Sep 07 2010

Fear Street: The Surprise Party by R.L. Stine

Published by Whitney G at 7:48 pm under Fear Street,Old School,R.L. Stine

Fear Street:
The Surprise Party
R.L. Stine
1989, Archway

It was just another party — until the threats began. . .

Main Characters

  • Meg Dalton – Our Fearless Heroine; a “baby-faced” optimist
  • Tony Colavito – Meg’s boyfriend; poor; father is a drunk
  • Shannon Harper – Meg’s BFF
  • Brian – Meg’s second cousin; weird
  • Ellen Majors – former BFF to Meg and Shannon; has since moved away from Shadyside
  • Dwayne Colligan – a total creep who wants to bang Shannon

Minor Characters

  • Lisa Blume – Meg’s friend; surprisingly rational
  • Cory Brooks – Lisa’s boyfriend

Deceased Characters

  • Evan Harper – Shannon’s brother and Ellen’s boyfriend; found dead in Fear Street woods last year

The Surprise Party is the second Fear Street book ever published, but I apparently managed to avoid it throughout my adolescence because I have no memory of having read it before. But then again, all the Fear Street books kind of run together in my memory, as my frazzled little brain tries desperately to make storage room for more important things, such as the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby.”

We begin with a prologue. SURPRISE! Some unnamed guy shoots a guy named Evan. His motive, apparently, is wanting a girl who is “so baad.” So…she’s a sheep? Or perhaps she was given away as a young girl to a family whom her family had wronged. Anyway, the shooter is confident that he’ll never be caught. Pride goeth before a fall, blah blah.

After the completely necessary and amazingly insightful prologue, we are introduced to Our Fearless Heroine. Meg Dalton is a happy, optimistic blue-eyed blonde. With her flat chest and her short stature, she is “sometimes mistaken for a kid,” which she understandably hates. Meg is bicycling with her BFF Shannon Harper and her boyfriend Tony Colavito. Shannon has red hair (of course) and a perfect figure, and looks just like Molly Ringwald. Tony is not a teenage girl, so Stine doesn’t give a shit about describing him. Tony and Meg have been dating for two years, but lately Tony has been very moody. We learn that Shannon has a stalker named Dwayne Colligan. Dwayne hangs out all the time with Meg’s cousin Brian, playing “Wizards and Dungeons” in the Fear Street woods. I love the ’80s shorthand of using a thinly veiled allusion to Dungeons & Dragons to paint characters as scary, possibly satanic freaks. Moral panics amuse me. Speaking of literary shorthand, we learn that Tony is poor, which in the Stineverse means that he is probably a terrible person.

Meg notes that this day marks exactly one year since Brian found Shannon’s brother Evan shot to death in the Fear Street woods. In my experience, anniversaries of traumatic events such as the violent death of one’s teenage brother are usually pretty difficult times, but this is a Fear Street book, so Shannon is totes fine and joking around with her friends.

Meg, Shannon, and Evan run into Lisa Blume and Cory Brooks, two main characters from the first-ever Fear Street book (The New Girl). Lisa and Cory are former-BFFs-turned-romantic-couple, but since they started dating, all they do is fight. They’re like asexual teen versions of Rachel and Ross. Lisa has some exciting news: Ellen Majors is coming back to visit Shadyside! NO FUCKING WAY!! SRSLY?!?! Also, who the hell is Ellen Majors?

Oh, wait, here comes Conductor Stine of the Exposition Express to clue us in. Ellen was Evan’s girlfriend, and Meg and Shannon’s BFF since junior high. After Evan’s tragic death, Ellen moved away, and nobody has heard from her since. Then why is she bothering to visit? Obviously she’s moved on. Anyway, Meg suggests a surprise welcome-back party for Ellen, to “show Ellen that we don’t blame her.” I can imagine the party banners now.

That night, Meg is trying to work on her psychology paper. Spoiler alert: SHE NEVER FUCKING WRITES IT. She thinks about Ellen, who looks just like Daryl Hannah. Why can’t Stine just describe people instead of using the lazy, bad author’s way out by just referring to a person in pop culture? I mean, besides the fact that he’s a lazy, bad author. (Except for Eureeka’s Castle. That shit was awesome.) Meg gets a weird phone call from someone warning her not to have a party for Ellen. She’s a little freaked out, which in my opinion is a bit of an overreaction, since the caller didn’t make any specific threats. I mean, jeez, maybe it’s someone who just doesn’t like Ellen. Or parties. Meg tries to call Tony for comfort, but his line is busy. Oh, is it now? Eeeeen-teresting.

