Has there been yet another murder at Shadyside High!?
That’s the latest gossip!
R.L. Stine’s 1996 YA thriller, What Holly Heard, is all about gossip. Actually, one the things that made the book an interesting read for me was discovering how people gossiped in 1996, in the age before social media. Today, we get our gossip by overanalyzing what people post on Instagram or what they tweeted back when they were 12. Back in 1996, though, you actually had to stalk people through the high school, hide behind a corner to listen to conversations, and essentially act like a private detective. That actually sounds like fun!
Anyway, Holly Silva’s knows all the gossip at Shadyside High! When this book opens, she’s all excited because she’s learned that her classmate, Mei, might be fighting with her boyfriend, Noah. Holly has a major crush on Noah and is hoping that Mei and Noah break up so that she can go out with him. Her best friends, Ruth and Miriam, remind Holly that she has a super nice boyfriend named Gary but Holly doesn’t care. It’s all about the gossip!
Then, suddenly, Holly is found dead in the school gym! Who is the murderer!? Could it Mei? Could it be Noah? Could it even be Gary? How about Jed, the strangely moody jock? Can Miriam solve the mystery before someone else dies!?
As I read this book last night, I found myself wondering if maybe I had read it before. It all seemed strangely familiar. While it is possible that I had actually read What Holly Heard before, it’s just as possible that I was reacting the fact that the same basic characters appear in all of R.L. Stine’s books. There’s always a bad boy. There’s always a couple that’s on the verge of breaking up. There’s almost always a jock who might have a secret. And there’s always at least one murder victim who went too far with the gossip! But, actually, the familiarity is a part of the appeal of these books. They’re like YA Lifetime movies. You don’t read them to be shocked as much as you read them to judge the characters when they’re shocked over the exact same thing happening to them that happened to the people in all of the previous Fear Street book. No one at Shadyside High ever learns a lesson from any of this!
That said, I liked What Holly Heard. It’s fast-paced, it’s silly, and it features a totally out-of-nowhere drug subplot that I imagine was included in the name of 90s relevancy. Plus, it features someone getting hit over the head with a hamster cage. That made me smile. If you’re looking to indulge in a little childhood nostalgia by reading (or re-reading) a little R.L. Stine, this is a good one to go with.