Title: Broken Hearts
Author: R.L. Stine
Published: Feb. 1993
Tagline: Valentine’s Day can be a killer
Description: Roses are red, corpses are blue. On Valentine’s Day, you’ll die too!
There’s someone out there, someone who kills on Valentine’s Day. Josie and Melissa are scared—especially when they receive threatening valentines. Then the murders begin. Who is sending these horrible valentines to the girls of Shadyside High? And who will be the next to die?
I wanted to recap Valentine’s books for February, and I caught this one for sale cheap on Kindle, so I thought to myself, perfect! The cover and description were familiar, so I knew I’d read it back in the day (I was eleven when it was published, so probably sometime around then), but I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything about this book . . . until I read the first couple of pages. Then it all came flooding back and I remembered who the killer was and why, although there was one surprise that I didn’t remember at all. Having said that, it’s never a good sign when I’m three pages into a book and suddenly remember, Oh, yeah, this book sucks. I’m pretty sure I thought it sucked the first time I read it, although I have no memory of the first time I read it. Hey, one of these days, this section might actually contain fond memories of actually reading the damn book I’m recapping on my nostalgia recap site, right?
Even though this is a Valentine’s book, we open in September, because PROLOGUE! Also, because this is a Super Chiller, we get somewhat-spoilery chapter titles. Why, Stine? In general, the regular Fear Street books don’t have them; why the Super Chillers?
Anyway. September. The opening sentence tells us there’s going to be a terrible accident, because R.L. Stine is a terrible drama queen. Erica McClain is going horseback riding with her older sisters, sixteen-year-old twins Rachel and Josie, and their friend Melissa Davis. I feel like Stine is obsessed with twins. These twins have nicknamed themselves the UnTwins because of how different they are. Sigh. Rachel has long red hair, green eyes, and is the calm, cool, confident one. Josie has short dark hair, brown eyes, and is moody, temperamental, and unpredictable. Rachel is a fashionista, Josie likes jeans and t-shirts. Erica, who is fourteen, normally gets treated like a baby by her older sisters, but she thinks maybe they’re being nicer to her now since she’s about to start Shadyside High with them. I was about to ask shouldn’t they have already started school by September, but then I remembered the halcyon days of the early 90’s when the school year didn’t start until after Labor Day.
Driving to the stable, Josie is going on about the cute guy who works there, Rachel asks if she ever gets tired of chasing guys, and Melissa, who is nicer to Erica than either of her sisters, asks Erica if she has a boyfriend and tries to make conversation with her. Then Rachel makes fun of Erica for blowing a bubble and getting gum stuck to her face. These twins make me glad I didn’t have older sisters growing up.
They get to the stable, Josie flirts with the guy despite already having a boyfriend named Jerry Jenkman, and Erica chickens out of going riding because she’s a total fraidy-cat. She claims she has a stomach ache, and Josie points out that every time they do something fun, Erica gets a stomach ache. Rachel offers with real concern to stay with her or drive her home, while Josie tells her Erica is just being a chicken. See, guys? They’re so different! UnTwins!
The girls have told the cute stablehand that they’re experts at riding, even though they’ve only been riding once before. Well, there’s no way that’s going to go horribly wrong, is there? Rachel’s horse is restless as she’s trying to . . . tack him up? Is that the correct term? I’ve only been riding once before as well, and everything else I know is from sporadic reading of The Saddle Club series over twenty years ago. Rachel asks Josie to come take a look at her horse’s girth because she’s not sure she’s fastened it right. I just Googled this, and apparently the girth is used in English riding, and in Western riding (which is what I would assume these girls are doing) they use a cinch, which is slightly different. At any rate, it’s the strap that holds the saddle on the horse. So, you know, it’s pretty important, and probably not something novices should be shrugging off as “good enough.” Josie tells Rachel she thinks it was fastened too tight and loosens it. That sound you just heard was me beating my head against my laptop keyboard. Josie asks Melissa if she did Rachel’s saddle right, and Melissa, already mounted on her horse and from outside the stable tells her it looks fine from there. Melissa. There’s no way you can tell what’s going on with the tack from that fucking far away oh my god.
Oh, yup, Rachel grabs the saddlehorn to pull herself into the saddle, so this is definitely Western riding. That’s a cinch, not a girth. C’mon, Bob, you couldn’t have looked that shit up in the World Book Encyclopedia? (See, kids, before there was Wikipedia, there was World Book.)
Rachel’s horse is extremely skittish, and she’s decided not to wear her riding helmet just because she doesn’t feel like it. Good reasoning there, Rach. My keyboard is going to be destroyed from all the faceplanting I’m doing into it.
The girls ride and chat – about Erica joining them in high school this year, about Josie thinking about breaking up with Jenkman already (they’ve been together almost a whole month!), about Rachel and her boyfriend, Luke, being like an old married couple (they’ve been dating since Freshman year). The whole time, Rachel’s horse is setting its own pace – fast at first, then slowing down, then speeding back up. Rachel asks if the horse’s name is Speed Demon, and Josie jokes that it’s Granny Lady. Ah-haha, FUNNY JOKE! Clearly Josie is the witty one. Or, you know, not.
Melissa is dating one of Josie’s exes, which is impossible not to do since she has so many! Josie tells Melissa that she’ll soon dump Dave Kinley too, because he’s so immature. Melissa’s like, whatever biatch, can we just shut up and ride? Melissa thinks that Josie is a good friend but is often wrong about people. Um, where has Josie shown us that she’s a good friend? As far as I can tell, she’s a terrible friend and an even worse sister! Melissa must come from an alternate universe.
As they head back toward the stables, Rachel’s horse starts speeding up and she can’t slow him (her?) down. Yup, that’ll happen. Then a dog runs out across the trail, because fuck leash laws I guess, and startles the horse, who rears up. As Horsey comes back down, the saddle flies off over its head, and Rachel goes flying, landing on her head. We know she landed on her head because Josie screams it about a million times before the prologue ends.
Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it?
Part One picks up the following February, because this is a Valentine’s horror story, after all. We start off with Melissa’s POV. She’s having a nightmare about being on the back of a runaway horse and not being able to get it to stop. Her mom comes in to wake her up from the nightmare, and we find out she’s been having the same dream for the last five months. Then Mom asks if Melissa has seen Rachel and Josie lately, so now we know Rachel isn’t dead, at least. Mom conveniently asks after Rachel, giving Melissa the opportunity to tell the reader that Rachel basically has some kind of brain damage that makes her very childlike. Then she tells her mom that she and Josie aren’t really friends anymore because Josie blames her for Rachel’s accident, and I have a hard time believing that this is the first time this has come up in five months! Also, at least some of the blame belongs with Cute Stablehand Guy, who went off and left these inexperienced riders to gear up the horses on their own. Really, pretty sure the twins’ parents could have sued the stable.
Now we switch to Josie’s POV. Get used to this; we’ve got three main characters in this one, guys. She’s being chased through her house by her new boyfriend, Steve, who is intent on shoving a snowball in her face. And yet she hasn’t called this one immature yet. Huh. Josie’s little white terrier, Muggy, runs in to protect her from Steve, and I love little dogs who think they’re badasses. My little dog is like that – she’s always trying to start shit and has no idea she only weighs 17 pounds. On the flipside, my big dog had no idea that she wasn’t a lapdog.
Josie and Steve make out a little, and she thinks about what an All-American Hunk he is, with his wavy blond hair and blue eyes. R.L. Stine is convinced that all the girls get wet for these perfect Aryan specimens. Meh. Josie’s been dating Steve since she dumped Jenkman right after Rachel’s accident, so just under five months, which is a record for Josie. Because she dates around a lot, you see. She wonders why she hasn’t gotten sick of Steve yet, and thinks maybe it’s because he’s so unpredictable. Then he suggests they go to the mall, because that’s an exciting and not at all common thing that teenagers do, so unpredictable, much wow! He asks if Erica is going to give her a hard time about leaving her to take care of Rachel, Josie says she usually does, then she gets distracted by the mail sitting on the table. There’s an envelope for her, oh happy day! She opens it and it’s a Valentine’s card with the verse inside crossed out in black marker, then a unique verse written in blue ink:
Violets are blue,
Roses are red.
On Valentine’s Day
Josie will be dead
Not to criticize, but that meter seems off. And I’m curious why the poet used two different pens for the crossing-out and the writing-in. And why buy a card with a verse already in it? They make blank cards, you know. Or you could save some money and just buy some construction paper and make your own card. Our Valentine’s poet clearly isn’t interested in thrift.
Josie freaks out and shows Steve, whose only comment is “It rhymes okay.” Steve, you’re an ass. Also, you know nothing about poetry. There is nothing okay about this shit poem, even if it weren’t threatening your girlfriend. He thinks it must be someone’s idea of a joke, and checks the envelope for a return address, because people sending death threats always want to make sure to alert the victim to their identity. My spacebar is about to be permanently embedded into my forehead from the amount of me beating my head into the keyboard that is happening right now.
Josie starts going off about how it’s probably Jenkman, because he’s been following her around ever since she broke up with him, like she’s supposed to feel bad or care or something. Damn, Josie is stone cold when it comes to dumping guys. Steve tells her to calm down, because Steve is an idiot. (I really want Josie to tell him she doesn’t need to calm down; he needs to calm up.) Steve suggests she ignore the card and pretend she never saw it, and she agrees. Just as they’re about to leave the house, we get our first fake-out cliffhanger chapter end, with someone’s hands wrapping themselves around Josie’s throat and squeezing!
Oh, it’s just Rachel. She acts weird now, because brain injury. She laughs like it’s the funniest thing ever, then stops abruptly when Josie tells her to. Erica comes down the stairs with Luke, Rachel’s boyfriend from before the accident, and gets mad when she realizes Josie is going out. See, Josie promised to watch Rachel so Erica can study. Erica is salty (and rightly so) because Josie always skips out on her turn to stay with Rachel. They can’t afford a full-time nurse for her, probably because they didn’t sue the stable. Chumps.
Erica sees the Valentine’s card and reads the verse out loud, which causes Rachel to burst out laughing. See, this book is going to try to make you think that Rachel is our bad guy. Either that, or it’s just casually demonizing the brain-damaged girl. Whatever it is, it feels icky.
Josie’s all, Bye bitch, and takes off with Steve, leaving Erica frustrated, Rachel insisting on having her hair brushed (the girl is obsessed with getting her hair brushed – I feel ya, girl. I love having my hair played with, too), and Luke raging about how the accident was Josie’s fault. Erica had no idea Luke had so much anger built up inside, but thinks it makes sense since he lost Rachel. Uh, Rachel’s right there. She didn’t die. Stine wants to frame her as a burden to her family, though, so . . . ugh. Everything about this feels gross. Erica wonders why Luke keeps coming around, why he hasn’t found a new girlfriend, then has the thought that he’s the one who sent the Valentine and he’s sticking around to get revenge on Josie! Okay, Erica. You calm down, and I’ll calm up, deal?
Wednesday afternoon as Josie’s leaving school, she wonders to herself if it’s ever going to stop snowing, then when Erica calls to her to wait up, she thinks that Erica isn’t as pretty as her and Rachel, and she could stand to lose some weight, too. Goddamn, Josie. Now I want to send you threatening valentines. Try this on for size: Roses are red, poison ivy is itchy, from all that I’ve seen, I’d say Josie’s quite bitchy. Thank you, I’m here all week!
Josie tells Erica she’s going to meet Steve, and Erica says that she can’t, but then gets distracted by Jenkman waving and running over to meet Josie. She ignores him and walks away, and Erica insists that Josie has to go home and take care of Rachel so she can go to drama club tryouts for Brigadoon. Josie don’t give a fuck and tells Erica she can just try out some other time. Um, Josie, that’s not really how it works. Erica follows Josie down the street, arguing, and we should get used to this because it happens ridiculously often. Erica. Tell your parents that Josie isn’t pulling her weight like she’s supposed to! Erica starts to yell that the accident was Josie’s fault, then is interrupted by a thud followed by Josie collapsing into the snow.
Not to worry, folks. It was a snowball. Dave Kinley, Josie’s ex-boyfriend and Melissa’s current, threw a snowball at Josie. But boy I’m glad we got that suitably suspenseful cliffhanger chapter end! Well done, Stine!
Dave tells her his hand slipped, and he and several other kids laugh uproariously because they’re new to earthling humor. Meanwhile, Melissa has that awkward, uncomfortable thing going on that everyone who has dated someone embarrassing is intimately familiar with. Josie and Erica fight some more until Josie reaches some sort of apparent no-man’s-land where Erica can no longer follow and instead goes back to the school to get her backpack. None of this would be an issue if the McClains had sued the stable and gotten a settlement big enough to hire full-time care for Rachel. Am I going to keep mentioning this throughout this recap? Mmm, yeah, probably.
Now we switch to Melissa’s POV while she reams Dave out about throwing the snowball at Josie. Melissa also thinks about what attracted her to Dave in the first place – his playfulness, great sense of humor, and easy-going, happy-go-lucky attitude. Um, once again the way Melissa describes someone is the polar opposite from how they’re presented in the book. Either Melissa doesn’t know what words mean, or she’s completely divorced from reality.
Melissa thinks Dave still likes Josie; he claims he hates her. He says he’s the first guy who ever dumped her; Melissa says Josie claims she dumped him. OMG teen drama. Then Dave points out that Josie dumped Melissa too, and she goes on a tangent about how she can’t forgive Josie for blaming her for Rachel’s accident, especially since it was partly Josie’s fault, and Dave tells her to calm down. You know, I’m getting real sick of these menfolk always telling the girls to calm down. When has telling someone to calm down ever improved the situation? Go ahead, think of an instance. I’ll wait.
We find out that Dave was supposed to get a job at Josie’s family’s hardware store over Christmas, but then didn’t get hired after all, and he thinks Josie convinced her dad not to hire him. Sorry, when did this book become Silent Night? Is Josie just Reva Dalby in disguise? Anyway, Melissa thinks he’s being paranoid, then starts a snowball fight with him to distract him. Nothing like a faceful of snow to take your mind off the girl you hate! They’re wrestling in the snow when they hear a crash and turn around to see that Jenkman has busted a window in the school with a snowball. What the fuck is the snow in Shadyside made of?! I’ve never seen a snowball break a window. Window glass is tough, I doubt even a snowball with a rock inside would break it. Melissa mentions that Jenkman is like a bomb about to explode, and Dave bitterly replies, “Who isn’t?” thus showcasing what an easy-going, happy-go-lucky sort of guy he is.
POV switch back to Josie. We’re only 25% of the way through this book and I’m already exhausted with this shit. Josie gets home around six, greets Muggy the Dog, calls out to her mom and gets no answer, then thinks about how Mom is always at work at the phone company and dad is always on the road checking on one of his chain of hardware stores and she doesn’t think she’s seen him in four days. Wait, is this another ghost dad (not Bill Cosby!) like in The Best Friend? Does this dad really exist?
Oh, hey, this is the first time the intercom is mentioned! There are intercoms in every room in the house in case Rachel needs something. Josie hates them because they’re always crackling and bringing echoes of voices through the house. More on this later.
Luke walks into the den and throws shade at Josie for not being around to help with Rachel so Erica could go to her drama tryouts, Josie asks him why he’s always there instead of getting a life, then things start to escalate from there and she tells him to calm down. I’m half-tempted to turn this into a drinking game, but I’m afraid I would die of alcohol poisoning in short order.
They scream at each other, then Luke picks up a letter opener and comes at Josie for another thrilling cliffhanger chapter ending. Yawn. Actually, this one might be earned. Luke suddenly realizes what he’s about to do and stabs the letter opener into the mahogany (it’s MAHOGANY!!!) desk instead of Josie’s face. Then he runs out of the house, presumably on his way to IKEA to murder some more innocent furniture. Perhaps it’s time to move on to bigger prey – a dining set maybe.
While Josie is trying to pull the letter opener out of the desk, the intercom crackles to life and Erica starts giving her shit about being late and asking if she can come upstairs, and Josie replies without moving from the desk. She holds a conversation with Erica without ever once having to walk over to the intercom to press the “talk” button. What? Stine, what witchcraft hath ye wrought? That’s not how intercoms work.
After feeling sorry for herself because everyone’s always mad at her (just spitballing here, Josie, but might that be because you’re an awful human being?), Josie notices the mail and finds another witty valentine addressed to her. This one reads:
This Valentine’s Day
No memories to save
The only flowers for you
Will be on your grave
I mean, at least the meter on this one is a little bit better. Josie looks at the calendar, realizes that Valentine’s Day is Saturday, then thinks this has to be a joke because nobody could really be planning to kill her, could they? Nah, I’m sure you’re fine, Josie. It’s not like you’re in a Fear Street book or something.
Late that night, Josie is woken up by Rachel’s voice on the intercom, begging her to come to her room. She gets out of bed and spooks herself walking in the dark down the hallway. Either this is the longest residential hallway known to man (at one point she jogs past the bathroom and guest room and still is nowhere near Rachel’s room), or it’s doing the horror movie thing where the hall just keeps getting longer and longer no matter how far or fast you run down it. When she finally reaches Rachel’s room she’s fast asleep. I mean, maybe that’s because it took you an hour to walk down the hall, Josie.
Josie goes back to her room, and just as she’s falling asleep, Rachel starts calling her through the intercom again. I’m sure you’ll be shocked when I tell you that Rachel is still fast asleep when Josie checks on her. She goes back to bed but spends the night thinking she hears breathing and laughter through the intercom. Okay, I’m thinking maybe it’s not a talk button, maybe it’s a switch? And it’s always switched on in Rachel’s room? But then nobody else would be able to talk on the intercom from any other room, right? Like, two-way conversation wouldn’t be possible. Unless they have a fast-food drive-thru window ordering type of setup. But how would that work with multiple rooms? I give up. It’s Fear Street magic, y’all.
We switch to Erica’s POV while she’s brushing Rachel’s hair, because this book hates me and wants me to run screaming into traffic. Surprise, Josie has flaked on taking care of Rachel once again, messing up Erica’s specially-rescheduled audition for the play. Erica inner monologues for a while about how much she hates Josie. Girl, you don’t need to convince me; I’m already there. Rachel tells Erica that the teacher said she was very smart in school today, then asks if Josie is her sister and says that Josie doesn’t like her anymore. Then she starts yelling that she hates Josie! Glad we have a consensus then, ladies. The phone rings and it’s Jenkman, wanting to know if Josie got his valentines? Dun-dun-DUN!!! Cliffhanger chapter end!
Stine is going to let us sweat on this one, because the next chapter starts with Melissa’s POV. Can some of these girls just die already so we don’t have to keep switching back and forth among them? This shit is exhausting for real though. The first line of this chapter has Melissa telling Dave he looks terrible “earlier that same Thursday at school.” What same Thursday? Earlier the same day Rachel and Erica form the “I Hate Josie” club? I hate the construction of this book. Someone please make it stop. Anyway, Dave looks terrible because he’s worried about a math test. We also briefly run into “Donald” Metcalf, who has been named Dave Metcalf in previous books and goes back to being Dave Metcalf later in this book. Unless Donald is his secret evil twin. Stine is obsessed with twins, so I wouldn’t put it past him. Dave (Kinley, not Metcalf) is sure he’s going to fail this test and be kicked off the wrestling team, and is all doom and gloom when Melissa tries to reassure him. So, this is the famous happy-go-lucky attitude she loves about him, right?
Somehow she, Dave, and Josie are all in the same math class, which seems unlikely in any decently-sized high school, but sure. Why not. Dave is sitting behind Josie, and after awhile she gets up to talk to the teacher, and Melissa can hear them perfectly from her seat. Josie wants to move seats because Dave is copying off her paper. Uh-oh. For some reason the teacher waits until after class to say anything to Dave, but then we find out he’s getting a zero on this test that counted for 50% of his class grade (I don’t buy this for high school. I’ve had tests in college that counted for maybe 25% of the overall grade, but it’s usually weighted so that things besides tests get counted in for credit as well. I just don’t believe one high school exam counts for half your grade, sorry.), which means he’s going to get kicked off the wrestling team, which means he won’t get a scholarship, which means he can’t go to college, which means he starts screaming in the hallway that he hates Josie McClain! Oh, that’s after he grabs her arm as she’s walking down the hall. So add physical assault to his list of attributes. I totes see why Melissa likes him. He takes off down the hall chasing Josie, leaving Melissa standing in the hall worrying what he’s going to do. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the boys of Shadyside are in serious need of a good anger management program.
Apparently Dave didn’t catch up to Josie, because we meet up with her at home that evening, studying social studies and thinking about turning Dave in for cheating and how he’s always angry about something. But no, Josie, Melissa told us he’s easy-going and has a happy-go-lucky attitude! I hate to side with Josie, but she seems a little more connected to reality than Melissa, doesn’t she? Just as Josie is thinking about how little sleep she got last night due to the intercom shenanigans, the intercom crackles to life and Rachel starts begging Josie to come to her room. Josie’s overreaction to this is priceless, screaming “No! Not again! Not again!” and running out of the house, and apparently to Steve’s, because next we know she’s with him at the ice skating rink. Okay.
They skate for a while, then get hot chocolate and talk about how much Josie hates being at home because being around Rachel makes her feel guilty and helpless. Oh, damn, Stine decided to humanize Josie for us? (I’m kinda feeling this hard right now. I just had to put my big dog to sleep a few days ago, and I’m having a hard time being at home, where everything reminds me of her, and my little dog just doesn’t take up the same space, physical or metaphysical, that my big girl did. Sorry to drag things down, guys. I miss my doggie a lot.) Then Josie insists that Erica is trying to make her feel guiltier than she already does, which kind of ruins me feeling bad for her. Steve has no idea what to say to her, because teenage boys are notoriously bad at offering comfort in uncomfortable situations, then Josie shows him another valentine she received:
Who’s sending these cards?
Don’t bother to wonder.
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll be six feet under.
Guys, I . . . I actually kind of like this one. Give me a moment to hang my head in shame. Josie is convinced it’s Jenkman sending the cards, and Steve insists that he’s weird but not a murderer. He is, however, a stalker who keeps calling Josie and following her around, and Josie is sure she sees him behind the food stand watching them, so she insists they leave. When she gets home, the kitchen light is on and she steps into something sticky on the floor that she at first thinks is cranberry juice. Nope. She sees that the back door is open, then she sees the body. It’s Muggy the Dog, with the letter opener stabbed into his stomach. Goddammit, Stine. What’s with all the dogs and cats you kill in your books? Do you also set fires and wet the bed? Do you meet the serial killer triad? I’m just trying to gauge how worried I should be here. Fuck you, quit killing dogs.
Ahem. Moving along. Rachel pops up behind Josie and starts smiling and pointing at Dead Muggy and saying, “There’s the puppy!” over and over. I really can’t decide if Stine is pushing the “Rachel is the bad guy” agenda, or if he’s really just a dick to brain-damaged people. Erica shows up and ushers Rachel out of the room, telling her not to be upset even though she’s just . . . happy to see the puppy? Even though it’s dead and bloody? This whole thing is so unnecessary.
Melissa stares across the street at the McClains’ house – she lives across the street from them, on Fear Street – and thinks about her earlier visit to their house, how Erica’s resentment at her situation is growing, and then finds herself feeling some sympathy for Josie, as well. Erica had explained that a weekend nurse was all they could afford for Rachel since the family’s hardware stores were struggling and Mrs. McClain’s salary barely covered household expenses. Is it too late to sue the stable? Seriously, call a fucking lawyer about that shit, mmkay?
She calls Dave, only to have him whine at her about how Josie totally fucked up his life, then hangs up on Melissa when she rightly points out that Josie wasn’t the one cheating on the test. Dave sucks. She looks out the window again and sees police cars at the McClains’ house, but doesn’t give enough of a shit to go find out what’s going on.
Josie and Erica are in Erica’s room talking about how the cops looked like they wanted to puke when they saw Muggy, and wondering who would do such a thing. Also, for now we’re running on the assumption it was an outside job (despite Stine trying so hard to cast suspicion on Rachel), which means these people leave their doors unlocked. When will people in teen thrillers learn? Always lock your doors! Josie demands to know how Erica didn’t hear anything, then presents her theory that it was Jenkman, which Erica shoots down because he didn’t send the threatening valentines. Oh, yeah, remember all those chapters ago when he asked Erica if Josie got his valentines? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, the valentines he was referring to were two funny ones that he signed “Secret Admirer.” Well, that’s fucking annoying. Why didn’t we know anything about these valentines? Because Stine needed to lie to us in order to string us along with that red herring? Yes, by George, I believe that’s it!
Erica insists it wasn’t Jenkman, but she thinks it was Luke. Josie thinks he’s too much of a wimp. Before they can waste too many pages with this repetitive arguing, Mom comes in and asks Josie to go brush Rachel’s hair and talk soothingly to her, as she’s very upset and excited. Because she killed the dog, I’m sure Stine wants us to believe. Because people with brain damage are creepy and evil, you know. While Josie brushes Rachel’s hair, she starts giggling and saying, “Somebody hates you, Josie.” See? According to Stine, Rachel only has two modes now – creepy and evil, or innocent and childlike. (Although, when you think about it, the two aren’t all that far apart. Children can be creepy as hell.)
The next day, the day before Valentine’s Day, Josie and Erica walk from school to the new greeting card shop. Along the way, a car backfires and Josie freaks out, thinking someone was shooting at her. I’ve never actually heard a car backfire; does it really sound like a gunshot? I feel like this is an undeserved trope. At the store, Erica spots Jenkman, who barely says hi before practically jizzing himself asking if Josie is there. He runs up on Josie, who insults him, then grabs her arm. My god, the boys of Shadyside need to go back to kindergarten and be taught all over again how to keep their hands to themselves. Seriously, if five-year-olds can figure it out, so can the high school boys. Josie accuses Jenkman of sending her the bad valentines, then of stalking her, all of which he denies. When the girls leave the shop, Erica looks back at Jenkman angrily pulling cards off the shelves and thinks that maybe he is the one sending the threats after all, since he looks mad enough to kill. Look, Erica, all the boys in Shadyside have anger management issues. If being angry is all it takes to make a killer, then everyone in this town is fucked.
On Valentine’s Day, Josie and Steve are at her house, along with Luke, who has brought Rachel a big box of chocolates. This . . . isn’t important in any way. But this is one of the Super Chillers, which are usually about 50 pages longer than your average Fear Street novel, so we gotta fill those extra pages somehow, amirite?
They mention going ice skating, but then Josie brings out another threatening card. This one says:
Roses are black,
Violets are gray,
On Valentine’s Day,
You’ll start to decay.
I don’t love this. For one thing, the rhyme scheme is weird, with the three rhyming lines in a row. For another, would you really start to decay immediately? To a noticeable point, I mean. On the other hand, it does seem like the sort of dumbass thing a teenage boy would write, so maybe I’m being too nitpicky.
Steve asks if Josie recognizes the handwriting, and wait a minute. I’ve been imagining these poems being printed in block letters. Are you telling me they’re written in actual handwriting? No attempt made to disguise the writing? Look, I know who sent these valentines, and Josie should absolutely recognize the writing, but then again she is a self-involved jerk, so maybe I expect too much.
Josie and Steve argue over whether or not to go to the ice skating rink (she’s scared and doesn’t want to, he thinks the cards are a joke and promised Donald/Dave Metcalf and Cory Brooks he’d see them there), then Rachel hits the intercom and starts telling Josie again that someone really hates her. Josie practically yanks Steve’s arm out of the socket pulling him out of the house, demanding that they go anywhere but there. Erica gets on the intercom, pissed that Josie’s going out, but like, wasn’t that the plan all along? This can’t be the first Erica is hearing about it.
When they leave the house, they somehow manage to get all the way to Steve’s car on the street before noticing Luke is still sitting in his car in the driveway. I’m not sure how that’s possible. Does peripheral vision not exist in this universe? Actually, that would explain a lot in these books. They drive down Fear Street toward the skating rink, and Josie suddenly worries that they should turn back since all the valentines said she would die today. Steve keeps driving, telling her not to worry, but she is worried. Very, very worried.
