Fear Street #25:
One Evil Summer
© 1994 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Bill Schmidt.
I have a vague recollection of reading One Evil Summer as a kid, but I didn’t remember any specifics. I was glad for this because it ended up being the most fun I’ve had reading a Fear Street book in a while. It had some of the familiar Fear Street tropes but avoided the most over-used ones. It was unhinged in all the right ways. Things got off to a strong start with Amanda being locked up in a psychiatric facility and no one believing her. I really felt for (and related to) Amanda’s character not being listened to in spite of all the mounting evidence that something was fucked up about Chrissy. It was genuinely unnerving how little mind they paid to their own daughter. I think that was the true horror of this book. Chrissy had a lot of classic Stine villain inconsistencies regarding her motives, at least until one bit of information was revealed after the jump. I won’t go into spoiler-level details here, but in light of that one revelation, I think this book missed an opportunity to go even weirder than it did. Any inconsistencies and criticisms aside were small enough that they didn’t bother me. I also know that I can forgive a lot when I am genuinely enjoying a book. I am here to be entertained, after all. On that front, One Evil Summer more than delivered, and it easily ranks among the best in this series.
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Observations & Spoilers
One Evil Summer begins with Amanda Conklin in a psych ward. We don’t know why she is there, only that no one will believe her, and that the reason she ended up there all comes down to Chrissy. Flashback to the beginning of the summer. The Conklin family has rented a summer house on the beach. Normally Amanda would babysit he two much younger siblings, Kyle and Merry, but she failed Algebra and has to go to summer school. So Mom and Dad hire a local girl to be their nanny. Chrissy seems fine at first, but then she hisses at Amanda’s cat, Mr Jinx. Amanda also can’t help but notice the birds stop singing whenever Chrissy is near. Add that to the fact that Amada’s parents called both of Chrissy’s references but neither of them picked up, and you’ve got yourself a few red flags. Unfortunately for Amanda, her parents are determined not to see or acknowledge any of them.
Amanda finds a newspaper clipping that mentions a girl named Lilith. Chrissy tells her that it’s her twin Lilith, ad that Lilith was evil. She does not elaborate. Then she sees Chrissy floating in her bedroom and passes out. Her parents convince her that she was just imagining it. Other things are going well for Amanda, though. At summer school she meets a cool local boy who might hold the record for least shitty boyfriend in a Fear Street book. Amanda tells him about Chrissy, who is supposedly from the same town and living with her aunt in an old house on some hill. Dave tells her that he’s never heard of Chrissy, but no one lives in the house she claims her aunt lives. It’s been vacant for years. Classic sloppy villain behavior.
As you might have guessed, no pet is ever safe in a Fear Street book. Mr. Jinx is no exception to the rule. A car loses control in front of their house just as Mr. Jinx escapes. He gets hit. Chrissy saves Merry and Kyle from getting hit, but Amanda thinks she sees Chrissy smiling after. Amanda finally calls out Chrissy’s inconsistent story, for which Chrissy has a ton of convenient and reasonable answers. Amanda’s parents are sick of hearing about it. So when Amanda spots another newspaper clipping on Chrissy’s bed, she snags it. It’s about a family that was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. Chrissy’s twin sister Lilith has left in a coma afterward. The newspaper does not mention Chrissy. Amanda wants to show the clip to her parents, but then she hears Chrissy’s voice in her head and the paper catches on fire before she can even react. That’s right, she’s evil and psychic.
Not to be deterred, Amanda calls her friend Suzi back in Shadyside. She asks Suzi to go to the library and do some research on the Milton Family from Harrisburg that was mentioned in Chrissy’s article. But then the phone melts in Amanda’s hands. Amanda confides in Dave about Chrissy, and shockingly, he believes her! I would say it’s unrealistic how much people don’t listen to children in these books, especially girls. But it’s unfortunately common. Anyway, Dave went ahead and asked around town about Chrissy. No one knows anything about her or her family, and this is a small town where everyone knows everybody’s business. Dave takes Amanda on a jet ski to a small island shack that he and his friends found and like to hang out in. It’s an old hunter’s den and fully stocked with hunting knives. A creepy place for a date, but he had the right idea. He gives Chrissy one of the knives along with a terrible idea to frame Chrissy. Ugh, I’m rooting for you Dave, but I suppose it’s hard to escape the trope of characters making terrible plans in horror stories.
