As I mentioned in my post from Monday, two of the used books I bought while I was home were young adult novels by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. I read these authors voraciously when I was younger, tearing through multiple books in a day. Road trips with my family were particularly fruitful when it came to this. My mom always said I never saw the sights because my nose was always in a book. Well, all I can say to that is at least my nose was, indeed, in a book!
I wish I had the time to read like I did when I was a young adult and teenager, whiling away huge chunks of my spare time with a book … or two. The books I read now are, of course, longer, and I probably couldn’t get through two entire books in a day, but it’s the principle that counts! Stine’s books run at about 145 pages and are printed with a large font size, and Pike’s novels are approximately 215 pages with the same-size font. The same can’t be said for many “adult” books.
No matter. I was excited to sit down once again with The Fire Game by Stine and Scavenger Hunt by Pike and devour them the way I used to. I was finished The Fire Game in about two and a half hours, give or take, and much hilarity ensued. Take, for instance, this paragraph:
Jill glanced up, half expecting to see the fire chief. The door had just swung open, and a tall, muscular boy stood framed in it against the setting sun. He was dressed in faded 501 jeans and a gray rugby shirt. His thick, sandy hair curled above a broad, handsome face.
The premise of Fire Game is centred around a group of teenagers who accidentally cause a fire in the high school library and then continue to challenge each other to start bigger and more serious fires around their town, Shadyside. The cast of characters is made up of three girls and three guys, and it’s easy to recognize who is acting as a foil for who. We have the new bad boy in town, Gabe – is he the crazy pyro? The guy who spouts inspiring lines such as:
“I was just in the gym doing some extra crunches and chins. You know, the phys. ed program here is pathetic. They must be trying to turn out couch potatoes”?
And then there’s the rebellious girl, Andrea, who thinks the fires are funny, dangerous, and exciting – is she the firebug setting things aflame all over town? Or is it the main character, Jill, whose innocent demeanour is a ruse? The other members of the group who are under suspicion are Diane, who mysteriously won’t wear a bikini or change in front of the other girls in gym class, Nick, who is always trying to out-alpha-male Gabe, and Max, the easygoing guy who is basically just a floater character.
The conflict between the sextet starts when someone goes too far and sets fire to an abandoned home where a homeless man was hiding out. He later dies and everything goes loco. Accusations fly and quickly escalating scenes of high emotion like this one play out:
“What do you want?” Andrea snapped. “A full confession? Well, you won’t get one, because I didn’t write any notes and I didn’t do anything else wrong!”
“All we want to do is stop the fires,” Diane went on, her voice trembling. “And we want you to know that we’re your friends and we’ll stand by you no matter what.”
“Some friends!” said Andrea. “Just go away and leave me alone!”
“Andrea, please-” said Jill.
“Get out!” Andrea screamed. “Didn’t you hear me? This is my house and I don’t want you in here! Not now – and not ever again!”
Andrea’s face was so distorted with anger that Jill felt she hardly knew her.
There are also some other amusing lines that deal with the technology of 1991:
“I almost forgot. I’ve got to show you what Dad got me for an early birthday present,” said Andrea. “You’re not going to believe this.” She went to the modular desk unit in the corner and opened the door, revealing a new laptop computer and printer.
“Wow!” said Jill. ”Look how little it is!”
“It’s got lots of power,” said Andrea. “It can do calculations and play games, and it’s got a word processor. Dad thinks it will help me with my grades.”
“Turn it on,” said Diane. “Let’s see you print something out.”
Andrea switched on the computer, then put a disk in. After a few seconds the disk booted, and the cursor blinked, ready for input.
As much as I mock, my 12-year-old eyes read these exact words and I guarantee I was lovin’ every minute of it. It’s possible I might have even been a little bit in love with Gabe and his extra crunches that gave a big eff-you to the couch potatoes of Shadyside High. Stine’s words and writing are elementary, as I realize they are meant to be, and as I read more and more of this book the motivation to finish was for the nostalgia factor rather than my actual interest in what was happening. My waning interest was all the more clear once I finished Fire Game and started Pike’s Scavenger Hunt.
When I first thought about Stine and Pike, I was sure that I had read these authors at the same time in my life, but after reading only the third page and seeing the word “genuflected” I wasn’t so sure about my recollections. Stine and the word “genuflected”? I don’t think so! And while the Shadyside crew was looking at each other with what equated to puppy-dog eyes, the characters of Scavenger Hunt had a distinctly sexier vibe, as on page 24, I came across this:
When she reached the side (of the pool), she held up her arm for a helping hand. The top of her right breast lifted above the water line, and a very fine top of the breast it was. Cessy was built.
Yowza! I’m a woman now!
Before I go any further, yes, there is a plot to Scavenger Hunt. It revolves around a decidedly more mature group of high-schoolers who are divided into teams to participate in an end-of-the-school-year – what else – scavenger hunt that could win them a trip to Hawaii. Say, what?! The book quickly focuses in on two particular groups, one whose main character is Carl. He lost his best friend, Joe, while on a hiking trip in the desert, and since the death hasn’t been the same. Also on his team is Tom, who was injured in a football accident and is now a bit on the odd side, and Cessy and Davey, siblings who are of the perfect-people persuasion and one of whom is the person who possesses the aforementioned very fine right breast.
In the other group is Tracie, who is in love with Carl (but he doesn’t know it!), Paula, whose boyfriend was Joe and has since turned into a cigarette-smoking rebel whose favourite word is “goddamn,” and Paula’s brother Rick, a high-school genius whose greatness is restricted by his pesky wheelchair.
Now, who in this cast of characters is the bad guy? The scavenger hunt quickly narrows down its focus to these two teams, and the story moves along from clue to clue as Carl feels uneasier and uneasier about the whole situation. Tracie’s team picks up the slack behind first-place Team Carl, but they, too, begin to sense the ominous cloud in the air. And then something happened to me that didn’t with Fire Game, and that’s that I was interested and invested in what what was happening with Carl, Tracie & Co. Pike does a great job of heightening the tension, and with paragraphs like this one, how could I not be wild to know what was going to happen next?
She dropped the flashlight. It went off.
The face vanished.
Her heart stopped pounding. It stopped beating – period – and the blood backed up inside her brain and her thoughts exploded in a million directions from an insane core. She would have dashed from the house if she’d had the wits. Pure terror consumed her.
Anything that’s bursting from an insane core has to be at least a little intriguing. I definitely thought so, and ended up turning the pages quickly and with purpose, and concentrating intently on what was coming next. Who was leading these kids on a scavenger hunt that brought them deep into a hidden mine/ancient temple in the middle of the desert? Well, I’ll give you a clue. Carl and Tracie aren’t responsible. Neither are Paula and Rick. Or Tom. But if you want to know the explanation behind why Cessy and Davey are from a reptilian race and need a human sacrifice to stay on Earth, then you will just have to go to your local used bookstore and pay $1.95 to find out.
All in all, Pike’s writing beats Stine’s by a mile, and I was infinitely more interested in reading his story than that of what was going down on Fear Street in Shadyside. Pike’s book was more mature (he even used the word “bitch” once!), which is probably why I thought it was better than Fire Game. Thinking back, I must have had some overlap into Christopher Pike’s books while leaving R.L. Stine’s behind with my Sweet Valley Highs. Pike was more in the league that led me to the world of Sweet Valley University and all it had to offer. And from there, the world of books and reading grew and grew into more books on my shelf than I could handle. Yet I keep buying more … and then going back and buying books that I’ve read before …!
I know Stine’s books – and probably Pike’s – might seem oddly puerile and short to the young adults of today who are reading Twilight and the many other books and series out there for YA readers that I haven’t heard of and might never find out about, but to me, both authors will always hold a special place in my book-lover’s heart.