Title: Spring Break
Author: Barbara Steiner
Tagline: Sun, surf . . . murder?
Description: Five high school kids get their dream vacation—which soon turns into a nightmare.
Angie, her brother, and her three best friends anticipate the perfect spring break when their prayers are answered—a beach vacation without parents! The only problem is finding somewhere to stay—turns out every hotel is filled with other spring breakers. They luck out when they find a three-story beach-house rental, which happens to be run by the incredibly handsome Val. Is it too good to be true?
Soon, Angie starts hearing strange noises—footsteps, a mysterious sound of crying. Her friends say her imagination is getting the best of her, but when one by one, they go missing, she knows the danger is real . . . and this vacation could be her last.
Um, I got nothing, guys. I would have been about 15 when this book was published, and it’s certainly the sort of thing I would have read, but even after reading it for this recap I have no idea if I’ve ever read it before. (I bought it cheap on Kindle; it didn’t come out of my basement box of old books.) This book is so forgettable that it’s absolutely possible I read it back in the day and don’t remember it. Hell, I’m looking at the surfboard on that cover and desperately trying to remember if anyone surfs in this book. Incidentally, that’s not the cover art that came with my Kindle version. The Kindle art is boring as fuck; there’s another cover that is basically one big spoiler for what happens at the end of the book; then there’s this cover that I feel is the best one. I just can’t fucking remember if anyone surfs, so I can’t call out if this cover is a lie. [Note from Future Me: It’s a lie. Nary a surfboard to be found.] The description is a lie, though! Val is not the caretaker or landlord or whatever that description is trying to make you believe. He’s a cute guy Angie meets on the beach, who’s camping somewhere down the coast. Who writes these lying descriptions, anyway? I won’t lie to you, y’all!
We open with Angie Hendrix, her older brother Justin, her friend Paula Lantz, her other friend Kerry Cole, and Kerry’s boyfriend Chad Grindle all piled into Kerry’s Jeep, heading south out of Houston. It’s Spring Break, and Paula gleefully sings out “No more teachers, no more books!” and I want to believe she’s actually singing Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” but I seriously doubt it. Paula whispers to Angie to change seats with her at the next light, because Paula wants to sit next to Justin. Angie is oblivious to her friend having the hots for her brother, because Angie can’t imagine anyone finding her brother attractive. He’s just a dork who’s reading a book about identifying birds on the Texas coast. But he’s the whole reason Angie is allowed to go on an unsupervised Spring Break – even though he’s still in high school as well, Justin is eighteen and therefore a legal adult, able to supervise the other high school kids. Okay, Angie’s parents. Sure. Also, he’s one of those old fuddy-duddy eighteen-year-olds, so yay?
Oh, now we find out about the sixth passenger in the Jeep – Brandy, Chad’s chocolate Lab! Doggie! Despite the typically feminine name, Brandy is a boy dog. Also, he was “tucked into the front-seat floor” and lol no. No Labrador-sized dog is going to fit on the floor of the front seat if someone is sitting in the seat. Nice try, though.
As they’re driving, Angie thinks about how perfect Kerry is, and it sounds to me like someone has a crush on her friend. Kerry has perfectly curled blond hair, is beautiful, smart, and mechanical – she restored the Jeep with minimal help from her dad. All right, whose Mary Sue is Kerry? Through some joking around, we find out that Justin wants to write the Great American Novel. So, we should prepare ourselves for Justin to be insufferable and pretentious, right?
They make their way to Galveston, and wonder if they’ll be able to find a place to stay. Because it didn’t occur to anyone to make reservations anywhere because they didn’t think it would be so crowded. Oh, kids. It’s spring break, of course everything is all filled up. They’ve reached the end of the island, and I just had to Google “is Galveston an island?” It is. Sorry, Texans. I’ve mostly just driven through your state, except for two weeks I spent in Dallas. Geography isn’t my strongest suit. Anyway. They’ve reached the end of the island, and every possible place they could stay is all booked up. Not to worry, though! As Justin points out, they brought camping equipment!
The kids get out of the Jeep (and Chad lets Brandy just run around without a leash, goddammit) and head into a little general store to load up on supplies. While inside, they inquire about places to stay, and the woman behind the counter informs them that people are probably getting good money for closets and garages by now. Okay, but what about hen houses and outhouses?
General Store Lady then tells them that Eldon Minor has been working on the old Jamison place for almost a year, and it might be in livable shape if they’re not particular. Lady, they’re about to go pitch tents on the beach. They’re not particular, okay? Then the lady tells them there’s one problem with the house – people say it’s haunted. Oh, really? Haunted, you say?
The kids have a variety of reactions to the “haunted” bombshell – most are skeptical, but Justin is pumped, thinking it’ll give him inspiration to write ghost stories when he gets home. Yeah. Okay, Justin. Fucking hell you’re annoying. Paula teases him about it, calling him “Edgar Allen” and telling him that maybe they can find some ravens for him while they’re out there. General Store Lady misses the reference and informs them that there actually is a bird sanctuary near the house, which is pretty isolated. Of course it’s isolated. All haunted houses are isolated, aren’t they?
General Store Lady calls Eldon Minor for them, and we find out her name is Myra Adams. She sets up a meeting for them, and they drive to his house – not the house they’re going to be renting. I missed this detail at first, because the description in this book is very light. Anyway, Angie thinks Eldon is a creepy old man, hunched over and nearly bald. C’mon Angie, don’t be that way. I’m sure he has a great sense of humor. They find out that Eldon will be working on the house while they’re staying there, but there aren’t any neighbors nearby. Well, yeah – isolated, remember? Then he mentions the birds and asks if the kids like birds. Enter Justin and all his bird knowledge to endear them to Eldon. Paula asks if there are any ravens just to fuck with Justin, and so far I really like Paula, despite her attraction to Justin. I can’t remember if I like her this much through the rest of the book, but right now I’m digging her.
The kids follow Eldon down a deserted beach road and get their first view of the house. Angie thinks it looks like it deserves a ghost, and Justin claims he’d be disappointed if it doesn’t have a ghost. Well, prepare for disappointment, kids, because it’s never fucking haunted, okay? Then Paula tells Justin he’s good with words, so he should describe the house to them. The house that they’re looking right at. Because Steiner doesn’t want to use her own words to describe it, so Justin has to? This is bullshit. And Justin’s “good words” to describe this place?
“Well, it’s three-story, kind of square, except for the trimmed-off corners on either side of the roof. I’ll bet there’s a big room behind that dormer in front with the rounded window and the deck.”
He has the best words, bigly. Angie says the house is lonely, and Justin tells her that houses don’t have feelings; it’s her imagination. You know, because his description was so poetic and shit. At least Angie put some feeling into it, damn. Then Kerry thinks she sees a curtain move on the second floor, and Chad tells her it must have been her imagination. Look, Gary Busey is definitely not living in your walls, okay?