Dave’s bad idea is for Amanda to take the knife and plant it on Chrissy. I’m not sure what this is supposed to prove. But Amanda agrees to it. When Amanda tries to plan the knife, blood starts pouring from it out of nowhere. She drops it in Chrissy’s clothes and runs. Then she finds the family birds have had their throats slit. That’s right, even the birds aren’t safe in this Fear Street book. Her parents walk in on the horror scene and think Amanda killed the birds and was trying to frame Chrissy for it. Because that’s more obvious than something being off about the nanny who they never fully checked the reference for. So her parents do the obvious next step and take her to a shitty psychiatrist. RL Stine either has a very unfavorable impression of psychiatrists as stuffy old men who get everything wrong, or he just relies heavily on that being a trope. This dude Amada’s parents take her to basically decides that Amanda is scared of Chrissy taking her place, which might be causing a psychotic break. He advises that they shot NOT fire Chrissy so that Amanda can learn to adapt. Seriously?
That’s right, your daughter might be having a psychotic breakdown. You definitely should keep him living in the same house as the very person who is known to be triggering this so Amanda can tough it out and learn. Yeah, let’s keep exposing her to trauma so she learns to get over it faster. This should go great. Amanda decides to lie and makes peace with Chrissy, thinking it will be easier if her parents think she’s trying to make things work. Then she gets a call from a mutual friend about her bestie Suzi. Apparently, Suzi collapsed at the library while looking up random newspapers and was in a coma. She knows without verifying that it was the work of Chrissy. She decides to try calling Chrissy’s reference again and finally gets an answer. The woman who answers had been checking on her neighbors who she just found dead (can’t remember the specifics here). Anyway, she warns Amanda to get the hell away from Chrissy just before the line goes dead.
Amanda’s parents need to leave for a party. Because they have priorities. I should also mention here that Amanda’s mom is a journalist who is especially interested in writing about the problems teenagers have. Unless they happen to be her own daughter trying to warn them of a very real danger that threatens the lives of their entire families? Anyway, it’s Chrissy’s night off. Amanda wants to take care of the kids and let Chrissy have a night to herself, but really she wants to get rid of Chrissy so that she can poke through her room and read the rest of those newspaper clippings. Dave convinces Chrissy to go to the movies with him. Amanda’s a little jealous but knows it’s her best shot. She gets to the clippings and reads away. She finds out that her dad was a defense lawyer that got Lilith’s dad convicted of numerous felonies. Rather than face time, Lilith’s dad tried to kill his entire family with carbon monoxide poisoning. Amanda still can’t make sense of it all, but it does show that Chrissy has been lying.
Chrissy comes back home suddenly. Amanda realizes she’s been caught and can’t get out of the room in time to put all of the newspapers away. She hides and then makes a run for it. She gets in the car with Dave, who takes her cue and drives. She hopes they can get to where her parents are in time, but then Dave slumps dead over the steering wheel with blood pouring out of his mouth. Chrissy quickly catches up to them with demon speed. Amanda can see that Dave is dead because we are not allowed to keep good boyfriends around in Shadyside.
