Nostalgia Reality Check: Re-Reading R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike

The weirdest thing about reading these books as an adult is that I am acutely aware they are written by middle-aged men, one of whom I would like to have a drink with at a bar and one who I would not.

Aug 2, 2011 at 3:02pm | Leave a comment

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For the past few weeks I’ve been staying at my mom’s house in Oregon. Next week I’ll fly to Asia and regain my autonomy but for now I’m watering my mom’s plants while she is on her honeymoon. It’s hot and this town is small.
 
At the onset of my social awkwardness, I spent my summers reading Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine novels. I would ride my bike to Dairy Queen and return with a Mr. Misty Float to my stacks of trashy teen books from the library, most already bent and grubby from the multitudes of other pubescent readers living vicariously though the badly realized characters from the safety of their beanbag chairs.
 
I wasn’t after cheap thrills from the B movie horror plots, where someone’s tabby inevitably winds up in a pot of soup or the mysterious new kid in school predictably turns into a homicidal maniac. No, I was into these pat horror books for the tawdry sexy scenes, which seemed, like most movies depicting high school, to be played by a cast of sexed up 20-year-olds and rarely depicted anything further than first base, which at the time may as well have been Everest base camp.

I remember Pike becoming my favorite because his characters were far smuttier, his books like Penthouses when compared to Stine’s more staid and modest Playboys.
 
Recently I had the idea that wouldn’t it just be hi-lar-ious to reread my favorite book from each author?
 
It wasn’t until I was crouched down in the P’s of the YA section in the Ashland public library that I realized that this whole mission was kind of weird. More awkward still was checking out a Fear Street "Super Chiller" with my grandma’s library card then going outside and unlocking my mom's bike riding back to her house with the books tucked under my arm.

I saw my reflection in a shop window. I was riding a bike down a small-town street holding a stack of R.L Stine books. My mom was remarried. And I wasn’t 13 anymore. I was 30.
 
I screamed and screamed.

Here’s how the books compared:

"The Dead Lifeguard" by R.L Stine

Summary: Lindsay sunburns and embarrasses easily and sees dead people. Cassie likes likes to snap sticks in half to trick people into thinking peoples bones are breaking. Danny thinks Cassie has a “great bod.” Danny also thinks Deirdre is hot even though she has short hair, but Deirdre likes Pug.

Early on it becomes clear that Lindsay is already a dead lifeguard but she refuses to believe it. Even seeing her own obituary won’t convince her she kicked the bucket until Deidre’s swan dive jolts her memory revealing the sinister truth. She is actually Marissa and she killed Lindsay. Stine tries to lead us to believe it is May-Anne who is burning up all the pretty girls in the fireplace, but we’re too smart for that. Spencer is really Jack who killed Spencer. And Cassie. And Pug. The end.

Analysis: Stine is not a very good writer. His version of freaky relies heavily on ending chapters with lines like, “I stared at it -- stared at her face. Stared at it and stared at it. And didn’t believe it,” which I'll admit sent a few shivers down my 13-year-old spine.

The story of a killer lifeguard at the North Beach Country Club told from the perspective of several other lifeguards did little for me as an adult other than temporarily bring me back to the summer on my beanbag. My introverted, unstylish self thought of books like these as a preview for the life that lay ahead, high school and beyond. Sexy and dangerous were two things I definitely was not and I thought Stine could somehow tell me how I could change, an assumption that I now realize may have played a part in several embarrassing encounters with the opposite sex in the years to follow.

Favorite line: “I’m the big cheese, after all, the main guy. Those girls were supposed to come after my bod!”

Lessons learned: The slutty girl/guy always dies first. Being shy and responsible makes you look like a murder suspect.

Number of beers needed to maintain interest: two, plus half a bag of Barbara’s Cheese puffs

Does it hold up? Not even for nostalgia’s sake

"Remember Me" by Christopher Pike

Summary: Pretty girl Shari is dead as a doornail but like Lindsay before her, it takes her a frustratingly long time to catch on. Once she does, she has to watch her family cope with her death while being followed by a mysterious and terrifying shadow. Just when everything looks beyond depressing, Shari’s dead friend Peter shows up at her funeral and gives her some much-needed perspective on the world of the undead. Along with Peter, she sets out to prove her suicide was actually a murder. She shape-shifts into her friends and family’s dreams, Ouija boards and bodies to find out what happened and learns she wasn’t who she thought she was. 

Analysis: After all the mangled lifeguards, it was quite refreshing to read something so realistic. I don’t know if it was just that I read this second, but I found that what I remembered about Pike was kind of wrong.

Pike isn’t a sleazier writer than Stine; he’s just far better. Pike gives his female characters depth and personalities that you can actually relate to and his male characters are attractive in a way that isn’t about being a football jock.

There are some cheesy lines for sure, but there is even more clever dialogue and some scenes that resonate, even as an adult. I felt genuine sadness for Shari and her family and satisfaction when her killer was revealed.

Favorite line: “The service was over. I couldn’t believe it. I should have taken at least an hour to remember how wonderful I had been.”

Lessons learned: Life is not what you think it is and the netherworld is not without sexual overtones.

Number of beers needed to maintain interest: Only an iced tea. Plus, when I fell asleep I had a nightmare that a cell phone app could control the weather and created monster storms that changed life on earth as we know it. Related?

Does it hold up? Definitely, I might even reread the next one in the series.