Johanna Wise is one of Shadyside’s poor kids. Her mom has been working two jobs ever since she and Johanna’s dad got divorced–with all of the single parent households in Shadyside, I have to assume the divorce happened while he was awaiting trial on federal charges. She’s envious of Dennis Arthur and his crowd–the wealthiest kids in Shadyside. With enough money, they can make any problem disappear. That’s…probably more true than I’d like to think.
Of course, money can’t make everything go away. Though Johanna’s a junior, she’s taking some senior classes, and shares a history class with Dennis. Mr. Northwood is unimpressed with money and with athletes, and he won’t allow Dennis to make up a test he’ll miss due to his family’s annual trip to the Bahamas. Johanna gets an in with Dennis when he learned Mr. Northwood is her next door neighbor (and of course they live on Fear Street. That’s another student and a teacher now).
This is a relatively slow book, as far as Fear Street stories go, so to up the gore, Johanna has ridiculous and violent fantasies. We get to see the whole fantasy play out, then she backs of and admits that nope, she didn’t do any of that.
The rich kids focus their malicious pranks on Mr. Northwood, pouring sand into his gas tank and vandalizing his car. They amuse themselves by daring each other to do all kinds of ridiculous crap. Zack comes up with a vial of skunk juice, and they pass it back and forth until they send Johanna over to break it on Mr. Northwood’s porch. They spend weeks joking about killing Mr. Northwood clear up until they find out there’s a gun in Johanna’s house. Because these are not kids who should be trusted alone with rubber band guns, it takes almost no time before Dennis tries to demonstrate a quick draw and shoots Zack in the shoulder. His genius way to deal with this isn’t to call an ambulance, but to set everyone cleaning up the mess while he hauls his friend over to Mr. Northwood’s house to try to frame their teacher.
Naturally, it doesn’t work. The Shadyside police really do seem on top of things when people call them in. The parents all try to get their kids transferred out of his class, but the school doesn’t cooperate. By the time kids are framing the guy for shooting a student, you’d really think the school would be on board with getting them in a different class, but no. Shadyside PD seems competent, but I can’t say as much for Shadyside High administration.
Rather than just trying to get through their senior year, the kids dare Johanna to kill Mr. Northwood. She’s so pleased with her new, wealthy friends and especially with Dennis, who has begun cheating on his girlfriend with her, that she takes it seriously. She picks a date and everything, and learns that students are taking bets on whether or not she’ll go through with it.
That sounds like a genius plan. You’d think she’d call the whole thing off on grounds of “I’ll obviously go to jail if I go through with this,” but despite taking senior-level classes, Johanna isn’t nearly that smart.
So, the carnage? Mostly imaginary.
Shadyside death count: Holding steady at 33. Not for lack of trying, though.
Additional carnage: One teenage boy gets shot in the shoulder, and the teacher does get shot. Additionally, we’re treated to such scenes as Johanna shoving a seashell into a girl’s face, gashing her cheek open and breaking her teeth, and opening a car door and hauling the same girl out and throwing her on the ground to steal her car and boyfriend, and shooting her teacher.
Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: There’s probably some room to argue that if Mr. Northwood had just let Dennis take a makeup test, it all would have been fine, but I sincerely doubt that. Maybe the rich kids had some sense of proportion? Johanna backed out of shooting the teacher, but Dennis had already used the gun to shoot him to make sure Johanna would take the fall. They got caught because they spelled out their whole plan like comic book villains even though they knew the teacher recorded everything. A confession on tape is always kind of handy, and that’s just sloppy. There’s inexperience, then there’s sloppy cartoon villainy. Did movies teach them nothing?
Oh, well. Stupid, sloppy, entitled murderers are the best kind, especially when they fail to actually murder anyone before being caught.
(To keep up with a year of reading and reviewing Fear Street books, visit The Shadyside Review.)