RL Stine is an absolute powerhouse in the world of gently scary, creepily amusing kid-friendly horror thanks to his perennially popular Goosebumps titles. There are sixty two titles in the original Goosebumps series, as well as plenty that make up various spin-off series. Goosebumps is a genuine phenomenon, with more than 400 million copies of Stine’s books featuring the familiar slimy logo having been sold since the first title, Welcome to Dead House, was published way back in 1992.
Yet the Goosebumps books weren’t the first younger-skewing horror books that Stine wrote; his oft-overlooked Fear Street titles – the main series of which began in 1989 – reached 51 books in its main series and also saw its fair share of spin-off titles and collections. Aimed at a slightly older, teen audience, the Fear Street series were nonetheless relatively ‘safe’ horror for teens to read; much more so than the graphic, highly unsuitable Stephen King and James Herbert books that I was addicted to at the age I should probably have been reading Stine’s books (I’d actually not heard of Fear Street until recently – it was the Netflix adaptations that brought it to my attention).
The first book, The New Girl, seems incredibly tame for a young adult book, especially by today’s standards – comparing it to the YA Alien novel, Alien: Echo, which I reviewed yesterday, the difference couldn’t be more stark). Yet it’s still an entertaining, slightly spooky read.
Cory Brooks, a student and star gymnast, falls for Anna – an ethereal, ghostly girl who suddenly appears one day at his high school. Yet Anna seems to come and go with very few students even noticing her – and attempts to contact her outside school make Cory wonder if she’s even real at all. Is the spookily old-fashioned Anna just a figment of Cory’s imagination? Could she be a ghost?
Though the explanation at the end of the tale is daft, overly convoluted and unsatisfying, the journey there is pretty fun. The story moves at a very fast pace and is full of Stine’s trademark chapter cliffhangers to keep readers hooked and turning pages. Though hardly high literature, The New Girl is never less than entertaining and it’s interesting to see Stine’s style in place even before he took the scares to a younger audience with Goosebumps.
As mentioned, it’s pretty tame stuff – there’s not much here at all that skews the target audience older than the Goosebumps books. One or two sequences would have to be modified slightly for a younger audience, including a locker-related incident that’s shocking but bizarrely moved on from with little fallout, but other than that and the odd, fairly chaste kiss, this is essentially a Goosebumps book in all but name.
Despite my slight disappointment with The New Girl, it was a very fast read and kept me turning the pages – so it definitely kept me glued to the story. Had I read it as a teen in the early 90s, it would no doubt have hooked me on Stine’s work immediately.
It could be that the series gets into a slightly more gruesome groove as it continues; it’s slightly disappointing that the opening book feels so conservative, especially given the wacky and inventive places the Goosebumps books went to, almost right from the beginning. I’m looking forward to finding out in any case, as I’ll be reading more Fear Street titles over the coming weeks, having acquired an omnibus edition of the first four titles in the series.
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