They negotiate a rental price with Eldon, and he shows them the fuse box and switch for the water pump. Angie wanders off, wondering about who would haunt a house like this, who would abandon this house and leave all their furnishings and photographs behind? I don’t recall photographs ever being mentioned before or after this, but okay. It’s pretty much game over if there are photos displayed here, but whatever.
Angie spooks herself going up to the second floor, and decides to wait to explore until they can all do it together. Then she grabs Paula and suggests all the girls sleep in the same room. Safety in numbers! I’m pretty sure Chad and Kerry would want their own room to bone down in, but so many of these teen thrillers were so damn Puritanical that sure, why not. No teenager has ever had sex on spring break away from their parents. Mmkay.
Angie and Paula pick out a room (no word on where Kerry is) and go out on the balcony to take a look around. They see Eldon come out of the house and look up at them, and Paula says that he gives her the creeps and she hopes he won’t hang around all week. Uh, they already know he’s gonna be working on the house while they’re there, so . . . what the hell, Paula.
After Eldon leaves, Kerry somehow knows exactly which room the other girls are in and psychically picked up on the idea that they’re all staying in the same room, because she walks immediately into the room with her portable CD player, suitcase, and sleeping bag. They decide to go swimming before it’s pitch black out, and Angie starts to exclaim “Last one in’s a – ” but alas, we never get to find out what because at that very moment the sound of music and laughter floats in to them from . . . somewhere. Not spooky ghost music, either. Dance music, party music. It’s never stated what the music actually is, but I like to imagine it’s very heavy on the Take That and Color Me Badd. Also, I don’t know why they go straight to “haunting” rather than wondering if one of the boys is playing a radio somewhere else in the house. Meh. I want it to be a cool, partying ghost.
Oh, okay, they tell us the sound is coming from the attic in the next chapter. Steiner is really bad at description. The girls immediately think it’s a ghost and freak out, wanting to know if they should go back to town to find another place to stay, or find a camping spot. Well, that escalated quickly. The girls must really hate Madonna. They decide to stay, but spend as much time outside as possible. Ghosts hate the beach, obviously.
They get to the beach and decide not to tell the boys what they heard. Instead, they scream and splash and make as much noise as possible so they won’t be scared any more. Sure. Walking back to the house, Angie asks Justin if he really believes in ghosts – he does – and if ghosts can ever be nice – they can. Not sure what makes him such a fucking expert. Angie finally realizes he’s flirting with Paula, which she finds strange but interesting since she’s always thought of her brother as a super dweeb. A. Super. Dweeb. Wow.
Angie tells the boys about the noise they heard, and now it was coming from where Justin said there was a room behind the dormer windows. How the fuck do they know exactly where it was coming from? In my house, I can’t tell if sounds are coming from upstairs or my next-door neighbors. Paula says she thinks the music was the Doobie Brothers, then immediately says she doesn’t know who it was, just “some obscure rock band.” So, the Doobie Brothers was her idea of a joke? Also, Angie said it was dance music, not rock music. Did they all hear different music? Because that would be an actually interesting haunting story. BTW, I’ve officially lost my affection for Paula at this point.
Chad states to Justin that these women are trying to scare them, and are they going to allow that? He’s such a Chad. Justin believes them, though, and insists they come get him next time they hear it, because he finds it fascinating.
They fix some spaghetti for dinner, then hear the music again. Justin gets everyone hyped to go check it out, and Angie (known as the daring one of the group, although she’s been dragging her heels on this whole ghost thing) leads the way up the stairs. They think the sound is coming from the third floor, but apparently there’s no staircase going to the third floor. This gets really confusing later on, so I’ll hit that when we get there. For now, they can’t find a staircase on the second floor leading up, so they think maybe there’s a set of servant stairs in the kitchen that go all the way up. They find a back stairway in the pantry and follow it up to what they think must be the second floor landing, but there’s no door. Okay. They keep going and come out in the west wing of the third floor, which is all dusty and unused. There’s a wall that Justin thinks must be a sealed-off room, even though nothing in the description would lead us to think that.
Brandy the dog starts whining and pawing at the wall, and then proper soft, dreamy, haunting music starts up, along with arguing voices – a soft female voice and a begging child’s voice. Then tragic sobbing. So, maybe it is just Gary Busey hiding in your attic.
Chad and Kerry figure it’s an actual living person, not a ghost, so they start knocking on the wall and calling out, asking if someone needs help. Brandy the dog jumps up and barks at the wall, too. The sounds stop, and Angie suggests finding another way into the room. Or, you know, any way in at all. Paula’s like, nope fuck that, and they all run downstairs and make hot cocoa instead. They decide the house really is haunted and it’s funny.
Chad and Kerry take off to the beach to look at the stars or something, and Justin and Paula have a heart to heart, leaving Angie feeling jealous and left out. She throws an inner monologue pity party and runs out of the room with her cocoa, crying. In her room, on the balcony, she imagines what her friends are doing – Chad and Kerry wrapped up in each other, Paula telling Justin about her abusive, controlling father – then she hears a voice whisper “Pssst. Pssst. Who are you? Welcome.”
Oh, the “ghost” is welcoming you! That’s good, right? Maybe not, because then the French doors swing shut and lock Angie outside. Oh. Okay then.
She runs to the next set of doors on the balcony, because I guess some of the balconies are connected (but not all), but they’re locked, so she starts screaming for Kerry and Chad down on the beach. Kerry finally hears her and comes up to let her in, but starts laughing at her because the door isn’t locked at all! At this point Angie is huddled in a corner of the balcony crying, so maybe laughing at her isn’t the way to go here, Kerry. Angie curls up under some blankets and tells Kerry about the voice and being locked out, Paula and Justin pop in for a second to mock her and then run back out giggling with each other. Kerry claims she believes Angie, and then falls asleep within a few seconds of lying down, leaving Angie awake and freaked out.
Angie awakes the next morning feeling silly for the way she acted the night before. She even wonders if Justin and Paula locked her out, even though Justin has never been the sort of big brother who teases his little sister. Wait, there are big brothers who don’t tease their little sisters? When I was five, my big brother (who had to have been 17 or 18 at the time) told me that McDonald’s put worms in their chicken nuggets. I didn’t touch a McNugget again until I was well into my twenties. What is it like to have a big brother who doesn’t tease?
Angie puts on her swimsuit and a sweatshirt, then tiptoes downstairs (she’s the only one up) and makes a pot of coffee. She sits out by the beach drinking her coffee until the caffeine hits her and she decides to go for a swim. Usually when caffeine hits me, I need to poop, not swim, but to each their own I guess.
