The Bookworm: Cheerleaders: The Third Evil

Cheerleaders: The Third Evil, by R.L. Stine. 165 pages. Pocket Books. October 1992.

So, goodbye, Debra. And goodbye, Kimmy. Goodbye, cheerleaders. I’m afraid that from now on, I’ll be the only one with something to cheer about. (p. 114)

And now for the much anticipated conclusion to the Cheerleaders series. Did it live up to the hype? Were all the loose ends tied? Did it make sense? Was it satisfying?

Well, let me put it this way: I did not expect it to end like it did.

Three months after Corky expelled the evil from Kimmy’s body at the end of The Second Evil, all seems to be going well with the cheerleading crew. Until the pea soup attacks.

That’s right. Corky and her cheerleading friends are attacked by a bowl of pea soup. The evil has resurfaced. Literally.

For spring break, the cheerleaders head to a local college for a one-week cheerleading camp. Hannah, a peppy and overenthusiastic freshman on the squad, starts to get on Corky and Kimmy’s nerves. Mysteriously, Hannah is scalded in the shower, and then has her waist-length braid of hair cut off during the night. The braid-cutting culprit had to be either Corky or Kimmy since Hannah roomed with them. Corky wonders if the evil is still inside Kimmy. However, Corky finds a pair of scissors, with strands of Hannah’s hair clinging to it, in her dresser. When a seemingly possessed Corky nearly stabs Hannah in the back, Corky realizes that the evil is now insider her.

She feigns illness for the rest of the camp to keep from harming her friends, then stays in her room when she returns home. However, that does not stop the evil from possessing her. The evil takes control of her body and Corky ends up taking a backseat in her own body. The possessed Corky tries to kill Debra twice, but fails both times.

Corky knows she must somehow stop the evil. But how? After dreaming that she is Sarah Fear one night, Corky realizes she can access Sarah’s memories since she had been possessed by the same evil. Sarah Fear had defeated the evil, and Corky, by delving deep into the evil’s memory, discovers how: suicide. Sarah Fear had drowned herself to keep the evil from possessing her loved ones. Despite the fact she wants to live, Corky must kill herself to defeat the evil.

What a hellish dilemma, huh?

After the possessed Corky pushes Kimmy off a cliff overlooking a river, Corky regains control of her body and jumps off the cliff herself. Once in the river, she drowns herself and the evil leaves her body. The evil tries to save its host, but Corky is dead. Slowly, the evil fades until it, too, is dead.

But wait — there’s more! Having survived her fall from the cliff, Kimmy sees Corky’s fight with the evil. (The water is boiling and Corky’s body floats into the air — the usual stuff you’d expect when trying to drown evil.) Kimmy locates Corky floating in the current, conveniently remembers what she learned in a lifesaving course, drags Corky to shore, and revives her. (All despite the fact she would think Corky pushed her off the cliff.) The book ends with an epilogue, where Kimmy and Corky are happily practicing with the other cheerleaders. They go out to eat after practice, and Corky jokes about having the urge to order pea soup.

As I said above, I was not expecting the book to end the way it did. Then again, the first book ended with a tornado of dirt, so why should I have expected anything saner?

Did it live up to the hype? There was no hype, really, but I wanted to know how the series ended. It is only natural, I suppose, to want conclusion, to see a story through to the end. I doubt anybody has ever watched Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but forwent watching Return of the Jedi. (“Nah, I’m good. I really don’t want to see that one.”)

Were all the loose ends tied? No. Remember Sarah Beth Plummer from The Second Evil? I thought she would play a role in The Third Evil, especially given her connection to the Fear family. (Not only was she seen dancing on Sarah Fear’s grave, Sarah Beth Plummer revealed to Corky and Debra in The Second Evil that she is a distant relative of Sarah Fear.) Plus, right before Corky falls at the basketball game at the end of The Second Evil, she sees Sarah Beth in the gym. Because of that, I assumed Sarah Beth had some kind of connection to the evil and would feature prominently in the conclusion of the series. I mean, why else would someone have written her into that scene? But, no — no Sarah Beth Plummer in The Third Evil. Corky only mentions that Sarah Beth left Shadyside shortly after the events of the second book. It is almost (almost) like Darth Vader revealing that he is Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, but never appearing in Return of the Jedi. Again, I expected way too much. This is, after all, young adult fiction. The bar for continuity is not set very high at this level. Or at least it was not in 1992. Perhaps the Harry Potter series changed all that.

Did it make sense? Yes and no. It made sense in that absurd, suspend-all-reason-and-logic way that is a hallmark of the Fear Street series. (That is one of its endearing qualities, of course.) But the conclusion suffers from a fatal flaw. If the evil died when Corky died, why did the evil not die when Sarah Fear died? How was it able to live on after Sarah Fear’s drowning, somehow stuck in her coffin for nearly 100 years until Jennifer died six feet above it, but die after Corky’s drowning? Perhaps I missed something, but I am sure I once again expected too much.

Was it satisfying? I was happy to see the characters happy and that everything was resolved in the end, but, from a storytelling standpoint, the series left a lot to be desired. It was fun to read, though, and much more satisfying than the 99 Fear Street series.

A couple last points about the series as a whole, just because I cannot seem to stop writing:

• I do not know squat about cheerleading, but it seems Stine did his homework to make the character’s knowledge and interest believable, as well as the cheerleading scenes. He not only employed technical terms associated with the sport (i.e., liberties, handspring, tuck jump), but he described individual stunts in detail.

• On his website, Stine lists The First Evil as among his favorite Fear Street books. He writes about the series, “The poor cheerleaders died in horrible ways.” That comment makes it seem like there was a veritable massacre of cheerleaders, which was not the case. Bobbi’s death was horrible (she was boiled in the shower), and I suppose Jennifer’s death was awful as well (she was thrown from the open bus door when the bus crashed), but Stine’s comment seemed misleading.

• At the end of The Third Evil, after Kimmy has revived her, Corky sees her sister’s smiling face in the river. Interestingly, the 99 Fear Street series ended with a very similar scene: Kody sees the figure of her sister waving from the flames of the burning house.

• Before I end this, I wanted to share this one line from The Third Evil that I thought was hilarious. Corky is in her bedroom and the evil causes a noxious, green gas to spew from her mouth: “I’m going to vomit forever. Forever! Corky thought, her entire body trembling as the green gas spewed out (p. 96).” FOREVER!

All right — I’m done! On to Party Games, and then I will take a break from the Fear Street series for a while.

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