Goosebumps 16-20

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 | 11-15

Sorry for the delays. Exam preparation has taken over my life but, fingers crossed, it will be all over on Thursday evening!

Anyhow, today I’m going to be taking a look at the next five Goosebumps books. In case you missed my last few reviews, this middle grade horror series was written by R.L. Stine and ran for sixty-two novels, all published between 1992 and 1997. The series proved so popular that many of these stories are still in print today, and it also spawned a television series, two movies, six video games and a number of spin-off books. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to be looking at books 16 to 20 only. Oh, and there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

In One Day in HorrorLand, Lizzy and Luke’s family find themselves lost on a day trip but are enticed by signs to a remote theme park – HorrorLand. When a disaster forces them to remain at the park, it all initially seems to be good fun. The park takes its horror theme seriously, with rides such as the Doom Slide and the Coffin Cruise, but it’s not long before Lizzy realises the truth. The attractions are all dangerous and the costumed “Horrors” who patrol the park may be more than just mascots…

In Why I’m Afraid of Bees, Gary wishes that he could just get away from his life. His sister hates him, bullies target him and he is terrified of his neighbour’s apiary. When he comes across a company that enables you to take a holiday away from yourself by switching bodies with another person, it seems like it’s too good to be true. Yet when something goes wrong with the transfer and Gary finds himself trapped in the body of a bee, he realises that his old life was not so bad. But what can he possibly do to free himself when his body’s new occupant is reluctant to give it up?

In Monster Blood II, Evan is having a hard time fitting into his new school. He is still traumatised by his experience with the Monster Blood, yet his new classmates won’t believe his “wild” stories. When Andy stops by for a visit and brings a can of the mysterious slime with her, Evan is horrified. After what happened last time, he can’t believe his friend would be so reckless. Yet when Cuddles, the class hamster, starts to grow, he realises that Andy must be responsible. How can they possibly stop the monstrous rodent, and what will they do when it is too big for its cage?

In Deep Trouble, Billy and Sheena love visiting their uncle on their holidays. He is a marine biologist so they get to spend their summer swimming from his boat and learning about his research. Yet, as a local aquarium approaches their uncle with an offer, Billy realises this holiday will be the most exciting yet. There are rumours of nearby mermaid sightings and the park will give his uncle a huge reward if he catches one. Yet Evan soon learns that there are less scrupulous people who are also interested in the mermaid and makes it his mission to stop the fantastical creature from falling into the wrong hands.

In Go Eat Worms!, Todd is fascinated by worms to the point of obsession. He loves cutting them in half and terrorising his sister with them. Yet, it’s not long before the worms start to fight back. Soon, Todd starts to find them everywhere – in his bed, in his hat, and even in his lunch. At first he thinks that it might be his sister looking for revenge, but he soon realises that there must be more to it then that. The worms are coming for him, and nothing he can do seems to appease them… 

Yeah. As you might be able to tell from my summaries, we’re almost a third of the way into the series now and things are starting to get weird. While the earlier books were often straight horror stories – Say Cheese and Die!, Night of the Living Dummy and Welcome to Camp Nightmare in particular were very scary in places – now we’re at the stage where the stories are just plain odd. While they are still frequently memorable and will certainly delight younger readers, they just don’t carry the same chill that they once did.

The same themes are also becoming all the more apparent in these stories. While the settings vary wildly between horror, science-fiction and even humour, we see the same characters and scenarios played over and over. School bullies, children with very specific (and plot convenient) fears, and irritating younger siblings appear in almost all of these books to some degree. Yet, while these tropes do occasionally have me rolling my eyes, at least Stine’s imagination is vast. He’s very good at capturing scenarios that will speak to younger readers and weaving them into entertaining stories, as you can clearly see in this selection.

Well, I guess that’s enough of my rambling. Let’s look at each of the books in turn.

