Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (The Ghost Next Door, The Haunted Mask, and Be Careful What You Wish For)

Title: Goosebumps #10: The Ghost Next Door

Rating: * * *

GB 10 - The Ghost Next Door

Hannah is convinced that a ghost has taken up residence in her town. During a boring summer holiday while all her friends are away at camp, she meets a new boy who has supposedly lived next door for several years. Hannah decides that he must be a ghost as surely she would have noticed having a neighbour? As she follows him around, she realises that he isn’t the one haunting the neighbourhood, she is, and her purpose in coming back is to save him from dying in a horrible accident.

The Ghost Next Door is one of the most affecting and emotional books of the series. Its strengths lie not in the spookiness of the story, but in the emotional feelings that it inspires. It has no twist ending. Instead, the finale is heartwarming, though also bittersweet. My only issue with this novel was the cruelty of the young boys who broke into and set fire (accidentally) to older man’s house simply because he was a grump. It was a rather disturbing addition to an otherwise sweet story.


Title: Goosebumps #11: The Haunted Mask

Rating: * * *

GB 11 - The Haunted Mask

The kids at school think that Carly Beth is a giant scaredy-cat. After one particularly vicious prank leaves her in tears, she decides that she needs to find the most horrifying Halloween costume so that she can get revenge on the two boys who slipped worms into her lunch. She visits a local costume shop, and discovers the most terrifying masks in the backroom. When the owner refuses to sell one to her, she runs off with a mask anyways, and finds out quickly that her Halloween costume is something far more sinister than a piece of plastic. After she puts it on, it fuses to her skin, and she starts to develop a crueler, more monstrous personality…

The Haunted Mask is a Goosebumps classic. It’s probably the most well-known novel of the series, was the first story to be turned into a TV episode, and is one of Stine’s most remembered books. Upon re-reading, it holds up! Carly Beth is a likeable protagonist, and she changes for the better by the end of the novel. There are parts of the story that don’t make all that much sense, but overall, it’s a creepy and scary Halloween story that should feel just real enough to a kid to offer an appropriate number of chills.


Title: Goosebumps #12: Be Careful What You Wish For

Rating: * ½

GB 12 - Be Careful What You Wish For

Samantha Byrd is an awkward pre-teen who just can’t seem to catch a break. She’s constantly bullied by a fellow classmate, and all she wants is a fresh start. When she helps a mysterious woman, Clarissa, across town, she’s offered three wishes for compensation. As the title suggests, however, wishes must be carefully used. Every time Samantha wishes for something, her desires come true, but with terrible repercussions. She becomes the best basketball player when everyone else on the team falls ill. When she wishes to be left alone, everyone in the world disappears. And when she wishes that her bully was actually her best friend, she ends up with a stalker in her closet. Clarissa gives Sam one more chance, so she wishes that her bully was the one to meet the mysterious old woman. However, the bully’s first wish turns Sam into a bird, giving her a fresh start, but taking away her humanity.

The plot of Be Careful What You Wish For is not particularly innovative. The riskiness of wishes appears throughout many fables and stories, and this particular book does little to add to the mythology. However, it is quite possibly one of the first times that a young child is introduced to the trope, so it is probably best that the message remains simple. What is unforgiveable is the personality of the main character. Sam is whiny and petulant, and she never thinks before she acts. Given the fact that her first wish taught her just how dangerous thoughtlessness could be you would think that even a twelve year old would pause before using her wishes. However, Sam is not particularly talented at patience and forethought, so she suffers through a terrible series of situations, and an even worse fate.

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Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Night of the Living Dummy, The Girl Who Cried Monster, and Camp Nightmare)

Title: Goosebumps #7: Night of the Living Dummy

Rating: * *

GB 7 - Night of the Living Dummy

Like Monster Blood, Night of the Living Dummy is one of the central, re-occurring Goosebumps stories, but I am not a very big fan of this initial installment (though I am quite fond of the sequels). So what made this one so different? Character development is not a strong point for the Goosebumps series, but I found the main characters in this story were particularly irritating and flat. Night of the Living Dummy stars twins Lindy and Kris who find a dummy in the trash. Lindy decides to keep the dummy, naming him Slappy, and Kris becomes jealous of her ventriloquism skills and the attention that it brings her twin. To stop the two from fighting, the twins’ father buys Kris a second dummy that she names Mr. Wood. However, Mr. Wood isn’t a normal dummy, and he acts out violently, taking control of Kris’ acts. No one will believe her when she claims that the dummy is alive, so the sisters have to team up to defeat this evil marionette.

The idea of a living dummy is nerve-racking, and the Slappy and Mr. Wood characters are scary because they seem to be sociopathic, unkillable monsters. The part of the story involving the dummies doing evil things worked well because it is pretty chilling to think about strange, living dolls wandering around your house at night, destroying things and trying to mess up your life. However, I could have done without Kris. I generally do not have a problem with well-written, unlikeable characters, or young characters that act their age. Kris, on the other hand, just gives me a headache. She’s so intensely jealous of her sister, and I felt that there wasn’t enough pushback against her bad behaviour in the narrative telling her that she should just chill out and figure out her own way to shine. I know that the relationship between twins is unique, but one would think that she wouldn’t want to strive to do the exact same things as her sister. I also felt that her parents should definitely not have encouraged Kris to try and steal the stoplight from Lindy so obviously. However, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have had this story, so the awkward characterisation can be forgiven as it led to a particularly memorable villain.


