Goosebumps 11-15

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

1-5 | 6-10

Reader beware, it’s time to take another nostalgic look back at Goosebumps. If you haven’t checked out my previous two posts, this series was written by R.L. Stine and ran for sixty-two books between 1992 and 1997. The novels vary in themes and enjoy-ability but were all horror stories aimed at middle grade readers. For today’s review, I will be taking a look at books 11 to 15 (in the order that they were first released in the United Kingdom). Oh, and this review will contain spoilers. You have been warned.

In The Haunted Mask, Carly Beth knows that she is easily scared but is furious that two boys in her class keep using this as a way to publicly embarrass her. When she finds a hideous and terrifying mask, she realises that she finally has a way to turn the tables on them. Trouble is, the mask makes her do horrible things and proves very difficult to take off…

In Piano Lessons Can Be Murder, Jerry is surprised to find an expensive piano in the attic of his new home but this soon turns to horror when he realises that it is haunted. His parents refuse to believe him and instead sign him up to piano lessons with the eccentric Dr Shreek. Although the teacher seems nice enough, he is oddly obsessed with Jerry’s hands. Could their be truth in the rumours that kids sometimes go for lessons at his school and never return?

In Be Careful What You Wish For, Samantha’s life is made miserable by the constant torment that she receives from Judith. However, when a strange woman offers Sam three wishes, she realises that she can use these to finally have her revenge. Yet when her first wish makes Judith seriously ill, Sam realises that perhaps she has gone too far. The woman takes her wishes very literally and so they can have horrible and unexpected consequences…

In The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, Grady is forced to move to a remote corner of Florida due to his parents’ research. Although the swamps around his home seem interesting, he soon learns of a terrifying local legend and supposed sightings of a terrible beast. When Grady’s pet dog, Wolf, is accused of being the beast, he knows that he has to prove his innocence. Yet where does Wolf run off to at night, and what is butchering the local wildlife?

In You Can’t Scare Me!, Eddie and his friends have grown sick of Courtney. The fact that she seems to be utterly fearless only serves to make Eddie look like even more of a wimp than he really is. Every plot that Eddie and his friends’ hatches to scare Courtney seems to backfire and make her look better still. However, Eddie soon comes up with the perfect plan to terrify Courtney with a local legend about the mud monsters of Muddy Creek. Trouble is, the legend might just be true…

Now that I’ve reread the first fifteen books of this series, it’s becoming quite clear that many of them share the same common themes. While this repetition certainly isn’t a problem at this stage, as Stine’s plots are still all very varied, they do show the way that he has latched on to certain core ideas that young readers will be able to relate to. Worries about moving house, stress caused by school bullies and issues caused by recklessness when people are trying to prove that they are brave pop up again and again in new and exciting ways.

One of the most interesting of these, to me, is the way that Stine treats bullies in his stories. Bullying is sadly something that most readers will be able to relate with to some degree. Yet, while many novels look favourably at attempts to beat bullies, Stine takes a rather interesting approach. While his protagonists are generally successful in their revenge attempts, this usually comes at some terrible cost to them.

There is a serious karmic backlash in the Goosebumps series, which sometimes severely punishes kids if they try to harness supernatural sources for doing bad things. This is something that is certainly deeply significant in three out of the five novels that I’m going to be talking about today.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a little look at each of these novels in turn.

The Haunted Mask is one of Stine’s best known and highly regarded books for good reason. Personally, I found it to be the most effective and outright frightening instalment of the series to date. While it’s premise of a “scaredy cat” who wants revenge against the kids who bully her is relatively simple, the story is quick to find its feet and presents a fast paced and incredibly dark tale.

While Carly Beth’s Halloween seems to be fun at first, the reader soon begins to notice that there is something not right about the mask. As the night progresses, she becomes more aggressive and mean-spirited, driven by some inexplicable urge to hurt and frighten children. While the novel doesn’t really explain much about how the masks turned evil, or even why they were created in the first place, things still become surprisingly scary as Carly Beth realises that the mask has fused to her skin.

The novel ends with the bleak revelation that Carly Beth’s little brother has donned – and is presumably trapped forever – in the mask, this was the only thing that disappointed me a little about the story. After the truly unexpected twists of the likes of Welcome to Camp Nightmare, it just felt a little mundane. Still, it did end the novel on a truly grim note and I am curious to see if this will play into the book’s direct sequel.

The characters in The Haunted Mask are all pretty strong. Carly Beth is a sympathetic protagonist and, despite being scared of her own shadow, does not really deserve what she gets over the course of the novel. As with Let’s Get Invisible, the supporting cast are all largely Grade A jerks who torment Carly Beth for no reason but at least they do get their comeuppance. Sadly, this isn’t without ramifications, but it was incredibly satisfying in the short term!

Yet Piano Lessons Can Be Murder was a novel of a very different kind. It was the first Goosebumps story that I found to be truly surreal, which is possibly why it’s also the first that I have come across that seems to now be totally out of print in the United Kingdom. In fact, it was so strange that I honestly can’t decide whether I actually enjoyed reading it at all!

The plot draws on many previous instalments in style, such as the protagonist moving into a creepy new house, ghosts, sceptical parents and a mundane childhood hobby made sinister. While some elements of this combination where pretty creepy, especially any scene in which Dr Shreek complemented Jerry’s “excellent hands”, I was disappointed by the ending.

The true villain was made far too obvious to be surprising and, really, it was quite shocking that his super weird actions didn’t clue Jerry in sooner. Yet, as far as Goosebumps villain schemes go, Mr Toggle’s plan made a surprising amount of sense. I mean, the scheme of murdering people, chopping off their hands and turning them into piano playing robot hands does have one or two holes, but at least he makes clear what he is doing and what he hopes to accomplish!