One Day at HorrorLand is a rather zany instalment to the series, but has also been one of my favourite novels to date as it is truly a joy to read. While you can argue that its setup is awfully convenient – a family gets lost, finds a creepy theme park and then their car explodes for no reason – what followed from here was just pure fun. The plot merely focuses on the three kids as they explore the park, only to nearly meet their end on a couple of deadly rides. Naturally, after their second near-death experience, they start to realise that something is perhaps not right.

What follows is an oddly tense story, where the kids are forced to think fast to survive and it’s not initially clear exactly what is going on or why they have been targeted. While the eventual twist is not entirely what I expected, the thought of the entire ordeal being part of a reality television show on the “Monster Chanel” was an entertaining idea. The novel culminated in one of the most exciting climaxes of the series to date, drawing together every little thread of the story (including the bizarre foreshadowing of Luke’s annoying habit of pinching people), as the family make one final mad dash for freedom.

In terms of characterisation, this story was actually fairly unique for a Goosebumps book. It was the first novel of the series to focus on an entire family in peril, rather than just a couple of kids. This meant that even the parents were made aware of the monsters and forced to pitch in to help with the escape. While Lizzie unfortunately lacked anything that made her stand out as a protagonist, the relationship with her slightly annoying brother did at least feel natural and you certainly felt her escalating fear as she began to realise the truth about HorrorLand.

Why I’m Afraid of Bees was one of the Goosebumps books that I actually remember really clearly from when I was little, yet I was disappointed to find that it did not really hold up to my fond memories on a reread. Compared to earlier instalments, it just isn’t that frightening. Although the scene where Gary was trapped in the hive was tense, the whole premise was just too surreal to truly set me on edge.

As with earlier instalments, such as Say Cheese and Die!, Stine does not even try to explain the science of the novel. We don’t even really get to see how the mind switch even occurs. It just kind of happens while Gary is distracted. A majority of the story is just a homage to the 1958 movie The Fly, as Gary tries to find a way to alert others to his predicament and reverse what has happened to him. The story this time does not have much by way of a Goosebumps twist as Gary ultimately regains his human form through pure random chance. He is left a little different due his experience, but this final reveal is more amusing than it is creepy.

Due to the fact that I am a horrendous insect geek, my biggest issue with the novel was that it contained some odd misinformation about bees. This was especially strange, as Gary repeatedly mentions how knowledgeable about them. His claim that healthy bees will eat honey during the summer and that he is a bumble bee, despite clearly being a honey bee, are just two of the issue that I have with this story. It is certainly not a novel that will teach the reader anything about bees or beekeeping.

In terms of characterisation, we don’t really learn anything about anyone in this novel other than Gary. While his development is decent enough as he does learn to conquer his fears without facing the harsh punishments of some of the earlier protagonists, I felt that the lack of development to Dirk was the story’s biggest flaw. We learn absolutely nothing about this character beyond the fact that he wants to steal Gary’s body. The fact that Dirk’s parents seemingly don’t notice that their son has a bee-brain should really speak in volumes, and I don’t understand why more is not made of this.

And then there is Monster Blood II. Perhaps I am just destined to dislike this series…

While Monster Blood II has at least shed the bizarre witchcraft sub-plot of the first instalment, it is still one of the most frustrating Goosebumps novels that I have read so far. Everything about the plot is just overly convenient. Andy moving to the same state (and, indeed, same school as Evan), the Monster Blood regenerating itself from nowhere, the hamster wheel shaped sculpture, the way in which the giant hamster situation is resolved and just how stupid Evan’s science teacher is. These are all just things that needed to occur in order to push the story to its unsatisfying conclusion.

And, boy, is it unsatisfying. We learn nothing new about the Monster Blood. Not a single clue is given as to its origin and not a single new attribute is revealed. That is, except for the fact that it has an expiration date now which only serves to raise more questions! The final sting is, again, utterly ridiculous. Can Cuddles actually teleport? How the Hell does he manage to escape his cage on a daily basis and be so darn difficult to recapture, despite just being an ordinary hamster?

