Book Review: The Eternal Enemy by Christopher Pike


The 1993 YA novel, The Eternal Enemy, starts out with a typical Christopher Pike situation.

Rela is a teenager.  Rela is adopted.  Rela doesn’t know much about her past.  Rela has a crush on my boy whom she’s too shy to ask out but luckily she has a confident best friend who is willing to do it for her.  She also has another male admirer, who she just considers to be a friend.  It’s all standard Pike.

However, the twist of this particularly novel is that Rela has a VCR and apparently, the VCR can tell the future!  Whenever she tries to record an old horror movie, she instead ends up with a recording of a future news broadcast.  At first, Rela uses this to her advantage.  She makes money betting on a football game.  She heads to Vegas to make even more money and then she goes to San Francisco and saves the lives of a bunch of window washers!  Other than offering up a crisp picture, allowing viewers to easily skip around in a movie, and not eventually becoming an obsolete artifact of a past age, there’s absolutely nothing that this VCR can’t do.

However, even while Rela is having fun making money and saving lives, she’s also having disturbing dreams which seem to indicate that there are strange things hidden in her past.  (Well, of course.  It’s a Christopher Pike book.)  A mysterious and creepy older man appears to be stalking her.  Maybe she should stop messing with the VCR….

Then she sees a news report about her own death.

The Eternal Enemy is one of Pike’s more uneven books.  It starts out nicely, with the promise of YA horror, but then it turns into this sort of Looper/Terminator sci-fi thing.  As the story reveals more about the actual identities of Rela and the creepy old man, it gets bogged down trying to explain how everything works and, if you’re not already into science fiction, it becomes a bit of chore to read.  It’s hard not to get annoyed that the book starts with an interesting premise and then kind of waves it all way by using the “It’s science!” excuse.

Probably the most interesting thing about The Eternal Enemy is that the entire narrative revolves around the mystical and complex powers of a VCR.  If only Rela had been born a decade later, she wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this.

Horror Book Review: Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike


The 1991 YA horror novel, Whisper of Death, tells the story of Roxanne and …. Pepper.

That’s right, Roxanne’s boyfriend is named Pepper.  Actually, Pepper is just a nickname but still.  Personally, I don’t think I could have ever dated anyone with an nickname that bad.  I did once dated a frat boy who was nicknamed Smiley and my sisters have never let me live that down.  I will say that I steadfastly refused to call him “Smiley” which is one reason why we broke up.  (The other reason was that he was a member of a frat.  Drinking beer and smiling all the time is not a substitute for a personality.)

Anyway, Roxanne and Pepper are two teenagers in love.  Pepper’s a rebel.  Roxanne’s a hard-working seamstress who only has one night a week free.  When Roxanne loses her virginity to Pepper, she gets pregnant because this is a YA novel from the early 90s and no one loses their virginity without either getting pregnant and being stalked by a judgmental madman or both.  Though Roxanne wants to keep the baby, Pepper wants her to get an abortion.  In fact, he’s pretty adamant about her getting an abortion.  Reluctantly, Roxanne agrees.  Pepper and Roxanne drive out to another town and then, on the way back, refuse to pick up a redhead hitchhiker.  (Booo!  Anyone who would leave a redhead stranded in the desert deserves whatever karma does to them.)   When Roxanne and Pepper return to their hometown, they discover that the entire place is deserted!

Well, actually, it’s not totally deserted.  They search around the town for a while and they discover that a few of their classmates have apparently been left behind.  There’s the nerdy guy who may not be as good-looking as Pepper but who, at the very least, doesn’t have as stupid of a nickname.  And then there’s the beautiful quirky girl who rebellious Roxanne can’t help but like despite the fact that she shouldn’t because Roxanne is poor and has to work as a seamstress 6 night as week.  And finally, there’s a delinquent who has an even worse nickname than Pepper.  His name is …. seriously, I’m not making this up …. Helter Skater.

Anyway, it’s all connected to yet another classmate, Betty Sue.  Betty Sue killed herself at the gas station and it turns out that her diary is conveniently available for anyone who wants to read it.  Is it possible that the strange disappearance of the world is somehow connected to Betty Sue’s suicide?  And is it also possible that maybe Pepper has more of a connection to Betty Sue than he’s willing to admit?

