Hello, Spongey here.
It’s time to return to Ghosts of Fear Street, everyone’s favorite R.L. Stine series that he didn’t write. Well, as far as he wants us to publicly know. I looked at the first book and I wanted to do some more. I actually originally randomized one certain book but then I decided to do a poll like I did for the Bad Moonlight review.
I took to my randomizer and I gave my Twitter peeps the options of Attack of the Aqua Apes, House of a thousand screams, Don’t ever get sick at Granny’s and this. I honestly thought Granny’s had it in the bag, but after a pretty tense war, this won. I was surprised since this is a lesser known one. I blame the cover but oh boy we’ll get to that.
This comes from near the end of the series, after they switched publishers. It’s unknown why this happened but it meant a new look for both series, and in both cases those entries are harder to find and thus aren’t talked about as much. Not that Ghosts is discussed a lot but ya get what I mean. That means I am less familiar with them and I’m interested in going over them. I’ve had the book before this one for ages and the preview for this book always had me intrigued as to what it was all about.
And it’s certainly something, so we’re getting into it. The ghostwriter is Nina Kiriki Hoffman, who is blessed enough to have a Wikipedia page. She’s got a decently sized bibliography, which seems to mainly Sci-Fi and Fantasy based but naturally there’s some horror ones which is how she got there. Although the Sci-Fi influence does play a part into her Ghosts stuff which we shall soon see.
This, is I Was A Sixth-Grade Zombie
So as I said, the series got a new look later on which lead to CGI covers, this one being by “Happy Boy Pat”. I don’t want to insult the artists since it was the 90’s so of course the CG wouldn’t look great but Jesus they still sucked. This one is sadly not an exception. It’s just ugly to look at. That would be bad enough but apparently the switch was last minute enough for one of the previous cover artists, Mark Garro, to have actually done a cover before this was made.
Okay, it’s nothing great either, and rather goofy, but it still looks much better. Although the other one does sort of fit the story better I guess. Now, onto the show!
The book begins with our protagonist Valerie Martin and her friend Mark Meyers gathered to watch their favorite show, which is about two people investigating paranormal stuff, called The X-I mean Strange Cases. They usually have friends over to watch it every week but on this day, no one else has shown up.
Valarie is one of the tallest girls in her grade (ohai Samantha Byrd), Mark is one of the shortest, Mark is quiet, Valarie is not, they’re a real odd couple. Valerie calls some of her friends to find out what is going on and they are told that they have joined a school club. See, a new teacher sprung a while back named Mr. Hool, and he started a bunch of clubs and has been saying things like “Maximize your brain power! Polish your manners!”
Usually this is a good thing but when you put it like that it sounds like you have evil plans or something….
Valerie and Mark thought those clubs sounded lame but everyone else seems to disagree. They didn’t even tell them about it either. It’s over on Oak Street, because it’s not like there’s another street this weird stuff could be happening on, right?
(Okay, Valerie lives on Fear Street but that’s not enough, come on)
They head there and find a strange blue building where these clubs are being held. They try to enter but there’s a guard asking for their key cards, which they don’t have. Okay, are any school clubs ever held outside of school to begin with anyway? They discover there’s some force field around the building.
“We had just found our very own strange case”
A cop shows up and asks what they’re doing. He tells them this building is some sort of chemical warehouse they should stay away from. He says this in a strange voice that makes Valerie imagine a wind up key sticking out of him. Okay, clearly untrustworthy cop (no comment) aside, why would-
“-that chemical warehouse excuse didn’t make any sense. Why would an after-school club be held in a dangerous building.”
Oh come on, don’t take my job! …Also, why was there no question mark there?
The next day at school, Mr. Hool announces an essay contest where the winner gets a week-long trip to an amusement park. But the essay topic is Why Good Manners are Important, so there goes Valerie’s interest. But Mark is a good essay writer, even with dull topics, so he wants to give it a try leaving Valerie as the only one to not do anything.
After class, she asks one of her friends about the club and her answers not only sound generic, but she keeps spacing out. Valerie asks for her key card and she gives it without wondering why she would need it. I guess these clubs don’t place importance on suspicion, which is good for us.
So she and Mark head down to the building and manage to make it in. The inside has an other-worldly feel, with air that is “like the air in the bathroom right after you’d had a long hot shower” and a carpet that looks like “somebody’s crew cut”. There’s something about that description I rather like.