Yet the scale of Mr Toggle’s plans still gave me a lot of trouble. In the story, it is revealed that there have been rumours of kids vanishing for a long time and he has a room full of hand robots, implying that he has killed many people. While Goosebumps books can generally get away with the strange goings on as they are very low-key, Mr Toggle is clearly a mass murderer. Why has there not been any police or media interest in this enormous missing person’s case, despite the fact that kids in the area are seemingly aware that it is all linked to Dr Shreek’s piano school?

In terms of characterisation, Piano Lessons Can Be Murder was actually surprisingly strong. While it did not have much of a supporting cast (there were no school bullies and Jerry is a rare Goosebumps only child), you really did feel for Jerry. His past as a practical joker meant that no one is inclined to believe him, which brought to mind Lucy from The Girl Who Cried Monster, and it did make you feel sorry for him as it became increasingly clear how much danger he was in.

Then there was Be Careful What You Wish For. This is the first Goosebumps book that really didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t really an issue with the pacing this time. Instead, it was the tone of the story that really gave me pause.

While it is possible to empathise with Samantha, as Judith is a truly horrible bully, the length that Sam went to get her revenge was quite startling. Although she felt initial guilt when the consequences of her first wish inflicts a horrible wasting illness on Judith and every other member of her basketball team, this does not stop her from using her second wish to resign her tormentor to an even worse fate.

Yet, despite the fact that the novel was pretty well paced, I did have some problems with the way that the wishes worked. The consequences of Sam’s first wish makes sense. She wishes to be the strongest basketball player, which is granted because everyone else falls ill. Yet why does every living thing vanish from the world because she wishes that Judith will disappear? That’s not what Sam asked for in any way. It just seemed to happen because the mysterious crystal woman was feeling particularly vindictive.

The ending also made me frustrated. While Sam did deserve her comeuppance (in this case being turned into a bird when Judith gets her three wishes), where are the ramifications for Judith? Her wish seems to have gone off entirely as planned without any hitch. Does this mean that the bullies have ultimately won out for the first time? I have to believe that something terrible happens to Judith after the end of this story or I will go insane!

Luckily, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp was a much less frustrating read. Although it is another slow burning instalment, it was certainly tense enough to keep my attention throughout. Despite the subject matter, the novel felt a lot more like a mystery than a horror story. Although Grady does not actually encounter the werewolf until the last few chapters, a lot of time is spent on the build-up. It offers a few different suggestions as to who the monster may be (or if it exists at all), and hides its true identity well until the climax.

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp is also surprisingly violent as far as Goosebumps stories go, featuring at least one “missing” person and a few instances where Grady finds animals which have been torn apart. As it’s unusual for a Goosebumps story to be this grisly, I feel that I should probably note that this instalment might be a little too scary for very young readers.

In terms of character, once again Stine presents a really sympathetic lead in the form of Grady. You truly feel for him as the story progresses, especially as he pulls out all the stops to prove that Wolf is not responsible for the attacks. My only real disappointment with the story was how badly Grady’s older sister – Emily – was side-lined. While early chapters showed how sad she was to have moved away from her friends, this subplot is quickly forgotten. Emily is the first person to turn on Wolf when the first dead bird is found, and soon disappears from the story after this.

Finally, there is You Can’t Scare Me!. Perhaps I was too hasty with my criticisms of Monster Blood – this novel has proven to be much more frustrating. While the plot of You Can’t Scare Me! is actually very similar to that of Be Careful What You Wish For, this story has one key difference. Sam targeted Judith because she had been bullied by her for years. Eddie and his friends certainly can’t claim the same thing about Courtney.

While Courtney is a bit of an know-it-all and is seemingly fearless (unlike Eddie who is almost as anxious as Carly Beth was in The Haunted Mask), she generally seems to be a bit indifferent to the protagonists. In fact, I would say that they actually go out of their way to antagonise her. This left me wondering who I was actually supposed to be rooting for and who the bullies in this story actually were.

The plot of You Can’t Scare Me! is incredibly slow burning, taking far too much time to focus on several failed attempts to scare poor, long-suffering Courtney. Naturally, each of these is foiled by either Eddie’s incompetency or the fact that Courtney just isn’t afraid of snakes, spiders and dogs.

While it’s clear that the mud monsters will eventually play a role due to the fact that they are mentioned every other chapter, this single supernatural element doesn’t actually surface until the last couple of pages and utterly lacks scares. The monsters don’t even get within striking distance of the protagonists as they all just run away the second that they appear! The story doesn’t even have much of a twist this time beyond the fact that the mud monsters are real as the story just ends straight after this very underwhelming climax.

The protagonists this time around are all rather frustrating. Courtney is irritating but does not do anything to deserve being victimised by Eddie and his friends. The rest of the characters just seem determined to have “revenge”, though it’s decidedly unclear what they think that they are getting revenge for. Eddie even goes so far as to have self-serving fantasies where he makes Courtney a laughing stock while appearing to be brave himself. The only small satisfaction that I gained was that Team Eddie were at least completely deserving of their fate. It was clear from the very start that they had this coming.

Anyhow, I think that covers everything. Once again, this selection of Goosebumps books was very varied and each instalment was wildly different in terms of tone and themes. While I would certainly recommend The Haunted Mask and The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, the other three instalments were not quite as strong and ultimately were not as memorable as some of the earlier books in this series.

The Haunted Mask can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

Piano Lessons Can Be Murder is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Be Careful What You Wish For can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

You Can’t Scare Me! can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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