At two in the morning, Erica is the only one in the house awake, and Josie isn’t home yet. She calls Steve and finds out he and Josie had a fight and she left with some other kids. She should have been home hours ago. Then the doorbell rings and Erica hangs up on him, running downstairs and flinging the door open, crying, “Josie?”
Nope. It’s the police. The same officers, in fact, who came to the house for Muggy’s death. Either there are only two cops in all of Shadyside, or dog and human deaths are given equal weight on the force. For yes, they’re here to tell Mom (since Dad is away on a business trip *cough* he’s a ghost *cough*) that Josie has been found murdered. I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to leave the cause of death determination to the coroner, but okay. Erica rapid-fires questions at the officers, who tell her that Josie was killed with an ice skate blade to the back. I’m not sure they would be laying the graphic details on the family, especially the fourteen-year-old sister, but . . . okay, Bob. I’m done arguing. At least until the next egregiously ridiculous thing you throw at me.
Rachel comes downstairs, telling the officers that somebody really hates Josie, but Mom tells them Rachel doesn’t know what she’s saying and they should ignore her. Is there a point to this, other than pissing me off?
Next morning, Dave calls Melissa early in the morning, claiming he’s in trouble and needs to talk. She meets him at The Corner, the local coffee shop all the cool kids frequent, and he’s in a booth playing with his Swiss army knife. Because when you want people to think you’re innocent and harmless, the best way to do this is by stabbing the table in front of you! They exclaim over Josie’s death and order omelets and fries, Dave says that he did a very stupid thing, and then the waitress is magically by the table with their food. Either this is a psychic diner and the cook started on their order ten minutes before they got there, or those eggs are raw and the fries still frozen. Either one of those scenarios presents a better story than this stupid book.
Long story short, Dave sent the threatening valentines. He didn’t kill her though, cross his heart and hope to die. He meant to send her threatening Christmas cards back in December, when she talked her (non-existent) dad out of giving him a job, but he got busy and forgot about it. That’s some serious commitment there, Dave. Or maybe he realized that Reva Dalby had the lockdown on Christmas threats in Silent Night and had to wait for the next available holiday. Either way, he doesn’t have an alibi and he’s sure Josie kept the cards. Thus is born the most boneheaded plan since the last boneheaded plan in a Stine novel. The funeral will be the next day (two days after the body of the murder victim was found? Doubtful.), so Dave will sneak into the house and steal the incriminating cards back. Okay, sure, what could go wrong.
Dave parks down the street and makes his way to the McClains’ house, thinking about how everyone is at the funeral, and school was closed so that Josie’s friends could attend. Excuse me? That would never happen. Unless we’ve wandered into Sweet Valley by mistake, during that time when the Wakefield twins’ evil twin’s evil twin killed her twin by mistake and everyone thought it was Jessica and Sweet Valley High was closed down so that everyone could mourn Sweet Valley’s favorite sociopath. (Seriously, the Sweet Valley evil twin saga is quite a trip. I highly recommend.)
Dave decides to try the doors to see if they are by some miracle unlocked, and of course the front door is unlocked! What. The. Fuck. Your daughter was murdered and you’re still going off, leaving your front door unlocked? Good lord.
He creeps through the house like the creepy burglar he is, then thinks he hears static and breathing from the intercom. He calls out to the intercom, asking if anyone is there, proving that no one in this book understands how intercoms work, then makes his way up to Josie’s room, muttering to himself the whole way. Now, I hate it when people talk to themselves out loud (keep your running commentary in your head, dammit!), but it’s incredibly stupid to talk out loud to yourself when you’re, you know, breaking and entering. Or, just entering I guess, since no one wants to lock their fucking doors on Fear Street.
Dave can’t find the cards, but then he hears a noise and opens the door to the hall to leave, and what follows is . . . a swirl of confusion. Puddles and pools of red, screaming, a sound of thunder that turns out to be footsteps. I’m wondering when Dave had the opportunity to drop acid during all of this, because some kind of trip is definitely how this shit reads. Anyway, two cops (I wonder if they’re the Dead Muggy and Dead Josie cops?) turn on the lights, yell at Dave to drop it while reaching for their guns, and Dave realizes he’s holding a bloody letter opener and standing over a stabbed Erica. Sooo, is this the same letter opener that stabbed Muggy? Didn’t the police take that into evidence? Or do the McClains just hoard letter openers? We may never know. What we do know is that Part One ends with the cops telling Dave he’s in a lot of trouble. Mm-hmm. Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Part Two starts up a year later, and now Melissa is dating Luke. I guess he finally stopped sending all his money to televangelists, praying for Rachel to be normal again, and moved on to the next available girl across the street. Location, location, location!
We find out that Erica is alive, she didn’t see who stabbed her, Dave couldn’t be charged with anything and was sent to a boarding school upstate, and Melissa has just received a letter from him, which surprises Luke for some reason. I guess keeping in touch with people is a foreign concept to the guy who couldn’t let go of his brain damaged girlfriend for months and months.
Luke invites Melissa to a Valentine’s Day ice skating party on Fear Lake, which sounds like another “what could go wrong” moment, then Melissa finds a threatening valentine in her stack of mail. This one reads:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll be dead too.
Meh, whatevs. Oh, cliffhanger chapter end, by the way. Now we switch over to Erica. At least with Josie dead there’s less POV jumping. Erica is, surprise surprise, brushing Rachel’s hair. Rachel asks if Luke is coming to see her, Erica reminds her that Luke isn’t coming to see her anymore because he’s with Melissa now, and Rachel starts shouting that she hates Melissa! Oh, god, can we be done with this book already? It’s so fucking repetitive, I feel like I’m reading the back of a shampoo bottle – lather, rinse, repeat. Into infinity. Until you die.