They bump into a kid they know named Trevor Dean who is a computer geek. He’s actually not in the clubs, and says he’s here for the same reason they are, as he finds this all weird. With him now in their party, they go further in and see a bunch of strange machines. Valerie starts poking around and the others warn her about that.
“What a pair of wimps!”
I know, they just don’t want you to touch weird machines that could do god knows what to you. What chickens!
She reaches into a random bin and grabs an object that suddenly turns into a glove that wraps around her hand. Then it gets stuck on her and she feels weird. Yeah that’s on you buddy, sorry. Some other stuff from the bin starts trying to wrap around her, but Trevor and Mark manage to take them down and also get the strange glove off.
And yet even after that, she wants to press on. I get that there’s still a mystery a-foot but her excuse is that she doesn’t like being told “I told ya so”. Come on, you were doing so well up to this point!
They peek into a room and find some kids just standing around while some woman gives them commands. One kid burps during this and some huge men in pink overalls (oh hey look it’s the cover) come in and take him away. That’s actually kind of creepy, mostly because I always find weird cult stuff creepy. By the way, we’re 30 pages in and already all this is going on. I appreciate a fast moving story but I feel like we’ll end up having padding later to make up for it.
They try to sneak around but Mark ends up accidentally hitting a red button on the wall that happens to be an alarm. They split up and manage to get back outside. Damn, I gotta make a comment. Uh…she overhears two people talking and she says it kinda sounds like English but not really. Eh, just sounds like typical YouTube commenters to me.
The next day, Valerie finds Benjy, the kid who was dragged away by the workers and asks him how the club went. He tells them blatant lies that don’t match with what she saw, but he seems to actually believe it himself. Yeah, she’s slow on the uptake but it’s clear tha-
“Benjy had been brainwashed!”
Okay, do I even need to be here?
In class, they notice that the club kids are just sitting there, being all…nice, even the generally rude ones. Mark says he asked some other kids about the clubs and got similar lies. But enough investigating, Mark recalls they had planned to go to the movies that night and let Trevor tag along.
And yes, it is a clearly made up movie that sounds like something I’d watch. That night, they go to the theater and notice that no one else from school is here. They get seats on a balcony which turns out to be a bad idea. There’s a point in the movie where the hero ends up having to jump to the top of a building from the top of another, and suddenly Valerie finds herself teetering on the balcony railing, wanting to jump!
Geez, was the movie really that bad?
Jokes aside, when Trevor manages to stop her, she figures that the hero ordering his sidekick to jump with him caused her to do this. She assumes that watching that brainwashing happened brainwashed her too which feels a bit weird and I don’t know how that corresponds with the film here.
Shaken up from this, she wants to go home where they talk this out further. They discover the others seemed to be brainwashed a bit too, since they sit when she yells “Sit!”. As for why they didn’t try to jump, Trevor assumes it was because he didn’t know the hero was saying it, as he has a German accent so he heard “Chump!”. That’s…kind of stupid, mainly because when that was happening, it was written as Chump to us, likely to hint to this but it means Valerie heard it as that but I guess she didn’t. Whatever.
Oh and Mark was in the bathroom at the time.
I was going to make a comment about how strong this brainwashing is if just seeing a bit of it did all this…but then the kids realize they don’t recall anything that happened between leaving school and meeting up at the theater. Then they teach in their pockets and find key cards of their own, dun dun dun. Okay, it’s kind of cheating to just say that the gap between scenes had brainwashing happen and use that to explain why we didn’t see it…but kind of clever I guess. There’s not much to contradict it this way. Guess we’ll get details later. (We do not)
The others leave, and Valerie wants to tell her parents about this, hoping they’d do some “grownup thing” to solve this. Well, her being able to steal my job was nice while it lasted. But that doesn’t matter, because when she tries to tell them what is going on, she ends up telling lies instead, like what those kids were doing.
See, that’s a solid way to not get the parents involved, and a bit creepy too.
“Why would someone want to turn us all into Sixth Grade Zombies?”
Because it makes for a catchy book title?
At school, the essay contest winners are announced and Mark actually makes it in. And I guess they don’t got much to say about that as we move on to later where they decide to go back to the club building to figure out how to undo their brainwashing.
They find a room that has a big tube with an opening on the side. There’s no indication of what this is or what it does so of course they push a big green button on a control panel. This causes a person to appear in the tube, a tall white-haired woman. They run out before anything can progress and catch their breath.
