Discover more from Rereading My Childhood by Amy A. Cowan
Fear Street: High Tide by R. L. Stine
To no one’s surprise, I don’t do beaches. It’s not the water - I love water, as well as the concept of water. It is a necessary part of living, so I like water in that sense. And a peaceful wave crashing on sand in the middle of the night is a wonderful thing. I would prefer to live near the water. Despite that, I don’t do beaches. I don’t do bikinis. I don’t do boys flexing at everyone around them. I don’t do the sun. I don’t do lifeguards. I don’t do sunbathing. My ideal waterline situation involves overcast weather in serenity or a busy port with tourist traps. This is no middle ground.
However, it’s time to pack that tote bag with a sarang, pop on some sunglasses, and strap on sandals because R. L. Stine is taking us to the beach - and all I can sea is blood in the water.
Our protagonist, Adam, crashes into waves on what Stine calls a “scooter.” I thought they were called “Ski-Doos.” My partner told me that they’re called “Sea-Doos” or “Waverunners,” the generic term is “jetski,” and he’d never heard anyone refer to them as “scooters.” Even that delineation is a matter of some debate, mostly whether or not one stands up or sits down on the watercraft. For this review, I’m going to stick with “jetski,” but keep in mind that Stine calls them scooters like they’re Italian vehicles.
Going back to Adam, he’s on a jetski with his girlfriend, the ludicrously named Mitzi. She falls off the jetski pretty quickly and gets cut. Then Adam falls off the jetski and it cuts his leg. They’re just floating in their own blood and he’s trying to save his girlfriend, but it’s no use - the waves take them.
Adam jolts awake - it was all a dream. Sort of. His roommate, Ian, suggests he switches psychiatrists. Adam has been seeing a TV psychiatrist named Dr. Thrall since the accident a year before and he is still experiencing nightmares and general jump-scare-related hallucinations. What? You’re telling me that a talk show doctor is not the most scrupulous mental health care professional? The devil you say!
Still, Adam thinks his legs are suddenly gone. It’s another hallucination, of course, and he sees Dr. Thrall. To my surprise, the doctor is not an Orc Shaman from Orgrimmar. He’s a doctor who says weird things like the following:
“You have to listen to your subconscious mind.” He tapped his fingers on the desk and glanced at me sharply. “It may be trying to tell you something. I think there's something inside your brain struggling to get out.”
I thought Freudian psychiatry was dismissed, but here we are. The Id has something to say, I guess. Adam, drop this guy, but right now, it’s time for work.
We meet Leslie, the girl that Adam is currently courting, to use a parlance contemporary to Freud, since that outdated thinking is present in the novel. And speaking of outdated thinking, we also meet the other lifeguard, Sean.
End of part one. Yes. You heard me. End of part one on page twenty. And we’re switching points-0f-view!
We switch to Sean, who also sucks, but in a different way. Adam is boring and his only personality trait is that he sees his dead girlfriend everywhere. Sean is one cashier telling him that he has to wear his mask away from being a mass shooter. His favorite hobby is assaulting the girls on the beach, particularly a girl named Alyce.
“Let go of me, Sean! You really are an animal.”
“You love it!” I insisted. I turned her around and kissed her on the mouth. “You know you love it.”
“I do not love it!” she snarled. She shoved me away and scowled at me.
I reached for her, but she hopped backward. “Oh, you want me to chase you?” I asked.
“Hardly.” She made a disgusted face. “Don’t you get it? I don’t like being grabbed like that.”
“Like what?” I asked, grinning. “You want me to grab you some other way? Show me how, babe!”
Oh, gawd. This guy can’t die fast enough.
I hate to break it to you, but this guy does not die. He is just our red herring. But at least we don’t have to follow him for too long.
Uh-oh. More bad news, we have to follow this guy for a while. And he doesn't get any better. He doesn’t get any worse, though, but the bar is on the ground with this guy. The bar is so low that we would have to call before we dig if we wanted to raise it because we don’t want to hit a gas line.
Sean pretends there’s a shark in the water just to freak Adam out. (On a side note, if Adam panics when there’s a shark, why is he still a lifeguard?) At this point, Sean spins a tale to Adam. A tale of stalking his girlfriend to find out if she was cheating. He followed her and her date to an amusement park. I imagine the girl and her better, newer boyfriend having a great time on Dumbo the Flying Elephant in one car, and in the next car Adam is looking pissed and staring at them. After she said goodbye for the night, Adam cornered the guy in the woods and beat him. When the guy screamed, Sean just beat him more. Why did Sean tell Adam this story? Because he didn’t like the way that Adam looked at Alyce.
