Saturday, September 29, 2018

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #12: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Do you hate children? Because if so, this is probably the Goosebumps book for you. Yes, yes, I know, the books are about children and most of them do involve putting said kids in deadly danger for the reader’s enjoyment and terror. This is, presumably, horror, after all. But this book takes things to a whole new level. It introduces a character only to torture her, to teach her that the world is a cruel, dark place, and every kindness and good deed will return back to her as sorrow and pain and hate like some sort of goddamn shit-boomerang. This is the lesson of this book, that there is no hope but the release of dark magic and that no matter how good your intentions you can’t escape the injustice of genetics, longing, and pre-teen girls. Also, I’m drinking a Luna Coffee Stout from Hinterland Brewing, a drink nearly as dark as this story, though much sweeter. ONWARDS!!!

So okay, Sam (or Samantha Byrd, to be all proper) is a twelve-year-old girl who is easily six-foot-five. Or something like that. Seriously, she’s described as VERY tall not just for a kid but for a person. So...okay, there’s that. Apparently the indignity of the last name Byrd wasn’t enough, too, because she’s built like a stork (a name she’s teased with). She has a single friend (Cory) and otherwise is both clumsy and not-too-bright. Which, I mean, we’ve all been there, right, that extremely awkward kid who sticks out in all the wrong ways and just wants to be normal? (hopefully not an overshare, there) Well Sam wants that. Too bad another girl in her class, Judith, fucking hates her. For...reasons, okay? I’m guessing those reasons are puberty related but the book never comes out and says so, which leaves me with having to conclude that Judith is just a jerk. She really seems to have it out for Sam and spends most of the book physically and verbally abusing our plucky young protagonist.

Okay, a few things that lead me to believe that Stine is just getting lazy. First, the setup to this book is almost identical to that of THE HAUNTED MASK (which comes right before this book but which I’m putting off so that it can coincide with Halloween). Loser girl, one friend, mean bullies, fighting back doesn’t work, magic thing happens, bullies are targeted for punishment. Second, HOLY FUCK THERE IS A YOUNGER BROTHER IN ALL OF THESE STORIES. Yup, Sam has one. So does every fucking main character in these books. They’re always annoying and just the worst why is R.L. Stine doing this did he lose his younger brother in a freak accident or something and that’s why he writes horror now because if that’s the case I’ll feel like an ass because that actually sounds pretty shitty. Anyway! Third, the magic here is like the laziest premise ever, which is the Monkey’s Paw. Main character gets some wishes, wishes backfire. We’ve all played that D&D session. Everyone ends up dead. Or genderswapped. But apparently the book can’t even be bothered to follow the rules of Monkey Paw stories, which are supposed to punish characters for being too greedy and seeking a shortcut to success. The whole point (I feel) is that wishes are kind of cheats and anyone seeking to cheat finds that their gains turn to sand. but. BUT!

So the magic enters into the story when Sam meets an old woman, Clarissa (who does not at any point explain it all). It happens on a rainy day and Clarissa is lost and Sam, being the kind sort, offers to help her find her way. Nice, right? It takes way longer than expected but Sam maintains her cool and does everything right. And hey, guess what, it turns out that the old woman wants to reward Sam for her kindness. How, you ask? With wishes! Three, to be precise. What luck! Only, perhaps smelled what the world is cooking up in this shit casserole, Sam wisely refuses. Clarissa insists. Sam must make her wishes. She must be rewarded. And Sam, being polite, not wanting to gut-punch an old woman to escape, finally makes a wish, to be the best basketball player on her team. She gets home. She plays basketball against her younger brother. She still is terrible at basketball. Well, so much for wishes...

OR IS IT?!?! It turns out that when she gets to the basketball game after school the next day, her wish has come true. She is the best player on her team, but only because the rest of the team is EVEN WORSE than she is. And how does she handle this? How does she lord it over the other players who were always so mean to her? She...uh...cheers them on and tries to make them feel better about themselves. Huh. Sam really does seem like a stand up kind of person. And everyone just fucking hates her. The next day the entire rest of the team is out sick because they’re so weak and Sam is very upset by this. She goes to visit Judith, her worst enemy, to see if she’s feeling better, and Judith accuses her of being a witch by way of also kind of threatening to have her burned at the stake. So there’s that. Sam, freaking the fuck out, blurts out a wish that Judith disappear.

Now let’s pause, because I want to stress how much this book fucking cheats. Sam has done this before, when she wished her brother was only a foot tall. The result? Not a fucking thing. The wish has to be witnessed by Clarissa to count. And when Sam blurts out her desire that Judith fuck off, Clarissa is no where to be seen. Except she appears right there to make the wish real, and in turn makes it so that everyone but Sam disappears. Everyone. So okay, that seems a bit out of scope, and also bullshit because Sam didn’t think she was making a wish and was justifiably upset that Judith used “you’re a witch” and “Salem witch trials” in the same breath. But whatever. Sam was made to suffer, and suffer she does, growing more and more desperate as she realizes that she’ll soon run out of food, and that the world is a cold, dark place. Like she really needed any extra evidence of that. And still Clarissa isn’t satisfied with her handiwork. She returns, and offers Sam her last wish, which Sam quickly uses to set everything back to the way things were—or that’s what she _would have_ done, except that Clarissa straight up tells her that’s dumb because she’s not being selfish enough. And Sam, wanting to please, quietly adds that Judith should like her, because maybe then that little terror won’t go around organizing a mob to get the witch. Certainly that can’t backfire, right?

