Goosebumps 51-54

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

Hello everyone! I think it’s time for another trip down memory lane as I take another look back at one of my childhood favourites. In case you’re unfamiliar with R.L. Stine’s most popular work, Goosebumps is a horror anthology series which is aimed at middle grade readers. Although there have been a number of recent spin-offs, movies and video games, the original series ran for sixty-two novels. For the purpose of today’s review, I’m going to be looking at books fifty-one to fifty-four. Oh, and there will be massive spoilers. You have been warned.

In Beware, the Snowman, Jaclyn is annoyed that her Aunt has moved to Sherpia. The tiny village is in the middle of nowhere! Yet it’s not long before she learns that the frozen village has some terrifying local customs. Every house has a scar-faced snowman in its front yard, and the local kids warn her that something terrifying lurks on top of a nearby mountain. Jaclyn is determined to discover if the legends are true, but in doing so learns secrets about her family that she never could have imagined…

In How I Learned to Fly, Jack is rapidly growing to detest Wilson. No matter what he does, Wilson is always determined to prove that he can do better and it is driving him insane! However, when Jack discovers a strange book that claims to contain the secrets of human flight, he realises he has a chance to finally do something better than his rival. After all, there is no way that Wilson can possibly be able to fly, is there?

In Chicken, Chicken, Crystal has always been sceptical of the rumours about Vanessa. Just because someone wears all black, it does not mean that they are a witch. Unfortunately, when Crystal and her brother, Cole, accidentally spill Vanessa’s shopping, they discover that Vanessa just might be magical after all. After all, Crystal and Cole are now changing. If they can’t find a way to stop it, it’s not going to be long before they stop being human altogether…

In Don’t Go To Sleep!, Matt can’t understand why he is forced to sleep in a tiny room when a much larger guest room is going spare. To prove a point, he sneaks into the guest room once night and sleeps in there. Unfortunately, when Matt wakes up, he finds that everything has changed. His two siblings are now little kids and he has suddenly become a teenager! As each day becomes stranger than the one before, Matt starts to regret ever complaining about his old life. Will he ever find a way back to his reality?

While I must admit that I was starting to get bored of this series around the half-way mark, it almost feels as though Stine has received some fresh inspiration now that we are nearing the close. While some of his ideas still fall flat (more on that shortly), I was relieved to find that this little selection was certainly more varied. There are no rehashes of old ideas or direct sequels to earlier books this time around. Even the tones of these stories vary quite wildly, ranging from the body horror of Chicken, Chicken to the remarkably un-scary science-fiction of How I Learned to Fly.

In a way, this is a bit of a shame. With only eight more novels left in this series, I must admit that I’m annoyed that Stine has left it to this late stage before he found his second wind. But, still, I can’t bear too much of a grudge. While these four books do all bring something new to the table, they are still all very Goosebumps. Relatable middle grade problems, annoying siblings and creepy monsters are still all found within. And chickens. My God, are there chickens….

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

This little selection of Goosebumps books begins on a very positive note. Beware, the Snowman is not only a fun read in its own right, but has certainly become one of my favourite Goosebumps books to date. The novel is surprisingly frightening, isolating its young protagonist in a creepy and remote location. Not only is Jaclyn confused by her Aunt’s sudden decision to move to a small Arctic village, but her new home is not especially welcoming. Her early interactions with the local kids reveal their sinister customs. Everyone must build creepy identical snowmen outside their homes. Those who do not observe this run the risk of attracting the attention of an evil snowman that lives on the mountain.

All of this ties into the vague memories that Jaclyn has of her mother once reciting a poem about an evil snowman. This nicely helps to increase the tension, building up the reader’s curiosity about the snowman long before Jaclyn dares to climb the mountain. Although the monster’s existence isn’t truly confirmed until the climax, its presence is certainly felt throughout the tale. I, for once, found myself constantly expecting one of the village snowmen to do something!

The climax of Beware, the Snowman was also tonnes of fun. The twist this time did not entirely come out of the blue and was very much tied to the local legends concerning two young sorcerers, and the hints about what had happened to Jaclyn’s parents. While the ending of the novel was perhaps a little sudden, cutting out immediately after the snowman’s defeat, I still found it to be incredibly satisfying and was glad that it did sign off on a much more positive note than some of the other recent instalments.

I also very much liked the character of Jaclyn, as she did receive a nice amount of development over the course of the novel. The fact that she lived with her Aunt due to the fact that one parent was missing and the other was deceased made her very unique, as most Goosebumps protagonists tend to come from more conventional family homes. I loved Jaclyn for her curiosity and determination to learn the truth about the snowman, rather than listen to local legends. Her deep ties to the snowman were also really well integrated, feeling far more natural than some of the other random twists of late (I’m looking at you, Vampire Breath).

Unfortunately, How I Learned To Fly was not quite as memorable. While the concept behind it is rather unique for a Goosebumps book, the execution just felt far too rushed. As with the likes of How I Got My Shrunken Head and Attack of the Mutant, it’s not really a horror story but instead an exploration into the downside of suddenly getting super powers. Unfortunately, the poor pacing of the first half of this story meant that not enough time was left to truly develop these ideas.