Of course, it is!

Whisper of Death is an odd little book.  Since the entire plot, more or less, is set in motion by Roxanne getting an abortion, it’s interesting to witness the amount of effort that Pike puts into not coming down on either side of the issue.  Roxanne makes the point of saying that both the hardcore pro-lifers and the hardcore pro-choicers are too extreme for her tastes.  I actually agree with Roxanne but, as the story progresses, it feels more and more like Pike is trying too hard to keep both sides happy.  And, as we all know, that’s an impossible task.  Suggest that women have a right to choose and you get accused of being a baby killer.  Suggest that partial birth abortion is barbaric and you get accused of being Serena Joy Waterford.

That said, the story itself was effectively creepy and the fact that it featured a shadowy force of evil called Fat Freddy is definitely a point in the book’s favor.  Most of the characters were petty annoying but, then again, the majority of them were dead by the end of the book so it’s all good.  Whisper of Death held my attention and it made me think about issues of life, death, hitchhikers, and terrible nicknames.

Horror Book Review: The Grave by Christopher Pike


First published in 1999, this is a weird book.

It opens with a college student named Ted Lovett thinking that he’s going to meet a woman in the woods, just to instead get captured by a cult who strip him naked and then bury him alive.  We then jump over to the story of Kerri, who is a typical 90s YA heroine — she’s got a job at a record store, her sister is dead, her father abandoned the family, her mom is hooked on cocaine, and her boyfriend is clingy loser.  It’s the boyfriend part that bothers Kerri the most.  She’s totally bored with him but just can’t bring herself to sit down with him and tell him that it’s over.

Then, one day, the mysterious and handsome Oscar shows up in the record store and soon, Kerri is spend the night over at his place and kind of cheating on her boyfriend.  I say “kind of” because Kerri doesn’t really consider him to be a boyfriend, despite the fact that they’re dating and they’ve slept together a few times.  With her mother still abusing drugs and Oscar acting all mysterious, Kerri has a lot to deal with but all of that drama is nothing compared to what happens when Oscar tosses Kerri into a freezer.

So, is Oscar a part of the cult that buried poor Ted Lovett?  Or is he the ghost of Ted Lovett and this all a part of grand plan to turn Kerri into a half-dead, half-living zombie who is pregnant with the modern day equivalent of Pan, a hooved God who will maybe save the world but maybe not?

Yes, The Grave is an odd book.  There’s a lot going on in The Grave.  In fact, there’s probably a little bit too much going on.  The Grave is only a 194 pages long, which means that Kerri is often surprisingly quick to accept the strangest explanations for what’s going on.  If you learned that you had been selected to give birth to a satyr that’s going to save the world but, in order to do so, you have to basically die first, you’d probably demand a bit more of an explanation than Kerri does.  I know that I would.

Speaking of Kerri, how much drama can one person have in their life?  Abandoned by her father, haunted by her sister’s death, and forced to deal with her mom’s cocaine addiction, just one of those would have been enough but tossing all three in there just feels like overkill.  And that’s eve before she becomes pregnant with Pan.

With The Grave, you get the feeling that Christopher Pike just tossed a bunch of random stuff at the wall to see what would stick.  It’s a mess but occasionally, it’s entertaining in its messiness.  If nothing else, it has an important lesson to impart about not putting yourself in a situation where you can be buried alive.  That’s an important lesson to learn.

 

Horror Novel Review: Die Softly by Christopher Pike


AGCK!

Seriously, that’s kind of my go-to reaction to almost any of Christopher Pike’s YA thrillers.  As an author, Pike has never allowed the fact that he was writing for a young audience get in the way of coming with some truly gruesome death scenes and some macabre scenarios.

Take the 1991 novel, Die Softly.  Now, technically, this is not a horror novel.  There aren’t any ghosts or vampires or anything like that.  Instead, this book centers on a bunch of murderous but nonparanormal high school hijinks.  Herb is an awkward 18 year-old who can take amazing pictures but who has no idea how to talk to people.  His best friend, Theo, is a drunk who spends his time shooting guns in the backyard.  (Admittedly, Theo only went downhill because of the death of his bother Roger in a mysterious car accident.)  Theo wonders if he and Herb will ever find love.  Herb imagines that they’ll both find someone to marry but they probably won’t ever have the courage to actually approach anyone that they actually love.  I mean, this is dark!