Steve calls to ask Erica out to the ice skating Valentine’s Day party on the evil lake (Fear Lake is not a cuddly place), and she starts to say yes, then realizes that she has to take care of Rachel that night because her mom has somewhere to go and Dad only exists in her head. When she gets back to Rachel’s room, she’s gone. Erica scours the house, then realizes the front door is wide open, because apparently nobody is worried enough about their brain damaged daughter wandering out of the house on her own to put any sort of lock on it.
Rachel pops out from behind a tree in the yard, delighted at the idea that she scared Erica. Erica wonders if Rachel knows more than she lets on, and describes her look as “evil glee.” Cause we gotta keep leaning heavy on that whole “brain damaged = evil and creepy” trope.
Back to Melissa, because I haven’t suffered enough today. She’s shoving a new valentine into Luke’s face and demanding he read it. This one says:
Flowers mean funerals
Flowers mean death.
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll take your last breath.
This one is worlds better than the previous ones. Gonna wager a bet that it wasn’t written by Dave. Luke insists that it’s probably a joke, despite the fact that the last person to receive cards like this was fucking murdered, and then Melissa fixes him some hot chocolate like a dutiful little wifey. Her parents think it’s a sick joke, too, but still advise her to keep the doors locked. I was convinced that houses on Fear Street don’t come equipped with locks. Shows what I know.
They get the bright idea to compare the writing on the valentine to the letter Melissa got from Dave, because it only just now occurred to them that Dave sent the cards last year and this is kind of his jam? I don’t know, all these characters are stupid and I hate them. Before Melissa can grab the letter from her desk, Dave’s mom calls and asks if she’s seen him, because he ran away from his boarding school and no one knows where he is. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. Just keep your door locked, Melissa. It’s not like that’s a problem for anyone in Shadyside or anything.
They compare the handwriting, and lo and behold, it’s Dave’s! Dave is coming to kill Melissa, because . . . reasons. And because forging handwriting isn’t a thing anyone could possibly do, ever.
Melissa goes across the street to tell Erica the news, and Erica freaks the fuck out, telling Melissa she’s sure Dave is the one who killed Josie and stabbed her, and now he’s coming back to finish the job. Then Melissa tells her about the valentines she’s been getting, and Erica seems relieved that Dave is coming to kill Melissa instead. Or maybe that’s just how I read it. Did I mention I hate all these characters?
Erica’s mom tells her that her dad is coming home tomorrow and actually going to stay for a while, and Erica is thrilled because she’s almost forgotten what he looks like. It’s played as a joke, but I think it’s serious. Dad is a ghost and no one remembers what he looks like because he’s not corporeal most of the time. Mom goes out and Erica spends the evening studying, until she hears a noise in the den and goes to investigate instead of doing anything sensible like running the fuck away or calling the cops. It’s okay though. It’s just Luke, leaving a valentine for Rachel. He sneaked in because he didn’t want to disturb anyone. So you’re telling me that these fucking idiots still aren’t locking the goddamn door? One daughter murdered, one daughter stabbed, and we’re still leaving doors wide the fuck open? Have they gotten around to installing a neon sign above the porch yet that reads “vulnerable teenage girls all alone here, right this way murderers, rapists, and thieves!” or nah?
Across the street, Melissa loses a game of Scrabble to her dad (we’ve seen both of her parents? what is even happening right now?!) then goes to bed but can’t fall asleep. Just as she finally drifts off, Dave breaks into her room through her window. Or, more accurately, he opens the window, because I’m sure the mere concept of putting locks on windows would make the Fear Street residents’ heads explode. Melissa is freaked out, and Dave takes this as evidence that she thinks he’s guilty too. No, you fuckwit, you just broke into her house in the middle of the night!
Dave insists that he knows who the real killer is and he’s back in town to prove it! I mean, there’s a pretty limited pool of suspects when you really think about it, so the fact that Dave figured it out after a year of hard thinking isn’t really all that impressive. Melissa asks why he sent her those disgusting valentines, and of course he has no idea what she’s talking about. But after he looks at them, he jumps up exclaiming that now he knows who the killer is! But, I thought you already knew . . . . He jumps out the window and into the tree without telling Melissa who the killer is, because why bother warning the next intended target who to look out for.
The next day Melissa watches Rachel while Erica takes care of some stuff, I don’t even give a fuck what at this point, and Rachel keeps insisting that she goes out by herself. This is made a big deal of, but it’s ultimately pointless and I hate it. She says the same thing to Erica, who tells her that no she doesn’t, she has to wait for someone to take her outside. I. Don’t. Care.
Melissa tells Erica about her visit from Dave, and Erica demands to know who Dave thinks killed Josie and stabbed her. Then Rachel starts laughing and chanting that someone hates Erica. Jesus Christ, I feel like I’m rereading Part One, just with the names changed.
Late that night, Melissa is studying and hears a noise outside. When she goes to look, all she sees is a girl with long red hair running away, but she can’t see the girl’s face. Convenient. Mom and Dad heard the noise too, and called the police. Guess they’re a little jumpier than they initially let on. Melissa tells them she saw Rachel outside and they react as if she told them the Loch Ness monster was partying with Bigfoot out on the front lawn. They insist that Rachel can’t go out by herself, and what the fuck, people. There are no locks on the doors preventing her from leaving the house. She’s not physically incapable of leaving the house. Why the disbelief?
The police show up and ask when did they discover the body of the teenage boy on their driveway, and Mom and Dad are all like, Whaaaat?