She swims so far out that the house looks like a sand castle, then she wonders what a haunted house is supposed to look like. She also convinces herself that it was Paula and Justin who locked her out. Mmkay, sure. Finally her growling stomach convinces her to go back to the house to eat some breakfast, but she’s been floating in the ocean for so long now that she can’t see the house. She swims back to shore and starts walking and jogging along the beach (hopefully in the right direction), when she realizes there’s a boy running after her! She starts running away, but he calls after her to stop and he didn’t mean to scare her. To which she asks the logical question – “Then why did you chase me?”
He doesn’t actually answer her, but he does ask her what she’s doing out there and then smiles at her, and since he’s young and looks like Brad Pitt, this is enough to ease Angie’s fears. Oh, girl. For every creepy-looking serial killer out there, there’s a handsome, charming Ted Bundy type, okay? She asks him if he’s camping on the beach and if he’s on spring break, and of course he says yes. She tells him she’s staying with four friends and he correctly guesses they’re in the old Jamison house. He used to live in the area but moved to Houston. Angie invites him to the house for breakfast, and I’d like to point out that they haven’t even introduced themselves yet. Fucking hell. Also, stranger danger and all that, I don’t know, this shit happens so often in these books that I wonder if I even need to keep pointing it out.
When they come up on the house, he asks her if she’s heard about it being haunted. She plays it off like they don’t believe in ghosts, then thinks to herself that she should ask him later if he knew the Jamisons. Yes, Angie. You should absolutely ask him that.
The rest of the group is in the kitchen and surprised that Angie brought some complete rando into the house for breakfast, and here she suddenly realizes she doesn’t know his name. It’s Val Jensen, and Paula asks if that’s Val as in Kilmer, or Valentine as in Saint. Hey, had Val Kilmer been in The Saint at this point? I feel like that was still a couple years away. Anyway, this Val isn’t really sure who Val Kilmer is, and Paula’s like uh, he’s only the new Batman; where have you been? That’s . . . a very good question, Paula. (Although, I have some stellar stories about an ex, code named Beavis, who couldn’t come up with names of actors if you tortured him. I once spent ten minutes on the phone with him trying to puzzle out that the movie he was watching was Lethal Weapon, because he kept trying to describe Mel Gibson to me as “the human guy from that TV show, Alien.” He meant the human cop on the TV series Alien Nation, who is decidedly not Mel Gibson. Fun times.)
Angie deflects by offering Val some coffee, then he settles into a comfortable silence while the others have conversation. Nowhere in any of this are we told that anyone introduced themselves to him, so I guess Val doesn’t get to know any of these little shits’ names. That’s just good writing right there, guys. Then Justin invites Val to stay at the house with them, because none of these kids got the Ted Bundy memo. Val declines, but says he’ll probably come around a lot and bring them fish for dinner because he likes to fish. He asks Angie if she likes to fish, and her friends laugh at her because she’s grossed out by fish. Not by fishing, which is what he asked about, but grossed out by eating anything with “a silver body on a plate with an eyeball staring at her.” What? Has Angie only ever been served whole fish? Has she never heard of fillets? Never had fish and chips? Never been to Long John fucking Silvers? This girl is ridiculous. Anyway, because she’s hot for this total stranger and thinks God sent him to her because He finally realized that five was an uneven number, she says she could learn to like fishing. Because lying about liking everything a boy likes is the surest way to win his heart, y’all!
Plans are made to go bird watching at the marsh later that day, and it sounds like Val is going to come with them, so Angie runs off to take a shower. If she’s been swimming in the ocean, she probably smells like fish, despite her hatred of them, so a shower is probably a good call. When she’s clean and dressed, she finds Eldon Minor planting something at one of the corners of the house, and her friends playing Frisbee with Brandy on the beach. Where are these magical dogs who don’t run away when they’re off-leash? My little dog stays close, but my big dog (RIP) always made a game out of running away from me whenever she accidentally got off-leash. I was always convinced she would follow some scent down the street and I’d never see her again.
Val comes up behind Angie and she talks about her friends – Chad wants to be a vet; Kerry wants to be a mechanical engineer. Angie has no idea why anyone would want to do that, but Kerry is a super mechanic. Um, I’m pretty sure that’s not really what mechanical engineering is, but sure. Then Val asks if she’s a super mechanic for a girl, and here we go with the whole Point Horror even-if-he’s-not-the-killer-he’s-still-terrible thing. Angie says no, she’s good for anyone, and Justin can’t even change a tire on his bike. But he’ll probably be a best-selling author and hire people to do everything for him. Well, not if that description of the house was any indication of his prose abilities.
Angie spends some time wondering if Val likes her, then he abruptly decides not to go birding with them and runs off. Hmm, mixed signals much? Eldon Minor sneaks up on Angie and asks who “that boy” was, and Angie goes off at him, asking if he wants to charge them more rent because they have a friend. Damn, calm down, girl.
Angie adds up with Paula what they know about Val, which isn’t a lot, then whines about him apparently liking to spend time alone. Girl, you’ve known him for an hour; you’re certainly not entitled to his time. Having said that, he’s obviously the killer or whatever type of villain this book has set up for us, but still. Slow your roll.
While the other girls are getting ready for the day, Angie asks them if they heard the ghost this morning. Nope. Kerry thinks ghosts only come out at night, then tells Angie she’s glad she met Val because he’s gorgeous. Yeah, I keep forgetting that looks are all that matter in a potential love interest, and “gorgeous” automatically means “good person.” Silly me. Kerry tries to assure her that Val will probably gather up his camping stuff on the beach and come stay with them in the house, but Angie is beyond skeptical. Boy, they’re mighty sure that he’s not already staying in the house without them knowing it, aren’t they? (Sorry if I’m being unduly spoilery in this one, but I’d never read this book before and still had this much figured out by this point. Barbara Steiner is not a good mystery writer.)
They head outside and find old Eldon with the hood of Kerry’s Jeep up, looking at the engine. Kerry doesn’t equivocate, but lets Eldon know straight-up she doesn’t like people messing with her vehicle – she put a lot of work into restoring it and she’s protective of it. Maybe Kerry is the female character we can root for? Because she’s pretty badass right here.
They head in the direction of the marsh, and Angie has some snacks in a fanny pack. A fanny pack! Oh, 1996, don’t you dare change! Justin and Paula flirt, they look at some birds, and then Angie spots Val through the binoculars. He joins the group, then says some wistful stuff about wishing he had known Angie longer and that he could keep seeing her when they get back to Houston. Look, you supposedly live in the same city; what’s the problem? Unless, you know, that’s not the whole story or something.