We switch to Adam and he is chatting with Ian. Remember him? The roommate? Well, Ian is going to go to the beach and scope out hot chicks, whom Adam calls “females” like a damn Ferengi. Anyway, Ian wants to borrow Adam’s jeans for his night out. Ian leaves, but Adam finds Ian dead in his bed! Just kidding - it’s another hallucination. The hallucinations are not already annoying, no. Definitely not. And not they’re over. Adam speaks with Leslie, and then a skull talks to him. Nothing fun, like Skeletor. The skull just screams, and then we’re back with Sean.
Stalker Sean looks for Alyce at her apartment but her roommate says that she’s not there. So Sean skulks around the beach and finds Alyce with some guy. Since he keeps calling the mysterious person “him,” we can safely assume that Stine wants us to think it’s Adam, but we know that it's someone else.
Sean follows Alyce and the guy who is definitely not Adam (*wink*wink*) as they drive to some date night locations. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Sean loses them at the movies. Sean, you need a hobby. Something that will give you an identity outside of “stalker/angry guy.” Have you tried coin collecting? Maybe you should become an expert on old warships. Or plumbing. People always need someone to plumb something.
Instead of taking up a productive hobby, Sean beats some random guy in an alley. Leslie happens upon Sean and stops him before he kills the guy. Leslie does not go to the police. Although, what are the police going to do to stop a dude who beats up random people and has a history of violence? They would just hire him.
The next day at work, we’re back with Adam, who is chatting it up with two new girls - Joy and Raina. Also, Sean is acting aggressive and stand-offish with Adam. When Adam goes into the water, a jet ski crashes into him, and Sean does nothing! Don’t worry about our bland protagonist - it’s just another hallucination.
Adam has a hot date with both Joy and Raina. Oh, I guess Ian is there, too, but the girls are smitten with Adam. Maybe the bikini girls don’t know that there are two dudes. I know that two boring characters can seem like the same guy. Anyway, Leslie sees Adam cavorting with the girls and we get a red herring.
“You hurt me, Adam!” she declared furiously. “And I’m going to find a way to hurt you back!”
I’m not completely sure about his relationship with Leslie. He doesn’t expressly say that they’re dating, but the implication is there. I think that Adam is leading Leslie on, implying they’re in a relationship while keeping it open in case two bikini girls come by and flirt. Then he can have fun with them while keeping Leslie on a leash. I have a low opinion of Adam. Although, not as low as my opinion of Sean.
And speaking of Sean, during lifeguard duty, Sean is still cool towards Adam. His relationship with Sean seems to bother him more than his relationship with Leslie. But it doesn’t matter, it’s the titular high tide, and Joy and Raina are in the water. Adam doesn’t see them resurface. Bust out the slow-motion because it’s Baywatch time!
There’s a lot of swimming. Pages of swimming. Basically what happens is that Adam finds Joy, but she panics and keeps clinging to him. Then he finds Raina, but she’s unconscious. He can’t swim while towing Raina if Joy keeps clawing at him and screaming. He leaves Joy behind because at least she’s conscious and he promises to come back for her. Unfortunately, when he returns, Joy is nowhere to be found and presumed drowned.
We have come to the end of part two. At least Stine waited for seventy pages this time.
Adam wakes up in his bed. Was it a hallucination? Ian informs him that it really happened and Adam should take the day off. But it’s time for Ian to go! He has a hot date again!
Adam wanders around the apartment, “slips a CD in,” and eats cereal. Then he gets a phone call. Someone with a nondescript voice says,
“Adam, you’re going to pay for what you did to me, I promise you. You’re going to pay soon.”
He goes for a walk, but there is no respite.
Her windbreaker flew up behind her, like a cape. In the dark mist, she looked transparent. As if she were part of the shadows, part of the fog. As if I could see right through her.
“Adam…” she whispered.
I gasped. She knew my name!
“Adam - you let me drown!”
“NOOOO!” I cried.
Joy! It was Joy floating in the shadows, billowing in the fog.