Unable to reach Tony, Meg calls Lisa instead. Lisa doesn’t take Meg’s account of the anonymous phone call very seriously, and she tells Meg that a ton of people know about the party, so really the caller could be anyone in Shadyside. Well, that’s helpful. Once Meg hangs up with Lisa, Tony calls and says that he just received a threatening anonymous call, too. He suggests that Meg cancel the party, but Meg isn’t having any of that bullshit. She’s going to fight. For her right. To parrrrrrrrr-tyyyyyyy.

In study hall on Monday, Meg shows Shannon the invitations she made for Ellen’s surprise party. They are “Day-Glo green and pink.” I hope each invitation comes with a pair of sunglasses, ’cause sweet baby Jesus that sounds horrifically bright. Shannon”s not sure that the party is such a good idea after all. Her doubts are not allayed when Meg tells her the location of the party: the old Halsey Manor House in the Fear Street woods. Yes, let’s have a the party mere yards away from where the guest of honor’s boyfriend died. That sounds like the kind of brilliant plan that can only be thought of by a Stine heroine.

As Meg looks around the room, she muses about how everyone’s life changed after Evan’s death. We learn more details about that fateful day: apparently Brian “found Evan lying dead on the ground, Ellen sitting beside him, crying, unable to talk.” No one is really sure why Evan went into the woods in the first place; he cryptically told some people that he was going “on a dare,” and he took his father’s hunting rifle with him for protection. He was found with his left foot tangled in a tree root, and the theory about his death is that he tripped and accidentally shot himself. Well, dumbass, maybe next time you’ll remember to put the safety on. Also, way to be the worst eyewitness ever, Ellen.

Meg’s reverie is broken by an announcement that she has a message at the front office. But once she gets there, there is no message. What a hilarious practical joke. When she gets back to study hall, she discovers that her invitations have all been cut into tiny pieces. Considering that the invitations were ’80s-neon green and pink, the mysterious cutter did everyone a favor. Meg halfway suspects Shannon, but before she can ponder for too long, she is called back to the front office, this time for a real message. The message is written in red crayon (SCARY!) and warns Meg not to have the party. Later that day, Tony reveals that he also got a threatening letter written in red crayon. He thinks that they should cancel the party, but Meg refuses on principle. I kind of like that Meg’s so ballsy. She notices her cousin Brian staring at her and Tony, but before she can say anything to him, he runs away.

That night, Meg forgoes working on her psych paper to create a list of suspects. First on the list is Brian, because he was staring at her and then ran away. Well, that’s certainly solid evidence. Next is Shannon, who at least has more motive and circumstantial evidence against her: she may blame Ellen for Evan’s death, and she has voiced her opposition to the party. Suspect numero tres is Ellen. One of the reasons that Meg gives for Ellen being a suspect is that “Ellen never liked parties.” So of course it would then follow that she would make vague, anonymous threats against her former best friends to prevent the party from happening. In Shadyside, logic is a four-letter word. Last on the list is Dwayne, Shannon’s stalker. Meg’s reason: “Because I don’t like him.” Meg should consider a job in law enforcement.

Before Meg can add anyone else to her suspect list based solely on personality flaws, Tony calls. He tells Meg that he was chased home by a stranger. He’s seriously over the whole party idea now, and he goes so far as to break up with Meg because of it. Meg takes this fairly well, especially for a female in a Stine book, by deciding to give him a day or two to cool off before she tries to talk to him. Instead she calls Ellen and gushes about how excited she is that Ellen will be visiting soon. Ellen gushes back. After hanging up, Meg has the following brilliant epiphany:

Ellen had seemed so happy, so thrilled, so enthusiastic.

Too enthusiastic.

Too happy.

That wasn’t like Ellen at all.

I guess Ellen should have been surly and depressed when talking to a childhood friend for the first time in months. SHE MUST BE GUILTY.

Two days later, Meg is hanging out at Lisa’s house. Meg gives Lisa some not-terrible advice about Lisa’s relationship problems with Cory, and then she tells Lisa about the anonymous threats. Meg says that she suspects Brian or Shannon, and Lisa dubiously says, “Not very likely suspects.” She then tells Meg that, if Meg really suspects Shannon, she should just ask Shannon about it — after all, Shannon is Meg’s BFF and deserves the straight dope. Lisa is way too cool and rational to live in Shadyside. I suspect that she eventually got run out of town by a pitchfork-wielding mob.

