Discover more from Rereading My Childhood by Amy A. Cowan
Fear Street: Broken Hearts by R. L. Stine
It will surprise no one that I’m not the most romantic person and Valentine’s Day is not a particularly important holiday to me. However, to my partner, Valentine’s Day is very important and he makes an effort to do something for me every year. He is clearly the hopeless romantic and I am not. This dynamic helps us to keep a stable grasp on the holiday. We neither take it too seriously, but we do take time to appreciate each other.
This is not the case for the teenagers in R. L. Stine’s Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts. They are having a pretty crappy Valentine’s Day. Murder would ruin anyone’s Valentine’s Day — or any day really. Anyway, let’s just get right into it.
In typical Fear Street fashion, we have a prologue where we meet our main characters and there’s a tragedy. First of all, we have the twins, Josie and Rachel. Josie’s horror movie stereotype is “the slutty one,” while Rachel would be “early victim.” Erica is their little sister and she would be “annoying little sister.” The last one is Melissa and she is “the nice one.” The girls are driving out to a stable and are having fun talking about boys, because in the world of Stine and the early ’90s, all girls talk about are boys and whether they have boyfriends and how they feel about those boyfriends. Erica refuses to get on a horse and the girls leave her behind.
By the end of the prologue, the one without a personality, Rachel, falls off her horse and lands on her head. We get a “The Following February” and that’s when the first part of our story actually begins.
Melissa has a dream about the horse accident. We learn that Josie blames Melissa for Rachel’s accident and their relationship is strained, if not nonexistent.
Across the street, Josie and her new boyfriend, Steve, are throwing snowballs at each other when they are interrupted by Josie’s dog.
The dog yipped and started toward Josie, as if coming to protect her from Steve. But the wet snow on the rug distracted the little dog, and it stopped to sniff it, then lick it.
“How can you stand that little rat?” Steve teased. “Why don’t you step on it and put it out of its misery?”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first red herring!
It’s also here we have our first Valentine’s Day letter. Josie opens her mail and finds the letter with the following poem:
“Violets are blue
Roses are red.
On Valentine’s Day
Josie will be dead.”
She believes that a guy named Jenkman, whom she dated a while ago, sent the messages since he seems to be stalking her ever since they broke up. Steven encourages her to ignore it, in typical horror movie red herring fashion.
We finally learn the fate of Rachel. She did not die in the equine accident but she is not the same. She sustains extensive brain damage and can’t be left alone. Rachel’s boyfriend, Luke, and Erica have been taking care of her. Josie is supposed to watch Rachel also, but Josie has failed to do that on multiple occasions, causing Erica to confront her.
Erica wants to try out for Brigadoon but she can’t if she has to watch Josie.
“You’ll have to try out some other time,” Josie said brusquely. She started to pull away from Erica, but Erica held on.
“No way,” Erica said angrily.
A gust of wind made the powdery snow swirl all around them. Josie closed her eyes and tried to slip her face down into her wool scarf.
Go away, she thought. Please. Just go away, Erica.
“You’re supposed to help me take care of Rachel when she gets home from her school,” Erica scolded. “You know that, Josie. It’s not supposed to be my full-time job.”
“I know. Give me a break,” Josie said, starting to walk towards the street. “I’ll take care of her tomorrow. Promise.”
“No. Today!” Erica insisted, following her. “I don’t want to miss the tryouts. It’s just not fair. This is my first year in high school. It’s supposed to be such a big exciting year for me. And instead-”
“Tomorrow,” Josie told her, picking up her pace. “I can’t leave Steve waiting there.”
“Yes, you can,” Erica told her. “You can call and leave a message for him.”
“I don’t want to,” Josie said nastily. She began to jog across the snow.
Erica caught up to her. “I don’t believe you, Josie,” she cried breathlessly. “I can’t believe you don’t take more responsibility for Rachel. After all, it was your fault-”
Erica stopped herself.
Josie screams and falls to the ground. Did she have a sudden realization? No, she was hit by a snowball thrown by another red herring named Dave. She composes herself and leaves to meet Steve, further alienating herself from Rachel’s situation and her sister is forced to miss the Brigadoon tryouts.
Melissa and Dave, the boy who threw the snowball, seem to be a couple. I say “seem” because they’re not very affectionate. You know, there are several couples in this story, but none of them are particularly affectionate. For a story that takes place around Valentine’s Day, there isn’t much romance. Granted, this is a horror novel, but My Bloody Valentine had a love triangle so I don’t think it’s too much for some kind of heartstring-pulling. I would even settle for literal heartstring-pulling.