Melissa starts screaming, begging it not to be Luke, and then we switch over to Erica again, because everyone loves a cliffhanger. Erica’s trying to go to bed when Rachel starts calling through the intercom for Erica to come dance the hokey pokey with her. Nah, just kidding. She wants her to brush her hair. Fucking hell. The cops show up at the door, and once again Mom is the only one there. I thought Dad was supposed to be home now? Or did I mix up what day it is? Ugh. The cops ask to talk to her daughter and of course she thinks they mean Erica, but they’re really talking about Rachel. Then they reveal that the body in the driveway was Dave. He was stabbed. They insist on talking to Rachel, even though Mom icily tells them that Rachel cannot leave the house by herself. Jesus Christ, you people don’t even lock your doors and you think an able-bodied teenage girl can’t open the goddamn door? A raccoon can open a door; do you think your daughter is less capable than a raccoon?!
Erica leads the cops up to Rachel’s room, where she again states that Rachel can’t leave the house by herself, and Rachel protests that she goes out by herself all the time! You tell them, Rachel.
Skip to a few days later as Erica and Melissa are leaving school. Erica fills Melissa in, telling her that as soon as the cops started talking to Rachel they realized it couldn’t have been her. Melissa tells her she’s going to the skating party Sunday night, and Erica’s going, too, even though she doesn’t have a date. Melissa opens her locker after Erica takes off down the hall, and here we get the scene from the book cover – someone has painted a broken heart in red paint on the inside of the locker door, along with the words YOU’RE DEAD. I’m just grateful the killer knows the difference between you’re and your. If this happened today, that would definitely say YOUR DEAD and I would be forced to ask “My dead what?”
Valentine’s Day is finally here! I only care because it means we’re almost done with this piece of shit book. Melissa and Luke are at Fear Lake for the skating party, and she’s wearing her dad’s coat that’s several sizes too big for her because she’s a terrible skater and figures she’ll need the extra padding. Whoop. She’s still worried about the valentine threats, but Luke just wants to have fun. Someone points out where the ice is thin and tells them to stay away from that area. I just want to know why the danger zones aren’t marked? I mean, I know it’s for plot contrivance, but still. Why aren’t the danger zones marked?
Melissa is a terrible skater and keeps falling, so Luke leads her off to a deserted area of the ice to “give her lessons.” Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Oh, turns out this area is deserted because the ice is thin and cracking. Luke is either the killer or an idiot. Stine wants us to think it’s the former with this exciting cliffhanger chapter end, but it turns out Luke is just a horny moron who wanted to get Melissa alone so he could mack on her. Dude. You have a car, there’s no need to risk drowning and hypothermia for dat ass. Melissa reacts poorly to Luke’s idiocy, and sends him off to skate by himself while she pulls herself together. I mean, I get it, I need to be alone when I’m pissed off too, but nobody’s currently sending me death threats, either. Maybe don’t be alone in a dark, deserted, thin ice area of the lake?
Melissa realizes she shouldn’t be alone out here, but before she can make it back to the party, a hooded figure starts skating menacingly toward her. They have a knife in their hand, headed straight for her! Melissa can see long red hair, but not a face, and then the skater crashes into her and stabs the knife into her side!
It’s okay, remember the oversized coat she’s wearing? The knife never touches her body. As she’s trying to stand up, she grabs “Rachel’s” hair and it comes off – it’s a wig! The killer is Erica! Are you shocked? This is the shit I remembered on page one, although I had forgotten that Josie died. I was hoping I’d remembered wrong and the killer was actually Josie, sending the valentines to herself because she felt so guilty about the accident and her shitty treatment of her sisters. I think that could have made a more interesting story, but we’re stuck with this trash instead. So, Erica killed Josie because she was responsible for Rachel’s accident but wouldn’t take responsibility for her afterward. When Dave started sending the threatening valentines, she saw her chance to kill Josie. Then she stabbed herself when Dave broke in, because it was the perfect opportunity to frame him and throw suspicion off herself. Okay, cool story. Dave had to die because he was figuring things out. Well, no shit, it was only the two of them in the house when she was stabbed; who the fuck else could it be? (Okay, Rachel was there too, but she was too obvious a red herring.) Now Melissa has to die, because she took everything away from Rachel, including Luke, and now that Rachel doesn’t have Luke, Erica is even more of a prisoner. And she wears the wig because this is Rachel’s revenge as well, and by wearing the wig she can feel like Rachel is a part of it. Hmm. I wonder if any of this would have happened if the McClains had sued the stable and been able to hire a full-time caretaker for Rachel.
There’s some predictable ableism with Melissa calling Erica crazy, because of course being resentful and full of homicidal malice is exactly the same thing as an imbalance of brain chemicals, then Luke skates toward them as the ice starts cracking beneath them. The girls both go in the water, Luke manages to pull Melissa out but can’t grab Erica, who goes under the ice shouting that she did it all for Rachel.
Three weeks later, Luke and Melissa finish up a visit to Rachel, then kiss in the driveway, vowing to never celebrate Valentine’s Day again, and instead to send each other Groundhog’s Day cards. Ugh, I hate these cutesy endings.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Kill it. Kill it with fire.
Wait, I do have a couple things to say. At first I thought this was one of those books where the internal dialogue lies to us, but then I realized it actually isn’t. Erica really does wonder who was sending Josie the valentines since she actually didn’t send those ones. When she’s supposedly worried about Josie not coming home the night she was murdered, she’s really just putting on a show for others – she calls Steve to establish that she doesn’t know where Josie is and why she’s not home, she flings open the door to greet the cops acting like she thinks it’s Josie because she’s not supposed to know Josie’s dead yet. Every time something like this happens, it’s an act for someone else. It’s deceptive, but no more so than any other unreliable narrator. Her inner dialogue never lies to us, and for some reason that pisses me off more than if it did. I have to grudgingly admit that that part was actually pretty well constructed. Everything else, however . . . Ugh, I hate it. It’s so repetitive and annoying, the characters are either dumb or hateful, and the way Rachel’s character is handled is . . . not great. I don’t know a lot about brain injuries, but her characterization squicks me out on many levels. Anyway, if I had remembered which book this was when I read the description, I never would have bought it. At least it was cheap.