembers that Lacey loved her doll to bits. Jason, you are the dumbest thing that ever lived.
AND I’M DONE. IT’S BULLET POINT TIME, BITCHES!
- They follow Troy to Lacey’s grave. He cries, apologises to Lacey and buries something. Jason gets a text telling him to “Look deeper.” He goes back, digs it up and it’s a necklace with “LG+TP KC” engraved on it. Rakesh calls him and Jason explains what he’s doing. As he says KC aloud, he realises it’s the mysterious “Casey” from before. Rakesh tells him he can’t steal from a graveyard, so Jason puts it back in the ground. Then messages Lacey to tell her what he found.
- Jason’s parents are away this weekend. Parents? What parents?: 1 (+1)
- The next morning Rakesh shows up and demands they get the necklace from the grave. Despite the fact Jason lampshades Rakesh’s lack of consistency, I’m still giving this a point because it’s clumsy. Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 Luke shows up while they’re digging and roughs them up. The necklace is gone anyway.
- They head to a diner where they, yet again, talk about what just happened. This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 (Recap! Recap! Recap! Something happened last chapter. Tell us about it! Tell it again. Then tell it one more time. Because otherwise we’ll forget.) and throw a few ableisms around (as below) Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 10 (+2)
- Rakesh yet again voices the audience’s feelings:
“So what’s your plan for your open house? Are you just going to sit around with Jenna and Max and talk the possibilities to death? Challenge Luke Gray to a duel? Accuse Troy of attempted murder? I probably have internal bleeding from what your precious Lacey’s mental case of a brother just did to me, we’ve made no progress, and all I’m asking is that we have a little fun while we play mission impossible.”
- He gets a message from Lacey with a picture of her wearing the necklace, saying “Come and find me.” The picture was taken on a spring day like today, and we’re supposed to believe it’s a selfie she took when it’s clearly last year’s pic. Jason is finally getting fed up with Lacey’s games.
- He goes to Jenna’s house and logs in to FB on her computer while she grabs ice for his black eye. Only Jenna is already logged in as Lacey. Then he sees the song he wrote on her desk. And finally he catches up to what we’ve all been thinking. CATFISH: 14 (+2) However, this is chapter 23 and we’ve still got seven more and an epilogue, so we’re not even close to done. *sigh*
- He storms off, thinks (boring), and then Troy appears and confronts him about the necklace. Troy reveals that he and Luke tracked Jason from that phone call to Mr Gray, and were at the party where Jason thought he saw Lacey’s car. He loved Lacey, but she was too trusting, which is why Luke is such a turbo-brute when it comes to defending her. Troy reveals that Lacey killed herself. He’s a blubbering mess, and described as a “gentle giant” and I kind of want to hug Troy.
- Lacey was dating Troy, but hated the secrets and wanted to tell Luke. Luke was furious about something, so the time wasn’t right. Troy didn’t want to out their relationship status. Jenna fancied Troy, so Lacey wanted to tell her first. Troy couldn’t get Lacey alone to talk about it, and now Jason thinks Jenna pushed Lacey off the balcony.
- Rakesh barrels in and threatens Troy, because he thinks Troy is trying to kill Jason. The situation is calmed and Jason recaps the entire book for the benefit of the room – thankfully this only takes a paragraph.
- Rakesh has invited loads of people to the house, since Jason’s parents are away and now he has to rescind the invites. Jenna was one of the invited.
- All of the Lacey messages are gone and the profile’s been deleted. (If someone deletes their profile, do you lose the messages? I’ve never messaged anyone who’s deleted their profile.) [Edit: Mimi, super commenter, says no, she still has the messages from a deleted profile. The only difference is that the user pic is missing.]
- They decide to visit Sully, the guy who shot the video. Sully’s phone was stolen, so he doesn’t have a copy of the video. Doesn’t matter anyway, Luke already knew about Troy/Lacey. Thankfully, Sully took some videos of the party, which he’s never watched. It shows Max threatening Lacey.
