Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Stepbrother or “The 50s are Creepy”

This is another New! Fear Street Super Chiller, the first of a series of four. This was published in 1998, so getting close to the end of Fear Street publications. As with the last one I blogged (Camp Out, back in July), it was disappointingly like any of the other Fear Streets – nothing too overwhelmingly scary. This does have a lot in common with the Point Horror I last blogged, Beach House, in that there are a million characters, two different time periods, and a lot of confusion. So bear with this.

The cover is more modern, and creepier than the original Fear Street covers, but I miss the campiness of the early 90s pictures of people looking alternatively frightened or evil. Oh well, I guess we have to move with the times. This book also promises a bonus letter: Dark Secrets from R. L. Stine! More on that later.

Our main character is Sondra, a typical Shadyside teenager in a broken home. Her life has gotten a little more complicated as her new stepfather and stepbrother, Eric, moved in with her and her mom a week ago. As she’s trying to adjust to the new living situation, she hangs out in her room with her friends Beth, Jess and Mallory. I feel like they should be having a Babysitter’s Club meeting, but instead Mallory brings out a book on hypnotism and wants to hypnotize one of them. I for one think that teenage girls trying to hypnotize each other is WAY more age appropriate then running a child-care call centre, but that’s just me. Anyways, Sondra is used to Mallory’s obsession with occulty or psycho-babbly type things, and lets her hypnotize her. Surprisingly for everyone, including Mallory, it works. Sondra gets the sense she’s trapped in a burning mechanic’s garage (which is super specific for a feeling) and starts screaming: Make her stop! until her friends shake her awake. Somewhat disturbing, I’d say. That’s why I stopped going near the Ouija board, it would always freak me out.

Zach is Sondra’s boyfriend, and he’s dreamy. That evening he comes over for dinner with Sondra’s new extended family. She goes on a bit about how Eric and Zach look alike – yikes. One thing your family should never remind you of is the person you engage in canoodling with. Never mind there’s no biological link, it’s icky. I never got over Clueless and the step-siblings hook up. Ruined the movie for me. Anyways, Zach and Eric don’t seem to get along that well, and Zach leaves probs because of him. Meanwhile, Eric is being super friendly with Sondra, so she doesn’t get the problem Zach has with him.

Sondra has a nightmare that night, similar to her hypnosis-induced vision of the fire, and Eric is there in her room to comfort her. I think Zach is worried about being replaced, but no worries, that’s as far as the incest goes in this. The next day Sondra introduces Eric around at school, and he immediately begins flirting with Mallory hardcore. Mallory’s into it, peering sexily over her glasses at him. (Note: peering over your glasses is sexy to no one.) Sondra isn’t worried over the new flirtation, as she has new worries of her own. She goes to take a book from the Shadyside library, and signs it out as Penny Hansen, in different handwriting then her own. The librarian is super weirded out by her, which is an appropriate reaction. Even more disturbing, someone calls Sondra Penny, and shoves her down a flight of stairs at school.

Luckily, Eric is right there and rescues her from her fall. Nice guy, but Sondra is now suspicious that he was around at the time of her attack. Later that day, Sondra goes to make a snack in the kitchen, and Eric is there hanging with Mallory. They seem to be quite the tight little pair, despite the fact that Eric think hypnotism is bs. Anyways, Eric suggests Sondra makes some coffee, but when she goes to plug in the coffee maker, the cord is frayed and it catches fire. Sondra has an inappropriately intense reaction to the fire, and once again Eric rescues her. Suspicions increase all around.

Mallory convinces Sondra to see a real hypnotist on Fear Street. The hypnotist thinks these visions Sondra has been getting are ‘leak-throughs’ from a past life. As she’s hypnotized, Sondra becomes Penny, a 17 year old in Shadyside in 1958. Penny is dating Paul, and has a new guy friend Gary. She seems to be somewhat frightened of Gary.

Coming out of the trance, Sondra is starting to believe this past life thing, as it leaks more and more into her day to day life. She’s driving along the interstate one day, and gets a craving for burgers. She tries to drive to the Burger Hop, only to be told by an old man it shut down in 1960. Weird, Sondra knew exactly where it was and how to get to it. She also starts singing a song from the 50s she doesn’t know. That reminds me of an episode of Buffy, where Buffy is reliving moments of a ghost’s life from the 50s, and they keep playing the song “Only Have Eyes For You.” I always thought it was creepy, and since then 50s love songs usually creep me out.

Back to the book, Sondra gets into another accident. Her garage door somehow comes down onto her car, narrowly missing her and crushing her hood. Does anyone have an uber powerful garage door like that? I don’t think my garage door has crushing power. Zach, her boyfriend, is convinced Eric is behind the crushing. And there could be something to it. Mallory hypnotizes Eric at a party, and he has a seizure and tells everyone that Penny is going to die again. Good lord, Mallory, stop effing hypnotizing people. Clearly it isn’t working out well!

Sondra is freaked out by the death wishes and gets Zach to take her home. But not before Eric tries to run him down on the road, claiming faulty brakes. Sondra and Zach think this is unlikely, and begin to investigate the stepbrother. Sondra snoops in his room and finds that everything he owns is from the 50s. Creepy! Zach starts to get caught up in the hypnotics stuff, and has a dream that he’s burning, with that same creepy 50s song playing. He sees Penny and they try to jump out a window together. Apparently, Zach died in the fire with Penny, and they both think someone else was there at the time.