They talk about this and realize that tomorrow Mark is going off to that amusement park trip so they’ll be without him. So wait, do they realize that the teacher who started all these brainwashing clubs taking some students on a trip is perhaps a bit suspicious? They have talked about the possibility of him being evil a bit but I feel like he should be a bigger suspect.
Instead a different danger hits them the next day as Mark is getting on the bus. See, this amusement park has a ride where you ride in a little car up a long spiral, then some animatronic vultures show up and say “jump right down and die!”, then you swoop way down. It’s the “Being ordered to jump” part they are worried about. Okay, is this park actually HorrorLand or something?
Not that this really matters as when Valarie tries to catch up to the bus, she sees it actually go towards the club building. So there’s like half a page wasted I guess. Mark and the other kids are led inside where they are taken to that tube room and with the push of a button, Mark is gone. Valerie makes the mistake of going “No!”, which alerts the guards, who put some headphones on her and she starts feeling sleepy.
Next thing she knows, she is at home carefully setting the table, thinking about how much fun Mark is totally having at the park. There’s something both amusing and creepy about this, with us knowing something is wrong but she’s too brainwashed to know. She does get this strange feeling so she calls Trevor to see if he knows why she has this odd feeling like something is wrong.
However, the voice she gets is that of the woman who was barking orders to some of the brainwashed kids earlier. This causes her to recall why she was feeling weird, as her fear is breaking through the training. Sure. She doesn’t know where Trevor lives, which gives her an excuse to ignore that and go back to the building to save Mark.
But yeah, totally nothing off about Trevor now. Valerie goes to the tube room and pushes the button to get her to wherever Mark is now. She ends up in what seems to be the same room and as she explores, it seems to be a similar building just with slightly different set dressing. She finds a group of people led by a woman who gives her an umbrella.
She is led outside where the air is even wetter and hotter (just sounds like the current Texas weather to me), everyone has those overalls along with having umbrellas, and there’s a bit of haze all over the place. The woman (who talks in a weird way, haven’t been mentioning that) gives us the bombshell:
“Now is five hundred years later…This your future is!”
Eh, already sounds better than where we’re headed right now. Btw, that places this in 2498, if you’re wondering. Valerie is taken to a building where there is this big machine…that has a human woman right in the middle of it. Creepy image aside, it’s noted she has silver gloves similar to that one from earlier. So that actually did have some sort of payoff, I guess.
She escapes and keeps running until she bumps into a rather familiar kid: Trevor. He starts giving her commands, and that’s when it hits her: He’s one of them. Okay, I actually didn’t see that one coming. He was important enough to not be totally useless, I just didn’t really think of the possibility of him being a bad guy but hopefully it’ll make enough sense.
And hey, that gives us a better explanation as to why he didn’t jump earlier than the one that was given before.
“Trevor Dean, a fink from the future!”
He orders her to go with him to the building, where she is told to put on some of those fabulous overalls. Trevor then finally explains what the hell is going on. See, in the future, computers are getting even smaller but people are getting bigger, and growing bigger faster. They have climate control computers that are breaking down but the adults hands are too big to be able to repair them. Only kids from the past have small enough hands to work them.
“You stole kids from the past to work on your dumb computers?”
“When you put it like that, it sounds horrible”
Pfft, that was funny.
As for the brainwashing, apparently people from the 20th century are very rude while people in the future are super polite. But it’s left vague as if the kids need to be nice beforehand, as the kids being picked to work are among the nicer ones so does it really matter if they’re being brainwashed anyway? So now they’re in the process of selecting the 10 kids they need from the many they brainwashed and getting ready to put them to work in the future.
Also, Trevor was of course sent to spy on kids and find out which ones work best and while he was supposed to spy on a bunch, he ended up spending more time with Valarie and Mark since he started to actually be friends with them. That’s nice but she isn’t exactly hearing him out at all, and after the whole kidnapping thing, I guess I get it.
Dump truck of exposition aside, this is another pretty wild third act turn. I’m not even sure where to start. I kind of love it for how over complicated and weird it is. It is an interesting Sci Fi concept, just gets weird when you get into the brainwashing just because they’re kinda rude part.
I’d say it generally works as far as weird third act turns go. There are plenty of other holes like…why not just find a way to fix the growth problem?
