Fear Street #31:
© 1995 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Bill Schmidt.
Switched might be the most frustrating Fear Street book I’ve read, in part because it started out with such a wild and engaging premise. For the first half of the book, I was convinced that this was going to become my favorite Fear Street book so far. The first twist that came (after the initial premise laid out on the back cover) really hooked me. It put our main character into such a weird and precarious position. There were so many fantastic possibilities of where the narrative could go. As the second half rolled on, I began to suspect that a final twist was coming. I was genuinely hoping my suspicions were wrong, but they were not. Stine ultimately took one of his coolest concepts and ruined it with a tired trope he’s used in multiple other Fear Street books. I could cite two titles off the top of my head, but I’ll save the spoilers for below the jump. If my expectations hadn’t been built so high in the beginning, I might have been more forgiving. I don’t think I’ve felt this let down by a story since watching M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. I wanted Switched to be the book that the first half of it led me to believe it would be. Maybe one of the new Fear Street movies can take the best parts and make something better with it. As it stands, I’m just really bummed out at the wasted potential this story had.
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Observations & Spoilers
The book opens up with Nicole having a no-good very bad day. She’s just been dumped by her boyfriend, she’s not doing well in some of her classes, and her overly controlling parents are on her case about everything. She’s being all sad about it when her best friend Lucy shows up and asks her if she wants to switch bodies. Nicole is feeling the teen angst and basically says: why the fuck not? Lucy’s parents fight all the time, but they let her do whatever they want. Lucy also has a really cute boyfriend, Kent. And so Nicole follows Lucy into the Fear Street woods where they find the Changing Wall.
The Changing Wall is an old legend passed down by Lucy’s grandmother. There are hint’s at Lucy’s grandma having a witchy past. It’s also rumored that the old Fear family would force people to switch bodies at the wall, to what purpose no one is certain. All that Lucy and Nicole need to do is climb the wall and jump down together. So they do. At first, nothing seems different, but then they realize it worked. They marvel at the effect for a bit before they part ways and go to each other’s houses to live each other’s lives. Only when Nicole walks into Lucy’s house she finds that Lucy’s parents have been brutally murdered. This was the twist that hooked me.
Nicole tries to go to her own house and find Lucy, but no one is home. She vomits in the street, unable to shake the horrible images of the dead bodies from her mind. Not knowing what else to do, Nicole goes to find Lucy’s boyfriend Kent. Nicole tells Kent the whole story of the Changing Wall and finding Lucy’s parents. To her surprise, Kent believes her right away. He goes to get her a drink of water, she overhears him on the phone calling the police. Feeling betrayed, Nicole runs. She finds her way back to Lucy’s house. She sneaks past the bodies without looking at them and goes to Lucy’s room. All of Lucy’s drawers are empty and she’s left a confession note with a bloody knife. That means Lucy killed her parents, confessed to it, then convinced her best friend to switch bodies with her in order to get away with it. That’s some pretty fucked up shit.
The police show up and Nicole flees out the back door. They chase her through some yards and she hides out in a dog house or something (didn’t write down exactly what, might have been a kid’s playhouse). She waits until they leave and then she finds her car. Even though Lucy has her keys, she always has a spare set. Then she drives around Shadyside looking for Lucy and trying to figure out why the fuck her best friend would do something like this to her. She thinks she spots Lucy at Pete’s Pizza, but when she goes in it’s just her friends Margie and Hannah. They easily believe Nicole’s story about switching bodies, too. They easily believe that she’s really Nicole and seem very concerned. But they won’t tell her where Lucy is.
Nicole realizes that she can’t trust them either. She runs back to her car and speeds away. She stops again at Kent’s house and finds that he too has been brutally murdered. His head has been severed. The cops show up at the house and she flees again, abandoning her car. Not knowing where else to go, she goes to the Fear Street woods and falls asleep by the Changing Wall. She wakes up the next day and sneaks into her own house for a change of clothes and supplies after she sees her parents leave. Then she goes to school to see if she can get Margie and Hannah to tell her where Lucy is. She has to wait and sneak in a side entrance because the cops are clearly looking for her. She confronts Hannah in the locker room who agrees to help her, but then Hannah gets killed. This book is racking quite the body count.