It takes over half of the novel for Jack to discover the secret of flight (in case you are curious, this turns out to be a combination of exercise, magic words and a secret ingredient which is never revealed). This means that the second half of the novel is forced to move at break-neck speed as Jack learns that fame isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. While How I Learned To Fly does portentously hint that Jack’s meddling with the laws of physics will end in disaster, this does not ever come to anything. Flight (or, rather, fame) is just shown to be more of an inconvenience than a danger.

Due to this, the stakes of the climax are incredibly low. While the ending, in which Jack pretends that he has lost his powers to enable himself to return to his normal life, was somewhat satisfying, it lacked the sting or humour that characterises most of the earlier Goosebumps books. The book can be summarised by saying that Jack spends a long time learning how to fly, then suddenly stops. It’s not the worst ending, but is also very forgettable.

And then there were characters. Arrogant Wilson is one of the most annoying antagonists in the series to date. There is never really any reason for him to be such an insufferable jerk towards Jack, or any explanation as to why this attitude seems to make him so popular. He also never really gets a comeuppance as, unlike Jack, he seems to enjoy his newfound fame.

Sadly, Jack is also a forgettable character. While Stine’s decision to focus on such an introverted protagonist was interesting, Jack’s attitude to both Wilson and Mia made him somewhat irritating. His motivation is predominantly on getting a girl to swoon over him, while at the same time making his rival look like an idiot. This selfish focus made him incredibly difficult to like.

This brings me to Chicken, Chicken. I have been reliably informed that this often cited as the worst Goosebumps book and so my expectations were not high. However, I personally felt that it wasn’t that bad. I mean, it’s not perfect by any means but it’s still not as objectionable as Say Cheese and Die – Again! or as dull as You Can’t Scare Me!. However, calling it weird feels like a gross understatement. After all, this is a story about werechooks.

Okay. Perhaps I am exaggerating. But not by much…

The main issue that I had with Chicken, Chicken was its lack of logic. While it did carry a message about the importance of good manners (after all, you never know when you might inadvertently insult a witch), the ends don’t really justify the means. Vanessa’s curse feels way too extreme as a punishment for Crystal and Cole’s relatively minor transgression.

This gives the story an incredibly mean-spirited feel, as neither protagonist truly deserves their fate. As the novel progresses, this rapidly leads to a very uncomfortable chain of events as Crystal and Cole slowly transform into chickens. There is not really any plot to be found beyond this but the novel does a great job of simply being disturbing.

Somehow, no one seems to be able to tell that Crystal and Cole are becoming birds. The reason for this is never explained (and you would think even the most inattentive parent would spot that their daughter had a beak), but it does mean that all people notice is the change in their behaviour. Crystal and Cole slowly start pecking at ground and squawking, and eventually lose the ability to run without bobbing their heads. This is the kind of horror that kids can easily relate to – the kind that forces you to become a social outcast and laughing stock. And, to be fair, Chicken, Chicken captures this incredibly well.

However, in terms of character, the novel was a bit varied. While Crystal and Cole could be little jerks at times, they certainly did not deserve to be turned into chickens and I did feel more than a little sorry for them. Vanessa, on the other hand, gave me more trouble. Vanessa is a stereotype – the local Goth who all kids believe to be a witch due to the fact that she wears black and owns a cat. While her treatment of Crystal and Cole is extreme, it frustrated me just how typical this characterisation was. It would have been more surprising if Vanessa had turned out not to be a witch.

Finally, we have Don’t Go To Sleep!. Based on the blurb and cover art, I was totally expecting this novel to be about monsters under the bed. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

Don’t Go To Sleep! has much more of a science-fiction feel than the average Goosebumps book, focusing on a badly bullied twelve-year-old who defies his mother and somehow finds himself caught in a Quantum Leap-style reality loop. Every time he wakes up, the world around him isn’t quite right. Sometimes, these changes are small. Matt finds himself a few years older, or with different parents. Other times, they are far less subtle. In one reality, Matt discovers that his family are all circus performers. In another, he has transformed into an enormous, metal-eating monster.

Due to the sheer scope of possibilities, Don’t Go to Sleep! certainly kept me turning the page. If nothing else, I really just wanted to see what Matt’s next reality would be and find out exactly what was going on. It takes a long time before the truth is finally revealed, and I must admit that I did find this to be a little unsatisfying. Just how the Reality Police operate is never explained (seriously, how do they manage to retain their memories of previous loops when no one else does?), nor is how Matt’s plan to reset the loop by sleeping in his own bed actually works. Although the novel does not really have a twist, it does have cute sting in the tail that did make me chuckle.

In terms of character, Matt did have a little more personality than most Goosebumps protagonists. He reminded me a little of Ricky in Calling All Creeps! in that he was somewhat geeky and did not deserve to be so brutally tormented by his older siblings. Once again, the mother in this story seemed to be particularly unobservant, basically ignoring said bullying as it occurred right in front of her!

I think that about covers everything. All in all, I was pleased to find that this selection was a bit more varied and memorable than the last few have been. While they weren’t all fantastic, I would definitely add Beware, The Snowman and Don’t Go To Sleep! to my list of recommendations. Check back in a few weeks to find out my thoughts on the next four instalments!

These four novels are all currently out of print. If you are interested in reading them, please try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 55-58 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 59-62 | Arkham Reviews

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