All of the characters in this story are also still massively annoying. Evan seems to have completely lost his mind between books. Why does he think that it’s a great idea to tell everyone about the Monster Blood, and how stupid is he to repeatedly fall for Conan the bully’s handshake “trick”? Similarly, Andy seems to have entirely forgotten that the Monster Blood almost killed them once before and is therefore eager to still mess around with the substance, even feeding it to innocent creatures despite knowing its attributes. Are we supposed to be rooting for these two? They are by far the least sympathetic pair of Goosebumps protagonists to date!

At least Deep Trouble is far less irritating. While the cover illustration of a diver wrapped in tentacles made me expect a more horrific instalment, this novel is actually more of an adventure story. It’s the tale of a boy who discovers a mermaid and then continues to protect her from “bad people”, desperately trying to return her to the ocean. While it is a bit slow paced to begin with, the novel does at least build up to a very exciting finale.

Yet, I was ultimately felt feeling a little indifferent to this story. We don’t see what becomes of the bad people, as their fate at the fins of the mermaids occurs entirely off page. This meant that the most exciting part of the story actually occurred part way through, in an incredibly tense couple of chapters in which Billy avoided being devoured by a shark. Once again, the twist ending was a little bland, though possibly teased at the direction that the direct sequel of this story will take. Unfortunately, however, it was not quite as memorable as previous instalments.

The most interesting aspect of Deep Trouble was its ethics. Although written pre-Blackfish, it does touch upon the fact that large and intelligent marine creatures should not be kept in captivity, or made to perform tricks for our enjoyment. Due to Billy’s desire to free the mermaid, he is immediately more sympathetic than a lot of Goosebumps protagonists. He also has a lot of development over the course of the novel as he initially believes that the thought of capturing a mermaid sounds cool, but comes to understand and empathise with her as the story progresses.

On the subject of unlikable protagonists, the Goosebumps series takes a further nose-dive with Go Eat Worms!, but I will get to that in a moment. On the whole, this instalment was actually stronger than the last couple of novels and was really the only true horror story in this selection. Although slow to find its feet, the novel is creepy and gross in equal measure as Todd is slowly driven made by his worms.

While the vengeful annelids don’t do much until the climax beyond appearing where worms ought not the be, the novel does a great job of keeping the reader guessing. Is it all Todd’s sister pulling an elaborate prank, or is the answer more supernatural? The novel does not reveal the truth until its final chapters. The twist ending is also rather satisfying this time around, as the novel reveals both the cause of the strange localised earthquakes and hints at Todd’s eventual (and incredibly bleak) fate. However, the rather massive problem that I had with Go Eat Worms! was its cruel protagonist.

Todd is possibly the biggest jerk of the Goosebumps series so far, and that’s a big achievement given how unrepentantly unpleasant the protagonists of You Can’t Scare Me! and Be Careful What You Wish For were. As you may be aware, I keep beetles (including their larval stages) as pets and treat them with the utmost care. Therefore, the way that Todd treated his “beloved” worms as toys did not sit well with me.

The novel showed over and over how this budding sociopath took pleasure in hurting his pets, and he never learns from his mistake. The only lesson he draws from his experience is to leave worms alone and start hurting butterflies instead. He never acknowledges that his behaviour is wrong or that his treatment of worms is barbaric. This was the first Goosebumps book where I found it easier to empathise with the “bratty” sibling.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. All in all, I was a bit disappointed by this selection of Goosebumps books. While it started out strong with One Day in HorrorLand, the other instalments had their share of issues. While a couple of them did have memorable moments, they aren’t really novels that I would recommend.

One Day in HorrorLand can be purchased as an eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

Why I’m Afraid of Bees is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Monster Blood II is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Why I’m Afraid of Bees is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Deep Trouble can be purchased as an Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk
Go Eat Worms is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog Stats

  • 61,270 awesome people have visited this blog

© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

All novels reviewed on this site are © to their respective authors.

%d bloggers like this: