Monday, May 27, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Monster Blood

It's a monster blood drive!
This is the first Goosebumps book I've been afraid to open. I must have read it a great load of times because it has a very well worn cover and pages. This book was one of my favorites of the original run of Goosebumps, and I regard it and its sequels very fondly. Actually throughout the first dozen or so books this was always my favorite. I love the premise, the characters, the writing, and what happens throughout. While never explicitly terrifying, the sci-fi and "magical" elements of the book are all really part of its appeal.

Monster Blood was released in September 1992, the same month of the release of the next book I'll review as well.

While the first book was a bit of a miss for me and the second was surprisingly good, this one hit the mark exactly. It is both very well done and never boring. Some elements of it could have been more concise and less hand-wavy, but the story works in general. I liked the idea of a mysterious substance ultimately ending up as both something harmful and truly unnerving. I mean, I can't even imagine what I would do or think if a substance I bought just starting growing and changing consistency without warning. I'd probably freak out and act much like these two kids did, plopping it into multiple containers and hoping for the best.

Anyway, the main characters are one of the strengths of this book. Andy and Evan are basically the stars of the book here and of the series as a whole. They pop back up in the next three sequels to Monster Blood, and are about as likable and amazing as protagonists can be in this series. They are believable as kids of twelve or so and work really well. Andy (Andrea) especially always worked well. The way all of what she's wearing is described every time she's shown really gave her a personality well beyond what any dialogue could. Sure, she's quirky and tomboyish and fun. And being able to give her that kind of character worked really well in establishing something about her beyond the mundane. Evan is also well established, being sarcastic and a little whiny, certainly not the perfect hero, but one who works in the book anyway. Kathryn, Sarabeth, the twins are also well done here even though they appear in none of the other books as far as I remember. Sarabeth works well as the villain without any reason or care. Kathryn, the great-aunt who doesn't care, is both intimidating and a question mark throughout the book. And the twins are the first real bullies we get to see in Goosebumps, a theme that will become more and more pronounced throughout the books.

I like that the protagonist is thrown into an awkward and foreign situation from the first page. I like how that leads to all of the problems. I guess I should tell the plot? I don't know. It's simple. So, Evan Ross is left with his great-aunt as his parents try to find a house in another state. Evan is alone with her, she's deaf and refuses to learn any real way of communication. Evan brings his dog Trigger as well. Eventually he meets Andy and they strike a friendship up. They go to an old toy store, buy some Monster Blood "SURPRISING MIRACLE SUBSTANCE," and begin playing around with it. It's just some bouncing goo at first, but after a day seems to become sticky and awful, growing and changing as time goes by. Evan's dog eats some of it, which can't be healthy, and starts growing himself too! Well, this can't do. Andy and Evan try to figure out what to do, only to learn that the Monster Blood is seemingly hungry as well, pulling things inside of it. As it grows, it finally gets out of its containment and goes after them, reaching a final confrontation where Evan's great-aunt's cat, Sarabeth, is the mastermind of a spell put on the Monster Blood and is looking to murder the children because "they know too much" even though they really don't know anything and probably wouldn't know a single thing if this cat-lady had just not been evil and ready to murder them. You know? Hospitality among cat-ladies is really awful today. Well, she ends up being eaten up by the Monster Blood and disappears for... reasons. And everything's good after that. Yup. Obviously there will never be a single sequel to this because it was all a spell by a lady who no longer exists. Right?

Right?

...?


Well, we'll wait to answer that until book 18.

Specifically that book.

I wonder why...

*Cough*Cough*
So, yeah, the book works pretty well at being coherent and quick, but surprisingly well put together too. The characters are so good here and the plot isn't too shabby either. Out of the first three books this is easily my favorite. It explores heavy subjects as well, just like the first two tried to do. Moving seems to be a surprisingly common theme, mostly because there are certainly people who have to move around, and, for a child, it must be difficult to cope with those moves. The fear and terror of moving and dealing with it is kind of within the books as well, the plot basically reinterpreting what it means to move to somewhere new. Or maybe that's just me over-thinking things.

