THE BEST FRIEND

Nov 23, 2021 | Fear Street

Fear Street #17: The Best Friend

      

Spoiler-Free Review

I know that this is the book that RL Stine got hate mail for. It’s also one of the lowest overall ranked Fear Street books on Goodreads. I guess I disagree with the masses because I fucking loved it. This was one of my favorite Fear Street reads so far. It featured two of my favorite literary elements; an unreliable narrator and a villain that literally made my skin crawl. Sure, Becka wasn’t the most likable protagonist. But even at her brattiest moments, it was hard not to sympathize with her situation with Honey. Honey was unhinged but in very a familiar way. The way she was able to upend Becka’s life and gaslight her was unnerving. Stine did a good job of escalating from “haha this girl is weird” to “holy shit get the fuck away from me.” The “gotcha game” was particularly unsettling. I appreciated the way that this book toiled with some very real fears. What do we do when polite society prevents us from getting rid of a toxic person? How do you get help when no one will believe you? There’s a depth and heaviness to this book that really stands out among its peers. The Best Friend may have polarized YA audiences thirty years ago, but it’s aged better than a lot of Stine’s other works.

Score: 4.5

          

Observations & Spoilers

The Best friend opens with Becka breaking up with her boyfriend Eric and then getting into a minor car crash. I kept expecting the car crash to come back up in a significant way, but it never did. She broke up with Eric because she wanted to start going back out with her true love Bill. her parents had made her break up with Bill after he got suspended from school a year earlier. Apparently, Bill and some friends vandalized a bunch of school property. But Becka can see that he’s reformed his way, even if her parents can’t. So Becka gets a new pixie haircut and starts secretly dating Bill. That’s when Honey shoes up.

 

 

Becka is hanging out in her bedroom with her friends Trish and Lilah talking about Trish’s upcoming Christmas party when Honey walks in. She approaches Becka as though they are old friends, even though Becka has no memory of her. Honey is super excited that she has moved back to Shadyside and will get to live next door to her best friend, Becka. She completely ignores Becka’s other friends, as though they aren’t even there. She asks to try on one of Becka’s pins and then leaves just as soon as she entered. The confused girls pull out their old yearbook and find Honey. None of them knew her, least of all Becka. From what they recall, she was a bit of a loner and she moved away abruptly. Becka begins to question her own memories.

 

 

Honey really escalates things when Becka comes home from school the next day and Honey is just in her room trying on her clothes. Just like old times, according to Honey. A confused Becka is trying to be nice, but Honey has absolutely no awareness or respect for boundaries. This is where shit starts to really go off the rails. Out of nowhere, Honey starts choking Becka. She lets go just as quickly, laughs, and says “Gotcha!” When Becka is rightfully terrified, Honey chastizes her for not remembering the “Gotcha game” they used to play. Like, can you imagine? “Haha, I was just pretending to choke you! LOL! Why do you look so concerned? Lighten up a little!”

 

 

In spite of this, Becka can’t escape Honey. She shows up every morning to walk to school with Beck. Becka’s mom thinks Honey is sweet and that Becka is overreacting. The parents really failed Becka here, and so did her boyfriend Bill. I get that she was prone to being anxious and hysterical, but the way they brushed off Honey’s behavior was frustrating. When Becka took a sick day because she was had a cold, Honey told the kids at school that she’d had a nervous breakdown. When Becka tries to bring it up with Honey, Honey is always able to flip it back around. Honey was straight-up gaslighting Becka, to the point that Becka felt like she was losing control.

 

 

When Becka and Lilah go to get their bikes after school, they find Honey standing by them. Becka doesn’t think much of it at first. Then she and Lilah are riding down a steep hill and Lilah realizes her brakes don’t work. Lilah’s bike rolls right into the middle of an intersection and she gets hit by a truck. She somehow survives, but Becka notices that the brake lines on Lilah’s bike had been completely removed. She suspects it was Honey but no one will believe her. And Becka doesn’t really have evidence to prove her case. 

