Rereading My Childhood - Fear Street: The Boy Next Door by R. L. Stine
Topics include terrible men, chanting to raise dead racist politicians, and recalled toys.
Men are a menace. To everyone - women, children, and other men. The worst ones are entitled men. Men who think they are owed something. They think they are owed something simply for being a man. Because a woman dates them, they are entitled to her body, her time, her expression, and everything about her. And then they wonder why women don’t want to talk to them. They wonder why other men won’t befriend them. Maybe they’ll get over themselves and learn to make real change. Or maybe they buy a gun and shoot people. (I’m not talking about a specific event because there are too many for me to reference as I live in a hellscape known as America.)
It seems that entitled men are the focus of this week’s review. Since this book’s publication, entitled men haven’t gone away. They’ve just gotten more access to like-minded idiots on the internet and firearms. So buckle up and meet one of the worst antagonists in Fear Street.
Like many Fear Street novels, we start with a first-person killer cam. Actually, get used to this killer cam - we’re going to get a lot of it. There is no mystery here. We know who the killer is and we know about his motivations by the third page.
His name is Scott Collins and he’s at his girlfriend’s funeral. He killed her because she started wearing make-up, saying that it was “No way to behave.” Remember this, because it’s his terrible mantra.
Then we switch to the third person. Crystal and her best friend Lynne are trying on lipsticks and talking about boys. I know this character type. I’m bored of them already.
They hear some commotion outside. There’s a new family moving in next door and they have a hot son - and he’s in the bedroom right next to Crystal’s! They peep at him changing his shirt and they think he saw them. In the same chapter, it switches back to Scott’s first-person perspective. He knows they were staring at him and he’s very angry they were doing it. Not because it’s a clear invasion of his privacy. No. That’s not the issue. The issue is that they were wearing lipstick and low-cut leotards. Yep. I’m very happy we get to spend time in this dingus’s head. I’m being sarcastic if you couldn’t tell.
The next day before school, Crystal is judging her sister, Melinda.
How could she expect to attract a guy’s attention in those awful brown sweaters and sloppy, wrinkled jeans? It’s as if she were terrified of looking good, Crystal thought.
Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old friend Insecurity. First of all, the notion that one must wear revealing clothes to attract boys must have come from boys themselves, because in my experience, any girl can get a boy without much effort. Boys are everywhere and they’re more desperate. And even if they weren’t, dumb boys are useless anyway, and the good ones don’t care what you wear as long as you’re happy. They don’t care if you wear ugly sweaters or short skirts. What matters to a good dude is your happiness.
Anyway, Melinda is another stereotype - the bookworm who only reads old books. Look, I like Pride & Prejudice also, but most of the books I read are contemporary. I believe this stems from both a male author’s lack of knowledge regarding current female authors and the publishing industry’s relegation of female authors to frivolity. Literary fiction written by women is often referred to as “women’s fiction,” a genre that fails to carry the same weight as “literary fiction.” Since modern fiction for women isn’t regarded as serious enough, the girls in these types of books have to read classic literature like Jane Eyre (another book Melinda mentions). See, Melinda is a serious girl who reads serious books, but nothing new because it’s not serious enough, even though there were authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Eve Ensler, and Toni Morrison in the ‘90s, and those are the ones off the top of my head.
Although, if Melinda was reading The Vagina Monologues, the Karens would clutch their grocery store plastic pearls in abject terror. A story about a girl's first menstruation is not appropriate, but you know what is appropriate? The story of a man who keeps his ex-wife in the attic while he tries to pick up the tutor.
Anyway, at school, Scott has been spending his time staring at women with so much tension that his head is trying to compress his skull, or so I imagine. At lunch, Lynne drinks diet iced tea (Which doesn’t exist, just don’t add sugar, there, it’s diet.) and invites everyone over to her house. Scott plays with a knife and no one notices.
Later, Crystal wonders why Scott hasn’t called her, so she commits mail fraud. Not really. The postman just delivered Scott’s mail to her house. There is a brief explanation of how addresses work, a common theme for this essay series/podcast.
She flipped the magazine over. Studied the mailing label.
MR. MICHAEL COLLINS
3618 FEAR STREET
The mailman had made a mistake. Crystal lived at 3616 Fear Street. She was about to toss the magazine on the side table when-
She stopped cold. She checked the mailing label again. The address.
Yeah, it’s for next door. Why would you just toss it to a table if you didn’t know what it was? If there’s a single piece of strange mail, I inspect it like it’s the clue to solving a decades-old murder that will clear my family name.