Angie invites Val to come home with them for a hamburger and hot dog cookout and a moonlight swim. Is it already dinner time? This is another one of those books where time moves really strangely, isn’t it? Paula tells Val he can unwrap the wieners, and he replies that he can even butter the buns. Sorry, exactly when did this turn into a porno?
Kerry jokes that if Val stays late enough, he might even hear their ghost. Oh, Kerry. I’m not saying Val is the “ghost,” I’m just saying I’ve never seen Val and the ghost in the same room.
They gather wood for a bonfire. Eldon is nosy about it, but Justin puts him off politely. Okay, I admit it – every group needs a Justin. While the girls change back into their swimsuits, Paula teases Angie that Eldon is sweet on her. Ah-ha-ha, hypothetical pedophilia is hilarious! Then Angie suggests that she wouldn’t put it past Eldon to be the one playing ghost to scare them, then, then she references a movie where some guy a couple had rented to was hiding in their attic watching them. Uh, guys? Did Angie just reference Hider in the House, the Gary Busey movie I keep referencing in this recap (and at least one other)? Because that’s buck wild. It’s also pretty obvious that Barbara Steiner lifted a good portion of that premise for this book, but still. Wild.
The group swims and has typical beach fun, despite indications that a storm may be moving in within the next couple days. Val is casual about it, saying that you can still go out in a storm. Yeah, but don’t be a dummy about it. I love sitting outside watching lightning during thunderstorms, knowing full well I’m tempting electrocution. I am a dummy about it. Don’t be like me.
We find out once they race back to shore that Val and Angie were, according to Paula, at least a mile out. Look, I haven’t lived by the ocean since I was a kid, but that doesn’t sound right. A mile out in the ocean? Swimmers, let me know. That’s not a recommended distance to swim out to sea, is it?
Kerry, Chad, Justin, and Paula go off to find more wood for the bonfire (or maybe do other activities involving “wood”), leaving Val and Angie to cook. Val mentions that Paula reminds him of his sister, in personality if not looks. This is the first time he’s mentioned family – older sister, and his parents are still together. He acts like it’s unusual for anyone’s parents to be divorced, and I’m suddenly wondering if he’s a time traveler from the 1950s.
Val points out that Eldon must still be around since his truck is out back, and both he and Angie find it strange that he’s still hanging around after renting the place out. Once more, kids – you knew this was the deal when you rented the place. Fucking hell.
They eat and sit around the bonfire, and once again the offer is made to Val that he can stay in the house with them if he wants – it’s so big that it must have been a hotel at some point. Val says that no, the original owners had lots of kids. Then he declines the offer again, but says he’ll move in if it rains. You know, after pretending he’s not already living in the house. Again, we have kids who can’t add two plus two.
Paula says that Justin is working on a ghost story, and he produces his idea notebook – he has to carry it around everywhere because you never know when a great idea will hit and he has to write it down before he forgets it. No offense to writers who actually do this, but this shit is obnoxious. Then he reads a line he just wrote: “The fire burned low, which encouraged the vampire bats to circle closer.” So, is it a ghost story or a vampire story? I’m confused.
Angie walks Val partway back to his camp (is there a reason he only wants her to go partway with him? We may never know . . .) and kisses him. Magic, fireworks, cartoon cupids and hearts, you get the idea.
At two that morning, Angie wakes up to music, voices, and crying. The ghost, obviously. You can’t see me, but I’m yawning. I mean, riveted. Yeah, we’ll go with riveted. Nope, just yawned again. Anyway.
She tries to wake up Paula and Kerry, but realizes they’re not in bed. She finds them in the kitchen, cleaning up from dinner (at 2 AM? . . . okaaay), tells them about the ghost being at it again, then collapses into a chair, crying. The girls decide to go wake the boys up so they can all investigate together, but the boys aren’t in their room. Brandy the dog isn’t around, either. Paula makes the comment “So much for protecting the weaker sex,” and I truly hope she means how are the girls going to protect the boys if the boys aren’t around, but I know better. Ugh, I hate you, 1996. You can totally change now.
The girls get their flashlights and start searching for a stairway on the second floor leading up, thinking there must be one. I would think so. I don’t understand houses with hidden staircases, but that’s my own problem, I guess. They enter a bedroom at the end of the hall and find a panel in the closet that looks like a door leading to an attic crawl space. There’s also a “grate like a heating register” near the top of the wall, and I’ve never heard the term “heating register” before. It’s, like, a heating vent, right? Is this a regional thing? Are air vents referred to as registers in Texas?
They can hear the child voice and the female voice through the vent. The child voice is calling the female voice “Caroline” and begging her to come back and come to her party, and Caroline is telling the child she can’t. If only this were an actual haunting, it would be kind of creepy.
Angie stands on a chair and opens the panel (it’s just a panel, not a door with a ladder that pulls down like I originally assumed it was) and the voices stop immediately. This room seems to be just an attic storage space, with no other doors leading in or out, which doesn’t seem to fit if the third floor is a full floor and not just a crawlspace attic. This whole description of the third floor/attic/whatever the fuck they’re calling it at any given moment is confusing the hell out of me, guys. Then again, I’m no architect, and all of my attics have been either a full floor accessible by stairs or a crawl space accessible by a panel in the ceiling – never both. Confusing as fuck. Anyway.
The girls give up, thinking the ghost won’t keep haunting since it’s heard them, and head back for bed when they run into the boys. Justin and Chad took Brandy out and then walked up the beach looking for Val’s camp. They didn’t find it. Hmm, I wonder why. The girls tell them about hearing the ghost again, then berate them for leaving them unprotected, to which Justin jokes, “Three helpless females.” If you read my recap of The Lifeguard, you know my feelings about men who refer to women as “females.” You might also rightly guess that I momentarily pictured Justin as a Ferengi. Moving on.
The girls tell the boys their plan to search the whole house tomorrow (Angie mentions that they’re going to “try to find a way into that room overhead – if there is one; it could be all attic.” Huh? I’m so confused. Are they calling one room on the third floor the attic, or are they trying to tell us there’s an attic above the third floor, i.e. a fourth floor? You can’t just call one room on the top floor the attic; an attic is a whole floor unto itself! I hate everything about this!); the boys tell the girls their plan to make a supply run to town for food in case the storm moves in. They agree to head off to bed (Angie says at this rate they won’t be up til noon; I say noon is too early to get up on vacation), but first Angie takes a look around the outside of the house and discovers Eldon’s truck is still parked around back. Then she wonders if he’s up in the attic, pretending to be a child. Mmm. Right concept, wrong person. Might I suggest you take a closer look at Gary Busey? (I know I’m running this joke into the ground. I’ll try to restrain myself from now on.)
