by Diane Hoh
I wanted to add some diversity to my pulp horror nostalgia reading, and it just so happens that most of the Point Horror writers were women. I can’t let R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike have all of the glory. First up is The Accident by Diane Hoh. I really wanted it to be better than it was. It had so many great horror elements and themes going for it, from human-ghost body-switching to brutal car wrecks and family secrets. Unfortunately, it came up short with its two main characters. I think the protagonist was intended to be a naive teenager, but the sequence of events just made her seem really stupid. The plot was so obvious that it got distracting. I wanted more tension and some dynamic characters, but they just weren’t there. Maybe that’s me expecting too much from these books, but don’t think so. It’s been done in others and could have been done here.
Observations & Spoilers
The book opens with three of Megan’s friends getting into a bad car accident. It is just one week before Megan’s upcoming sweet sixteen birthday party. Minutes after she hears the news about her friends, a cold plume of smoke appears in Megan’s room. The plume of smoke claims to be Juliette, the ghost of a girl who died 60 years earlier and just shy of her own sixteenth birthday. The ghost explains that Megan can hear her because she is a “dreamer.” More importantly, Megan just so happens to share a birthday with Juliette. That’s when Juliette reveals her true motive: she wants to trade places with Megan for one week. She leaves just asking Megan to think about it.
Over the next few days, several other accidents keep happening to Megan’s friends. They find out that the car accident was caused by someone deliberately cutting the brake lines. Then someone pushes her friend Hillary from the theater catwalk, almost killing her. Megan keeps getting these weird drawings in her locker that seem to predict the accidents. Somehow Megan never suspects the plume of smoke that wants to borrow her body, and instead uses the evidence as a reason to honor Juliette’s request. By Megan’s logic, she can use Juliette’s ghost abilities to find out who’s behind all of this. Because, sure, why the fuck not? Don’t do any research and see if Juliette’s story checks out. Don’t run this crazy idea by any of your friends and get some advice first. Just blindly trust the ghost you just met to be good on their word.
One Juliette takes over Megan’s body, she immediately starts wearing too much makeup and dressing in clothes that Megan would never! She asks out Justin, Megan’s crush, and he says yes! Then Megan has to watch someone else in her body make out with him. Awkward! That’s what happens when you accidentally trade bodies with a slutty ghost, Megan! Unfortunately for Juliette, all of the accidents that keep happening to Megan’s friends have spooked her parents. All Juliette wants to do is go to the mall and be a teenager, but Megan’s parents want her to stay in and be safe. Pretty soon after that, Megan’s mother gets smacked in the back of the head with an oar and almost drowns. No one sees who did it. I wonder who it could possibly be? Megan sure has no idea. There’s teenage naivety and there’s stupid.
Megan finally puts it all together, but only after her brother ends up in the hospital and she finds the ugly ass dress that Juliette plans to wear to her sweet sixteen birthday party. Juliette becomes a classic villain who explains her whole plan now that it’s too late for Megan to stop her. It turns out Juliette was Megan’s great aunt, who hated her stepsister (Megan’s grandmother), and *gasp* never had any intention of giving Megan her body back. Megan has to act quickly or else she’ll disappear at midnight! My biggest beef here is that Juliette was just revealed to be a one-dimensional selfish monster. It would have been way more interesting if Megan’s beloved grandmother had pulled a similar grift on Juliette 60 years back. Megan would be forced to choose between her empathy and her own will to live, all while grappling with some unsavory family secrets. That’s the kind of story I wanted this to be.
Two relatively simple changes could have made this story work for me. Juliette needed to have more than one dimension, and Megan needed some actual wit. Like I already mentioned, this could have been done by giving Juliette a more nuanced back story. It would have made Megan’s choices much more difficult, and given plenty of opportunities for Megan to show she wasn’t as clueless as she came across in here. Another way would have been to take away Megan’s choice in regards to switching bodies. Maybe Megan could have been in an accident herself, and the only way she could survive was to let Juliette take control of her body. Then the tension could come when Juliette refuses to give it back. Again, the elements were all here for a good story, but it lacked strong characters to tie them all together.
Ultimately, Megan ends up thwarting Juliette’s plan by getting Justin to hear her. Justin, if you recall, is Megan’s crush who’s totally not gay. It turns out Justin is a “dreamer” too, and he’s able to hear Megan’s ghost voice. Justin already had his suspicions that Megan wasn’t herself, and so together they form a plan to lure Juliette out on the water. This is because they know Juliette is terrified of the water; it’s how she died. In the end, the boat capsizes and Juliette is forced to let Megan take back control in order to not drown. Megan uses her mad swimming skills and rescues Justin. Juliette disappears, and all is well in Megan’s world again.
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).
I like the initial concept, but it felt only partially realized. It could have done so much more.
The plot and character logic were messy at best. Juliet did not do enough to earn Megan’s trust, which just made Megan seem really dumb (as opposed to naive). The symbolism with the notes was just silly.
Juliet was sloppy, and what I like to call “generically evil.” It wouldn’t have taken much to give her a real reason to resent Megan’s grandmother. Megan came across as dumb, which just got tiring.
Scare Factor: 1/2
There were plenty of scary elements here. The book opened with a really intense car wreck, and the whole ghost body trading was super creepy. Body horror and loss of self-control are themes that have always resonated with me. But I was mostly distracted by how obvious it was that Juliet was behind everything, and frustrated with Megan for not having even a little bit of suspicion.
The ghost trading bit was unique. Megan watching her body make out with her crush was weird in an interesting way. But that wasn’t enough to call it original.