“Devoured” is a good word to describe the manner in which I would read teen murder mysteries and supernatural thriller/horror novels throughout my adolescence. I cracked open my first one in 5th grade. It was R.L. Stine’s The Babysitter and the book cover showed a terrified teenage girl peering out a window into the darkness. My older sister and her best friend had started reading novels about teens in peril, and I wanted in on the excitement too. At only ten years old, I was too scared to read the book from start to finish though. Instead, I first read the climactic ending at the rock quarry where the villain tries to kill the babysitter. I remember I had to ask my sister, “What’s a rock quarry?” Once I knew how it turned out for that book’s heroine (spoiler alert: she lives), I went back and read the story from the start.
Immediately thereafter, I wanted more. My sister was raving about Christopher Pike’s Slumber Party which takes place during a stranded ski vacation where tragic events of the past come back to haunt a group of teenage girls. That became my second read in the teen horror genre. Once again, I read the ending of that book first and then went back to the beginning.
Slumber Party was an even more exhilarating read than The Babysitter. It solidly hooked me on the genre. I stopped reading the endings first and started reading the pages in the correct order, at a rate of about one book a week throughout 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. Those three years were my most voracious reading years, partly because I had so much time on my hands. If I was in the middle of a good book, I’d hurry through my school assignments so I could read while other students finished their work. My best friend was also addicted to these scary reads, and we’d trade books and opinions on the storylines.
During that time, I read a whole host of young adult thriller/horror authors from Lois Duncan to Eileen Gouge’s Who Killed Peggy Sue series to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series. Hands down though, my favorite novels were the ones written by Christopher Pike. Even all these years later, I still remember many of my favorite Pike characters and favorite story points and twists.
Young adult literature has changed a lot in the last twenty years. Today’s teen novels address mature topics with great depth, including serious social issues, sexuality, and mental health. In retrospect, I feel like the teen thrillers of the ‘90s read more like today’s middle grade books in terms of the maturity of the content level, which makes sense since I didn’t read these books past the age of thirteen or fourteen. Even though the Pike and Stine stories of the ‘90s are about characters typically between the ages of sixteen to eighteen, they also speak to adolescents who are looking forward to that future of “being older” and dating, driving, and going to parties. Something about them always felt safe enough for a younger audience.
That said, the reason that I liked the Christopher Pike books most of all is that his stories were more thought-provoking than most of the genre at that time. Amidst all the scares and suspense, Pike explored deeper themes about the meaning of life. He wrote about death and the afterlife, but it wasn’t strictly a Christian-based heaven and hell ideology. There were also storylines involving Native American spirituality, out of body near death experiences, and reincarnation. He wrote books with both male and female heroines who were strong, flawed, and interesting.
His Final Friends trilogy was my favorite of all. The three books (The Party, The Dance, and The Graduation) follow a group of friends during their senior year of high school. When a mysterious death occurs at a party, the friends question the official suicide ruling. Was it really a murder staged to look like suicide? One thing that made the trilogy unusual was its diversity. Within an ensemble of about eight main characters, there was a black character, a Latina character, and a gay character. This was pretty unusual for the ‘90s when most teen books were about straight, white kids.
With the exception of Slumber Party (more on that in a second), I haven’t gone back and reread the Pike books in entirety with a modern, adult lens. I can’t speak to how well the story and character concepts may or may not hold up today, but at the time the Pike stories felt significant, moving, and thought-provoking to me. I felt like he was speaking to young readers in a way that gave us the benefit of the doubt that we, too, could be deep thinkers. He didn’t write down to us.
While Pike’s books were aimed at younger audiences, many of them played on the same genre elements that are popular in adult novels. For example, Slumber Party and Weekend very much utilize the formula of the “locked room” mystery that we see in many current adult bestsellers. A few years ago when I read Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, I thought to myself, “Okay, this is basically Slumber Party with adults instead of teens.”
As a kid, I also learned things when I read Pike’s books. Bury Me Deep took place in Hawaii and I vividly remember that it went into details on scuba diving and the dangers of getting “the bends” if you ascended too quickly from deep waters. After reading that one, I felt like I was an 11-year-old expert in scuba diving. If you had informed me at that time that you were going scuba diving, I would have informed you how to avoid “the bends,” and I would have felt reasonably confident that I’d saved your life.
To sum it up, I remember these books with great fondness. Obviously.
Therefore, earlier in the month as the weather started getting chilly and Halloween candy filled the store aisles, I thought it’d be fun to revisit some of the scary stories of my youth. I’m a very nostalgic person and I hang onto a lot of keepsakes, so when I had left for college, I’d attempted to preserve my favorite thrillers in a box in my parents’ attic, but they ended up ruined by moisture. (Note to self: Don’t store things you care about in drafty attics).