Title: Goosebumps #8: The Girl Who Cried Monster

Rating: * * ½

GB 8 - The Girl Who Cried Monster

Lucy is obsessed with monsters. She’s always looking to learn more about them, and her favourite activity is scaring her little brother with monster stories. However, she talks about monsters so often that no one believes her when she sees a real one! When she stays late in the library one night, she sees the local librarian turn into a disgusting creature that eats flies! Though she tries all sorts of things to prove to her parents that the librarian is a monster, all her efforts fail, and he discovers that she knows what he is. Lucy is convinced that she’s going to get eaten when her parents invite him over for dinner, but the tables are turned rather quickly when Lucy’s parents devour the librarian before the rest of the community is alerted to the presence of monsters among them. As it turns out, Lucy is obsessed with horror story creatures because she is one!

The Girl Who Cried Monster is a solid horror book for kids. Lucy is a bit obnoxious, but within reason for a precocious twelve year old. The plot is a fairly typical one, with Lucy getting herself into all sorts of suspenseful situations trying to get proof that the librarian is a monster. However, it is the ending that really makes this particular addition to the series stand out. I did not guess that Lucy’s family were monsters, and it was a delightful creepy ending to a creepy story.


Title: Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Rating: * * *

GB 9 - Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Camp Nightmare is a strange story, but it certainly delivers in terms of scariness. This Goosebumps stars Mike, a normal 12 year old heading off to an overnight camp for the first time. However, his trip seems cursed from the start as the bus that was supposed to take all the kids to camp drops them off in the middle of nowhere, leaving them to be attacked by strange, dog-like creatures. They are saved by the camp director, but it seems that the troubles with this camp are just beginning. One of Mike’s campmates is bitten by a snake, but the camp has no nurse to treat him, and he disappears overnight. Slowly, members of his cabin fall victim to mysterious accidents, but the camp staff don’t seem to care. Mike finally decides he has to stand up to this callousness when the camp director orders the campers to hunt through the forest with tranquilizer guns for two run-aways. With this choice, he finds out he passed the test that his parents were putting him through in order to take him along on a scientific expedition to an alien world: Earth!

The idea that a camp could exist that is so careless towards the children that it is responsible for seems pretty unlikely, and as a reader, I was trying to figure out what the catch was from the very first few pages. However, with the twist reveal at the end, suddenly the callousness and neglect makes sense, even if the plot was a bit silly. Despite the ridiculous plot, Camp Nightmare is great for scaring younger readers. Camp can be a frightening experience at the best of times, and this story plays on those fears of abandonment and danger. Camp myths turn deadly, and Mike has no adults to turn to. He must survive on his own, and stand up against those who are supposed to be protecting him. All in all, this is one of my favourite books in the Goosebumps series.

Nostalgic Re-Reads – Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Say Cheese and Die, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, Let’s Get Invisible)

Title: Goosebumps #4: Say Cheese and Die

Rating: * *

GB 4 - Say Cheese and Die

Say Cheese and Die is certainly creepy, but it suffers from some weak writing choices. In this story, Greg and his friends find a mysterious camera hidden in an abandoned home. Greg figures out pretty quickly that the camera takes photos of horrible future events, but the rest of his friends refuse to believe him and want to use the camera at a party. When one of their closest friends disappears after her photo is taken, Greg tries to take the camera back to its hiding place. There he is cornered by the man who has been guarding the camera for years. In a fight to escape, the camera accidentally goes off and takes a photo of the man, resulting in him dying in fear over what it would show. Greg stashes the camera back in its hiding place, but the book ends with two new kids finding the evil device.

The characters in this novel are dumb as empty film canisters, and the story itself is rather silly when you think about it. However, as a children’s horror book, as long as your suspension of disbelief is high, it can offer the reader a fair number of chills and gasps. The fact that terrible futures in the photos often did not happen instantaneously added to the suspense, though most of the time I was distracted by the desire to throttle the kids for all being so thoughtless.


Title: Goosebumps #5: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Rating: * *

GB 5 - The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

Gabe and Sari are the luckiest twelve year olds alive when their Uncle Ben decides to take them into an Egyptian pyramid dig. However, the archaeology project is plagued with problems that may be related to an ancient curse placed on the burial site. While Uncle Ben is trying to figure out exactly what is going on, Gabe gets separated from his uncle and Sari, and stumbles into a mummy making chamber that has been in use more recently than 4000 years ago. As it turns out, one of the men working the dig is actually a member of an ancient group of people who promised to protect this tomb, and this man tries to mummify Gabe and his family in punishment for disturbing the sanctity of the priestess’ chambers. However, Gabe just so happens to have a mummy hand that can summon mummies, and he calls upon its power so that he and his family can escape in the nick of time!