On the way home, Meg thinks she sees a person waiting ominously for her on the front porch, but it’s just the shadows from some stacked flower pots. And now I can never get back the seconds of my life that I wasted reading that lame fake-out. Thanks, Stine.

The next day at lunch, Meg asks Shannon about the threatening notes and phone calls. Shannon gets all butthurt and storms off, which makes Meg feel terrible. Meg is sort of OK, really. At least she’s not completely worthless, like most protagonists in the Stineverse. Also, someone has filled Meg’s lunch bag with red paint, which Meg mistakes for blood. In case anyone’s interested. Which I doubt you are.

That night, Meg goes to Shannon’s house to beg forgiveness. While there, she notices a picture of Evan in which he’s wearing a jacket and tie. Apparently the preppy photo is the exact opposite of “wild man” Evan. Meg remembers one night when Evan lost his temper and beat Tony over the head with a pool cue, after which Tony had to go to the ER and get five stitches. Evan sounds like a real fucking winner, yo. Anyway, Meg grovels to Shannon, and not only does Shannon accept Meg’s apology, she also says that she’s now completely on board with the party for Ellen. She tells Meg that her half-brother Mike will also be visiting while Ellen is in town, so he’ll be at the party too. Apparently Mike looks a lot like Evan now. This factoid may or may not be very important later in the book. For about two seconds.

Now that their BFFship is repaired, Meg and Shannon begin to ponder who might be responsible for the threats. Meg muses that maybe someone’s afraid that a big secret will be revealed if the party happens, leading Shannon to suggest Brian as the most likely suspect. After all, Brian somehow just happened to find Evan’s body only seconds after the fatal shot was fired. Meg gives this idea serious consideration. Then, on her way home, she is almost run down by a car. I don’t quite hate Meg enough to be sad that the driver misses. I’ve lost my edge.

We are treated to the maniac driver’s POV for two and a half pages, as he hopes that he scared Meg enough for her to cancel the party: “You can’t let Ellen come back and tell . . . You can’t let her tell what happened last year.” Well, dumbass, if she hasn’t told by now, then she’s probably not going to. Get a fucking grip.

At home, Meg calls Tony’s house because she’s a little freaked out and needs some comforting by her douchebag ex-boyfriend. Tony’s alcoholic dad answers and says that Tony isn’t at home. We cut to Tony, who is walking home when he comes across Dwayne Colligan shooting hoops. Tony asks Dwayne how things are going with Shannon. Way to encourage the creepy stalker, genius. Dwayne says that he was glad when he heard that Evan was dead, because Evan wouldn’t let Dwayne talk to Shannon. And how are things working out now that Evan’s gone, Romeo? Tony is more than a little pissed off by Dwayne’s cavalier attitude, and he screams and hurls the basketball into Dwayne’s stomach. I guess this is supposed to be an indication that Tony has a secret violent nature, but really, Tony’s reaction isn’t unjustified. Sure, he’s a moody dumbass, but I’m not getting the violent-killer vibe from him.

The next night (Friday), Meg puts off working on her psych paper (which is now three days overdue) by calling Tony. Drunk Mr. Colavito tells her that Tony is playing Wizards and Dungeons with Meg’s cousin Brian. Meg thinks this is very strange, since Tony never before expressed an interest in complex fantasy role-playing games. (Or, probably, in anything that could be described as “complex.”) She goes to sleep, but is awakened at four in the morning by a phone call from Tony’s dad. Apparently Tony never came home last night, and neither did Brian. Mr. Colavito is going to call the police and report them missing. Ah yes, the good old reliable Shadyside PD.

Meg decides that she has to go to the Fear Street woods to look for Tony and Brian, since she knows the cave where Brian likes to play and the police don’t. As she’s getting dressed, her dad comes into her room and asks what the hell she’s doing. When she tells him, he insists on coming with her. Aw, that’s sweet. On the drive over, Mr. Dalton asks why the hell Tony would be playing Wizards and Dungeons with Brian, since Tony is “not the type” to be into something like that. Meg recognizes that as a “dig” at Tony. If it’s meant solely because he’s stupid, then HA. But I wonder if Mr. Dalton’s subtle insult has to do with Tony’s poverty and shitty home life — in which case, not ha.

