Friday, April 26, 2013

Ghosts of Fear Street #8: The Ooze (R.L. Stine)

All poor Al wants for his birthday is a pair of roller blades. Unfortunately, he belongs to a family of brains who seem more concerned with teaching their pets stupid tricks than paying attention to him. Seriously, his sister Michelle taught her cat Chester to count, pull down the blinds, and use the electric can opener when he wants food. They also keep forcing him to study for the upcoming Science Bowl and reminding him that Michelle won every year she was in middle school.

The day of his birthday arrives, and his family seems pretty excited about his gift. Instead of new blades, he gets a chemistry set. To add to the fun, his parents decide that he can't actually use it until Michelle goes over all the safety regulations with him, and she's far too busy with her science club to help him in any way. He resigns himself to spending time with his dog Tubby, who is the stupidest dog in the world, and moping over his present.

When his best friend Colin discovers his present, he starts mixing things together to create a stink bomb. Al stops him because he's worried about an explosion, and Colin finds an orange slip of paper with instructions on how to make a stink bomb in the kit. Al thinks it's a little weird that it's on different paper than the rest of the instructions, but they do it anyway. They sneak it into the living room, where Michelle's club meets, but nothing happens.

When they head back into the basement, they find that the orange stuff in the beaker is suddenly a blob. Colin accidentally pours it onto the table and it starts going everywhere. After touching it with his bare hands, Al uses paper towels to grab the ooze and move it into a trunk. He does notice that it keeps breaking off into tiny balls before rolling back together. Chester also gets the ooze on his paws and he suddenly becomes stupid. The cat can't remember any tricks and barely remembers to use the litter box.

The next day, Al feels a little different. He puts his shoes on the wrong feet, can't remember basic things, and just plain feels groggy. He gets in trouble at school for not paying attention, and the school bully, Eric, goes off on him for giving him a wrong answer. His haze gets even worse the next day, and Eric makes him do his homework, but he can't remember how to add or multiply. Eric decides to beat him up and follows him after school. He manages to get away by hiding on Fear Street, but then he realizes that he's lost. Colin finds him and it turns out that he's only a few blocks from his house.

Al knows that something happened with the ooze but no one wants to listen. Michelle wins some big prize, and his parents decide that he's just acting out, so they make him stay home while they go out to celebrate. He puts some of the ooze in a container to take to his science teacher for help. During a meeting of the Science Bowl, the other members see it and start playing with it, and they get pissed because he flips out.

On the day of the Science Bowl, no one can remember even the most basic of questions. Al gets the only correct answer, which is one that his family tested him on that morning. Everyone gets in trouble, and the school cancels the event because they think the kids were all just goofing around. He and Colin finally decide that they need to confront the ooze.

The ooze is now one huge mass that rises up from the trunk and becomes a 12-foot tall blob. It reveals that it comes from an alien race that needs smart brains to survive. They slipped themselves into science kits because they assumed that the kids would go to smart kids. It takes Chester's brain and attacks Tubby, taking his brain too.

The blob comes after Al and actually manages to get his head in its mouth before it starts convulsing and seemingly dies. Al watches as its brain goes from really big to teeny, tiny, and he realizes that it's because it tried to take Tubby's brain and the dog is so stupid that it killed the blog. The two boys celebrate by stuffing it back into the trunk, dragging the trunk outside, and burying it in his backyard.

A few days later, he and his family are outside spending time together. Michelle notices some weird orange blobs in the yard, and he tells her not to touch them because they might be toxic. His parents agree but she grabs a handful anyway, and Al points out that his sister was always too smart for her own good.

*His parents are insane! They let Michelle create a literal bomb that explodes when he walks down the stairs to introduce him to the chemistry set, yet they won't let him play with it.

*While in his "stupid" state, Al actually walks face first into a glass door because he can't remember how to open it.

*Al says that Tubby no longer has a brain because the ooze took it, but Chester is suddenly fine, remembers all of his tricks, and is learning some new ones. The ooze ate both their brains, so why is Tubby the only one who got screwed?

