Goosebumps 6-10

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for the previous instalments of this series. You can read my review of these novels [here].

It seems like a good time to take a second look back at R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps series. This collection of middle grade horror stories originally ran for sixty-two novels between 1992 and 1997 and, due to their incredible popularity, many are still in print today. For the purpose of this review, I will be looking at novels six to ten only, reflecting the order that they were first released in the United Kingdom. Oh, and this is a retrospective look at the series, so there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

In Let’s Get Invisible, Max makes an amazing discovery in a hidden room within his attic – a mirror with the power to make anyone temporarily invisible. While this seems fun at first, he soon discovers that the object hides a dark secret. Something seems to be within the mirror, drawing him towards the glass, and it’s not long before he starts to have difficulty turning back to normal…

In Night of the Living Dummy, Kris becomes jealous after her sister discovers a ventriloquist dummy in her neighbour’s skip. Lindy names the dummy Slappy and starts to become popular as a local entertainer. However, when Kris gets a puppet of her own, things begin to get sinister. Kris’s dummy starts saying nasty things and everyone blames Kris. After all, a dummy can’t possibly have a mind of its own, can it?

In The Girl who Cried Monster, Lucy is always getting in trouble for telling her brother Randy tall tales about monsters. Due to this, no one will believe her when she does actually see one. Mr Mortman, the local librarian, turns into a horrible monster and eats bugs whenever the library closes. Trouble is, Mr Mortman suspects that Lucy knows his secret. How can Lucy save herself when everyone assumes that she is lying?

In Welcome to Camp Nightmare, Billy is disappointed to find that summer at Camp Nightmoon is not exactly what he expected. The Councillors have really lax health and safety standards, his parents never answer his letters and no one seems to care when kids disappear in the night. As one of Billy’s friends is attacked by a horrible monster, Billy realises that something sinister is going on. Just what secrets is Uncle Al hiding and can he escape before it is too late?

In The Ghost Next Door, Hannah’s boring summer holiday livens up when she meets her new neighbour. Danny is a little strange but seems nice enough. However, it’s not long before Hannah starts to notice just how pale he is – and how he has a habit of just vanishing into thin air. It’s obvious that Danny is far from normal, but could it be that he’s really a ghost? And what connection does he have to the mysterious shadowy figure that Hannah has seen around the town?

One of the things that has really struck me in reading this series so far is just how varied it is. Although every Goosebumps book is written to be accessible to young horror fans, the tone of each story varies quite wildly. While some, like The Ghost Next Door are fairly straight horror stories, others are a lot more light-hearted and even surreal in places. The fact that all of the instalments so far also stand-alone means that readers can always pick and choose. The titles and blurbs make it quite clear what kind of story you are picking up, so if the content makes you feel uncomfortable – dolls, ghosts, monsters – you can always give one a miss.

Yet, part of joy of reading this series so far has been the twists. From The Girl who Cried Monster onward, Stine has really upped his game when it has come to the climaxes of his stories. While every Goosebumps story so far has had a bit of a twist, now they are becoming a lot more off-the-wall and memorable. These are the kind of twists that are impossible to guess unless readers really think outside of the box. While some of these have been more effective than others, it does at least make the stories stand out and encourages the reader to keep on going to find out just what will happen in the end.

But, anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at each of the novels in turn.

While Let’s Get Invisible was notably better than Monster Blood, it was still not the most engaging instalment of the series to date. Although the novel carried the constant sense that something could happen, the book was very sparing with the scares until the final few pages. While I would like to have said that this time was spent building up tension, this unfortunately wasn’t the case. It was just a lot of time spent with a group of children standing in an attic, daring each other to go invisible. This was more than a little dull.

The story was also lacking in explanation. We learn nothing about the mirror, its origins or even how it works. We don’t even know who (or what) created it or how it came to be hidden in Max’s attic. We don’t even get to see much application of its power. While Zack and Lefty attempt to have a little bit of fun with their invisibility, the others really lack any kind of imagination. A lot of the time, they just stand right by the glass and marvel at their lack of reflection. Oooh…

In terms of character, Let’s Get Invisible was especially poor. Much like Say Cheese and Die!, it contained an ensemble cast but the only one who was remotely likeable was Max. While Max did have some distinct character traits, such as his concern about his hair, the rest were really just jerks. Erin and Zack were obnoxious bullies who constantly brow-beat both Max and April into getting their own way. Lefty was just unrepentantly annoying, even by Goosebumps younger sibling standards.

The only thing that I kind of liked about the story was the twist. The subtle reveal that Lefty might not be quite normal is fairly dark, especially given the fact that the mirror has already been destroyed by this point. It leaves the novel on a bit of a grim note, unclear if Max can do anything to bring his brother back.

Night of the Living Dummy, however, was a marked improvement. I was pleased to find that this novel is one of the most popular and well-known Goosebumps stories for a reason. The plot flows well, gradually growing creepier as the story progresses. It plays on the fact that dolls – specifically ventriloquist dummies – are inherently unsettling, creating a situation in which parents believe that their children are going insane and introducing a magical enemy who seems practically invincible. This builds to a decent twist ending which, while not as dark as that of Let’s Get Invisible, does nicely set up the next instalment (Night of the Living Dummy is one of the few Goosebumps stories that does have a sequel).