Everyone wakes up the next morning (mid-morning, still too damn early to get up on vacation – hey, I work late evenings til well past midnight and get up in the early afternoon, give me a break okay?) and gets ready to go to town. Angie suggests inviting Val along, and he walks into the house in time to hear his name. I’m sure it was just a coincidence and not because he’s been living in your attic and listening to your plans or anything.
Angie invites Val to town, but he’d rather spend the day fishing. He’s going to patch up a leaky boat he found in their boathouse. Well, he’s making himself right at home, isn’t he? He claims Eldon Minor said it was okay to use the boat, but Angie can’t ask him because he’s not around and his truck isn’t parked at the house anymore. She goes back to her friends, almost crying because Val doesn’t want to come, and good God Angie. Look, I know there’s more going on here, but some people (like me!) can’t be around groups of people for extended amounts of time and need a good amount of alone time in order to function in life. Get fucking over yourself, girl. I know “social anxiety” wasn’t a term in the 90s, but introverts were still a thing, right? Damn.
The kids make a day out of their town trip, sightseeing and souvenir shopping (Angie buys Val a mug), then they stop in at the little convenience store where Myra Adams works. Was there not a supermarket they could get supplies at? The general store was the best they could do? She asks them about the house, then lets it slip that Eldon is an ex-con. He killed a guy in a barfight, but since he was young and had never been in trouble before, he was only convicted of manslaughter. Isn’t that basically what happens to Nic Cage at the beginning of Con Air? Eldon is harmless though, nothing to worry about.
Oh, just kidding. The kids freak the fuck out, and Angie decides she’s going to ask Eldon not to come around while they’re staying at the house. Good Lord. He’s not a serial killer; he got in a barfight that got out of hand. He’s done his time, let the poor guy be.
They head back to the house after eating a pizza dinner, and pull up to find Eldon’s truck in front of the house with both doors hanging open, and every light on in the house. I’m going to add that we find all of this out through dialogue. Has Barbara Steiner ever even heard the expression “show, don’t tell”?
Oh, the front door is wide open, too. Perfect. The kids decide to search the house for a way into the upstairs room, because fuck finding out if the old man is okay, I guess? There’s music playing from somewhere (ghost dance party, y’all!), and they go up the hidden staircase in the kitchen to the servants’ quarters. All the lights are on up there, too. They go back down to the kitchen and suddenly notice that there are also steps going down into a possible basement. How the fuck did they not notice that before? I hate this whole setup.
The basement isn’t interesting at all – more like a cellar storage shed, except for the old mattress on the floor. I mean, that’s kind of weird, right kids? No? Okay, never mind me.
They decide to look for a secret passageway into the third-floor room on the second floor. I want to know why they aren’t looking for a way into that room from the third floor. They think it was boarded up, but there still might be a way in from another room on that floor! Use your heads, kids! Then they debate whether looking for a secret passage is more like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, and I’m willing to bet Nancy Drew found more secret passages than the Hardy Boys, hands down.
They find Eldon Minor in the girls’ room, smashed over the head but alive. Head injuries in Point Horror are treated about as seriously as a paper cut, so you know he’ll be fine. He tells them that he came in to investigate the music and the lights, then got hit from behind. Oh, also the girls’ room is ransacked. Angie starts yelling at him about it, because the idea that the head-smasher is also the ransacker never occurs to her until Eldon denies the ransacking. God, Angie is stupid.
Eldon freaks out, claiming the place really is haunted and you couldn’t pay him to live out here now. He tells the kids they should leave and he’ll refund their money. Uh. Why would a ghost bash you in the back of the head, dude? What about any of this reads as a haunting to you? He admits he doesn’t know how to get into that mystery room; why isn’t anyone thinking “serial killer” instead of ghost? There have been real incidents of some creep living in someone’s attic and spying on them! Things like this actually happen! Why would you just assume “ghost”? Ugh, these characters.
They decide to solve this mystery tonight, and head toward the room with the closet attic panel. Justin looks around in the crawl space but doesn’t find anything, and Angie finds a hollow-sounding spot on the back wall of the closet. They pull the wallpaper off and find a door, which opens onto a short flight of stairs, then another door at the top. Behind that door is a large ballroom decorated for a long-ago party. Brandy the dog whines at a spot in the room, but of course nobody thinks anything of it. They think he’s whining because he found Kerry’s CD-radio-tape player (not joking, that’s how the text refers to it) that she didn’t even know was missing. Sure, that’s what the dog cares about. He needs to know who let the dogs out, stat!
Naturally, Chad points out that it has a timer on it and Eldon probably programmed it to start playing to scare them. Justin asks if he then went downstairs and knocked himself out, too? Kerry points out that Val wasn’t with them, he could have done it, but Angie’s lady boner won’t hear of it. They throw around some other theories that don’t make a lot of sense, then shrug it off like oh well, guess we’ll never know. Sure can’t possibly be the boy you just met and know nothing about, who doesn’t like to talk about himself and whose camp you’ve never been to or spotted, nope! I’m sure he’s not squatting in your house or anything, no sir!
Brandy the dog (the only likable character in this book) finds the door to the third floor hallway behind a dresser, and the kids leave by that door. So, was there anything behind the boarded up wall they originally found, or . . . ? Because a door blocked by a dresser does not, in fact, constitute a boarded up room. This is probably what that was referring to, and it’s pissing me off.
Instead of leaving the house where there’s obviously a violent offender squatting in an attic (or possibly basement) room, the kids make cocoa and go to bed. As you do.
Angie gets up in the morning, musing over how left out she feels now that all her friends (and brother!) are paired up, and how much she cares for Val after such a short time. Ugh. No one else is up yet, so she leaves a note telling them she’s gone to look for Val. Try the fucking basement (attic?), Angie. She walks along the beach and doesn’t find his camp (no shit, I’m shocked), so she goes swimming. When she gets back to the house, she mentions that Val was taking the leaky rowboat out yesterday, and Justin asks if she’s checked to see if the boat is in the boathouse. They run to check, and the boat is gone. The shelves of the boathouse are a wreck, except for one well-organized shelf containing bird skulls and shells. Hmm. Probably Satanists. Or someone from the Audubon Society. Not sure which is worse.
Even though it’s sunny out, they are watching the storm build. I guess they have a lot more horizon visible than I do. Angie makes tuna sandwiches to eat on the beach, which sounds terrible (also, I thought you hated fish, Angie), then takes a nap and wakes up to Val pulling the rowboat across the sand. She’s relieved, then angry that he doesn’t apologize for being gone 36 hours and making her worry, then goes to find wood for the dinner of fish he’s brought with him. It’s a roller coaster up in here, folks.