*You know what's awesome? When you give a kid a birthday gift and then tell him he can't touch it for days/weeks. Oh, and when he does touch it, you yell at him for potentially messing things up. Nice.

*Ghosts of Fear Street make me a little sad. There's only one mention of Fear Street, and Al mentions in passing that his sister goes to Shadyside High School. Stine could have set this series anywhere.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sweet Valley Twins #15: The Older Boy

I can't believe I haven't recapped this yet! It's so full of ridiculousness!

Jessica and Lila are at the roller skating rink, and Jessica meets this cute older boy named Josh. Lila points out that he is way too older for her, but she decides to just lie to him and say that she's a freshman at Sweet Valley High. Since Josh is obviously a moron, he decides that she must be telling the truth, so he agrees to go out with her that weekend, and she asks him to pick her up at her friend's house.

Jessica manages to steal Elizabeth's best dress because a navy blue cotton dress with sandals is oh-so-elegant for a first date. Josh picks her up at Lila's house for a double date with his best friend Sam and his girlfriend Melanie. Since Melanie is a freshman, she keeps asking Jess about school, and they all think it's a little odd that she can't answer them.

They go to the Dairi Burger for dinner, and Jessica sees a little heart that someone drew with Josh and Anita inside. Since there obviously can't be two guys with the same name in the same town, she realizes that it's her Josh and his ex-girlfriend. Caroline Pearce sees them together and comes over to say hi, but Jess acts like she doesn't know her, even when she uses her name! The others want to go see an R-rated movie, but Jessica doesn't have a fake ID so they wind up at another movie. She thinks it went bad, but Josh gives her a kiss and asks her out on a second date.

Elizabeth and Amy are at the mall when Josh comes up and starts talking to her. After he leaves, Amy says that he used to date Caroline’s older sister Anita. Elizabeth realizes that he thought she was Jessica so she rushes home to talk to her twin. Jessica swears that they are just friends and that he's the same age as Steven.

Caroline naturally tells everyone what she saw, and it comes back to Liz. She confronts Jessica again and she just plays dumb. Liz knows that they made plans for that weekend and she calls her on it. Jessica lies, saying that she's going to Kerry Glenn's family cabin that weekend and that he was just going to call her on the phone. Elizabeth eventually finds out his actual age and Jess plays dumb again. She says that she had no idea of his age and that she would never have gone out with him if she did. She actually convinces Elizabeth that he lied to her about his age, and Liz totally buys it. When he calls that night, Jessica promises to break things off with him, but just makes plans for the weekend.

There's so big random circus coming to town that weekend and the Wakefields always go together. Ned waited too long to get tickets and it sold out. When he finally does get tickets, he learns that Jessica already has plans for the weekend, and Steven is going to the circus with some random girl he likes. Jessica throws such a hissy fit that Ned agrees to take her somewhere special the next weekend.

Alice actually acts like a parent in this one and refuses to let Jessica go to the cabin unless she talks to Kerry's mom. She convinces Lila to call and pretend to be her, and because Alice is a complete moron, she totally buys it. Jessica then goes over to Lila's house to spend the weekend.

Josh picks her up for their date and heads to pick up his cousin Megan before picking up her date. It turns out that her date is Steven. Jessica briefly thinks about making a run for it, but decides to stick it out. Josh then lets her know that he still has feelings for Anita but that he still wants to go through with their date. Jessica volunteers to go home but he refuses.

Steven comes outside and is shocked to see his sister. He teases her throughout the night but agrees to keep her secret. Jessica finds Anita crying in the bathroom and tells her that Josh is still in love with her. Anita comes over to see them and they're so smitten with each other that Jessica tries to sneak away. She runs into her parents and Liz and part of the story comes out in front of Josh. Steven convinces their parents to go on home and he'll bring Jessica back later.

Jessica tells Josh the whole story and he feels a little stupid. He confesses that he did something similar, stealing his dad's car when he was thirteen and lying to the cop who pulled him over. He tells her that she's a sweet kid and drops her off at home. Ned and Alice flip out but let her off pretty easy with just a grounding. Hell, she even gets to call Lila and tell her what happened.