This is also the novel that introduces Slappy the Dummy, a monster that practically becomes a mascot for the series, although the role that he plays in this story is actually very small. For the most part, it is just a story about sibling rivalry and it portrays this very well. You certainly feel the escalation of childish pranks as Lindy tries to forge an identity for herself away from her twin, while Kris grows increasingly jealous of all the attention that Lindy is getting. While the girls can be annoying, they felt more realistic than some of the previous siblings that we have encountered over this series, and therefore were more relatable.

Unfortunately, The Girl who Cried Monster was no where near as memorable. This is mostly due to the fact that it was very slow-burning. While Lucy sees Mr Mortman turn into a monster early in the tale, the novel then starts to drag. There isn’t a lot of tension as it’s a long time before Mr Mortman even cottons on to the fact that Lucy knows his secret. The book just becomes filled with very repetitive sequences in which Lucy sneaks into the library to spy on him.

However, as I previously noted, the one thing that did stand out about The Girl who Cried Monster was its twist. While I certainly did not see it coming, I think that it will probably divide readers. The fact that all of Lucy’s family are monsters is not even eluded to prior to the twist, and you really do feel like it is something that should have been mentioned earlier given how scared Randy is of monsters. The fact that this is never mentioned requires Lucy to be unnaturally unreliable as a narrator, and therefore I did not find it greatly satisfying on the whole.

However, I was pleased to find that this was the first instalment of the series to contain no jerky siblings, which did make it feel like a breath of fresh air. It was nice to see that there are families in the Goosebumps universe that do have calm home lives. You did feel for Lucy as you realised that her history of “crying monster” had come back to bite her, and her love of scaring Randy was in better taste than Lindy’s malicious pranks in Night of the Living Dummy.

And then there is Welcome to Camp Nightmare. This book was probably my favourite Goosebumps story as child and I was really pleased to find that it stood the test of time. Although the setting wasn’t quite as relatable to me as we don’t really have summer camps in the same way here in England, I did find the sense of isolation to be rather unsettling. It places Billy in an unfamiliar setting surrounded by uncaring adults, natural dangers and strange happenings.

The tension and sense of mystery builds as kids start to go missing – even one who is supposedly ripped to pieces off page – while the adults all react with extreme indifference. Indeed, it gradually becomes clear that the sinister “Uncle Al” is actively preventing the children from contacting the outside world for reasons unknown. It’s dark and twisted, quickly building to what is easily the most surprising twist of the series to date.

And this time, I actually did love the twist. While it was once again hard to see coming, at least it did not rely on an unreliable protagonist to pull it off. It was also a bit easier to see coming in hindsight. While Billy never spells out the fact that he is on an alien planet, the strange fauna and popular baseball-ish game both hint to the fact that the story is not set in our world.

In terms of characterisation, once again it was nice to see that the cast in largely free of jerks. Billy has enough to contend with at Camp Nightmoon and, fortunately, there are no bullies or annoying siblings to make his life even harder. Billy soon proves to be one of the more sympathetic of the Goosebumps protagonists, showing himself to be brave, caring and resourceful as the novel progresses, despite being scared out of his mind.

Finally, there is The Ghost Next Door. While this is not one of Stine’s most memorable stories, it does present the creepy tale of a girl who becomes convinced that her new neighbour is actually a ghost. While it was genuinely quite frightening in places, the novel’s biggest flaw was its pacing. This one was almost as slow-burning as Let’s Get Invisible, with very little of consequence actually happening until its final few chapters.

Once again, the biggest strength of the story was its twist. While the fact that Hannah was the real ghost is actually fairly obvious in hindsight, I remember it totally taking me by surprise when I first read this book as a child. Yet, after this reveal, the wind down was a bit underwhelming. It never really explains how Hannah rescues Danny despite being intangible and the identity of the shadow figure does not make a lot of sense.

However, I did really like Hannah as a protagonist. You certainly felt her isolation and the lack of annoying siblings and bullies was, once again, very refreshing. Hannah was ultimately one of the most tragic of Stine’s protagonists as the novel does touch on the fact that she was responsible for the fire that killed her entire family. While this is never truly focused on in the story, it did make the novel a little bit sad on the whole and certainly darker than most of the previous instalments.

So, I think that about covers everything. Once again, this selection of Goosebumps books was a bit of a mixed bag. While I didn’t think any were as weak as Monster Blood, a couple were a little bit slow and forgettable. Still, the excellent Welcome to Camp Nightmare and Night of the Living Dummy are certainly must-reads if you fancy a spooky trip down memory lane!

Let’s Get Invisible can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Night of the Living Dummy can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

The Girl who Cried Monster can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Welcome to Camp Nightmare can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

The Ghost Next Door can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 11-15 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 16-20 | Arkham Reviews

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