Today, I do still have four of my original novels from that genre: Lois Duncan’s They Never Came Home, and Pike’s Monster, Road to Nowhere, and Master of Murder. These novels weren’t deemed beloved enough for the doomed attic box and they somehow avoided the book donation pile. Instead, they had ended up stuck in the back of a closet at my parents’ house to be discovered many years later.
Which is pretty cool… but… I didn’t want to dive into my middle ranking reads. I really wanted to read my very favorite ones…
So I went online to see which of my old favorites I could buy. Pike’s The Final Friends trilogy is available in an omnibus book called Until the End. There is also a Pike omnibus called To Die For which has Slumber Party and Weekend in it. The first four of Stine’s Fear Street novels are in an omnibus called The Beginning.
So naturally, I bought all three omnibus editions! As pretty as the new cover art is for these books, I do wish they were still printing the old ‘90s covers with the fluorescent, thick fonts and illustrated scenes.
I cracked open Slumber Party first, because it was my first Pike. Coincidentally, it also was Pike’s first published novel (1985), though I didn’t know that back in the ‘90s. When I was younger, I must have read Slumber Party at least three times, so I actually still recalled all of the major twists and turns in the story as well as the final reveal. It was really fun to revisit this familiar favorite, but one thing surprised me in the opening pages: This version references the main character’s cell phone not getting service on the mountain. The book was originally published in 1985, so that clearly was a recent addition to make new readers feel like it’s a current story. I’m not crazy about that though. In general, I feel books should stand as they did at the time of publication. It also doesn’t make sense to imply that the story’s setting is current times when some of the content in this book hasn’t aged very well. There are a large number of jokes about one of the female characters being overweight and there’s an overall cringeworthy casual attitude about the boundaries of sexual consent. (There is no actual sexual intercourse in the book, just some making out and the idea of, discussion of, and desire to have sex).
I’m not mentioning any of this as a criticism of the author. This was the mentality of the ‘80s, and Pike’s writing is a reflection of that. I don’t feel a writer should have to go back and adapt or censor their earlier words that were representative of the times. How exhausting would that be? Plus in many cases, that amounts to erasing history. But that’s also precisely why I think it would make more sense for the book to have an added title page that says it is set in 1985 instead of sliding in a cell phone reference to imply it takes place today. I’m assuming this was probably pushed by the publisher.
All that said, I really enjoyed rereading Slumber Party, and I can see why this book captured my imagination so much as an adolescent. It has an eerie setting, a creepy tragedy of the past, and plenty of drama and conflict between the characters.
After finishing Slumber Party, I started the Final Friends trilogy (aka Until the End). I’m currently reading it, and this one already feels more mature and thoughtful in its presentation of certain themes and teen dynamics. I also feel like Pike’s writing style has improved in this novel. All of this makes sense considering the first book in the Final Friends trilogy was Pike’s seventh or eighth novel, so I’m sure he was evolving as a writer.
As for Stine’s Fear Street books, my recollection of those is that they were always a guaranteed fast, fun ride. Each Fear Street novel was about a different character, but they all took place in the cursed town of Shadyside, similar to how Stephen King sets many of his novels in the fictional town of Castle Rock. I don’t recall the Stine books with the same level of detail that I do the Pike stories, but I do remember the titles of two of my favorites: Ski Weekend and a Christmas-based “Super Chiller” called Silent Night. Yes, I’m aware that means that two of my favorite teen thrillers were ski vacation stories (Stine’s Ski Weekend and Pike’s Slumber Party). Maybe it was because I learned to ski when I was six years old. Or maybe it was because I liked stories that take place in the snow. To this day, I still love books and movies with snowy settings in any genre.
I was reading R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike when they were relatively early in their writing careers. In writing this blog, I wanted to find out what they had written in the years after I’d grown up and moved to adult reads.
Whenever I want to quickly see an author’s list of published books by publication date as well as which ones fall into a series vs. standalone, I always reference the Fantastic Fiction website. It’s a great resource, and I love it extra because it looks like it was built in 1998 and the design was never updated. It reminds me of a Geocities website, so visiting it is a throwback in and of itself.
Fantastic Fiction indicates that R.L. Stine relaunched the Fear Street series in 2014 with six new novels, but these days he’s focusing on his Goosebumps series for younger readers. It looks like in total, he’s written over 300 books.
Christopher Pike’s most recent novel was published in 2015. He’s written about 80 novels total, mostly for young adults but some for adults as well.
These guys make me feel lazy and like I definitely need to get back to my own writing!
With Halloween just around the corner, are you enjoying any scary content? If you were (or are currently) a Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine fan too, which books were your favorites? Share below in the comments section.
Happy Halloween, everyone. Be sure to check your candy for broken glass and razor blades. Bwhahaha!!
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer and editor. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.