The Shadyside PD is out in full force, searching the woods. Meg knows that they’ll never find Brian’s cave, though. Really? Brian can’t be the only person who knows about the damn cave. Probably several of those cops used to go there to bang their girlfriends and get loaded. But whatever, Meg just has to be the fucking hero. She and her dad go into the woods to search. Meg gets separated from her father, OF COURSE, and is then chased and pushed down a steep ravine by a stranger, OF COURSE, who says that she shouldn’t have the party, OF COURSE. Meg is temporarily knocked out. Once she comes to, she realizes that she is lying beside an injured Brian. Tony appears out of fucking nowhere to help them, and Meg notices that his hand is cut. Dun-dun-DUN.

Tony calls Mr. Dalton and the po-po over to Brian and Meg. Brian is taken to the hospital as Mr. Dalton blesses Tony out for doing something so fucking stupid as go into the woods at night to play a game. Meg asks why Tony suddenly decided to play Wizards and Dungeons anyway, and Tony gives a non-answer. Then Meg tells him about being pushed down the ravine and almost run over by a car. Tony assumes that now Meg will definitely cancel the party, but Meg is STILL not having it. Tony basically tells her that she’ll be sorry. Yawn.

On Sunday, Meg pays Brian a visit. She makes small talk for a hot second before asking why he and Tony were playing Wizards and Dungeons in the woods together anyway. Brian says that he “will reveal everything when [he] reach[es] the Fourth Level and become[s] a full-powered Wizard.” Well, alrighty then. Meg starts to leave her batshit cousin, but Brian says that he has to confess something. A lightbulb goes off over Meg’s head, and she asks Brian if he’s been calling her. Brian says that yes, he has. Meg immediately assumes that he’s responsible for the threats, because she is unfamiliar with the concept of a red herring. As it turns out, Brian didn’t make the threatening calls. But he does say that he “can call Evan back” using his “Fourth-Level power.” Wait, I thought he hadn’t reached the Fourth Level yet? Ah, fuck it. He tells Meg that “it wasn’t an accident,” but before she can pump him for details, Ellen comes into the room. Meg and Ellen make plans to hang out the next day, and then Meg leaves. She calls Tony and tells him about Brian’s weird ramblings, and then out of the blue Tony suggests that he and Meg go up to River Ridge together. There can be absolutely no ulterior motive to Tony’s desire to take his meddling girlfriend to the top of a cliff.

And now we’re treated to Tony’s POV. He has surmised that Brian “squealed” about what really happened last year: that Tony accidentally shot Evan while fighting for control of the gun. If this were a good book with an interesting plot, I would be wondering why the boys were fighting in the first place, but this is a Fear Street book so I don’t give a shit. We learn that Tony beat Brian up in the woods the other night (shocker) to try to threaten him into silence. Also, Tony is planning to push Meg off of River Ridge to protect his secret. Oh my. I am so surprised.

The next day, Shannon and Meg go to Ellen’s aunt’s house to visit their former BFF. Meg tells Shannon about her near-miss with the maniac driver and about the events in the Fear Street woods. Shannon thinks that Meg should tell the police that she’s being threatened, but Meg says that she has no concrete evidence. Um, did she not keep the note? Still, it’s highly unlikely that the Shadyside police would be any help whatsoever, so I can’t entirely blame Meg here.

Shannon and Meg’s visit with Ellen is awkward, full of uncomfortable silences and forced small talk. There is mention of resident slut Suki Thomas, who is my favorite Fear Street character EVER. The girls also talk about a childhood game they used to play, called “Eek, A Mouse,” in which they would compete to see who could scream the loudest. I’m only mentioning this because it plays a role in the book’s thrilling climax.

The next night, everyone is going to a party at David Metcalf’s house. Who the hell has a party on a Monday night? Dwayne is there, and…prepare yourself…he is DRINKING BEER. I didn’t think alcoholic beverages even existed in Shadyside, but now in one book we’ve got an alcoholic father and an underaged beer-drinker. What’s next? Third base? Dwayne oozes sleaze all over Shannon, who calmly rejects him. He gets pissed off and leaves. Good fucking riddance. Meg finds Tony in the crowd, and they head out to River Ridge. As they stand on the edge of the cliff, we switch again to Tony’s POV. He’s trying to convince himself to push Meg off the cliff, but he just can’t cowboy up and do it. As it turns out, he loves Meg, and he’s not really the murdering type anyway. Plus, he learns that Brian didn’t really tell Meg anything, so she’s just as clueless as ever. He does, however, decide to bring a gun to Ellen’s surprise party, “just in case.” That’s just what this world needs: more armed teenagers. Fucking fantastic.

