Friday, November 9, 2012

The New Girl (Fear Street #1)

The New Girl (Fear Street #1)
R.L. Stine
Archway, 1989

Genre: Horror


Corey is your average all-American boy at Shadyside High. He's on the varsity gymnastics team, is a daredevil and a goofball, and pretty popular. However, his life suddenly changes when he sees the new girl, Anna. Soon Anna is all Corey can think about. His best friend, Lisa, isn't all that impressed with Anna and thinks that Corey is becoming more and more obsessed with her. Of course, this could just be her reaction to the fact that she has been in love with Corey for years and he's been completely oblivious.

Corey usually isn't shy so he tries his best to get a hold of Anna and get to know her better. However, getting close to Anna is revealing more secrets than anything. The first time he tries to call her and go visit her at her house on Fear Street he is told both times that Anna is dead. But this can't be the case because she's walking around looking perfectly healthy. Corey even attempts to find out information about Anna by accessing her school records since he has a clerical job in the school office. What he finds though is that she doesn't even have a file.

One night he receives a call from Anna who is terrified and asking for his help. He drives to her house and she tells him about her brother, Brad, who is dangerous and very possessive. Meanwhile, Lisa has been doing some research on her own and has found out that Anna is supposedly dead and has newspaper clippings to prove it. Conflicted in his feelings towards Anna, he accepts Lisa's invitation to the school dance. Shortly thereafter Lisa starts getting threatening notes and phone calls that she is sure are from Anna.

At the dance they get into an argument over Anna and Lisa storms off only to be pushed down a flight of stairs by Brad who runs away mumbling about how he's made a terrible mistake. Corey takes Lisa back home and promises to go and confront Anna and then go to the police. Anna tells Corey the horrible story about Brad. He fell in love with a girl named Emily but she died in a plane crash and he's never been the same since. Shortly thereafter he started calling their other sister Willa Emily and saying that Willa was the dead one. One day Anna came home to find Willa dead at the bottom of the basement stairs. Brad appeared to get better but soon started calling Anna Willa and she fears for her life.

He goes to Anna's house that night and sees her arguing with Brad. He intervenes, knocking Brad unconscious and Anna, grabbing a letter opener, attempts to attack Corey. He fights her off until Brad regains consciousness and they both subdue her. Brad explains that he'd just been trying to scare Corey away from her because she is not Anna. She is actually Willa who killed Anna in a jealous rage because Anna was the sibling that had it all.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

R.L. Stine's Fear Street series began publication in 1989 and ran for 45 books, not counting the various trilogies, subseries, super chillers, and extra books. Fear Street truly set the ball rolling for the horror genre in teen literature. It was soon followed by the popularity of other authors, such as Christopher Pike and the horror books of Caroline Cooney, along with many other knockoff series that were trying to latch on to the popularity of Fear Street, such as Scholastic's Point Horror and Diane Hoh's Nightmare Hall.

I remember being in fifth or sixth grade when I was first introduced to the series. One of my friends, Taryn, brought the first book in the cheerleader trilogy to school one day and everyone went crazy over it. There appeared to be some kind of aura of naughtiness about reading a horror book that many of us could tell our parents weren't too thrilled about. Luckily for me, I had a grandmother who firmly believed in never denying a child the book and she would buy me whatever books I wanted regardless of their “appropriateness” for my age. (For example, while my friends were being introduced to Fear Street I actually was already reading the horror of Edgar Allan Poe.) My grandmother quickly went out and got me the cheerleader trilogy at our local independent bookstore, The Little Professor, and quickly got me the rest of the books in the series.

At the time I remember some of them being kind of scary but I was more entertained at finding grammatical errors in the books. When I began my research, I knew I was going to have to get the Fear Street books. The funny thing is that I really thought there were more books than there are in the series.  I acquired most of them in an eBay auction that was $35 for 45 books. It was only missing a few of the core titles and a few of the spin-off books. At the time, I thought it was a good deal for a big chunk of the series. I didn’t realize until I was writing down the books I received that it actually was most of the series!

The things that stuck me the most about this book were gendered comments. It was interesting that, while in most horror forms, the “victim” of this first entry in the series wasn’t a helpless girl but a boy and the threat came from a girl. This was an interesting role reversal. I also liked that Corey was presented as a gymnast. Boys are supposed to be sporty and athletic but male gymnasts seem to get the most teasing among all the different types of sports one can participate in because it is seen as more of a girls’ sport. However, Corey is still presented as being popular and good at his sport.

There are gendered descriptions of characters throughout the text. Anna is the blonde that is perfect and more sexualized than the other main girl, Lisa. When Corey first sees Anna he says, “She was so pale, so blonde, so light, so beautiful, at first she thought he was imagining her.” When he starts receiving threatening phone calls he decides to think about Anna instead and “Those clear blue eyes as bright as a doll’s, the dramatically red lips on a pale ivory skin.” When he receives a phone call from Anna begging for his help, he describes her voice as sounding frightened but “her tiny, breathy voice also made her sound very sexy.” As his relationship with her grows and he gets more and more confused about the truth he laments that “He felt angry at himself for becoming involved with her and her sick, crazy brother. He also felt sorry for her. And he was frightened for her. And . . . and . . . he was still terribly attracted to her, to her old-fashioned prettiness, to her teasing sexiness, to her . . . differentness.”

Lisa, Corey’s best friend forever and the girl next door (they are always the nice ones, not the sexy ones—the girls that the boys’ moms want them to marry but not the ones the boys are actually interested in), is described early on as having “dark good looks, long black hair, and black almond shaped eyes.” Lisa has clearly had a crush on Corey for a long time and has tried to show hints that he is just oblivious to, such as holding his arm, asking him out, being upset about his interest in the new girl. One night, shortly after seeing Anna for the first time, Corey is trying to hang out with Lisa, who is still trying to make the moves on him by sitting close to him, touching their knees together, and playing with his hair, but Corey is all about Anna so Lisa kicks him out. After he begins to doubt his interest in Anna because she’s just too confusing, he finally notices Lisa in a new light: “She laughed again and she dragged him toward the den. He liked her laugh, he decided. It came from so deep in her throat. It was a sexy laugh. She looked cute, he thought. She was wearing faded cutoff jeans and an old Shadyside high sweatshirt with the collar ripped and frayed. She pulled harder, and he bumped into her. Her hair smelled of coconut. She must have shampooed it earlier. He inhaled deeply. He loved that smell.”

Surprisingly, for a book that is supposed to be scary there really isn’t much violence or details. There is history given of Fear Street and scary and violent deaths people met on the street but the details are sparse. Most of the “horror” of the novel is really a long standing building suspense—is Anna dead or what? Even the few acts of extreme violence, Lisa being pushed down the stairs and Anna attacking Corey with a letter opener, aren’t given many details. It literally is a sentence or two like, “Anna attacked him with a letter opener.” The most “violent” scene is when Lisa is first threatened by Anna. As Lisa and Corey are stopping by her locker after school, she opens it to find a scary sight: “A dead cat flopped out of her locker and dropped on her white sneakers. The locker was splattered with blood. The cat’s stomach had been split open.” Attached to the dead cat’s throat was a note written on white paper that said, “Lisa you're dead too.”

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