Flight 116 is Down
by Caroline B. Cooney
I became slightly obsessed with plane crashes last year after the whole Boeing scandal. So when I found out that Caroline B. Cooney wrote a teen horror/thriller novel in the 90s that centered around a plane crash, I obviously had to read it. I’m glad that I did because it was a thoroughly entertaining read. Flight 116 is Down moves at a lightning-quick pace. Cooney establishes Heidi and Patrick as the two main characters, then gets right to the action. The multiple points of view helped give the book a chaotic feel that complimented the subject matter. There were a few surprises and a few cliches, but in the end, it delivered some great moments. The characters were dynamic and the action kept the pages turning. I only have a few minor complaints to speak of. It was more horrific than it was scary, but I felt like Cooney accomplished what she set out to do.
Observations & Spoilers
The concept of Flight 116 is Down is relatively simple, but it was really well executed. The main two characters, Patrick and Heidi, come from very different worlds. Heidi is a listless rich kid who hated boarding school and doesn’t make friends easily. Patrick is a volunteer EMT who’s itching to prove himself at the first opportunity. The two end up being the first on the scene of a massive plane crash on Heidi’s parent’s estate. Interspersed throughout the main narrative, story we get snippets of story from various passengers and a few other people on the ground. That coupled with the rapid pacing and meticulous plotting really gave me the feel of being on a frantic accident scene. My lifestyle determines my deathstyle, yo.
My one beef with the story was the fate of Heidi’s favorite dog, Tally Ho. She was out walking Tally Ho when the plane crashed and lost track of the dog. The description of Tally Ho reminded me a lot of my own dog, Coeus. She was smart and fiercely loyal. In the end, it got a brief mention that she was found dead, presumably hit by debris during the crash. I was bummed that it was treated almost like a footnote rather than a profound emotional moment for Heidi. But it was also a missed opportunity to have the dog be something bigger. She could have laid with one of the passengers while they died, or found the little girl that got overlooked in the wreckage. The bottom line is: if you’re gonna kill the dog you’ve gotta make it count and it better fucking hurt. Otherwise, you’re just wasting my feelings.
I was really rooting for the passenger Carly to survive. She was traveling home after years of separation from her twin sister. She had a redemption arc to finish, and it hurt that she didn’t make it through. There were plenty of characters I would have been fine with dying. I wouldn’t have been upset if the crash had killed the spoiled rich girl who didn’t help anyone or the angry teenager who was mad at his dad for getting married. But that’s the nature of these things; it’s pure chaos and luck. Death doesn’t care whether or not you were a good person, or if you had more to live for, or what sort of redemption you were seeking. In the end, the arbitrary place you chose to sit carries more weight.
In some ways, this is an atypical book for me to review for this Pulp Horror series. There were plenty of horrible things that happened, and Caroline B. Cooney has plenty of horror credits to her name, but Flight 116 is Down was more of a disaster/action story. There was no mysterious cause for the crash or creepy locals loitering around the crash site and causing trouble. There wasn’t even really a mystery to speak of. While I would have really liked something more eerie and spooky going on, that wasn’t what the book was trying to be and I respect that.
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 overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
This is a simple by-the-numbers concept, but it was done really well.
The story doesn’t waste time, gives us multiple perspectives, and pays off with solid character growth by the end.
The characters were pretty typical of the teen pulp of this era; loosely defined and relatable. In this case, the two main characters played off each other nicely and proved themselves to be dynamic.
Scare Factor: 1/2
Being in a plane crash or being on the accident scene are both pretty terrifying and gruesome. That being said, the story doesn’t focus on the scary so much. It was more of an action thriller than horror. Maybe don’t read it on a plane, though.
There’s nothing wildly original about this, but it stands on its own and is successful in what it sets out to do.
Body Count: Hundreds
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s Fall Into Darkness