Friday, May 3, 2013

The Surprise Party (Fear Street #2)

The Surprise Party (Fear Street #2)
R.L. Stine
Archway, 1989

Genre: Horror


The story opens up with a prologue in which an unidentified “he” shoots Evan in the woods so he will have “her” to himself. Readers learn that it was exactly a year ago that Meg's cousin, Brian, found Shannon's brother, Evan, shot to death in the woods. Meg, Shannon, and Tony run into Lisa and Corey who mention that Ellen is coming back to town. Ellen had dated Evan since junior high. Meg, Ellen, and Shannon were inseparable until Evan died. Meg suggests a party to show Ellen that they don't blame her for what happened and still care about her. Everybody agrees that a surprise party sounds like an excellent idea. Later that night, Meg receives a phone call from someone warning her not to hold the surprise party. Unfortunately, Lisa has already told a bunch of people about the party. She calls Tony, her boyfriend, and he tells her that he just got a call too that warned him not to help out or he wouldn't even make it to the party because he'd be in the hospital.

The party is to be held at the old mansion in the woods. It is these very woods that Evan was killed in. Supposedly Evan was dared, by who no one knows, to spend the night in the woods. Evan decided to take his father's rifle with him even though Ellen tried to get him to leave it at home. People assumed that he possibly got scared or tripped and fell which caused the gun to go off killing him.

During study hall the next day Meg gets sent to the office to retrieve a message. When she gets there she finds that no one sent one. She heads back to a study hall to find that all of her invitations have been cut into tiny pieces. She is then called back to the office for another message—this time warning her not to hold a party or she will get hurt. When she reaches her locker later Tony is there. He also received a warning note. Tony wants to cancel the party. She mentions to him about the invitations and how Shannon said that she left the room and hadn't seen anyone around Meg's desk. Tony informs her that Shannon never left the room. Tony calls her later that night and says that he was walking home from his dad's gas station and was pretty sure that someone was following him. She tries to convince him that there seems to be more to these threats than a silly surprise party. He gets mad at her and says that he is out of the party and out of the relationship with Meg.

She decides to call Ellen whom she saw back in town for the first time the other day. She decides not to when she remembers that Ellen was acting a little too enthusiastic and happy as if she was possibly trying to hide something. She instead decides to talk to Lisa who convinces her to confront Shannon about the invitations. Shannon gets upset at Meg. When Meg opens her lunch she reaches inside her bag and pulls out an arm now covered in blood. It turns out to be a prank as the blood is really just red paint. Meg tries to apologize to Shannon. She then remembers a time when Evan hit a car and everyone was joking with him. He got really serious and began to sword fight Tony with a pool stick. Tony accidentally hit him on the shoulder and Evan, in retaliation, hit Tony on the head causing five stitches. She remembers how Evan seemed to go wild sometimes for no reason. Shannon accepts her apology and agrees to help with the party. She also says that Mike, her half-brother, will be there that night and will be around to help.

As Meg is walking home from Shannon’s a car tries to run her down. Readers are then given a glance into “he's” perspective. He had borrowed his cousin’s car and nearly ran Meg down. It was only meant to scare her. But when he saw her he knew that he couldn't let the party take place and he couldn't let Ellen tell everyone what happened last year.

Later that night, Tony is out in the rain and sees Dwayne, an annoying boy who always wanted to ask Shannon out. He says that he was kind of glad when Evan died because it finally meant that he was free to go after Shannon since Evan always hated him. Tony gets pissed off and throws the basketball Dwayne was playing with right at him.

On Friday night Meg goes to see Tony. His dad says that Tony went out with Brian to play some fantasy game. She is shocked as Tony doesn't really like Brian. Later that night she gets a call from Tony's dad. It is 4 a.m. and Brian and Tony never returned home. Meg and her father go out to search the woods with the police. They have found footprints but not the boys. Meg accidentally wanders off into the woods and gets separated from her father. She sees something and runs but somebody grabs her from behind and whispers another warning about the party. She pulls free but falls down a ravine. When she comes to a moment later she sees a body at her feet. It's Brian. He is alive but bleeding heavily. Tony shows up and says that Brian fell down the ravine and he went to get help but got lost.