One thing I really have to commend this book for was the fact that it seems as if all the protagonists are racialised (Gabe and his family are originally from Egypt, and his uncle has a Middle Eastern name). Normally, I would have been incredibly uncomfortable to read about a bunch of white, American researchers getting threatened by traditionalist Arabic people, but in this case it was the slightly less problematic combination of “modern” Arabic people from the US being bothered by traditionalists from the old country. Still an issue, but not nearly as terrible as it could have been, and it is certainly pretty awesome to see that within the first five books of the series, R.L. Stine was diversifying his characters.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t actually make all that much sense. Gabe saves the day with a magical artefact that he bought at an American garage sale, and no one, including Uncle Ben the scientist, seems to have a problem with this. This was a text book deux ex machina ending, and readers didn’t even get a twist to end the story with!


Title: Goosebumps #6: Let’s Get Invisible

Rating: * *

GB 6 - Let's Get Invisible

In Let’s Get Invisible, Max and his friends discover a creepy, magic mirror that can turn you invisible. However, the longer you stay invisible, the colder you feel, and the farther away from reality you seem to get. When Max suggests they stop after realising that playing with the mirror might actually get them all hurt, his friends protest and refuse. After a couple of particularly long periods of invisibility, some of them come back different. Max can’t quite put his finger on it, but his friends are no longer really his friends. This becomes blatantly apparent when they force him to go invisible and make him stay that way for as long as possible. Soon he finds himself transported into the mirror where his mirror double attempts to switch places with him forever!

Like Say Cheese and Die, Let’s Get Invisible is scary in the sense that the mirror represents this strange, evil, malevolent force, but the characters themselves aren’t particularly bright. While kids often respond to risk differently from adults, it feels as if this particular group of kids have a risk threshold that could earn them a Darwin award. As cool as invisibility is, I don’t think I would risk the strange, chilling, sleepy effects of the mirror. On the other hand, I am an adult, and have always been pretty risk adverse, even as a child. So despite the fact that these kids were acting rather silly, the mirror is a very frightening antagonist.

Nostalgic Re-Reads – Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Welcome to Dead House, Stay Out of the Basement, Monster Blood)

I was searching through books from my childhood on GoodReads when I had the whim to reread some of the old series that I used to enjoy. From things like Nancy Drew to Animorphs, there were a lot of stories that I read as a kid that were fun and short and might provide some entertainment even to me now. I was also curious to see how they stood up to the test of time and maturity. Since I had a particular love for horror novels and TV shows as a child, I decided to start with Goosebumps!

Goosebumps, the series by R.L. Stine, were introductory horror novels for children of my generation. There are 62 books in the series, and most feature 12 year old protagonists who are confronted with strange, paranormal events. While the children are often threatened, there is never much violence in these books, and the kids usually escape their enemies (though sometimes they are changed in odd and unnerving ways). There are usually at least two protagonists in each book, and at least one boy and one girl. The books often end with a silly, but creepy twist that makes the reader rethink the story, or entraps the characters in a bigger or more long-lasting problem than expected.

Rating these books is rather hard. They are not particularly well-written, but neither are they really meant to be pieces of great literature. Goosebumps is a series for entertaining and scaring kids, not necessarily expanding their horizons, or making them think about deep questions of life. However, this absence of a philosophical underpinning is perfectly fine. I have no problem with books that are really just about entertainment and silliness as long as there are also books for kids that do offer a more insightful reading experience. As a child, I loved challenging myself to see how many Goosebumps I could read in a day because even then I took them to be short tales whose sole purpose was to keep me amused for an afternoon. I also read books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth, so the presence of Goosebumps didn’t discourage or prevent me from reading novels with a bit more substance. Thus, Goosebumps are a perfectly legitimate part of a kid’s reading diet, but they don’t tend to warrant all that many stars. Make no mistake, they are entertaining, but this is often despite their poor construction and writing. I have given most of them low-star ratings, but I have been enjoying my re-read even though they have numerous literary problems. I can definitely understand why kids devoured stacks of these books as they are often ridiculous, but scary stories that capitalise on the worst fears of children.


Title: Goosebumps #1: Welcome to Dead House

Rating: * * ½

GB 1 - Welcome to Dead House

Welcome to Dead House is where the Goosebumps phenomenon started, and it is a very standard example of what one will get with this series. The Benson family finds out that they have inherited a house from a forgotten relative, so they move to the small town of Dark Falls to start over. Amanda and Josh are our protagonists, two siblings who are 11 and 12 years old (the standard age for all Goosebumps protagonists). Right away they start making friends with some of the kids in their new town, but they soon find that things seem a bit off in Dark Falls. The kids discover that all their new friends have gravestones in the town cemetery, and Dark Falls is actually a city of ghosts that needs to sacrifice the entire Benson family in order to survive!

This first book of the series is moderately suspenseful and creepy, but it’s also not all that memorable. There are a lot of spooky house scenes, but Welcome to Dead House is a fairly standard evil ghost story. It gives kids what they want – a few scares and frights, and that’s really all Goosebumps ever aims to do. It sets the tone of the series and the general parameters of how these stories work, and was a very safe opening to the series.

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