- Luke shows up and tries to beat up Troy.
- More vid. Max demanded dates in return for keeping quiet about Lacey/Troy, then threw her off the balcony (that bit happens off screen) when she said no.
- Jason listens to his voicemail, because this vid exonerates Jenna. And she’s scared of Max too. A voicemail later in the text clarifies that she’s at Max’s house, but not before the next two bullets, so it’s a bit of a fuzzy description.
- He calls 911 to report a murder, but Max has already called the police and reported that someone is harassing him and false reporting murders… uh… shouldn’t the police have a record that nobody has previously claimed he murdered someone? I’m giving it a count, even though I suspect the paperwork in a police station is a bit murky. Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 (+1)
- So they go to Plan B.
Plan B involved arguing about who was going to drive (they settled on Luke because his car was the biggest), and then, briefly, about who was riding shotgun (Jason forced Rakesh to let Troy have it even though he conceded that, by the rules of shotgun, Rakesh had won the seat).
Jason was loath to admit it, but one thing Plan B did not involve was an actual plan, or rather, it was lacking a unified plan. They were agreed on the first step: Go to Max’s. It was after this that their ideas diverged. Jason was planning to rescue Jenna. Luke was planning to rip Max’s head off when they got there. Troy was planning to stop Luke from committing a felony. Rakesh was planning to not miss any action. Sully was planning to record whatever went down and post the video to YouTube, but Troy stared him down when he tried to squeeze his stocky frame into the Jeep, and they left him behind on the curb.
- Max has Jenna tied up and has a chainsaw. Seriously. This is ridiculous. But damn, I never knew we were lacking a “needs more chainsaws” tag until this book. Thank you, book. They rush in, save the day and Jenna whacks Max over the head with his electric guitar. I think she should’ve used an acoustic guitar, but at least the dude is out cold.
- They call the police to Max’s address, and this time the police take them seriously because they name drop John Sullivan (aka Sully). And they couldn’t do this earlier because…? Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 (+1)
- It was Max’s idea to use Lacey’s profile to find someone to get to the bottom of the mystery. And I still don’t get why they needed to do that. Jenna’s reason is emotional and I get that – Jason represented everyone who would never get to meet her BFF, and she wanted to connect with him.
- Six weeks later, Jenna and Jason go to a dance together. And live happily ever after.
And throughout all that, there’re loads of words like “psycho” and “crazy”, not to mention the good old standby of the leads assuming that any plot holes can be covered with “crazy means not making sense as well as being dangerous”. Then super bonus points for using “retarded”. Not cool – especially in a book that’s only a year old. So I’m bumping this a la Wing: Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 260 (+250)
Ok, so that was dumb. Really dumb. I find it impossible to believe that everyone involved finds it much easier to believe that Lacey is really alive and hiding rather than just catfishing. I still don’t understand why they needed an external third party to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The writing was better than the original Point Horrors, but at the same time, it lost the 90s charm that they hold. I think part of the attraction of coming back to PH after all this time is to see what the writers could get away with – silly plot holes, the idiot ball, and so forth – and laughing at my younger self for putting up with it. This story lacks the charm of the old ones.
Still, Ruth Baron has a nice turn of phrase and can write banter in quite a charming way. It would just be nice if her characters weren’t dicks, and she didn’t use so much ableism. It’s not the 90s, and this is not ok.
I will not be recapping a new Point Horror for a long time. Not until Wing has done one and it’s my turn again. Without the nostalgia of the old ones, it was just annoying, not fun.
Long story short: CATFISH.
[Wing: Legit could not keep any of the guys surrounding Lacey straight. I needed a chart or something. Completely bored, and disappointed by the details that are 90s-esque just in order to make the plot work (e.g., the flashlight, the spare key, not being familiar with Catfish).]
Cheer on the killer: 3
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2
DED FROM STUPID: 504
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1
I beat you because I love you: 1
Incest is relative: 2
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 260
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1
This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1
Too cool for school: 6
World of fail: 1