Back at the Josie household, Luke confronts Josie. He says that she “ruined Rachel’s life” and now she’s trying to ruin Erica’s life. Josie fails to show any remorse, insisting that Luke is “hiding behind Rachel” because he’s “too big a loser to face the real world.” Josie is actually talking about herself — Luke has no problems recognizing Rachel’s condition, while Josie is actively avoiding her so she doesn’t have to see her twin in a deteriorated state and how easily Josie could be the same way. Neither Josie nor Luke realizes this — instead, Luke stabs a desk by Josie and storms out, red herring-ing all over the scene (Did I just verb “red herring”? Yes I did). In fact, after the storm out, Josie insists to the reader that she has done nothing to warrant the behavior towards her. R. L. Stine is certainly not setting up a sympathetic protagonist.
After some house intercom shenanigans, Josie gets another Valentine:
“This Valentine’s Day
No memories to save.
The only flowers for you
Will be on your grave.”
The intercom shenanigans continue. Josie hears Rachel calling for her, so she goes to check on her only to find her asleep.
Later, while Erica is brushing Rachel’s hair, we get a new red herring.
“Josie is my sister, right?” she asked, wrinkling her forehead in concentration.
“Yes,” Erica replied. “Josie is your sister. Your twin sister.”
Rachel thought about this for a long while. Then she surprised Erica by saying, “Josie doesn’t like me anymore.”
“No!” Erica protested, letting the brush slip out of her hand. She bent down to pick it up from the carpet. “Josie still likes you, Rachel. Why would you say such a terrible thing?”
“No. Josie doesn’t like me. Josie doesn’t talk to me.”
“That’s not true-” Erica started, but Rachel interrupted.
“Well, I don’t like Josie anymore!” Rachel cried, her green eyes lighting up. “I hate Josie!”
The scene abruptly ends when Jenkman shows up at the house and asks if Josie received his Valentines and that’s the end of the chapter. Does this continue in the next chapter?
No. No, it doesn’t. Dave tries to cheat off of Josie’s math test and she turns him in. He gets mad and says that he’ll lose his wrestling scholarship since that test accounted for half of his grade, prompting him to yell, “I hate Josie McClain!” I don’t know who is worse: Josie for being selfish or Dave for attempting to cheat on a test he should have studied for and redirecting the anger that should be on himself instead at Josie. Also, if he can’t pass a high school math class with at least a C, how the hell is he going to pass college math? High school math is not hard. I am an English major, but I still had to take two semesters of college math. What was his plan? Maybe college isn’t for you, Davy-boy. You know what, it’s not going to matter soon, anyway.
We’re back to Josie and Steve and Josie gets another Valentine:
“Who’s sending these cards?
Don’t bother to wonder.
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll be six feet under.”
There’s some discussion of who it could be and after their ice skating date, they return home and Josie’s dog is dead on the floor. R. L. Stine usually kills off innocent dogs just to ramp up the stakes and that’s a common plot in ’80s and ’90s horror. I’m grateful we stopped doing that. There are better ways to write in stakes besides killing off an innocent bystander, especially when there are so many other reprehensible characters to kill instead.
The cops arrive and one of them almost pukes. You’d think with all the murder in Shadyside, the cops would be pretty phlegmatic about the death of a dog. On the other hand, maybe they’re throwing up at the bullshit way to raise stakes through the needless murder of an innocent animal. Yes — I am more upset about the murder of a dog than a human. I always say — I like all dogs more than I like most people. The 2016 election proved me correct.
There are some red herring things with Jenkman buying Valentines at some kind of Valentine store that exists. It’s either a pop-up store in an old Circuit City or it’s just a Hallmark that is overdoing it with the hearts — I’m not sure, but he’s our herring and he has to herring it up all over the place.
Josie receives another Valentine:
“Roses are black,
Violets are gray.
On Valentine’s Day,
You’ll start to decay.”
This is probably the best poem yet, but that’s not saying much. Rachel is ramping up the creepy now, constantly whispering to Josie, “Someone hates you.”
In the middle of the night, Erica wakes up and does not find Josie. So, she gets a phone book (remember those?), looks for Steve’s phone number, and calls. Steve says he doesn’t know where Josie is and that they had a huge fight. Just as she hangs up, the front doorbell rings and Erica says it must be Josie. Of course, it’s not Josie. It’s two police officers, who tell the family that Josie has been murdered.
“We found your sister in the alley behind the ice rink,” the older police officer told Erica, speaking in a low, professional voice. “We identified her by her wallet. She hadn’t been robbed. She was dead when we arrived. She had been stabbed in the back. With the blade of an ice skate. The skate was still in her back.”
Okay, old officer, isn’t there a better way to put this? First of all, why did you mention she hadn’t been robbed? It’s like when a kid stands next to a cookie jar and the first thing they say to you is, “I haven’t had a cookie.” Secondly, I don’t know if the parents really needed to know the grisly details seconds after learning that their daughter had been murdered. If they ask how, let them know, but otherwise, let’s give ’em a day or two, huh? Maybe just start with who she was with, what time she left, where she was going.