I find Trevor’s side interesting since at least there is almost a good reason for what they’re doing that Valerie is not quite being sympathetic to. He’s almost too nice to play the “villain who thinks they’re in the right” role.
Which is why it’s not too surprising that after some pleading, he decides to help and tells her where Mark is. He was sent to live with High Councilor Mooluck. I love stupid future names. They are currently having a picnic at Fear Lake (which is just as appealing as it sounds in both the present and future apparently), and Valerie is worried Mark’s not so great table manners will get him in trouble. She specifically mentions his loud burping, and how he can burp at will and has even burped the alphabet. This gives Trevor an idea.
As gross as that is, his burping prowess was actually mentioned earlier back when they were assigned the good manners essay, as an example of how he does not like the whole idea. Trevor explains that burping breaks the conditioning, yes really. And Valerie remembers that it was burping that got Benjy hauled away earlier. So…as silly as this, it was actually set up. Chekhov’s burping for the win!
How do they get Mark to burp? They stroll on over and Valerie tells him to do so. Man, brainwashing takes the fun out of everything. Mark is free and the councillor faints so now they just gotta rescue the other kids and get home. Also, there’s this part:
“We stopped at Shadyside Middle School. It looked totally spooky and deserted. Maybe there wasn’t any school in the future. Maybe it was all on-line or something”
…Huh, this book was strangely prophetic.
The other kids happen to be doing an extra training session in there, so they just run in and start burping all over the place. This kids book sure has gotten silly. Once the brainwashing is broken, they all run to the building and scramble into the time machine tube stuff.
Valarie actually offers Trevor a chance to come with them but he says he couldn’t live there in the same way Valarie couldn’t live in the future. So they say their goodbyes and it’s actually rather nice.
They make it back to 1998, and leave the building just in time for it to fold up on itself and vanish. Yeah, Trevor said they were doing cleanup now they had their kids, so they got lucky and got the kids back before their last chance to get back was gone. By the way, guess they let all that climate change ruin the future, happy ending!
Valerie goes home and remembers that she left home without telling and was gone for quite a bit, even taking out the 500 years in the future stuff, and so her parents scold her pretty hard. She is punished by having TV taken away for a month, meaning no Strange Cases.
She doesn’t mind because life is so much stranger than that show. The end! Yep, it just stops there. Not a big surprise for these and it at least had a more satisfying resolution than a lot of these tend to have,so there’s that at least.
Also, a rare non-twist ending, nice.
I didn’t have as much in terms of snark for this one for the most part but that’s because it was just surprisingly solid, generally. It follows the basic beats of these brainwashing plots and I really like those, so this was up my alley. It gets started quickly but still allows for build up as we see what is happening to these kids. The story mostly flows alright and having the protagonists get brainwashed at one point does up the stakes.
Even if that gap where they got brainwashed to begin with still wasn’t filled in.
The structure is mostly good, and there’s good setup and payoff which I always like. Even if that meant a very silly resolution. It does take too long to get the explanation for all this but I suppose the author couldn’t come up with too much to do in the future so that can be excused. We generally get enough time there but it does mean it rushes itself to the climax and ending. That load of exposition slowed things down quite a bit.
The third act turn in general is odd but brings some interesting ideas to the table, even if they aren’t super fleshed out, being a simple middle grade book and all. At least we know the author believes in climate change. It fits the story somewhat and makes certain sense looking back, which is more than I can say for other books that do similar things.
I liked Trevor, with how he doesn’t end up being a full on villain and things end nicely. I liked the mystery angle, with them being into this Strange Cases show and having to get to the bottom of all this. Valerie is generally a fine protagonist, even if she has some iffy moments here and there. She ends well at least and has a good dynamic with Mark.
There’s plenty to nitpick but nothing that ruins in. My biggest hangup is that Mr. Hool wasn’t important despite starting all this. It feels like they should have faced him at the end. Otherwise, this was one of my favorites from this series I’ve read so far. The concept is interesting and used well, pacing is mostly fine and the turn it makes mostly works even with how overly complicated it gets.
It mostly strikes a solid balance so yeah, y’all picking this one paid off. Guess you really can’t judge a book by it’s awful cover.
On a side note, on my personal ranking of the Ghosts books I am not showing you because it would spoil future reviews, this is higher up and right next to another one from the same ghostwriter. So I guess she’s pretty good.
Next time, another review that was voted on…in a poll that is not done yet, so I can’t give a real hint. All I can say we’re going back to Goosebumps.