The Bookworm: Don't Stay Up Late

Don’t Stay Up Late, by R.L. Stine. 298 pages. Thomas Dunne Books. April 2015.

He tossed back his head and let out a long, snakelike hiss. The hiss turned into dry laughter, laughter that sounded like someone vomiting, dry heaves of laughter, cold, evil laughter. (p. 272)

Fear Street season rolls on with one of the series’ new novels, Don’t Stay Up Late.

The book revolves around Lisa Brooks, who suffers from brain trauma caused by a car accident. She hallucinates but is unaware she is doing so, unable to differentiate between reality and trauma-induced fantasy. She sees her deceased father, lost dog, and monsters. With the help of her friends, boyfriend, and someone who I think is a psychologist, Lisa tries to control the tricks her mind is playing on her, tries to regain the normal teenage life she enjoyed before the accident. She slowly makes progress and eventually returns to school. Her psychologist also thinks it is a good idea for Lisa to get a job and connects Lisa to a friend who is looking for an after-school babysitter.

Enter Brenda and her precocious son, Harry. They live on Fear Street, of course, but Lisa takes the job despite her friends’ warnings. Lisa has no choice, really. With her mother unable to work due to her own injuries, they need the money. Plus, as the book’s description says, “she jumps at the chance to keep busy and take her mind off her troubling thoughts.”

The job seems easy enough. Lisa walks Harry home after school, makes him dinner, helps him with homework, and puts him to bed — early. Brenda tells Lisa that Harry cannot stay up late. It is very bad for him; he needs a whole night’s rest. So despite Harry’s pleas to let him stay up late, Lisa obeys Brenda’s orders and puts him to bed early.

When Lisa is downstairs, alone, with Harry presumably sleeping, that’s when the monster appears in Brenda’s house. But is it Lisa’s imagination or real? It seems real, especially when people she knows are found half-eaten outside the house. Is Lisa going crazy, or is a monster stalking her and her friends?

Don’t Stay Up Late is well-written and engaging, like Party Games. It is much more mature, modern, and grounded than many of the books in the series’ original run, which sometimes feel more like lame and rushed soap operas. The back story about the car accident and the circumstances Lisa finds herself in are rich in detail and engender the reader’s sympathy. However, the story ultimately falls flat at the end. The big reveal and climax is something one can anticipate 150 pages before the ending, albeit quirkier than expected, and a number of loose ends remain untied.

Do those loose ends need to be tied at the end? As someone who is always thinking about writing a novel, that’s something I am unsure of. Is it vital that secondary plot points be neatly tied in crisp, tidy bows at the end? Sometimes. Sometimes not. I think it depends on how integral those secondary plot points are. Those in Don’t Stay Up Late are not that integral to the main story, but I am still annoyed when something is not resolved or goes unexplained. Why did this happen? What did so-and-so want to tell so-and-so — and why the hell didn’t she just say it? What was up with this? What was up with that? Though certain parts of Don’t Stay Up Late are ultimately unimportant and inconsequential, they still raise questions and, as a reader, I want resolution.

That may be why the ending felt so unsatisfying. There were a number of ways secondary plot points could have played a factor in the end, but they did not. I mean, not every book needs to or can be a 500-page short story, like For Whom the Bell Tolls, where every single word is propulsive and carries weight. But why include secondary plot points that ultimately mean nothing? Why disappoint the reader that way?

Am I expecting too much from a Fear Street novel? Being overly critical? Probably. But it’s annoying when certain aspects of a book go unexplained and are rendered insignificant. I want answers, damn it!

Anyway, there were a couple notable quotes I wanted to highlight.

When Lisa is at a club with friends, her boyfriend says he has a fake ID and mentions that, “The club won’t sell beer to anyone under eighteen” (p. 117). This piqued my curiosity because one of the characters in Party Games mentioned being “legal in this state” when he turned eighteen. So if the club serves alcohol to those over eighteen, and Brendan Fear can legally drink at eighteen, apparently the legal drinking age in whatever state Shadyside is a part of is eighteen. This does not jell with reality, of course, which is why I find it so interesting. According to Wikipedia, the last US state to raise its drinking age to 21 was Wyoming in 1988. (Apparently, due to a loophole, the minimum age remained 18 in Louisiana until 1995 and for a short period in 1996.) Of course, I am presuming that Shadyside is in the United States, but I think it is safe to do so. I doubt it is in Mexico, Alberta, Manitoba, or Quebec, where the drinking age is 18.

Here’s something else that I thought was noteworthy. While walking Harry home one day, Lisa thinks:

His blond hair was so curly and awesome, it was hard to keep your hands off it. To tell the truth, I was totally jealous of his hair. Mine is straight and thin and I never know what to do with it. (p. 195)

That made me smile. In the older Fear Street novels, many of the female protagonists bemoan their curls and waves and are jealous of their “beautiful” friends with straight hair. Oh, how times have changed. Love your curls and waves!

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