Amanda tries to escape the car but Chrissy is too powerful. Chrissy explains that she wants to kill Amanda’s family because her dad had ruined her father. It’s all about revenge for her. Even though her father sucked ass and tried to kill her? Chrissy traps Amanda in the car, then sends it over the cliff. It catches on the bluff, giving Amanda just enough time to get out. She passes out on the beach as the car goes underwater. She wakes up in the morning and walks back to the rental home. She sneaks in and sees her brother and sister are still OK. She eats some food but leaves it out. Chrissy sees it, so Amanda runs. Chrissy gets in her head again but Amanda flights back. Amanda steals a jet ski and goes to Dave’s secret island, Kenny Powers style. She can feel Chrissy in her head the whole time, and she knows she needs to get back to save the kids
Amanda gets another hunting knife and hops back on the jet ski. She catches Chrissy with Merry and Kyle tied up on a boat, heading out to sea. She cuts them off. Chrissy fights her but gets hit on the back of the head and is knocked unconscious. The boat starts sinking but it’s shallow. They drag Chrissy inside, not wanting to kill her. Chrissy comes back to life before they can call the police and starts magic stuff. Chrissy starts a fire (it’s not entirely clear how) and then trips over a kitten. Here is where I point out that Amanda had found a kitten after Mr. Jinx was killed and started taking care of it. Now that kitten has come back to seal Chrissy’s demise. Chrissy trips over the kitten and falls onto her face into the flames. Chrissy gets burned up in the house while Amanda, the kitten, and the kids escape.
Now we catch up to the opening where Amanda is in a mental home. No one believes her story. It helps that her parents have borderline gaslighted her from the beginning. Her brother was too traumatized to talk, and her sister was too young. Eventually, her brother talks and corroborates her story. She gets let out. Her parents apologize, and she accepts, but damn they should have to prove themselves. Those assholes should be groveling. Anyway, it turns out that Chrissy was really Lilith. Lilith had gone missing from the hospital while still in a coma. The name Chrissy came from the family’s cat… meaning that maybe somehow Litlith and her cat merged minds? It’s not entirely clear, but this is where it ends.
Now, I loved this book because it kept me turning the pages and trying to anticipate what might come next. It managed to surprise me on several turns. I was confused by Chrissy’s motives, but maybe all of that can be explained by the fact that she was a cat in possession of a human body. Why did Chrissy leave reference numbers that were really just the numbers of the previous families she had killed? Unless she wanted to be caught and sewing chaos was just sort of her thing? Is this a play on cats being evil? If so it would explain a lot of her more bizarre behavior. She likes to play with her victims, she has no regard for consequences, and her plans were erratic as fuck. I wish we spent more time with Chrissy being a cat. As in I wish there was more than the hissing. Maybe Amanda could have caught her pooping on the beach like it was a big litter box. Maybe her mannerisms are off in a catlike way. Nothing that screams cat too loud but it could have been a lot of fun. I think this was the biggest issue opportunity of this book.
All of this makes me even more excited to read RL Stine’s Cat, which has a reputation for also being unhinged. I love a good unhinged book. I should also mention that throughout this book, I was very frustrated on Amanda’s behalf. I think the experience of not being listened to as a teenager is also one that deeply resonates with me. There is a queer theme in these pages that I am sure was not intended, but it’s still present. I’m still unpacking a lot of this shit in therapy, but my point remains. The horror of not being believed is real. It is a fucking awful experience. Somehow RL Stine managed to encapsulate that in this book, and inadvertently made it one of the more powerful Fear Street books for me. I hold it in high regard for that alone.
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: is the overall idea good? does it make sense within the story?
Execution: do the plot and mechanics of storytelling work? is it well-paced?
Character: do the characters feel real? do their choices make sense?
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: does it feel original? does it subvert or rely on tropes?
This was relatively simple but solid. It was less of the mystery types we typically get in this series and more of a play on power and the force of will. So it was refreshing as well.
Do I have a few lingering questions and potential issues? Absolutely. But the pacing and structure worked really well for me overall, and when I enjoy a book I can forgive a lot. I thought this was one of the better books I’ve read in the series.
Amanda was good. Her parents were awful but in a believable way. Chrissy felt a little one-note until the end revealing that she was secretly a cat somehow. It was weird enough that I wanted more time with her doing weird shit instead of just plain evil shit. I would argue that’s the book’s biggest missed opportunity.
The scariest part about this one is the way Amanda sounds the alarms but no one listens. Maybe it’s more frustrating than scary, but I think it strikes a note that resonates with its target audience. It certainly resonated with me reflecting on my teenage experience.
Ok, so it’s not the most original thing I’ve read, but it still felt fresh for this series. I enjoyed the supernatural elements of it it, but I’m glad they didn’t dominate.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
The Cataluna Chronicles #1: The Evil Moon
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face