Aaaand suddenly it’s Saturday night, the night of the titular surprise party. I guess Stine got bored with this shit, too, and just decided to skip ahead five days. Meg picks Ellen up with some lame-ass excuse about having to run by the Halsey Manor House to get Shannon. When the girls enter the house and everyone yells “surprise,” Ellen “look[s] absolutely horrified.” One of my ex-boyfriends threw me a surprise birthday party at my own house, and I walked in wearing pajamas. It managed to be both incredibly thoughtful and terrifying at the same time. Anyway, Ellen quickly gets over her shock and starts enjoying herself.

The fun party mood is spoiled by the entrance of Brian, however. He announces that he now has the Fourth Level power and will bring Evan back from the dead. And then, to everyone’s surprise, in walks Evan. Tony immediately loses his shit completely, waving his pistol in the air and yelling, “I KNOW YOU’RE DEAD BECAUSE–.” Ellen reveals that “Evan” is actually Mike, her half-brother. Gee, I bet you didn’t see that coming, huh? Tony is about to confess the whole sordid truth about Evan’s death when suddenly the lights go out and there is a gunshot. When the lights come back on, Tony is lying, bleeding, at Meg’s feet. It is unfortunately only a flesh wound.

Now Dwayne has the pistol, and he grabs Ellen as a hostage, saying that she “helped to kill Evan too.” When Meg tries to grab for the gun (smooth move, Ex-Lax), Dwayne takes her as a hostage also. He forces them into the basement, where he believes that no one will ever find them. Yeah, they’ll never think to search the house. A criminal mastermind you ain’t, Big D. Dwayne says that he killed Evan, but Ellen doesn’t believe him. She was there, remember? She says that she and Tony followed Evan into the woods because they were “worried about him,” since Ellen had just dumped Evan for Tony. Meg is like, WTF bitch!, and Ellen says, “You’ve got to grow up sometime, kiddo.” Wow, Ellen sucks. Anyway, Tony and Evan got into a fight, and blahblah Tony accidentally shot Evan blah. Brian came running up after hearing the gunshot. Tony decided to make it look like Evan accidentally shot himself and swore Ellen and Brian to secrecy.

While Meg is trying to process this, Dwayne laughs and says that noooo, he killed Evan. He and Brian had been playing Wizards and Dungeons in the woods when they heard the gunshot. After Tony ran away, and Ellen and Brian went to get help, Dwayne went up to Evan for a closer look. And…EVAN WASN’T DEAD. He had just tripped and hit his head on a rock, knocking himself out. So Dwayne shot him, because Dwayne wanted to bang Shannon. Well, that makes perfect sense.

Meg realizes that Dwayne’s going to kill her and Ellen, so she devises a brilliant plan. She whispers, “Eek, a mouse” to Ellen and hopes that her former BFF catches her snap. Ellen does, screaming at the top of her lungs and pointing behind Dwayne. Dwayne, startled and probably deafened, turns around, giving Meg the opportunity to bash his head in with a copper frying pan. What good fortune that such a heavy potential weapon happened to be right within her reach!

The last chapter is, of course, the post-climax recap. Ellen has left Shadyside, and Tony is going to a psychiatrist in New York. As it turns out, Ellen knew about the surprise party all along, and she and Brian set up the whole “Evan rising from the dead” thing with Mike. Also, Mike wants to bang Meg.

And that, my friends, is that. Until next time, don’t play fantasy games in caves in the woods!

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Fear Street: The Surprise Party by R.L. Stine”

  1. Alliton 08 Sep 2010 at 3:37 am

    Wow, I totally remember this. I definitely remember being upset that Lisa & Cory didn’t have TLA.

    I think I only read three Fear Street books: the first two and the one with the “overnight.”

    These books are needlessly complicated.

  2. Alliton 08 Sep 2010 at 4:04 am

    Also, what was up with Ellen and Tony? He was cheating on Meg? With her supposed bff? And never bothered to break up with her? But didn’t mind, like, thinking about killing her?

    Edit: Also, I woke up at 5am, which is why my name is down as “Allit” instead of Allie. Blarghhh.

  3. Sadaon 08 Sep 2010 at 3:21 pm

    The crayon definitely adds an extra level of threat to a threatening note.

  4. Whitney Gon 19 Sep 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Allie – I love that Tony apparently decided to just forget the whole cheating-on-Meg thing once Evan bit it. I can imagine him talking to Ellen: “Well, your boyfriend’s dead, you’re moving away, and really, there’s no need for Meg to know about all this, right? Right?” Tony has the makings of a fine politician.

    Sada – From now on, all of my threatening notes are going to be written in crayon. And to make them even scarier, I plan to dot all of my i’s with hearts.

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