HAHAHAHAHAHA. There is no hope for Sam, if you haven’t learned that yet. Turns out that even this wish backfires, to the tune of JUDITH IS FUCKING SCARY and breaks into Sam’s house and even then, when Sam could probably just report Judith to the cops and get her institutionalized or something, Sam just wants things to de-escalate. She wants everyone to be happy. And fucking Clarissa shows up and sees Sam is unhappy and so gives Sam a bonus fourth wish, because as we’ve learned so far more wishes can only be a good thing. So Sam does what she thinks is best, something that, really, should work out just fine. She wishes that she had never met Clarissa, and that Judith had instead. Here’s why this should work. First, Judith is a terrible person and would not help an old woman with anything. There’s no way that she would get wishes, and probably would get herself cursed instead for being such an asshole. Second, even if she did get wishes, they ALWAYS BACKFIRE. That means when Judith goes to use the wishes, she’s just going to frag herself.

Except, of course, you’ve been paying attention. There’s a twist. There’s always a twist. What’s the twist, you ask? Everything works perfectly for Judith. She gets wishes. The wishes don’t backfire. She wishes for Sam to be transformed into a bird. There’s small comfort perhaps that being a bird will offer Sam much more justice than being a human ever did, but it is a very small comfort. The end.

And okay that’s seriously fucked up so CONSPIRACY TIME!!!

This could go two different ways, in my head. The first is that Clarissa is a literal demon from hell sent to Earth to fucking make life miserable for people who are just too goddamn pure. Sam really never wants to hurt anyone, even as she occasionally snaps and tries to choke Judith to death. Hell, it’s possible that Judith is also a demon and trying to make it so that she can finally break a system imposed on her by some sort of higher power. Think of it like this. There are rules for demons. They can only ever grant wishes for other people, and aren’t able or allowed to just grant wishes for each other. As a check to the chaos and harm they could do. Judith is fed up with it, and so makes life miserable for Sam, testing her, seeing if she’s the right person for this scheme. Then Judith makes sure Clarissa and Sam cross paths and manipulates Judith into wishing that Judith would get granted wishes, the logic going that if a mortal wishes for a demon to get wishes, it gets around the rules forbidding just that from happening. Okay, it’s a longshot. Much more likely...

This is a story about rejecting the roles expected of girls. Because, well, Sam falls into them pretty hard. She’s kind and caring even when she shouldn’t be, even when she has every right to be more concerned about what happens to her. She’s a cheerleader to her enemies, and a doormat to everyone, and while this is all very nice, the world doesn’t reward nice. So the book becomes a story that pushes the reader to not be like Sam. We see what happens to Sam. We don’t want that. How do we avoid being the bad joke of the universe? Be a bit mean. Be more like Judith. Of course this also sort of promotes the lion’s share of the focus to be on girls attacking other girls, forwarding themselves by being the “alpha” girl but never really questioning the power that boys have. Boys aren’t very present. Just ignore that. It’s a completely shit meaning to pull out of the book but it’s the one that stands out clearest to me. And it’s not like there isn’t something there. Sometimes you do need to be mean to cut through the bullshit guilt that the world tries to heap on people, and especially women. Sometimes you need to just say no, go away. Sometimes you need to gut-punch the old woman (who may or may not be a demon). But that it always comes at the expense of women here, that this book is entirely about gendered in-fighting and never about Sam and Judith finding a common ground and working so that girls don’t have to live under the bullshit roles they are expected to conform unfortunate. It makes for a book that is really, really upsetting, where Sam is just a perpetual victim, and in the end cannot escape the machinations she doesn’t even want to put into motion.

But whatever! Let's break it down by the ratings!

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 2/5 (I am totally going to be fitting Clarissa into my ongoing fanfiction, in case you were wondering. Amanda might indeed gut-punch her. We’ll see. Otherwise, though, the book is rather light on things that might inspire. The dynamic between Sam and Judith is, I suppose, the typical fodder for shipping, but it just seems too mean to be about Judith secretly having a crush on Sam. I mean, that could warp into something later on, I guess, a sort of messed-up wants to hurt that which she wants because of some unconfronted self-hate going on but that’s getting a little dark for me, especially with this book already being so dark. But to each their own)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 1/5 (no, sorry, this is like really upsettingly bad. It breaks basically all the internal rules of 3 wish stories and does it with such a maliciousness towards the main character that it’s just not fun to watch. There hasn’t been another Goosebumps book that has made me so...angry about what happens, and especially with that ending. It’s...just no)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 1/5 (still really bad here, people. Really, really bad. Part of the thing is that, while it embraces the magical part of the story fairly early, it doesn’t do much with it. It’s mostly boring throughout, with the backfiring wishes just causing some mild to messed up stuff to happen but none of it with much of a flare. Not until the ending do we see what those wishes could do and by then I was so sick of the story that it doesn’t land, aside from the fact that it’s a garbage ending and a cheat. So yeah, no on this one)

We’re in something of a slump in the series again after some wild stories. Will things pull back around? Well, next month I’m stepping back to book #11 in honor of Halloween, so we’ll just have to see. Check back in then for THE HAUNTED MASK. Cheers!


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