The following day Meg visits Brian in the hospital but he's pretty messed up. He's talking nothing but nonsense about the fantasy game. He says that the warrior (Tony) came and fought for his place but the wizard (Brian) has many tricks that the warrior does not know about. He also says that the battle is not won yet. He then blabs about thinking he has the power to call Evan back from the dead and confesses to Meg about the phone calls. Supposedly he called to warn her but hung up before she ever answered. Meg is more confused than anything. She's further shocked when Ellen shows up in Brian's room. She goes home and calls Tony and tells him about Brian's weird behavior. Tony says that he and Meg will talk tomorrow at David's party.

After hanging up the phone, Tony admits that he's not surprised Brian has talked. He always knew that he would. He knows that he must prevent him from talking anymore. Tony is the one who pushed Brian down the ravine. Now Brian has squealed and Meg knows that Tony killed Evan. He was fighting that night with Evan and the gun went off. But Tony doesn't know if it was an accident or if he had actually wanted to kill Evan. Brian has left him no choice. When he talks to Meg at David's party he's going to have to push her off of River Ridge and kill her.

The next day Shannon and Meg visit Ellen but it is all very awkward and is like losing a friend all over again. Later that night, they all go to David's party. Dwayne hits on Shannon who gets very annoyed and Tony and Meg leave the party alone. He takes her to Lovers’ Ledge. Tony is surprised at how trusting she seems. Maybe Brian didn't actually say anything to her. He then switches his mind and becomes determined that Brian and Ellen are actually the problem.

It is Saturday night and Ellen is completely shocked at the surprise party. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tony is hiding a gun in case Brian or Ellen decides to cause problems. Brian shows up at the party ranting about being a wizard who can bring Evan back from the dead. Everyone screams when someone who looks exactly like Evan walks in. Tony freaks out. Shannon tries to calm everyone down by saying that it is Mike, her half-brother. As Tony is about to confess to Evan's murder the lights go out. When they come back on Tony has been shot. They see Dwayne run outside with Tony's gun. He grabs Ellen and says that she will come with him as she helped him kill Evan anyway. Meg tries to stop him and gets taken too. Thinking everyone will think that they went outside, Dwayne doubles back and leads them into an old kitchen. He says that he shot Tony because he could tell everyone that Dwayne was the person who killed Evan. Ellen is confused because she saw Tony kill Evan.

Ellen tells Meg the story. That night that Evan died Tony and Ellen had followed him into the woods because they were worried about him. Ellen had just broken up with Evan. She and Tony had been cheating with each other on Evan and Meg. Tony and Evan fought over the rifle and it went off. Brian arrived and said that he would make it all look like an accident. Dwayne proceeds to tell the real truth of what happened that night. He and Brian had been playing the fantasy game when they heard the gun go off. When Brian, Tony, and Ellen left Dwayne with Evan's body Dwayne discovered that Evan was alive. He wasn't even shot. He had fallen and hit his head on a rock and was unconscious. Dwayne had always hated Evan for keeping him away from Shannon so he decided to shoot him.

Meg, knowing that she and Ellen were in trouble, remembers an old screaming game the girls used to play called, “Eek-a-mouse!” She signals to Ellen and she proceeds to scream that she saw mouse which distracts Dwayne enough for Meg to hit him over the head with a frying pan.

Later on the next day, Meg discovers that it was Tony who was trying to stop the party all along. He is in the hospital but he will be okay and he and Meg are officially over as a couple. Ellen didn't even stick around and disappeared back home. Meg discovers that Brian had approached Mike and asked him to show up at the party and pretend to be Evan. He wanted the truth to come out. He and Ellen actually knew about the surprise party and decided that they couldn't handle the guilt anymore and wanted Tony exposed. Luckily for everyone the truth is now out and Evan's real killer has been brought to justice.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

This is another typical Fear Street story. Most of the evidence usually gathered from this series typically falls under the values and traditions of gender stereotypes, economics, and attitudes towards the horror genre for young readers. It was actually quite interesting to note that what I originally thought, and what I remembered from when I read the books as a tween, was a loosely connected series about odd supernatural happenings on a street in Shadyside actually does feature some recurring characters. In this book we discover the main character Meg is actually friends with Lisa and Cory who were the main characters in the first book of the series, The New Girl. There is also mention later in the book of a character named Suki Thomas, who happens to be the town's resident stereotypical slut and will appear as the main character a few books later.