This book takes on the subtheme of bullying and what that means much like how Welcome to Dead House deals with what moving to a new town does to a young kid. Evan and his family are also moving, but the move to a new place is never important to Evan like it was to Amanda in Welcome to Dead House. Hell, he hardly mentions it at all besides stating that's what's going to happen. The bullying though is a pretty main theme, with the twins not only bullying and hurting Evan, but also doing the same to Andy, nearing concussing her against a sidewalk while they steal her bike for a joyride. There is something sickening about the characters of the twins. Their utter inhumanity and eventual cowardice really say a great deal about bullying in general. I think this subtheme is wonderful and really shows a clear difference between those who are picked on and those who do the picking. The most shocking thing is when Andy is hurt. But almost as shocking is Evan being beaten to a pulp by them. Yes, I know Monster Blood's main plot has literally nothing to do with this theme, but I think it's way too important not to discuss. The kids reading these books would almost surely identify with the victims (I may be profiling here, but seriously, I used to be one of those kids, I think I have a good idea about this.), and see the bullies as awful people. I guess I like how it's handled. I like how Evan deals with it. And I like how the bullies get their comeuppance.

Monster Blood. Well, I don't really know how four (five?) books are made about this substance. This could have been a standalone book, and I would have been fine with that. I hate to admit this, but my memory of the other Monster Blood books is pretty spotty. While I remember this book well, and perhaps the beginning of the second book too, none of the others have stuck in my mind at all. I assume because they are simply not as... uh... not as good as this one. Then again I might eat my words when I get to them. We'll see...

I liked this book a great deal as a kid. It was one of my favorites in general of the series, like I mentioned, but it also had some of the more memorable moments of the books. I really liked the characters, Evan's sense of abandonment, and the friendship between Andy and Evan. Those things all worked so well here, and Monster Blood makes other books pale in comparison to its absolute brilliance at times. There is a great deal to praise here, and I do wish that every book could be this good. Well, there are some things to mention, mostly small things, but...

Okay, so one of my big questions: Why does the old toy shop close up inexplicably? I'm not sure I understand that detail. It had obviously been open for a very long time, then suddenly the owner sells the Monster Blood to Evan and closes shop? Was he not doing a good business? Did he die? I mean, as far as we know the Monster Blood's properties were specifically created by Sarabeth because she's a witch or something. So, did she kill the proprietor because she wanted to trick Evan? Or am I seriously missing something here? I just have no real answer. I guess it could have been a coincidence, but in horror like this I don't believe in coincidences. So, it's a problem that doesn't wrap up nicely or easily.

This is also the first cover that really has nothing to do with the contents within. Look at that book cover by Tim Jacobus. That never happens in the book. I have no idea if any of the characters even wear glasses. I don't think any do. So, unlike Stay Out of the Basement where that scene could have happened because plant-dad did happen or Welcome to Dead House where the house did exist, this cover never actually happens. It always struck me as odd, but I know things like this happen all the time. I'll continue to pay attention to covers and talk details. None of the covers have been particularly striking yet, but some are certainly brilliant eventually (or really baffling), and I'll be sure to speak about them at length when they come.

So, the last thing I want to speak of is a relationship between characters. Evan and Andy seriously have one of the best relationships in any of the Goosebumps books or series. I have no idea why, but their friendship works incredibly well. I'm pretty sure back when I was twelve I might have acted similarly to girls I liked. Or liked if that should be highlighted. Anyway, I like their dynamics and am looking forward to the other books with them together.

This book gets a good rating from me. It's a great read for an older or younger person to read. It works well even if some questions are left lingering in your mind. It doesn't really easily set up a sequel, but I can understand how this book became popular enough to warrant some when only one other book in the first ten books of the series did (The Night of the Living Dummy) (I have no idea if there are other more recent sequels now though.). Anyway, I highly recommend this one, and I look forward to more.

The next book up is the sequel to the first Fear Street review I did, Cheerleaders: The Second Evil.

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