Goosebumps 55-58

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40 | 41-45 | 46-50 | 51-54

We’re starting to get close to the end of this series now, so let’s take another look back at the original Goosebumps books. These sixty-two novels were all written by R.L. Stine and published between 1992 and 1997. The series is still massively popular today and has spawned a number of spin-offs, movies, video games and even a television show. For the purpose of today’s review, I will be looking at books 55 to 58 only. Oh, and as this is more of a retrospective, there will be massive spoilers. You have been warned.

In The Blob That Ate Everyone, Zackie loves to write horror stories despite being terrified of everything. Due to this, he is thrilled when the owner of a strange, burned out antiques store gives him an old typewriter. In fact, she seems desperate to get rid of it. Trouble is, it’s not long before Zackie realises that everything he writes seems to be coming true. What can he do when he inadvertently releases a giant pink monster on the town?

In The Curse of Camp Cold Lake, Sarah is not having a good time at camp. She hates water, the rules seem far too restrictive, and her roommates are all horrible. To get back at them, Sarah decides to fake her own death. That will make everyone sorry. The problem is that something goes horribly wrong and Sarah finds herself haunted by a ghostly girl. One who is determined to be her buddy. Forever.

In My Best Friend is Invisible, Sammy loves science-fiction but is less than impressed when a mysterious invisible boy invades his room. Brent eats his food, messes things up and claims he only wants to be Sammy’s friend. Trouble is, Brent seems to excel in getting Sammy in trouble and now his parents think that he’s losing his mind. But how can Sammy manage to get rid of something that he can’t even see?

In Deep Trouble II, Billy and Sheena are once again spending their summer at their uncle’s floating lab in the Caribbean. Once again, something weird is happening on the reef. Giant fish and jellyfish are appearing, and even Billy’s goldfish have been affected! They soon learn that it’s all due to the horrible experiments of another scientist. However, now that they have learned his secrets, he can’t possibly allow the kids to leave the reef alive…

It looks like I may have spoken a little too soon when I posted my last review. While things were starting to look up in the last few novels, Stine seems to have retreated back into his comfort zone. Not only does this selection contain a direct sequel to an earlier book, but he is returning to some old themes that he has certainly covered in the past. There have been many previous ghost stories in this series, including one that was set in a summer camp – Ghost Camp. There have also been a few other camp stories, and another that focused on invisible kids (Let’s Get Invisible).

While it must be difficult to keep a long series feeling fresh, it still meant that these stories felt more than a little familiar. While Stine still tries to spice things up with his bizarre (and, sometimes, shockingly bleak twists), it’s clear that Goosebumps books are following a very comfortable pattern. The chapter stings are becoming predictable (if something jumps on someone, 90% of the time it’s a cat), and you really do know what you are going to get. While some readers may like this familiarity, I think that a lot of others may be starting to get a little bored.

Anyhow, it’s always easier to look at each book in turn so let’s start from the top.

The Blob That Ate Everyone is actually the example that disproves the rule, as it’s a surprisingly original addition to the series. My only real disappointment with it is a bit of a weird one, and that was that I felt that it could have been so much better. Despite its fantastic concept – a boy who discovers that everything he types immediately comes true – the story is still almost entirely build up. It takes almost half of the novel before the typewriter’s potential powers are revealed, and the Blob only makes an appearance in the last couple of chapters.

While The Blob That Ate Everyone does a pretty decent job of creating tension, the novel’s short length made the payoff feel a bit weak. Still, the concept of an author with the power to breathe life into their stories is incredibly appealing. While it isn’t the first time that we have seen this idea on this blog (The Hazel Wood and The Other Alice spring immediately to mind), it is always one that speaks to creative young readers. I mean, who hasn’t written an elaborate revenge story about a bully? Or is that just me…

Unfortunately, the ending twist felt a little bit forced. The reveal in the final chapter is that the entire novel was just a horror story written by a blob monster, making everything that happened previously actual a fictional account of a group of humans who kill a blob monster who was merely being its best self. While this did make me chuckle, I do think that it is likely to divide readers. It didn’t make much sense and was only a step up from everything being a dream, blunting any impact that the story might otherwise have had.

At least the cast of The Blob That Ate Everyone are fairly strong. Despite being the construct of a blob monster’s imagination, Zackie is a likeable character and I found it easy to relate to him. The only thing I felt could have been better defined were his many phobias, as these did not seem to be as all-consuming as those of the protagonists of The Barking Ghost or The Haunted Mask. I also couldn’t really understand why Zackie was so close to Adam. Adam never really behaves like a friend, spending most of the story actively bullying Zackie. Seriously, why would Zackie even give him the time of day?

Unfortunately, after The Blob Who Ate Everyone, the series takes a downwards turn.

The Curse of Camp Cold Lake is a pretty standard ghost story, however it also has a lot of issues. It takes a very long time before there is even a hint of a ghost and, even then, the ghost’s origins are never truly verified. For the most part, this is a novel about a reluctant twelve-year-old’s first few days at summer camp. While the coordinators spend a lot of time outlining the dangers of the lake, it’s a long time before this is actually felt.

Due to this, the second half of the novel is forced to move at double-speed. Sarah is tormented by Della, a ghost who echoes the camp rule about everyone having a buddy as she believes that she can’t “move on” without one. Naturally, Della is tired of waiting and is fully willing to kill Sarah to make this happen.