The storm hits while they’re eating outside, forcing them to grab plates and make a beeline for the kitchen to finish dinner. Except for Brandy, who is already hiding under a bed somewhere. Angie and Val start a fire in the living room fireplace while the others clean up, and Val apologizes for worrying her – he sometimes loses track of time, you see. The other kids pile into the room and insist on playing Pictionary, because this was back in the days before Cards Against Humanity. These days you can immediately gauge what terrible people your friends and acquaintances are through a simple card game! Val doesn’t know how to play Pictionary, which doesn’t strike anyone as odd for some reason. Look, even with what we find out about Val later, there’s still no reason he shouldn’t know how to play Pictionary. It makes no sense if this is a little detail that’s supposed to make us wonder about him. (On the other hand, when I found out my boyfriend was completely unfamiliar with Uno, I gave him shit for days. Everyone played Uno as a kid, right? Right?)
They insist Val stay the night since it’s storming, and he agrees as if he hasn’t been hiding in their house this whole time. The electricity goes out after everyone goes to bed, and the girls push their beds together for comfort. Angie wakes up to the sound of crying and Kerry missing, only to have Kerry run in and dive into bed. She got up to go to the bathroom, and the crying was louder in there. They lay huddled in bed, listening to the ghost voices argue without being able to make out the words, and Paula points out that now they have two ghosts. Really? You’re just now realizing that two voices = two ghosts? Man, when I say these characters can’t add two plus two, I didn’t realize that was literal.
Kerry has had enough of this shit and says that they’re going to drive back to Houston tomorrow, and the other girls agree. Angie says they’ll give Val a ride back, too, if he wants to go. She asserts that she’ll talk him into going, then turns away from her friends so they don’t realize she’s crying over a boy she barely knows. Then she wonders if the ghost-child in the attic cries for the same reason she does, and I’m like ??? She wonders if the ghost-child cries because they don’t know if they’ll ever get to fuck the boy they like? The ghost-child cries because their brother is hooking up with their friend and they feel left out? Maybe the ghost-child is crying because they have to deal with your dumb ass, Angie. I know it’s making me want to cry.
The next morning, the storm has intensified again, and the girls wonder if driving north will drive them out of the storm. Maybe? They all feel bad for the crying ghost child (although Angie feels worse for herself and the possible end of her “relationship” with Val), and wish they knew something about the history of the house. I mean, you could ask Val, but I doubt he’d be honest at this point. Angie hopes Val will let them give him a ride home, because she won’t feel so weird asking for his number if they drop him at his front door. I don’t understand her logic, but I’m past the point of caring, so we’re all good here, folks!
Brandy runs in and hops on the beds, licking the girls’ faces, and they discover the electricity is still out. Those things aren’t related; I just want to mention the doggie as much as possible before his ultimate doom befalls him. Point Horror murders almost as many dogs as R.L. Stine. Spoilers?
Justin’s up, but Chad is nowhere to be found. Refer if you will back up to that book description that says something about Angie’s friends going missing one by one, because I think this is what it’s referring to. Literally two people go missing, and it’s not til the end of the book. I hate misleading book descriptions.
Justin claims Val is still asleep, but I don’t think he bothered to check on him? Everyone starts packing up, and Brandy is watching the girls pack with sad puppy-dog eyes. Maybe pay attention to the fact that his human is missing? These idiots actually think Chad must be packing up the car, but never bother to check. Ugh. They finally start to worry about Chad and ask Justin to wake Val up in case he knows something. I’m sure he fucking does, Angie. Jesus. Val claims he hasn’t seen Chad since everyone went to bed, and then the text says that Paula asked him if he went right to sleep – “instead of another question.” Huh? What other question? Is Steiner insinuating that Paula almost asked him if he, what? Jerked off first? Made passionate love to Chad? Went up to the attic to “haunt” them? Maybe that’s it. Barbara Steiner is a bad writer.
Oh, then Angie asks the “real question” – did Val hear the ghosts and the music. It never even occurred to me that they would ask him if he heard the haunting, since it’s so fucking obvious that he’s the one doing it.
Angie asks if the guys have put together some elaborate scheme to scare them, and since this isn’t an R.L. Stine Point Horror, the answer is no. They search the house for Chad, but obviously don’t find him. Then they say they’ll have to search the third floor, and Val expresses surprise that they’ve been up there. Angie tells him that there’s only one room up there – the ballroom, and wait. Wait, wait, wait.
There’s only one room on the third floor? Are you fucking kidding me?! These idiot children spent an entire chapter exploring the west wing of the third floor, which contained the servant quarters! Hallways and bedrooms and shit! What. The. Actual. Fuck! Then they proceed to go up the back staircase to the servants’ quarters on the third floor and through the door at the end of the hall that leads into the ballroom. I . . . I don’t even know what’s real anymore.
They explore the ballroom but don’t find Chad, and also don’t notice Val’s reaction to the room. A+ for observation, kids.
Kerry refuses to leave without Chad, which should pretty much go without saying, right? Val comes up behind Angie while she’s looking out at the storm, mentions he likes rain, she asks him if he has to be back at school on Monday and he answers “I guess”, then she realizes they haven’t checked the boathouse for Chad. Val volunteers to go check so that Angie doesn’t have to get soaked, and again that’s an A+ plan right there. Let the guy who obviously did something to Chad go look for him alone. Just great. Nothing could go wrong here, nope.
Naturally he doesn’t find anything. Mmhmm. He comes back into the house completely drenched and kisses Angie. Again, fireworks, the earth moving, etc. Kerry decides to go to town to get the police, and Justin volunteers to go with her. Someone mentions going swimming (lol whut?) but Val practically barks at them that it’s not safe to swim in these conditions. Speaking of barking, Angie suddenly realizes that poor Brandy needs to go out. When she comes back in, Justin and Kerry are in the kitchen. They got a little ways down the driveway, then the Jeep stopped like it ran out of gas, even though they had filled the tank. They think Eldon Minor must have drained the gas tank to trap them there. Sigh. No. Pay attention. Oh, and I guess Angie didn’t actually take Brandy out, just opened the door and threw him out in the rain? Because she suddenly realizes she hasn’t let him back in. I hate all these kids; can we get on with killing them or whatever? Anyway, now Brandy is missing. Poor pup.
They spend the afternoon in various ways, including at one point making popcorn in a skillet. Not a hundred percent sure how that would work, but okay. Val spends most of the time on the porch, staring at the storm, until he disappears and no one knows where he went. Probably to check on his hostages, no big deal.
Justin decides to move a mattress into the girls’ room to keep an eye on them overnight. When Angie wakes up the next day, it’s sunny. The other girls are in their beds, but now Justin is missing, too. Val is also still gone, but since he’s the bad guy, he doesn’t count. Angie starts crying hysterically, and fucking hell this girl cries so much that it has no effect even when it’s something that justifies crying.