The investigation continues. Sondra tries to find an article of two teens killed in a fire in 1958. In Shadyside? Pfft. Teens die every weekend, it would hardly make the news. Sondra goes back to the old man on the side of the road who told her the Burger Hop was closed. Apparently, he just hangs out on the side of the road, because he’s there again. As luck would have it, he does remember a fire in a mechanic’s garage that killed two teens in 1958. Also, a boy committed suicide shortly after, overcome with guilt over killing the two. Apparently, he was also in love with Penny, and couldn’t live with her being with another man. Hmm, the pieces are all coming together.

On Sondra’s 17th birthday, she, like Penny, seems to have two men in her life. Eric gives her a necklace, which is a little romantic for a brotherly gift. Zach gets her all dressed up and takes her to a mechanic’s garage, where he’s prepared a candlelit dinner. He turns on the old 50s song they’ve both been thinking about. A little insensitive, I’d say, since Sondra believes they were killed 40 years ago exactly like this in a past life. She freaks.

Eric randomly shows up at the garage, saying he did find an article about the deaths 40 years before. It was Paul, Penny’s boyfriend, who set the fire. Eric thinks Zach is trying to kill Sondra, and they fight. Keeping up yet? Sondra goes back in time, somehow, and becomes Penny again. Penny was having dinner with Gary, the other man. Paul, her ex-boyfriend, finds out about this and kills them. Back in the future, Sondra blames Zach/Paul for her most recent death, as he denies it. Eric gets the upper hand and they tie up Zach.

Just then, Mallory jumps in, claiming that SHE was Paul all along, meaning Zach was in fact Gary. Penny/Sondra and Gary/Zach were soul mates who kept finding each other every life. Paul/Mallory wants revenge on them, and wants to kill them, this time WITHOUT guilt and subsequent suicide. In an attempt to do this, she sets the garage on fire, as well as herself. As arsons go, poor form. Sondra struggles to untie Zach. As she does, they become Penny and Gary, and run through the flames to safety. Eric gets away, and Mallory/Paul die in the fire. All is as it should be.

I guess The Stepbrother was okay. Rectifying past lives is a good idea, and there was some actual suspense in this book. I hadn’t even guessed that Mallory was in fact an evil ex-boyfriend from the past, so points for surprises. Despite all that, I spent too much time trying to keep track of who was who and what time period they were from. It just didn’t do it for me, I crave my original Fear Street series. The give the Stepbrother 8 hypnotists out of 12.

As for R. L.’s dark secrets, they were a bit of a let down. When I think dark secrets, I think “I killed a man” or some other such thing. Instead, some of his shocking confessions include: he can’t dance, scary movies make him laugh, and he has a poor memory. Um, okay. Hardly the dark world of an evil horror book mastermind. Mainly he’s pushing the Seniors series, which I have never read. A. M. and I want to do the series in order, as it is a cute concept and should be followed through, but we’re still working on acquiring the series. Hopefully we’ll get to that sometime soon!


Chad Walters said...

Lovers who continually reincarnate and find each other only to be killed over and over by a similarly reincarnating enemy is the exact same premise as the comic book Hawkman.

I'm not saying there's any thievery going on, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I knew someone unexpected would turn out to be a reincarnated past figure, or else it'd be too straightforward. The book also managed to be too contrived, though. Also it seems to me like it wasn't really about the Stepbrother at all?

Note: Glasses are plenty sexy.

L. K. Stine said...

Note to all: no offence was intended to any of the glasses-wearers out there.
I myself am a glasses-wearer, and I have never mastered the art of sexily peering over the glasses. Would appreciate helpful tips.

A. M. Stine said...

So... why was all of Eric's stuff from the 50s? Was he just a collector?

L. K. Stine said...

Sorry, I should have explained that further. Eric was a big creepy lover of all things 50s - a clever ruse by our author to make it appear that hapless Eric was the murderer. Clever!

Anonymous said...

yo good review but this story seems a little confusing..... I'm like who is this again? and what time period are we in? so for me but maybe not for others

re: glasses are sexy they might have been sun glasses

at first i thought Mallory was Shondra and was um the brother is flirting with his step sista? i was wrong lol

LAK said...

I was thinking of the glasses thing too. Any tips/links from anyone? I can glare quite well, but not all sexy like.

p.s. Were these like the re-released Sweet Valley books from last year? They tried to get Fear Street to be all cool again without any major marketing? Or was it always supposed to be a short teaser with these 1998 releases?

Anonymous said...

This book kind of reminds me of an episode of Medium. At the end, Patricia Arquette signs Billy Holiday's "Dream a Little Dream of Me".
You're right, 50's songs are creepy... and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the average Seniors book is better than the average FS book. Not that it's GOOD, per se, but more readable.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi nice Blog.hypnotism as a state of mental concentration which often led to a form of progressive relaxation termed "nervous sleep"self hypnosis scripts.

RecallerReminder said...

This plot was totally ridiculous and boring. I expected something more interesting but the tittle just gave a wrong idea since this plot actually would work in the same way even if Eric wasnt the stepbrother of the main character. So it sucks.

Steve Avino said...

If you're going to do Recaps why are you getting things wrong, Mallory doesn't die at the end.

kimoragirl33 said...

I've just discovered your blog and looove the snark! I such an old Fear Street, Sweet Valley, Christopher Pike fan!