As the novel draws to a close, the final twist is especially bleak. It turns out that Della has never intended to kill Sarah on the lake (despite repeatedly attempting this), and instead was trying to lure her into the snake-infested forest where she would surely die. Also, Della is not the only ghost. A second ghost, Brianna, saves Sarah’s life…only to then have her killed off so that Sarah will become her buddy instead. Yeah…

While these elements merely add up to a very average Goosebumps book, my true reason for disliking this story was the characters. All of the girls in this story seem to be incredibly petty and quick to make enemies. I mean, Jan instantly takes a disliking to Sarah due to the fact that Sarah accidentally reveals to Jan’s asthma to their other cabin mates. Yep, seriously, asthma. That truly embarrassing and shameful condition that hardly anyone has…

However, this does not excuse the fact that Sarah is the most annoying character in the world. This is seriously saying something, given some of the Goosebumps protagonists that we have met so far. Not only is Sarah determined to be miserable at camp and whines about every little thing, but she actively tries to fake her own death to get attention. Yeah, I have very little sympathy for this manipulative monster.

Then there was My Best Friend is Invisible. This is another book where I felt as though Stine had written himself into a corner. It is the story of Sammy, who finds himself inadvertently tormented by an invisible boy. Where Brent came from is never adequately explained, and what follows is a lengthy series of incidents in which Brent tries to use his invisibility to prove that he is a good friend. Naturally, these lead to Sammy looking like he is increasingly insane as he is both publicly humiliated and starts blaming things on someone who isn’t there.

I am not entirely sure where this story is pitching itself. While it is a little dark in places, especially as Brent pretends to be a ghost and attacks Sammy’s friend, it’s never actually scary. It’s also not as funny as some of the other lighter instalments, and the weird science (Sammy’s parents work with lasers) is just dropped into the plot early on to assist in the resolution. Why they felt the need to invent a “molecule detector” is, naturally, never explained. Seriously, what practical application would this have if you weren’t looking for an invisible boy?

My Best Friend is Invisible also has one of the most random, off-the-wall twists of any Goosebumps book. While it shares some similarities with the excellent Welcome to Camp Nightmare, in that the characters are really all aliens, it just took this a step further into the extreme. Sammy’s race are all horrible monsters with multiple heads and tentacles, while Brent is an endangered human who has been turned invisible by his family for his own safety. You would have thought that Sammy would have mentioned his appendages previously, such as when Brent tried to suffocate him earlier in the tale, but strangely this never came up. It just seemed to be an idea that was thrown in at the last second because Stine could not think of a way to end the story.

In terms of characterisation, Sammy is sympathetic to a degree but is also incredibly dumb. He continues to tell everyone that he meets about Brent, even though no one believes him. This strangely takes him by surprise, even as his parents try to drag him to a psychiatrist. Brent is a far more entertaining character, but we learn nothing about him. Why are humans almost extinct, where did he come from, and why did he think it was a good idea to sneak into an alien’s bedroom? These are things that we will never know.

Finally, there is Deep Trouble II. I’m not sure why Stine decided that Deep Trouble needed a sequel, as the original book certainly wasn’t one of the most memorable. Deep Trouble II only makes one brief reference to Billy’s previous adventure and does not feature the mermaids at all. Instead, it all takes place a year later and focuses on a new threat to Dr D’s research boat.

While the opening chapters did make me very curious to find out what was going on, as the jellyfish encounter was especially creepy, Deep Trouble II was quick to offer up a mundane reason why. Another scientist had introduced a growth hormone to the plankton in the hope of ending world hunger by creating enormous fish.

While this science does at least make more sense that many earlier Goosebumps plots, it was from this point that the story lost me. Much like in Egg Monsters From Mars, it just became an extended chase in which the protagonists were forced to escape evil scientists who wanted them dead because Billy, Sheena and Dr D all knew too much. I’m really not sure why Goosebumps scientists are almost always evil, but they certainly seem to be eager to murder children!

The novel was also strangely structured. The giant sea creatures only showed up on a few choice occasions, and instead the climax hinged on a second property of the plankton – it’s previously unmentioned ability to turn people into fish. Naturally, this is the fate of the evil scientist and potentially also Sheena, who is hinted to also have consumed the plankton in the last couple of pages. Naturally, this will never have any resolution as I believe that this is the last of the Deep Trouble books.

In terms of characterisation, Deep Trouble II also felt a little bland. Much like Sammy, Billy is a bit of an idiot and has no sense of self-preservation. The evil scientist is clearly sketchy as all Hell. Why does Billy think it’s a wonderful idea to confront him and admit to knowing everything? Sheena is mildly irritating but not to the degree of some of the other bratty Goosebumps sisters. Her potential fate feels undeserved – Billy caused far more trouble in this story than she did. The only really interesting thing was that Dr D got to accompany them on their whole adventure. It didn’t do much good, but it’s unusual for an adult to be a constant presence within a Goosebumps book

So, that about covers it. All in all, this wasn’t the best selection of Goosebumps books. While The Blob That Ate Everyone was fun, the other three were a bit forgettable and could certainly be missed. Here’s hoping that the final few instalments will be stronger – we’ll find out for sure later this month!

The Blob That Ate Everyone can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

The Curse of Camp Cold Lake is currently out of print. If you are interested in reading it, try Amazon Market Place or your local library

My Best Friend is Invisible can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

Deep Trouble II can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 59-62 | Arkham Reviews

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