Friday, 24 May 2013

Whatever Happened to R.L. Stine?: Red Rain by R.L. Stine Review

After being trapped on an island in the middle of a hurricane, travel writer Lea Sutter discovers and adopts orphaned 12 year old twins Daniel and Samuel. But Lea’s husband Mark has his doubts about adopting the twins. Doubts that are soon justified when, shortly after Lea and the twins return to their Long Island home, Mark finds himself under suspicion for a brutal murder that occurred in his own front yard.

Back in the 1990’s, R.L. Stine was to teen fiction what J.K. Rowling became in the 2000’s. Every month, without fail, he produced a new Fear Street book for teens and a Goosebumps book for younger readers, and man, did those books sell. For three consecutive years in the ‘90’s, he was America’s best-selling author, and in 2003, the Guiness Book of World Records named him the best-selling children’s book series author of all time. Then, around the time Harry Potter became the “next best thing”, R.L. Stine seemed to vanish.

In the early 2000’s, YA fiction changed. The quality improved, it became respectable and all the monthly teen paperback series that were popular in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s died out. I had always assumed that Goosebumps and Fear Street had gone the way of The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High and that Stine had retired to do whatever he pleased. However, it turns out that, not only is Stine still writing around six Goosebumps books per year, he also has his own TV series (The Haunting Hour) and has recently come out with a new book for adults.

Red Rain is Stine’s fourth book for adults, but the first I would class as a true adult novel. Stine is clearly most comfortable writing for and about kids and teens. His previous three attempts at breaking into the adult market (Superstitious, Eye Candy, and The Sitter) all had protagonists in their early 20’s who acted like over-grown teenagers, so for all intents and purposes, were effectively YA books, just with more swearing, sex and violence that you’d usually find in one of Stine’s books. In Red Rain, however, Lea and Mark Sutter are a married couple in their 30’s, with kids and jobs, who said goodbye to their own childhoods years ago. Of course, Stine, being who he is, had to find some way of getting kids into the mix, which he does by way of 12 year old twins Daniel and Samuel, who turn out to be more than the Sutters bargained for, in the full horror story sense of the phrase (Side note: Why is it that adopted kids are always evil in horror stories? Did all these horror writers hate Annie and Anne of Green Gables that much?). The scenes featuring the twins are where the story really comes to life. Nevertheless, the book never feels like it is actually aimed at 12 year olds.

Red Rain is not great literature, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is very entertaining. The writing is bad in parts (“He doesn’t want us to be happy. Pa doesn’t want to give us the things we want. You heard him. You heard every word. We have work to do. We have plans, boyo. We cannot let the new pa stand in our way.”) and some of the twists and turns are ridiculous to say the least, but if you enjoyed reading Stine’s Fear Street books, you’ll love it. That’s essentially what this book is – Fear Street for adults.

The Fear Street books weren’t great books either, but Stine’s formula of cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter and humour mixed with a genuine sense of danger, kept readers turning the pages and buying his books. No matter how much I laughed at the lameness of Red Rain (for example, who really adopts kids without so much as checking to see that their parents are really dead?), I kept reading, I had a lot of fun, and I was even surprised by a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. By that definition, as far as I’m concerned, Red Rain was a good book.

Even though R.L. Stine was once called “the Stephen King of children’s literature”, his writing will never be mistaken for King’s, but it serves a purpose. I loved the Fear Street books and missed them sorely when the series ended. Red Rain provides one more opportunity for fans to journey down Fear Street and for that I am grateful.

Verdict: A laughably bad, good time that Fear Street fans will welcome.

Were you a fan of R.L. Stine? What was your favourite of Stine’s books? Comment below.

1 comment:

  1. I was SO OBSESSED with the Fear Street books! I haven't read anything by him in so long and I'd like to see what he is doing now, but at the same time I haven't heard good things. Maybe I should reread a Fear Street book. lol