Silent Night was an enjoyable and surprisingly complex read. Reva Dalby is a really fun character to hate, her cousin Pam serves as the real protagonist, and the who-done-it mystery kept me guessing right up until the end. While I would consider the book more crime/suspense story than true horror, the book set some high stakes and delivered some very real consequences to its characters. I can see why R. L. Stine likes writing Reva; she’s essentially Regina George before Regina George, only less popular. I also enjoyed the slow burn of the meticulously laid out plot, as well as the believable character motivations. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
Observations & Spoilers
Reva Dalby is established right from the start as rich, spoiled, and relentlessly mean. Although some of it is explained as her way of icing people out because of her mother’s death a few years prior, she is still awful and nearly impossible to empathize with. In fact, hating her is half the fun. It’s thoroughly satisfying to watch someone who treats people like shit finally get shook. While we never get an ultimate satisfaction on the level of that Mean Girls bus scene, she does almost get murdered so I guess that counts. Sure, she comes around to being a better person in the end, but we all know she’ll regress in time for Silent Night 2.
Some of Reva’s pranks are legitimately funny, but all of them are punching down. Telling Lissa to dress up fancy for her first day on the job working in the stock room? It would have been funny if it were perpetrated on someone like Reva, but Lissa had done nothing to deserve such an embarrassment. I’m also confused as to how Reva was allowed to just hand out jobs at her father’s department store. HR existed in the ’90s, right?
The robbery-gone-wrong scene where the security guard gets shot was one of my favorite parts of the book. This is why I said Pam was the true protagonist of this story. She’s the one we empathize with from the first chapter. From Clay showing up with a gun, to the realization that they had been played, to the inexplicable death of the security guard who caught them. It was the scene where the story really took off. And while Reva wasn’t directly involved, it’s safe to say that Pam and her friends wouldn’t have been there if Reva hadn’t been such a dick. It’s one level of consequence that’s never really dealt with in the end.
For Reva and Pam, Silent Night was a horror story. For Mr. Wakely, it was a tragedy. It gave the story an unexpected poetic element that (no offense to Stine) aren’t always par for the course in these books. After losing his job at Dalby’s department store, he and a buddy decide to rob one of the safes. When he realizes that his son is one of the “dumb kids” his buddy set up to take the fall, he shoots kills the security guard so that his son and friends can getaway. He then has to kill Reva’s crush Mitch, who witnessed the whole thing and tries to blackmail the kids over it. Mr. Wakely is ultimately electrocuted in rather brutal fashion on one of Dalby’s Christmas displays when he tries to kill Reva. It was quite a way to go out.
If there’s ever a Silent Night 4, it should be about Reva having taken over for her Daddy as CEO just as Dalby’s Department Stores are filing for Bankruptcy. It might make for a terrible book, but the vindication within would be satisfying until you realized that it’s only the employees whose lives are truly being upended.
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). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, Silent Night is ranked 10th of 13 among the Super Chillers, and 56th among the 79 distinct Fear Street books, placing it in the middle-low and bottom tiers respectively. It should be noted that the series ranking for the Fear Street books is a bit skewed in favor of the later books in the series, most likely due to the drop in popularity in the late 90’s. The books in the latter half of the series have a significantly lower number of ratings, which (I’m hypothesizing) is due to superfans being unchecked by more critical voices.
The concept was solid, even if there wasn’t anything particularly impressive about it. What makes this story work is the rich cast of characters and meticulous plotting.
The book opens with a prologue where Reva cuts her lip on a needle in her lipstick, then cuts back to two weeks earlier and slowly introduces the book’s large cast of character and laying the groundwork for its plot. I’ve seen a lot of episodic TV shows use similar devices in their cold opens. In this case, it’s Stine and his editors telling the reader: the slow build here is worth the wait. Some of Stine’s plots rely on a character or 2 making some wildly stupid decisions, but this one doesn’t. Overall I’d say this has my favorite pacing and plotting in any of my Fear Street/Goosebumps re-reads thus far.
Reva is awful and I fully enjoyed hating her. Pam was the real protagonist of the story. Mitch and Mr. Wakely were solid as well. Clay made for a good level of unpredictability. It was a solid cast of character throughout, with complicated and believable motives.
Scare Factor: 1/2
Most slasher style horror stories don’t do much in the way of scary for me. I would call this book a thriller with a compelling mystery. It’s got some real bite to it and there were some legit consequences for its characters. Reva was fun character to read and hate, but it was difficult to feel any empathy for her. All of that amounted to an enjoyable but not especially terrifying read. Then again, it did deliver more than one shocking death, so I’m giving it a point.
As I indicated in the concept rating, there isn’t anything particularly striking in the setup of the characters and what the story sets out to do. It was successful in delivering some interesting characters and kept me guessing about the particulars until the very end, but I can’t say any of the themes and ideas were outside of the box. I’m giving it 1 out 2 because it never felt derivative.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #1: The New Girl
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s Remember Me