The best part is that the rumor mill starts flying at SMS. The story Caroline spreads is that Jessica and Josh were hopelessly in love but that she sacrificed herself so he could go back to his ex. Naturally, she gets even more popular because she's the first Unicorn to date such an older guy.

*Really Josh, really? I feel like doing the whole "Really with Seth and Amy" from SNL right now. Look at that cover! She screams jail bait!

*Josh says that LILA looks young, and Jessica is all like, "oh yeah she's my friend but she's waaaay immature," and Josh is all like, "yeah, I can totally see that." Moron.

*There's no mention of anyone using a fake ID until Jessica brings it up. I so remember the days when anyone could get into an R-rated movie without the clerks checking.

*I know Josh is new to the dating world but telling your date that you are still in love with your ex is a no-no.

*Josh very clearly kisses Jessica at least twice in this book, but then we get a whole super special about her first kiss.

*I love Lila! When Jessica calls and says that she isn't coming back, Lila's mind immediately goes to a dirty place.

*This is the book where Jessica basically gives the gear shift a hand job while staring into Josh's eyes. Creepy.

*Lila assumes that Josh will take Jessica to all these romantic places like four-star restaurants and order fancy meals. I remember being in sixth grade and thinking that high school dates were actually like that.

*The rumor around school doesn't really make sense. If they were so much in love, why would he still have feelings for his ex?

*Steven actually agrees to meet his parents at the circus so they can meet his new girl, which seems out of character for him.

*When Josh finds out the truth, he realizes that's why he never saw her at SVH. Really Josh, really? You didn't think about maybe, possibly asking someone about the hot girl you're dating?

*Josh lies to his friends and says that she's 15 when she told him she was 14. He also thinks that 14 is too young to date, which makes it even worse that he doesn't figure out that she's younger.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Baby-Sitters Club #126: The All-New Mallory Pike

Aw, how sad, Mallory is getting the hell out of Stoneybrook. She is about to head to Riverbend Hall, a boarding school for girls. She only has a few more days left in town, so she naturally attends a BSC meeting. Kristy refers to it as her last meeting, which makes her cry. The girls present her with a certificate that acknowledges her as an honorary member of the club. When it comes time to leave, Jessi and Claudia walk her home. It turns out that they planned her a surprise party. All of the BSC members, including Logan and Shannon, are waiting at the house, as are some of her charges.

The next day, she has breakfast with her family and tries to stop thinking that it's the last time she'll do it. Jessi comes over to say goodbye and help her carry her things to her car before she stays behind to watch the Pike kids with Mary Anne. Mallory naturally loves her new school from the first time that she sees it. She even makes a new friend and realizes that she feels more comfortable there.

The only downside is that her new roommate didn't make any room for her. She used up the entire closet, took over the entire shared dresser, and hung pictures all over all of the walls. Mallory thinks she can deal with it until she actually meets Alexis. Alexis gives her a list of room rules, which include study time every afternoon. Mallory kind of just ignores her because she made a new group of friends. Sarah is a super theatrical (and annoying actress) type, and Jen is a sweet and normal girl.

Alexis constantly oversteps her boundaries though. She sees Mallory writing in her diary, and she later comes home to find Alexis sitting on her bed and reading it. She points out that she didn't write anything interesting. Ooh, burn. She later comments on how Mal thought one of her teachers was cute while sitting in his class, and she makes a comment in class that she lifted right out of her journal. She also wears her clothes without asking and wears her favorite earrings, which were a gift from Jessi.

Instead of doing anything about it, Mallory whines to her new friends about Alexis. Sarah reveals that Alexis had problems with two other roommates this year alone. One girl wound up leaving school due to those problems and the death of a loved one, while her other roommate, Jen, moved into a single room. Jen tells her that she knows all about her silly rules, which is part of why she left.

