Book Review – Beach House by R.L. Stine

5_star_rating_system_2_and_a_half_stars

So, this week may seem like something of a departure for someone who, only a couple of weeks ago, was ranting about how simplistic YA fiction is. And I realise that it is slightly hypocritical of me to then go on to read and review a teen horror novel from the 90s. However, I’ve been obsessing over this book for so long that I needed to reread it. I first read this book hen I was a teenager myself. I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books when I was a kid so, once I started to get a bit more mature with regards to my reading, I started to “borrow” my older sister’s Point Horror books. Most of them were forgettable but this one stayed with me. I don’t know of it’s because it was the first one I read or whether it was just the story itself but I’ve never forgotten it. Well, I didn’t remember the name of it. Which didn’t really matter until last year when I got an urge to find it again. So I went through every beach related title in the set and finally found it. I started reading it night after I’d finished Long Way Down and turned the final page the next day. What a blast from the past.

So the reason that I so vividly remember this book over anything else that I read as a teenager is down to the opening chapter. It’s no spoiler to reveal that a character gets eaten by sharks in the middle of the sea. It was an immensely grisly death for me at that age. Espeically being someone who got scared by absolutely ridiculous things as a child. I mean I couldn’t watch The Never Ending Story because of the creepy eyes in the cave and I got uncomfortable watching the Sidewinder episode of Thunderbirds because that one puppet (yes, that’s right PUPPET) got burned when he went down into the pit. What can I say? I was a sensitive little thing. So, at the time I first read this book it was probably the height of horror for me and I built it up in my mind to be a thing most fearsome. Well, I’m pleased to say I’ve changed a lot since then so revisiting it was a little different.

What I had forgotten is that the story is split between two time periods. The first is the 1950s where a group of young people, two girls and three boys, hang out on the beach all day as young people are want to do. Their summer looks quite rosy until someone starts picking them off one by one. The narrative then jumps to modern day and the MTV age where the teens have more attitude and smaller swimsuits. (Seriously, there is an awful lot of uncomfortable description of a teenage girl’s various teeeny tiny bikinis to be seen here. R.L. Stine needs to have a word with himself.) Could it be possible that history is about to repeat itself and another group of young people meet their grisly end in this sandy paradise?

I’ll be honest, me recollections of this book basically just focused on the shark attack so I was surprised by the additional time period. In fact, everything but the beginning and the ending were a complete mystery to me upon rereading… which is probably a good thing. It meant I was perpetually confused by the plot instead of just waiting for stuff to happen anyway. Although, it’s hardly the most complicated plot to follow. Or the scariest. The fact that I remembered it as the pinnacle of my adolescent brush with horror is a sorry state of affairs. I was even more pathetic than I let myself remember.

What I can say now, as an adult 30 year old, is that this book is so worrying for so many reasons. I know fiction has moved on since the 90s but the fact that we were able and, in most cases, encouraged to read these books is something to be ashamed of. For a start, the way that Stine approaches gender is just bad. As I’ve already made plain, the guy’s obsession with a skinny blonde’s tiny bikini’s is uncomfortable but, on top of that, non of his female characters are presented in a positive way. In fact, all of them are awful. The girl of the infamous shark attack is killed because she dares to go on a date with another man. The dirty whore. Now I’m not suggesting that Stine is trying to say promiscuous teenagers deserve to be eaten by deadly fish but he doesn’t exactly portray her as innocent. Then there’s the fact that one of the main female characters is in a “loving” relationship with a guy who is so jealous and potentially violent that she’s scared of him. It’s all so wrong.

Quite frankly, all of these characters are terrible in their own way and, quite frankly, I’d have supported all of them being killed horribly. I’m not sure what teenagers did to Stine during his life but he certainly was more than happy to kill them off in horrible ways in his books. Horrible and utterly preposterous ways. I mean I’m all for stupid plot twists but this one was just so random. It doesn’t work with the rest of the story and is just insane. It kind of feels like Stine had one two separate ideas that were both too short for a full book so found the flimsiest possible premise to stick them together. However, as a nostalgic read, Beach House was a bit of fun. The 1950s storyline is far more engrossing than the modern day one and it far less troublesome. But it’s a stupid 90s YA horror film. And It was nice to finally get some fucking closure. It’s just a shame realising the book I’ve been getting wistful about was such a stinker.

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