In the same chapter, Dave calls Melissa and says he’s in big trouble. He reveals that he sent the Valentines as a “joke.” The teenagers of Shadyside, or the teenagers of the ’80s, have terrible senses of humor and no sense of timing or setups or anything that’s actually funny. Sending death threats disguised as Valentines are not jokes. These teenagers are infuriating. Thousands of teenagers on TikTok are funny every day without resorting to death threats and pranks that involve feigning death.
Anyway, Melissa asks Dave if he killed Josie. (Whenever I write “Melissa,” I say the name like this in my head.) He says he didn’t but the Valentines are going to implicate him in her murder. He decides that the best course of action is to break into the McClain household and steal the Valentines back. While the plan is stupid, it makes sense that a teenager who thinks that death threats are the pinnacle of humor would come up with this plan.
Dave hangs out in the rain outside Josie’s house during the funeral. The door is open and unlocked. How convenient! He wanders around the house, gets spooked by laundry, and it finally culminates in screaming and confusion and Erica in a pool of blood with Dave over her body.
Then, in bold letters, we get a single page of text: “February, One Year Later.”
Apparently, Melissa and Luke are together now and they relay what happened. Erica recovered from the stabbing and Dave was arrested, but Erica chose not to press charges.
Dave told the police that he hadn’t been the one who stabbed Erica. He claimed that he had stumbled over Erica’s body while trying to get to the stairway. She had already been stabbed. Dave was so shocked and horrified, he bent down and picked up the letter opener.
And since Erica wouldn’t testify and there was no evidence, the police had to let Dave go. It’s also revealed that Luke has stopped visiting Rachel as much as before. At the end of the chapter, Melissa receives a Valentine.
“Roses are red
Violets are blue,
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll be dead too.”
In the next chapter, Rachel is yelling about Melissa and Luke and how she hates both of them while Erica brushes her hair. Also, Steve calls Erica and invites her to an ice skating party. While Erica was distracted by the phone call, Rachel disappears. She’s just in the front yard, hanging out behind a tree.
Melissa receives another Valentine:
“Flowers mean funerals
Flowers mean death.
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll take your last breath.”
After, Dave’s mom calls and says he ran away from his boarding school. He eventually shows up in her room, because of course, he does. He is surprised when Melissa expresses doubt about his innocence, even though all he did was break into her home without her consent and think cheating off a test is okay. Then he promises to go find “the real killer,” which is a promise we’ve heard before from football players who were once held in a penitentiary a hundred miles from my home. Melissa shows him the Valentines she has been receiving and he runs away, saying he knows who killed Josie without having the courtesy to let Melissa and the reader in.
Then he’s dead. Sorry, anticlimactic, I know. The interesting thing that happens is that Rachel yells that she goes out all the time, making her suspect number one. The next day, Melissa opens her locker and finds a cover photo:
On the inside of the locker door, someone had painted a large, broken valentine heart. Smeared dots of bright red blood dripped from the heart. Scrawled in thick red paint at the bottom were the words: YOU’RE DEAD.
Given the disconnect between the cover art and the actual contents of these novels, I’m surprised we actually got to see this scene in the novel. Anyway, a little red paint isn’t going to stop these teens from partying at the frozen lake and it’s time to figure out who the killer is!
Using logic, since one of the red herrings, Dave, is dead, and the other red herring is clearly Jenkman, the clear choice is Steve. Now, given that-
Just kidding, it’s Erica.
What? That seems pretty random, you say. Well, I’m sure this all makes sense and is tightly put together like an Agatha Christie novel.
Just kidding again. Erica killed Josie because Josie was the pretty one and then she stabbed herself to frame Dave and then killed him when he figured her out, somehow. She was mad at Melissa because she “took Luke,” because we can’t have a lady killer without some boyfriend stealing apparently.
Erica falls beneath and ice and dies. Again, anticlimactically. Luke, Melissa, and Rachel live happily ever after, I’m assuming. They’re making jokes about Groundhog’s Day in the end, after all.
I wanted to like this one. Valentine’s Day is ripe for murder-y shenanigans — ask My Bloody Valentine, which, now that I’m thinking about it, also has an out of nowhere killer. You know what? I change my mind. This is on par with other Valentine’s Day horror fare.
Although, you know what? My Bloody Valentine has some good death scenes — the ending was just ludicrous. Maybe the problem with Valentine’s Day as a horror setting is that it sounds like a neat, subversive idea. Let’s take something that celebrates love and relationships and murder a bunch of people and send actual, anatomical hearts to people, but the conclusion is never satisfying! So, this is really an allegory for the holiday itself — it starts with a great premise and some of the execution is on point, but the end can never live up to the rest of the night.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! May the day be filled with as much or as little horror as is your preference. ❤
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