Mal finally talks to her prefect, who basically suggests that they just work things out. She offers a few suggestions, but she really just wants them to talk. Mallory tries, and Alexis acts like she's the wronged party. She clears off the dresser and offers her more space, and then says that Mallory still won't be happy. The BSC sends her a care package with cookies and pictures they took at a recent meeting. She comes home one day to find that Alexis ate all of the cookies and completely destroyed her pictures.

She immediately goes to the prefect and shows her their room. Alexis tries to apologize, but the woman decides that they finally need to sit down and discuss the issue. The meeting does nothing because Alexis keeps saying that it's all Mal's fault. According to her, Mallory never gave her a chance and sought out other friends as soon as she got there. She storms out of the meeting and starts trashing the room.

Sarah sees it happen and runs for Pam (the prefect). Jen is one of the girls helping her clean up, and Pam later suggests that they give Alexis the single room and move Jen into their room. Mallory says she couldn't ask someone to do that, and Pam says that she'll do it. A few hours later, Jen appears at her door and calls her roomie. Mallory later talks about how nice it is to share a room with a true friend and how well they get along.

The B-plot starts as soon as Mallory leaves. Vanessa thinks that she can keep their room, but the triplets think they deserve it. All hell breaks loose anytime someone sits there because the kids constantly fight over the room. Byron doesn't really seem to care, but Nicky is so upset that he chains himself to his bed. When they realize that Vanessa is lonely and keeps sneaking into Claire and Margo's room, they finally reach a compromise. The three girls (and Mallory's bed) will move into the boys' big room, Nickey and Byron will love into Margo and Claire's old room, and Adam and Jordan get Mallory's old room.

*All of the school buildings are named after famous women, which is a cute idea.

*Mallory takes a French class, and she mentions that she's completely lost and doesn't understand it because everyone speaks French. Um, wouldn't they test her for something like that? I'm assuming that the school would offer a beginner level class for someone who isn't ready for an advanced class like that.

*The Pikes actually call Mallory to ask if it's okay to move her bed, which is sweet given that she won't really be home much.

*The school knew that Mallory previously lived with someone, which is why they put her with Alexis. They figured if anyone could handle her, it was Mallory.

*The problem with this book is that nothing changes. The spaz girl nickname stuck with her because she never stood up for herself. In this book, she's still willing to just sit back and take whatever Alexis throws at her.

*I'm not sure why it took the school so long to give Alexis her own room. She already had problems with two girls, so your best solution is to keep throwing her into a room with another girl?

*I read one of the older books a few weeks ago that was updated with Ann's notes in the back. She says that they contemplated sending Mallory to boarding school before, but they decided that fans of the series would miss her too much.

*Were her problems at SMS really that bad? There are several later books that I can think of where it was a Mallory story and there was no mention of her getting teased. Plus, I think that showing kids how to stand up for themselves and fight back against teasing/bullying might be a better option than showing kids running away to another school.

*Mallory naturally gets to take fun classes that she could never take at SMS like creative writing classes. Oh wait, she totally took that class at SMS.

*Hey Mallory, I know that Riverbend is oh so cool, but you do still need to take gym. It's one of those classes that you can't ever really escape. Then again, when she mentions her schedule, there is absolutely no mention of a gym or physical education class.

*All of the girls have to do volunteer work as a service requirement. Mallory naturally works at the library, baby-sitting kids during story time. Of course she does.

*I love when people comment that boarding school was a better choice for Mallory because she wouldn't get teased as much. I don't care what school you go to, there are cliques everywhere! Given that Mallory apparently had no friends until she met Jessi and joined the BSC, I find it hard to believe that she could make friends so quickly at a new school.

*In fact, I think she would have even more problems at a school like this. Riverbend comes across as one of those rich schools where people with money spend their kids. Even her friend Smita mentions that her family moved around quite a bit. Mallory's family doesn't have the money to send her on fancy spring break trips, and she probably doesn't even have money to go to the movies on Friday night with the other girls.

*Her math class bakes corn muffins for the whole school as a teaching/learning exercise. What the hell are they learning? This sounds like something you would do in third grade, not sixth grade.