© 1994 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.
Deep Trouble was a fun read but it ultimately fell short of being something better. I appreciated the misleading nature of the book cover, and I liked the messaging and the themes. It gave me some serious Free Willy vibes (intended as a compliment based on my childhood memory of the movie). That being said, I think the Goosebumps books are thor best when they lean into their weird, and I wanted Deep Trouble to take it to another level. It got part-way there; it had enough weird twists to get me interested, but then it didn’t go any further. In the end, it was enjoyable but not one of the best.
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Ermahgerd #19: Deep Trouble.
© 2020 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo by Dierre Taylor.
Observations & Spoilers
The cover of Deep Trouble lulls the reader into thinking they’re about to read a more kid-friendly version of Jaws. What happens instead is closer to a cross between Free Willy and The Little Mermaid. While that mermaid twist was just weird enough to pique my interest, it never took things to the next level. The mermaids were beautiful Disney-esque creatures who spoke like whales. I appreciated the whale song part of it, but I really wanted creepy sea creature mermaids. It would have made for a more interesting dynamic when Billy and his sister had to save them from the would-be kidnappers.
The story itself was entertaining enough. Billy and his sister Shena go and visit their favorite uncle, Dr. Deep for the summer. Billy is swimming by a reef when has an encounter with a sea monster. He is saved by a mermaid who is then accidentally captured by his uncle. There is a zoo that wants to buy the mermaid, and Dr. Deep needs the money. Billy realizes that the mermaids have a language of their own and tries to set her free. Then the whole family gets double-crossed by Dr. Deep’s research assistant, Alexander. He steals the mermaid with some sketchy mobster dudes. Billy, Shena, and Dr. Deep barely escape the ordeal alive. They decide they need to go after Alexander and free the mermaid. Like I said, serious Free Willy vibes.
Billy & Co end up recruiting the help of other mermaids and work together to capsize the mobster’s boat. The mermaid is freed and they all escape. Happily ever after minus the sea monster that comes back for that classic Goosebumps twist ending. Aside from my wanting weird mermaids and the very familiar plot, these were some of the weaker characters in the book. Dr. Deep was a marine biologist and he seemed to have no curiosity about how the mermaids could have evolved, or how they evaded detection for so long. He also never calls the authorities to report Alexandar and the mobster dudes, even though they almost murdered his niece and nephew. It made him seem like a motiveless character. Billy and Shena also got really annoying, but in a way that felt real for a brother and sister that age. Thankfully there were enough interesting things going on to distract from them.
I was left with a lot of questions at the end that I wish were touched on a bit more. How had the mermaids stayed hidden for so long? Are they protected by that giant sea monster that Billy sees in the end? How did they evolve exactly? There were also strong implications that they are all female, which is all a part of the trope but I couldn’t help but think of the queer possibilities. Do they decapitate and eat their male mates like praying mantises? Do they lay eggs? What is deep sea lesbian mermaid culture like? Someone ask R.L. Stine because I need to know.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
It’s conceptually sound and doesn’t just do the obvious, which I appreciated.
This had some cool ideas but the execution was mulled with characters making bizarre decisions and not leaning into the weird parts enough.
Imaginative last names aside, Billy and Shena were kind of annoying. Dr. Deep also felt paper-thin. He didn’t seem nearly curious enough to given the type of researcher he was.
This was more of an adventure story than anything truly scary. Still, it had a sea monster and a kidnapping scene that raised the stakes. Maybe if the mermaids had been a little creepier…
I like how it lures you in with a shark on the cover and then surprises you with mermaids. That aside the plot is familiar and the mermaids weren’t unique enough.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
There’s no TV Adaptation for this one, but there is an adaptation of the sequel!
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #20: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror blog series:
Caroline B. Cooney’s Flight 116 is Down