They decide to look around outside, and this time check the boathouse themselves instead of relying on Val’s word about what was inside. They find a spot in the dust on the floor where it looks like someone was tied up and wiggling around. I’m not entirely sure how you could tell that, specifically, but then they also find Kerry’s name spelled out by a shelf. I’m assuming it’s drawn in the dust, but it doesn’t actually say that. This book was in need of a good editor, damn.
The sky is looking like it’s going to start storming again soon, and Angie thinks that evidence is mounting that they’re dealing with a criminal or someone with a twisted mind. Really? You’re just now thinking that? Now, and not the first time you heard someone in your house who wasn’t supposed to be there? Now, and not when your landlord was assaulted in your bedroom? I give up. Just die already.
She looks up and sees what she thinks are vultures circling the marsh, and suggests they go check it out. They make their way to the marsh, and because this book wants to piss me off even more than I already was, they find Brandy the dog with his throat slashed. Look, I don’t generally take it that hard when fictional animals die, but this shit is getting ridiculous. Almost every book I’ve recapped lately has a fucking dead pet in it. What the fuck, teen thriller authors?
Angie has the thought that ghosts don’t slit dogs’ throats. Very good, Angie. Let’s follow that out a little farther, shall we? Then she wonders if there’s a connection between the crying, the so-called haunting, and Brandy’s death, but she can’t see one. Really? Then she wonders if she’s going to find Chad, Justin, and Val with their throats slit. Let’s see, which one of these guys is a total stranger whose supposed camp you’ve still never seen, who knows more about your house than he ought to, and who goes off on his own for extended periods of time? Hmm. Nope, I got nothing.
Angie decides they need to bury Brandy, and runs back to the boathouse to get a shovel. Along the way, she realizes that Brandy was probably killed because he found Chad and Val couldn’t risk Brandy leading the others to him. She doesn’t think “Val,” but it obviously is, so . . .
While she’s getting the shovel, someone (Val) locks her in the boathouse. Except there’s no lock on the door, so he must be holding the door shut. She tries to talk to whoever it is, telling him they can talk and asking if he’s Eldon. What exactly has poor Eldon done to make them suspect him, other than having the misfortune to look “creepy”? His head was bashed in trying to protect you idiots from “ghosts”!
She waits five minutes, then tries the knob, prepared to use the shovel as a weapon. No one is around, so she heads back to the marsh, doesn’t tell the others what happened, and buries Brandy – the best, purest character in this disaster of a book. RIP, you Good Boy.
The girls head back to the house, and Angie keeps the shovel with her as a weapon. They’re sad, but Angie is angry now, too. Kerry wonders if the boys are still alive, and Paula can’t bear to think otherwise. Not sure seventeen-year-olds have ever uttered the words “I can’t bear to think otherwise,” but Barbara Steiner thinks they have, so we’re stuck with it. Angie suddenly pipes up that she thinks the boys are still in the house somewhere, because it seems like the only logical idea to her. Wait, so by this logic, Val grabbed Chad out of the house, tied him up and stashed him in the boathouse, then brought him back into the house? Wh – why? How is that logical? Fucking hell, that’s exactly what happened though, isn’t it?
Instead of immediately searching the house again, the girls drink tea and watch Storm Part Two roll in. The girls all stick together when Kerry goes upstairs to “put on more clothes” because it’s getting cold, and they find party invitations on their pillows. Like, fancy ones that invite them to Caroline Jamison’s eighteenth birthday party, to be held in the third-floor ballroom. Formal attire optional, RSVP.
How do you RSVP to a ghost party? By talking into the heating vent (heat register – seriously, wtf) above the bed, of course! Just go with it, I guess? In response, the child-voice replies “Come, please come to my party.” I thought it was Caroline’s party, though? Why is the child-voice calling it their party? Just go with it? Anyway, Angie’s like, That’s not a ghost, that’s a real person up there, let’s go! Because a real person lurking in the attic is less scary than a ghost. Uhhhh, I dunno about that. Real people are pretty scary.
The girls creep up the back staircase, not sure they really want to do this, but Angie insists that the boys are up there. How does she know? Oh, she just feels sure she’s right.
When the girls make it to the ballroom, it smells damp and fishy, there are candles set up all around the perimeter (fire hazard!), and seaweed has been added to the faded party streamers that the room was still decorated with. Um. What. Does Martha Stewart endorse this? There are also seashells arranged around the base of each candle, suspiciously like the shells formerly in the boathouse. So, basic seashells, basically? Slow dance music is playing from a “radio-boom box” smaller than Kerry’s. You can tell because it’s only a two-hyphenate instead of three! I get the impression Steiner doesn’t realize the term “boombox” would handily cover a combo radio, tape, and CD player without having to add those other terms to it, and is probably in fact resisting the urge to call it a hi-fi.
At the far end of the room, the girls spot in silhouette Chad and Justin sitting in chairs, looking out the window, with theirs arms around a girl sitting in a chair between them. Angie has clearly mistaken this for an R.L. Stine novel, because she immediately thinks this whole thing has been an elaborate prank (despite the murdered Brandy? Fuck you, Angie) and exclaims, “I’m sure!” Ummm okay? Is that an expression when nobody has said anything for you to respond to? Ugh, Kindle tells me we’re 85% of the way through this, so I’m just gonna go with it. I’m sure!
The girls all express relief and anger at being pranked (including Kerry calling Chad “Chad Grindie” when his last name was “Grindle” when we were introduced to him – there were a few typos in this book, but nothing egregious enough to point out), then horror when they realize that the boys are unconscious and the girl in the middle isn’t Val in a wig (what), but a real live dead girl! And here I’ll show you the somewhat spoilery alternate book cover:
The book takes a few paragraphs to describe the corpse girl, but all you have to do is look at that cover. This picture is worth at least a couple hundred words. The dead girl is also wearing Paula’s earrings and Angie’s bracelet, neither of which have been mentioned as missing. Wouldn’t it have been more effective if the girls had noticed their belongings going missing . . . ?
While they’re gawking, someone comes up behind them and welcomes them to his sister’s party. It’s Val. Wow. Shocker. What a twist. M. Night Shyamalan would be proud.
Chad starts waking up, and Kerry goes to tend to him while Angie tries to keep Val talking. Paula goes to Justin, who is still out. So, highlights of the Val supervillain monologue? His voice changes to the child-ghost voice as he tells Angie that it’s his fault Caroline died. He was a kid; it was her eighteenth birthday; he convinced her to go out on the ocean with him on a little raft he’d built; a storm came up and destroyed the raft. She told Val to hang on and she’d swim back for help, but she never came back for him.
Then he switches back to grown-up Val and tells Angie that it was perfect, her coming back at the same time he did – they both came back to party. Then he laughs the laughter of madness, because Point Horror authors have no idea what actual mental illness looks like.