While Meg is slightly commended for refusing to back down from the threats and cancel the party, she is a main character who at the beginning of the book complains about her appearance and personality (for no apparent narrative reason except to complain) compared to her friends. Here are some examples:

Meg stared at her friend. Shannon didn't have any extra pounds to take off. Her figure was perfect. With her coppery hair, blue eyes, and full, pouty mouth, Meg thought, Shannon looked just like that actress in movies, Molly Ringwald. (p. 4)

Everyone was always teasing Meg for being too gung ho, too enthusiastic, too bright and chirpy. She was short and, to her constant regret, still hadn't developed much of the figure. And with a round face, short blonde hair, and big blue eyes, she was sometimes mistaken for a kid, which drove her bananas! (p. 4)

At first Meg thought maybe it was her fault. Maybe Tony was getting tired of her. They’d been going together for more than two years. Maybe he was angry because he wanted to dump her and didn't know how. But every time she mentioned it, he got a hurt look on his face and swore that nothing was wrong. (p. 5)

There are other occurrences in the book in which characters are described in stereotypical ways. Shannon complains about Brian, effectively dismissing him because he is a nerd who plays a D&D like game: “Well, he’s [Dwayne] still a creep. He's always hanging out with your cousin Brian, playing Wizards and Dungeons in the woods. Oh—I didn't mean to say that your cousin is a creep” (p. 6).

On pages 21-22 a huge character analysis is given of everyone involved:

Her eyes roamed from face to face. There was Shannon, Evan's sister. She seemed to lose some of her life when Evan lost his. She had always been so enthusiastic about everything, so spirited, so ready to have fun. Evan's death had caused her to withdraw. She didn't seem to need her friends as much. It was as if she was pulling into herself, hardening herself, forcing herself not need anyone else so that she could be hurt by another loss in the same way.

Tony sat near the back, writing intently in a notebook. He and Evan had been buddies. Tony admired Evan, looked up to him, Meg realized, for his wildness, for the fact that Evan didn't care what people thought of him, for his need to do what he felt like when he felt like it. Tony wished he could be that way. But he was too hung up to be that free and easy, too worried about being poor at school where most kids were better off, too concerned about being accepted by other kids.

Tony had tried to act tough when he learned that Evan was dead. But at the funeral he broke down and sobbed. Ever since he'd been so moody.

On the other side of the room was her cousin Brian. With his wavy blonde hair, blue eyes, and dimpled grin, Brian looked like an innocent kid. But Meg knew that Brian wasn't as happy-go-lucky as he looked. He was a strange guy who kept mostly to himself.

Right now he wasn't studying. He was reading a copy of Dragon magazine. He spent most of his time playing that game Wizards & Dungeons, hanging out with his friend Dwayne, talking about Fourth-Level Warriors and dragons and stuff Meg wasn't the least bit interested in.

Brian and Evan hadn't been friends. But Brian had been in the Fear Street woods that awful day. Brian heard the shot and came running. Brian told everyone that he found Evan lying dead on the ground, Ellen sitting beside him, crying, unable to talk, unable to say a word, unable to explain.

What had Brian been doing alone in the Fear Street woods? No one knew. But Brian had changed, too, because of Evan's death. Afterward, he seemed to become even more involved in the strange fantasy games he played. His grades, which had been excellent, began to slip. His parents, Meg's aunt and uncle, were very worried. They felt helpless. They didn't know what to do about Brian.

One death, Meg thought. One boy dies in the woods, and so many lives are affected.

The highlight of the book though was Meg’s inner monologue that gives homage to stupid, stereotypical girls in horror movies after she receives her first threats (p. 12):

Whoever it was had seen too many bad horror movies, she decided. Halloween V! Freddy Returns! Friday the 13th, Part 400! How dumb. Girls in those films were either tramps or frightened idiots. They get one scary, whispered phone call and fall to pieces, frightened out of their wits. Well, this was real life, not a dumb movie. And whoever it was certainly didn't know Meg very well. Maybe she was small and young looking. Maybe she wasn't as sophisticated as a lot of kids at Shadyside. But she wasn't easily pushed around. She had a stubborn streak a mile long. At least that's what her mother always said. And Meg took that as a compliment.

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