Crystal uses this as an opportunity to venture over to Scott’s house. Meanwhile, Scott is murdering a dog. It’s unnecessary. We already know that Scott is a bad person. There’s no need to drag a dog into this.
Crystal makes her way next door and finds the door open. She just walks in and someone grabs her from behind! It’s Jake “The Snake” Roberts and HE POWERBOMBS HER THROUGH THE COUCH! Have you ever seen such brutality, Mean Gene?
Just kidding. It’s Jake Roberts, Scott’s new friend and he just engages in general obnoxiousness. After hanging out for a little bit and talking about the weird magazine, Lynne shows up as Rollerblade Barbie - minus the catching your hair on fire.
She wore hot-pink-and-black skating gear, with black tights. The shiny material clung to her skin, showing off her long legs. She strolled into the room as if she owned the place and dropped her Rollerblades on the floor.
She hates to skate! Crystal thought.
Yeah, that’s the problem. Not the fact that neither of them knows anything about this random boy, and they’re already willing to change everything about themselves. It’s the fact that she’s wearing Rollerblading stuff and she doesn’t Rollerblade.
When they leave, Scott refers to Crystal as “a disease,” which is a very nice thing to say about a human being. A few days later, Lynne actually kisses Scott. He runs to his bathroom, scrubs his mouth, and vows to kill her.
Crystal and Lynne call him and speak to him playfully in a French accent. Scott’s mom is not happy that girls are calling him with accents. I’m not sure if it’s the girls calling him or the French accents. Either way, they have a terse dinner where they chant things like, “No way to behave,” at each other like they’re trying to summon the ghost of Strom Thurmond. Republicans are wild.
Later, after a conversation with her sister, Crystal hops over to Lynne’s house. She finds Lynne’s suicide note that reads, in part
“I only acted wild to cover up my true feelings.” … “I realize now that this is no way to behave-”
Crystal finds her friend slumped over in the garage with the car running. Lynne is dead.
The next few days are hard for Crystal. While grieving, she renews her relationship with Melinda, which is mostly Crystal attempting to turn Melinda into a replacement for Lynne.
Finally, Scott calls Crystal’s house, but he doesn’t call for Crystal. Instead, he asks for Melinda.
Crystal is surprisingly happy for Melinda. She gives Melinda some new outfits to wear so she can attract Scott as if Scott hadn’t already asked Melinda out. Of course, Scott hates the outfits because he’s a misogynist dumbass.
Eventually, Melinda admits to Scott that Crystal has been dressing Melinda. Scott determines that in order to keep Melinda docile and the perfect Republican wife, he must kill Crystal.
Strap in, because we’re finally at the climax. The girls work together and even pull an “I’m Melinda,” “No, I’m Melinda” to save themselves. Scott decides to kill both of them.
Do the girls work together like sisters to take down the man who murdered Crystal’s best friend?
Not really. He falls into a hole, giving the girls an opportunity to call the police, and Scott is hauled away to the mental asylum.
A few days later, a new family moves in and both Crystal and Melinda rush to the window to see if there’s a new boy.
What a disappointing book. There are already too many men in the world with Scott’s perspective. They think they have the right to tell people, especially women, what to do, how to act, and what to wear. They’re basically destroying the world right now. I spent the whole book waiting for his great comeuppance. I wanted the girls to work together to defeat the murderer. I wanted them to use his backward beliefs against him. Instead, he falls in a hole. The girls didn’t use their wits. They didn’t even use the hole. He stumbles into the hole like Justin Bieber at one of his concerts.
Maybe I could forgive this book if the female characters weren’t such stereotypes. Crystal and Lynne are obnoxious and boy-obsessed, so much so that they’re willing to abandon their interests and personalities for a boy they don’t even know. This is a common trope, but man, Stine, give them something. A fun quirk. A starring role as the only girl on the basketball team. Anything.
And the character who is supposed to be different, Melinda, is also a broad stereotype. She only reads books from the 19th century and only wears sweaters. Unlike her sister, she does change - into an obnoxious, boy-obsessed clone of her sister. From one stereotype to another. It’s really more of a lateral move.
I know these characters are supposed to be disposable tropes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have something to latch onto. A couple of the disposable tropes in Halloween Party are a deaf, interesting girlfriend and a thirty-year-old woman who thinks that it’s appropriate to party with teenagers. That book has some other problems, mostly that the other characters are a bunch of forgettable tropes, but it had two interesting characters who carried the book. That proves that these books can be done without relying on one lazy stereotype of a boy attacking some other lazy stereotypes of girls. Here’s to Reva, the sisters from Bad Dreams, and multiple petticoated women of the Sagas series, who keep us from boring tropes. May more of you enter the Fear Street series.
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