Angie tries to keep him talking, and encourages him when he tells her that Caroline likes her a lot. Oh, Angie, that means he’s going to kill you so that Caroline has a forever friend! Run! Val tells her that his parents gave up looking for Caroline’s body and moved away, but he came back and somehow found her? Really? Okay, book. Okay. He brought her to her party then, but nobody else came so he had to leave her. Then he switches back to the kid-voice to tell her that he had Caroline hidden in the wardrobe when the gang came up here exploring before. Um, was that the wardrobe that Brandy was whining at? Told ya he didn’t give a fuck about the boombox!
Speaking of Brandy, yeah, he killed him because Brandy was going to find Chad and spoil the party. Val liked the dog, but he wasn’t ready for guests yet. You understand.
Val is apparently done talking, because he leaves and locks everyone in the ballroom, then starts pouring gasoline under the door. Then he sets the gas on fire. Not gonna lie, I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t all those fucking candles set up around the room that started a fire.
The first line of the next chapter made me laugh out loud, guys:
“We have to get out of here!” Paula stated the obvious.
Any book that willingly hands the Captain Obvious mantle to a character is okay by me! I mean, I’m not actually okay with this book, but . . . what the hell, it made me laugh.
They check the door to the stairs that lead to the closet on the second floor, but it won’t open, leading Angie to conclude there’s something against it on the other side. I was under the impression there was no landing; the stairs go right up to the door, but maybe I’m wrong. There is such shit description in this book, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Also, shouldn’t that door open in, toward the ballroom? Fuck, I hate everything.
Justin finally starts waking up, and asks them if they know the room is on fire. Paula may have to hand over her Captain Obvious cape now. They break out the dormer window (would this cause a backdraft? Because fire will definitely flow toward a new oxygen source . . .) and spot a light down below. They start yelling, then Angie warns it might be Val.
Angie gets a bright idea that they should break out all three big windows (are these the dormer windows? Unclear.), then use the rope the boys were tied up with to swing from the ballroom balcony down to the second-floor balcony, then go down the front stairs if only the back of the house is on fire. Imma let you finish, but I need to stop you for a minute. First of all, why exactly do they need to break all the windows in order to get out on the balcony? Actually, why do they need to break windows at all? If there’s a balcony, shouldn’t there be a door leading out to it? Second, why are we specifying the front stairs? It’s been drilled into us that there is only one set of stairs accessible from the second floor that leads down to the ground floor. What the fuck. Third, I was under the impression that the ballroom is at the front of the house (these are the dormer windows and balcony that Justin described to us using his good words, aren’t they?), so why is Angie thinking it’s the back of the house that’s on fire? I need a fucking blueprint for this house since Steiner is so fucking terrible at describing things.
Fuck. Anyway. The chairs keep breaking when they throw them through the windows, so they have to dump Caroline’s skeleton off her chair in order to break all three windows. I don’t . . . siiiiiigh. Okay, fine. They climb through one window when they’re done breaking them all, so I really don’t know what the fucking point of that was, and it’s pissing me off an undue amount. Maybe because I’m at a word count of almost eleven thousand, which is way more than this clusterfuck deserves.
Whatever. The balcony isn’t big enough for all five kids, and the boys are still too groggy to climb down a rope. Come on, Angie, haven’t you always wanted to be an only child? Give Justin a little push; no one has to know.
Eldon Minor and Myra Adams are in the driveway for some reason, and Eldon conveniently has a ladder on the other side of the house. It’s not quite tall enough to reach the third floor, but through a combination of hanging onto the rope, lowering themselves down, then hanging onto the sleepy boys, everyone gets down safely. Whew. I was totally rooting for these kids, yessir. I never once told them to just die already, and you’re wrong if you think you read that anywhere in this recap.
We’re not done yet, folks. Angie asks Myra and Eldon if they saw Val, and Myra tells her he ran toward the beach. They have no idea that Val tried to kill the kids, and Angie ain’t got time for shit like explaining or calling the cops. She runs toward the beach, and Eldon limps after her, telling her that Val is Val Jamison, “that escaped boy.” He escaped from a mental hospital in Houston – sorry, no. He escaped from “that hospital in Houston. You know, the one for crazies.” Goddammit, Eldon, I’ve been defending you this whole time, and you do me like that? Hrumph. Apparently Eldon knows the whole story about Caroline drowning and Val escaping the hospital and heading down to Galveston. But he goes on to say that he didn’t know about Val the night he bashed his head in. Sure, whatever. He mentions that he thinks Val was sleeping on that mattress in the basement, which is apparently a huge revelation for Angie. It literally never occurred to her that he was living in the house. Even though when they were in the attic she actually asks him if he was in the house all these years. Even though it’s mentioned several times throughout the book that a living person was in the house. I’m done with you, Angie. I hope you spontaneously combust like a fucking Spinal Tap drummer.
They spot Val out on the water in the leaky rowboat, rowing himself out to sea. Eldon says he’ll call the Coast Guard and let them know the haps, then they meet back up with Myra, who has been filled in by the other girls. She tells Angie what a sweet boy Val was, but how strange he started acting after his sister’s death, and how his family had to give up on him and put him in that hospital. Repeat: his family had to give up on him. Because when your young child develops severe PTSD after watching his sister die, you have no choice but to give up on him and throw him away, amirite?! And this was before Trump’s America!
Ugh. The house is burning to the ground, much like I’d like to do to this book, and the kids get in the Jeep (which has generously been fueled up by Eldon’s gas cans) and leave after quips about having enough of spring break and having plenty to write about. Angie looks at the house and whispers happy birthday to Caroline, then says that Val is finally coming to help her celebrate.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Mmm. This book pisses me off on so many levels. (Next month, apart from Hit and Run, which is already recapped and scheduled to post on April Fools Day, I’m only recapping things that make me happy. I feel like I’m coming off too angry lately.) Mostly architectural levels. I can’t make any sense of the contradictory ways this house was described, and I know it was probably mostly continuity errors on Steiner’s part, but Jesus Christ. Do better. Also, why wouldn’t Val know who Val Kilmer was? Kilmer was around in the eighties, before Caroline died, and I’m sure the psychiatric hospital had a TV – are you telling me Val somehow avoided Top Gun being shown every fucking day on cable and/or network channels? Unlikely. Also, Pictionary? Why wouldn’t he know Pictionary? He was a regular kid growing up in a regular family, he wasn’t locked in a cupboard beneath the stairs his entire life! Look, I can accept these things as quirks or blind spots in a person’s knowledge, but the problem is that it’s framed as something the reader should register as strange, then turns out not to make any sense with Val’s backstory. This book lies to you left and right! That’s a cardinal sin in my book.
Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s the boring-ass Kindle cover art.