Nicole suspects that Lucy is somewhere nearby, but has to flee the school before she gets caught. Her next plan of action is to scrounge up some bus fair and go see Lucy’s, Grandma Carla. Her Grandma had known about the changing wall, and she knew Nicole. It seemed to be the least bad idea among a selection of bad ideas. Grandma Carla lets her in and is all nice and shit, but then she too calls the fucking cops. Nicole flees to the barn where she finds Lucy hiding; only the girl claims to not be Lucy. She’s some chick named Nancy, and Lucy apparently switched bodies with her earlier. Now Nicole has found her own body but a stranger is living in it.
PSYCH! It was Lucy just fucking with Nicole. Lucy then tries to drag Nicole into a well so they can drown together or something. Nicole is saved by Kent, who is supposed to be dead. Lucy begs Nicole to save her from the well; Kent tells Nicole to let her drown. She hears Lucy fall all the way to the bottom of the well. Then suddenly she’s out of the well and rips Kent’s head off again. Only none of this actually happened because the ENTIRE FUCKING THING was in Nicole’s head the ENTIRE FUCKING TIME. Nicole’s parents show up, and with Kent and Grandma Carla they explain to her that Lucy died in a car crash a few years earlier. Nicole was just having another one of her “episodes” where she became convinced that she was her dead friend. So the exact premise used in The Dead Lifeguard and Broken Hearts, just to name two off the top of my head.
I hated the twist that Nicole imagined the whole thing. For starters, it’s a cop-out. It retroactively removes all the stakes from the narrative. It’s also a very improbable and problematic portrayal of mental illness. I didn’t buy the twist any of the other times Stine used it, but it’s never ruined a book quite so thoroughly before now. I’ve never been this mad about it. Lucy switching bodies with her best friend in order to get away with murdering her own parents is such a cool fucking premise. For a good chunk of the book, that’s what I was led to believe was happening. Only, none of it happened. Aside from people calling the cops on her, or when the cops tried to chase her, none of what happened in the entire book was real. And not just because it was fiction.
I haven’t been this upset about a twist since M. Night Shyamalan ruined The Village with that really dumb twist halfway through. Twists that reveal the most interesting part of the story to be a fabrication are guaranteed to piss people off. It’s the narrative equivalent of a bate and switch. I’m all for a well-executed twist that challenges my expectations, but that’s not what this was. A good twist should add to your initial premise, not completely upend it. I am genuinely pissed that I got robbed of a really cool story for the sake of a predictable and over-used twist. I saw it coming a mile away and was just hoping I was wrong. To quote the wise Chrisjen Avasarala: I fucking hate being right.
There were so many more interesting ways the story could have gone. Lucy could have been switched with someone else from the beginning, meaning she too was trapped in another person’s body. Or, Lucy and Nicole had switched so many times that they had lost track of who they really were. Or Lucy and Nicole had been switched when Nicole died in that car accident, So Lucy had survived but was in Nicole’s body. I could go on. Anything but “Nicole had a breakdown and imagined the whole thing.” Sigh. This is apparently one of Stine’s favorite Fear Street books. I can see why it is. I wish I could have liked it, too. I hope that this is the last time I will see this trope used… but I have my suspicions that it’s not.
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?
I’m giving full credit for the concept the book started with. I just wish Stine had stuck with it.
The third-act twist ruined this for me, and I’m kinda pissed about it. It was well-paced, but to what end?
Evil Lucy was such a compelling character; it was a huge letdown to have her not be real.
It succeeded in delivering several legit scares, not to mention how gory it was. Turns out it was all in Nicole’s head, but the scares were real when they happened.
This would have been a 2/2 if it weren’t for that predictable third-act twist. Seriously, this was on track to becoming one of my all-time favorites before that.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #35: The Face
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s The Eternal Enemy