Anyway, Herb dreams of becoming a director in Los Angeles so he sets up a secret camera in the high school locker room so he can get a picture of the cheerleaders showering and …. wait a minute.  What?  Uhmmm …. what?  Techically, Herb does feel guily about it but …. agck!  Of course, the idea wasn’t originally Herb’s.  His childhood friend Sammie suggested it because of her own general hatred for cheerleaders.  Still, Herb didn’t necessarily have to go along with the idea.  Even he assumed Sammie was joking when she first suggested it.  But Herb, for all of his attempts to be a nice guy, is driven by crush on Alexa and his fear that he’ll never even get kissed, let alone see anyone naked.  (If this book had been written today, Herb would be an incel hanging out on Reddit.)

Anyway, long story short: when Herb develops his film, he thinks that he may have accidental photographed a murder.

And things get only crazier from there!  Die Softly is an enjoyably over-the-top little book, one that fully embraces the melodrama while taking a journey into the heart of high school darkness.  The plot has to do with cocaine and threesomes and Herb’s own rampaging insecurity, one that ultimately makes him something of a sympathetic character, even if he is someone whom most readers will have mixed feeling about.  It also ends on a far darker note than anything you’d expect to find in a book by R.L. Stine.

Die Softly is a teenage nightmare, a book about dreams that suggests that the best plan of action is abandon all hope, ye who enter here.  It’s also a lot of fun.  For the most part, Pike wisely eschews anything resembling subtlety.  Just because you’re taking a nihilistic journey into the heart of darkness, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be entertained.

Horror Book Review: Monster by Christopher Pike


“They were no longer human…” the cover of 1992 first edition of Christopher Pike’s Monster announces and indeed, they’re not!  That cover, I should add, makes the book look a lot more light-hearted than it is.  It makes it look like it’s some sort of sci-fi comedy about a demonically possessed football player when there’s actually very little about this book that could be considered light-hearted.

This book is dark.  Like, seriously, dark.

It opens with popular high school student Mary Carlson walking into a party while carrying a shotgun.  She blows away a football player named Todd and then a cheerleader named Kathy and then she points the gun at her own boyfriend, Jim.  Fortunately, the new girl at school, Angela, manages to distract Kathy just long enough for Jim to take off running into the woods.  Mary goes chasing after him but she gets arrested before she guns him down as well.  It’s probably a good thing that Jim survived because, without him, how would the football team ever win another game?  After all, the team sucked just last season before all of the players and the cheerleaders suddenly got super strong!

Anyway, Mary says that she was shooting her friends because they were no longer human and, according to her, the three of them have been picking up people and killing them in a warehouse.  Police Lt. Nguyen doesn’t believe her but Angela feels a bit of an obligation to investigate Mary’s story.  And really, it’s the least she can do considering that she promptly starts flirting with Jim right after Mary’s arrested.

It quickly becomes obvious that something strange has happened to all of the school’s athletes and cheerleaders.  Maybe it has something to do with the mysterious crater from which the town gets its drinking water.  Angela notices that Jim tends to eat everything in sight, including a raw hamburger.  After she and Jim make out and she ends up getting some of his blood on her, she soon finds that she’s eating everything in sight.  Is it possible that some sort of monster has not only taken over Jim but is now taking over Angela as well!?

Yes, it is.  That’s bad news for Kevin, who is Angela’s BFF and who is totally in love with her even though she only views him as being a very good friend.  Oh, poor Kevin!  Kevin is one of the few wholly sympathetic characters in the book and he still ends up with a broken neck.  Like I said, this book is dark!

It all ends on an appropriately dark note and I guess that’s the important thing.  This book was written in 1992 and, at the time it was written, it was probably meant to be a metaphor about the dangers of having unsafe sex, as Angela is infected after fooling around with Jim.  Reading it today, though, it feels more like a commentary on just unsafe school has become over the past decade.  Mary Carlson, blowing away her friends because they’re “not human,” brings to mind so many recent gun-related tragedies.  It’s a bit difficult to read.

Anyway, Monster is a seriously dark book but still an effectively macabre story.  Nobody was as skilled at traumatizing young readers as Christopher Pike!