Sunday, 25 September 2016

'The Dead Boyfriend' by R.L. Stine

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Here I am, dear diary, about to confide in you again.'
I really love the epistolary style, whether featuring letters are written to another character or - as in this case - diary entries, so with this opening sentence I'd assumed I was going to love this book.

When Caitlyn meets Blade, it's insta-love.
He's staring at her in the restaurant where she's sat with her friends, Julie and Miranda, and it's not long before she abandons them to approach the attractive boy in the bright red hoodie. They run off together, crash a college house party, passionately make out in front of strangers.
Their whirlwind romance begins.
Caitlyn's completely and utterly in love. She refuses to heed the warnings given to her by Deena Fear (you thought this would be a Fear Street novel without one of the Fear family appearing? You'd be wrong!) who saw Blade first, and believes he should be hers.
Caitlyn is (innocent, idiotic, self-absorbed... You pick the adjective) and genuinely believes nothing can get in the way of their love - despite the fact that they've known each other for less than two weeks - so when she sees Blade at a club kissing another girl, she goes crazy. She can't believe he'd do that to her, so she stabs him to death.
Yep, the dead boyfriend referred to in the title is Blade. There's a shock!
She stabs him to death on his doorstep. At the funeral, she's on edge in case the police arrive to arrest her, and her anxiety levels go through the roof when Deena reanimates Blade's corpse and makes him sit up.
The next thing, his body disappears and the girls realise that Deena did much more than temporarily reanimate Blade: she brought him back to life! But even in death he only wants Caitlyn, and being stalked by your dead ex-boyfriend isn't the best way to spend senior year...

I couldn't connect to the characters, who were all flat, one-dimensional caricatures of teenagers. You'd think after writing books for teenagers for this long R.L. Stine would know how they acted, but that presumption would be wrong.

Ways the teenagers aren't realistic:

  • 'That's when I knew Blade and I belonged together' is a quote that comes out less than an hour after they've known each other. Retch. 
  • Deena tells Caitlyn she saw Blade first, and Caitlyn thinks 'hm, what does that mean?' before twigging that DEENA LIKES HIM?!?!?! a few chapters later. What else did she think 'I saw him first' meant?
  • Caitlyn stabs Blade, then decides 'to stop that horrible sound he was making. I swung the knife back, then plunged the blade deep into his stomach'. Yeah, cause killing someone is the best way to stop their pain noises. How about DON'T STAB PEOPLE IN THE FIRST PLACE! 
  • Also who the hell calls their kid Blade? (and who decides a character called Blade should be stabbed to death? That's just too obvious). 
  • The "best friends" are just plot devices there to give Caitlyn alibis. Neither of them have personalities or plots, they're just there to give Caitlyn someone to avoid at school when she's feeling guilty about BEING A MURDERER. 
There were a bitch ton of plot holes, too. Caitlyn insists upon the fact that she keeps her diary locked, and wears the key on a chain around her neck. She mentions this point so many times, then just happens to leave it open at the end of the story (which I'm going to get on to in a minute). 
There's the random almost-mugging that occurs in the parking lot after work, which is solely put in to give her a reason to buy a knife. Yeah, the knife is important to the story, but other than that the event is completely self-contained: it doesn't give Caitlyn anxiety or PTSD, we never encounter the mugger again... It's all a bit pointless
The sister, Jen, is mentioned in a throwaway comment at the beginning of the book when R.L. Stine is allowed Caitlyn to give away all of the exposition by describing her character in full to her diary. 'I'm Caitlyn Donnelly. I'm seventeen, a senior at Shadyside High. I'm not terrible looking' she lists, then goes on to recite her hair colour, eye colour, names of her family and friends. There's a phrase in writing called "show, don't tell" that is obviously disregarded in this first chapter. But the sister is never written in, so why does she even need to be mentioned?
The most irritating aspect for me is that the diary format is hardly used. Occasionally in the middle of a sentence Caitlyn will write 'Diary', to link it back to the beginning, but the tone is nowhere near what's necessary for that style. The chapters also don't make sense: they're all short and sharp, but because they don't start with the 'Dear Diary' prefix it makes the set-up very illogical. It's annoying, because that's the entire reason I decided to read the book - false marketing!
It's also a blatant American Horror Story ripoff. Girl has a dead boyfriend has been used before, but girl has a dead boyfriend who struggles to speak to her and is mute for a large portion of the book? I've only ever seen that done in the third season of American Horror Story, and I couldn't get past the fact that they did it much better, dealing with it in a harrowing and emotional way.
Then there's the end of the book.
So, it turns out that instead of being a diary, it's actually a story being written by a teenage girl. A novel in a novel. Novel-ception.
I'm going to admit, I thought this was a massive cop-out. I have a feeling that the book was nearly finished, R.L. Stine realised he'd set up too many plot lines (Deena's taxidermied parents, her random supernatural powers, Blade's unquestioned disappearance, Caitlyn's second murder victim) and had no idea how to wrap any of it up, so decided to take the easy way out and make it a story in a story. 
It's just too easy. I don't really respect authors (or directors) that use the 'it was all a dream' escape clause, because it leaves the story half finished and the audience cheated. I'd been really looking forward to how it would all work out without Caitlyn going to prison, and then it's over. Done. Finito. 
I haven't been this disappointed in a long time. 

If you loved R.L. Stine's writing when you were younger, leave this book far alone. Don't have the wonderful memories tainted, because it sucks. 
If you're a writer, don't use the 'it was a dream' get out of jail free card: just commit to the story that you're telling and respect it enough to end it. Don't then put ANOTHER twist right at the end, just to recapture the audience's interest after losing it so spectacularly.
I've seen a lot of people putting this on lists of spooky books that they want to read over Halloween, but I would sincerely suggest (demand, plead) that you don't choose this one. Yes, it's a short and fast read, but with the simplistic and childlike language it reads more like a Goosebumps book than a Fear Street novel. (I'm glad it's not a Goosebumps book, though. I don't want those ruined for me too). 
This has made me much less likely to pick up any of the other recent Fear Street reboot novels, but it has made me want to reread my childhood favourites and hope that I can banish the memories of this book from my mind forever. 
I would actually give this book no stars if I could, and I don't think that often. 

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