Her windbreaker/cape fluttering in the fog like a gothic ghost! Nothing says romance like a windbreaker. And like a Victorian ghost of a lover who was wasted away, she disappears. Yet another hallucination. Or was it? The “ghost” left a wet footprint behind.
Adam returns home and goes to sleep. He dreams about Mitzi and the jet ski accident again, although something has changed. This time, someone else is driving the jet ski that ran over Mitzi. When he wakes up, someone is in the room!
It’s just Ian.
Finally, Adam talks with Leslie about what’s been going on and the drowning of the bikini girls. She reveals some startling information.
Leslie bit her bottom lip. “I watched the news last night,” she told me. “They didn’t say anything about a drowning.”
She reached down beside her and slapped a newspaper on the table. “And this is today’s paper. Look.”
Leslie flipped the paper around and showed me the main headline: TOURIST BEACH RENTALS A RECORD HIGH.
The next day, Raina admits that she feels bad and she will explain everything that night. Adam agrees to meet up with her at seven. But before they can meet up, Adam has to go back to his apartment. He finds Sean slashing up his bed. However, Sean is confused - he wanted to slash up Ian’s bed. Unsurprisingly, Ian is the one Alyce is dating and Sean has been icy toward Adam because Sean assumed that Adam would cover for his roommate. It doesn’t excuse Sean’s behavior, and the reason for Sean’s inclusion as a first-person protagonist will stay unexplained. But at least that red herring subplot is solved and we can ignore Sean for the rest of our lives.
Adam meets Raina and suddenly Joy shows up! She’s not dead! Also, not surprising. It was all an act. Joy and Raina pretended to be in peril and Joy pretended to drown. In fact, it was all Dr. Thrall’s idea. This is what happens when you look for your next doctor on TV. Stacey McGill’s parents did the same thing and all it got them was a massive medical bill (I’m assuming), the disapproval of their daughter, and criticism from a random woman from the internet on her goofy podcast and essay series.
“He thinks you buried the memory of what happened last summer deep down in your mind,” Joy explained. “And he wanted to try something really radical to get you to bring the memory up.”
Why are these two girls helping Dr. Thrall or Ian? Do they know the bikini girls? Were the bikini girls hired off the internet? WANTED: hot bikini girls for psychotherapy drowning prank.
Adam runs away to his roommate, who was also in on the “radical” treatment. Then Adam remembers that last summer, it wasn’t him and Mitzi on the jet ski. It was Ian and Mitzi on the jet ski. Ian borrowed his jet ski, Mitzi fell off, and Ian hit Mitzi and Adam in the water. Ian was so distraught that he ran away. When Adam came to, he blamed himself so Ian just let him continue thinking Adam killed his girlfriend.
The two of them fight it out on jet skis in a scene rivaling From Justin to Kelly. Adam comes out on top, of course, and Ian is hauled off in a police vehicle. Finally, Adam gets to spend time with Leslie - at least until she gets killed during a synchronized swimming routine or Adam finds a set of bikini girls who weren’t hired through the Facebook Marketplace.
You would think that the beach is a prime location for murder and horror. Bodies washing up on shore. The sheer amount of people breaking rules at night. The overwhelming depth of the ocean. The creatures that lurk below. The mysteries of the ocean are just a few feet away. But this book is more about Adam’s trauma surrounding the death of his girlfriend. And I would be fine with that. A story about a man dealing with hallucinations and triggers is fine. Sounds like Jacob’s Ladder or Slaughterhouse-Five, so we know that it can make for a good horror story.
What I can’t understand is why he would continue to work at the beach where his girlfriend died? Maybe if there was an indication that he just loves the beach or the ocean so much, that the thought of being away from the water is worse than his PTSD. Even that doesn’t make much sense. There’s just no reason for him to stay on the beach. And the beach doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the story - the location could be different. Maybe he can’t move out because he doesn’t have enough money to move. Fine. But he can somehow live in a beach house on a lifeguard’s salary. Why is he still a lifeguard? Get a different job. And while you’re at it, a new shrink.
Finally, Sean’s chapters are a huge waste of time. First-person allows us to get inside a character, and I don’t want to be anywhere near Sean let alone inside his damn head. Just make it third-person if we need to have this guy’s perspective. I think he should red herring over there, far far away from me, and stay away from the narrator's position.
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