Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nostalgia Reading - R.L. Stine

Raise your hand if you also loved R.L. Stine as a kid!

I grew up reading Goosebumps and enjoying every moment of it! I remember going to the bookstore every month, bubbling with excitement, ready to get the latest book in the series.

Right now, I'm not sure which Goosebumps book I read first of all. I think it was The Ghost Next Door. It was the tenth book in the series, released in August 1993. From there, I went back through the list and read Say Cheese and Die! and Let's Get Invisible! and all the others.

I was hooked! I couldn't wait for the next book to come out--and they usually came out once a month or once every two months.

Shortly after turning ten, my love affair with Goosebumps guttered out.

The last Goosebumps book I read was The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight. It was released in May 1994. I still remember that day: I'd just bought the book and was at my aunt Delia's house. I sat on the big armchair in her living room and read the entire thing in about thirty minutes. Then I remember closing it and deciding that Goosebumps wasn't for me anymore.

I didn't stop reading just because of that book, though. The previous one, Deep Trouble, also wasn't all that I was expecting. The book prior to that one, Monster Blood II, involved something with a giant monster hamster... The previous one was called Why I'm Afraid of Bees. The cover showed a bee with the face of a boy... and I just wasn't feeling the love anymore. I think I actually skipped the bee one because the cover looked too silly. I was growing out of my Goosebumps phase and The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight marked the end.

Now that I think about it, I have such a strong sense of nostalgia towards these books, but if I do the math (August 1993 to May 1994), I was hooked on them for under a year! Even so, I must have read around 18 or 19 of them in total (the scarecrow one was number twenty).

I currently don't have all of the Goosebumps books I owned, but I still have most of them. I think I got rid of the ones I thought were too silly in a yard sale.

Around the time I was weaning myself off of Goosebumps, I discovered the Fear Street Saga, a trilogy set in different time periods, and I also immensely enjoyed it. The first book came out in 1993, so I must have been around nine when I began reading them.

Much darker than Goosebumps, the Fear Street Saga is a story of love, betrayal and revenge. I felt so grown-up reading it! I still have the trilogy, so last year I decided to give it a read and it holds up pretty well. The scenes aren't as vivid as I imagined them and the action seems rushed now, but I can still see the appeal.

One of the last R.L. Stine books I read was The Prom Queen. I still have it so I should probably give it another read, but I remember I didn't like it all that much. I think I had matured too much by then and was looking for stronger stuff.

I think that around age ten I moved on to things like Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall or Daughters of Eve (I don't remember much about that second one, but I immensely enjoyed the first one), or Tad Williams' Tailchaser's Song.

I still don't know how my parents just let me get any book I wanted! Tailchaser's Song was not intended for a ten-year-old audience! But still, it's wonderful.

And now we come to present-day me, thirty-two years old and browsing through a used book store. I came across Call Waiting by R.L. Stine and immediately bought it just to have a nostalgic kick. I'd never read this one before, but I wanted to see if my favorite childhood author still lived up to my expectations.


I'm not going to criticize the style or the simplicity (or the predictability) of the novel because I'm not its intended audience, but I will criticize one thing: sexism.

The main character is a teenage girl called Karen. We don't really get to know her except for one thing: she has a boyfriend who she's terrified of losing. Her whole life revolves around her boyfriend and her suspicions of him cheating on her with someone else. Her thoughts and her conversations are centered on her boyfriend during the entire book. We don't really get to know anything about her, no hobbies or areas of interest.

Is the guy worth all that? All we know is that he has long dark hair and that's supposed to be very sexy. He barely interacts with Karen, and when he does, he comes off as aloof and not very interested in their relationship.

Overall, Karen came off as the typical "psycho girlfriend." That's just sad. The final straw came when readers discover the "phone killer" who had made the threatening calls was another teenage girl also after the boy.

The whole story boils down to two women fighting for a man.

It's not like this sort of situation can't actually happen, but an entire book portraying teenage girls as completely dependent on boys and void of any hobby or interest other than having a boyfriend just makes me think this isn't the best kind of role model you want to give your kids.

Am I reading too much into this? Children are incredibly perceptive but they might not be able to discern good role models from bad role models. Furthermore, I believe readers usually try to identify with the main character of a novel. Is a one-dimensional and dependent main character a good example for young readers?

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