 

 

Then Honey starts dating Eric, the guy that Becka broke up with in the first chapter. And then she gets the same haircut as Becka. When Becka tries to express her exasperation to Bill, he is less than helpful and just makes her feel worse. Becka’s parents are no better. Trish is the only one actively on Becka’s side, and she suggests that Becka draw a hard line and cut Honey out completely Becka tries this, but Honey’s hurt reaction throws her off. Then when Becka comes home from sneaking out with Bill, Becka’s Mom confronts her. She had found out about her dating Bill again somehow. Becka is now grounded from Trish’s holiday party. When Becka gets into her room, Honey is hiding in her closet. Honey profusely apologizes to Becka for letting it slip out that she was dating Bill again. At this point, Becka just feels numb. And honestly, who could blame her?

 

 

Becka ends up getting to go to Trish’s party. She wears the outfit she’d been excited for. Bill is there and she’s having a wonderful night, the first one in a long time. Then Honey shows up wearing the exact same outfit as her. Becka loses and screams at Honey, causing a bit of a scene. She just can’t take it anymore. Honey runs upstairs and disappears. Then when Trish is bringing a cake roll down the stairs, Beck sees Honey come up from behind and push her. Trish falls and lands on her head. She’s still alive but her breath sounds really off and it looks like she broke her neck. Honey runs down the stairs claiming she tried to catch Trish as she fell. No one saw the push except Becka. Overwhelmed, Becka runs out of the house, smacks into two police officers, and promptly passes out.

 

 

So Becka finally has the breakdown that she was rumored to have had weeks earlier. She’s prescribed some serious meds and spends the next several days at home in bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. She’s starting to feel a little better one afternoon when her mom steps out to run some errands. Once she’s gone the phone rings. It’s Honey. She has a surprise for Becka and wants her to come next door. Becka says she can’t, but then hear’s Bill’s voice in the background. Becka is still unsteady on her feet but makes her way over. She loses her shit when she sees Bill with Honey through the kitchen window. She runs into Honey’s house and grabs a knife. I can already tell this is going to go really well.

 

 

Honey feigns surprise at Becka’s accusations. Bill tells Honey that he thought Becka knew he’d be there. Becka starts to charge Honey with the knife, but it’s too much for the meds she’s on and she faints. When Bill goes to help her, Honey finally reveals her true self. She tells Bill that he can’t have Becka because Becka is HER best friend. Bill finally realizes (too late) that Becka had been right all along. He dives to get the knife back, but Honey ends up stabbing him with it in the chest. He falls face down. Honey panics, but then has an idea. She places the knife back in Becka’s hands. When Becka wakes back up, delirious and confused, Honey assures her that everything will be fine. She will help Becka come up with a cover story; they won’t tell the cops that she murdered Bill. Because that’s what best friends do. Becka thanks her.

 

 

I think one of the more profound things about this book, and yes I am using that term unironically, is the way Honey gaslights Becka. Stine does his best work in this series when he creates complex villains with complicated motives. The fact that we don’t really know all that much about Honey even at the end makes her all the more unsettling as a character. Honey is terrifying because she feels familiar. We might not know anything true about her, but we have enough information to know what she wants. This is exactly the sort of nuance I crave in horror. If you’ve been reading my reviews, you’ll know that my biggest complaint about other books in the series is the lack of complex villains. The Best Friend did not disappoint on this measure.

 

The way that Stine played with Becka’s own perception of reality gave this book a unique sensibility that we don’t always get to see in Shadyside. I can see how fans back in the nineties might have hated this. Most of these books have neatly wrapped up endings with the protagonist finding some sort of new equilibrium. The Best Friend breaks with that expectation more than any other. The twist here isn’t who the villain was, or even what the villain wanted. The twist was in the ways Honey succeeded. It’s kinda funny because this was the sort of twist ending that Stine went on to make famous with the Goosebumps series. So it actually makes a lot of sense that The Best Friend was published in 1992, the very same year as the first four Goosebumps books.

 

 

There is a sequel that Stine wrote to this that I will eventually get to. I kinda hate the fact that he caved to fan pressure in writing it. In fact, I wish he had more books with a reputation like this one. We have learned a lot about the toxicity of angry fandoms in the last decade. Sometimes it’s justified (looking at you, Season 8 of Game of Thrones) and other times it is just plain old misogyny, racism, and longing for the “glory days.” I’ll never understand the crowd of fanboys who claim that a Star Wars movie made in 2015 ruined their childhood. But I will always respect when a creative team is trying something different, even when it doesn’t work for me. The bottom line is: never send anyone death threats. I will eventually be reading The Best Friend 2 and posting it on here, but not for a while yet. It’s one of the last books in the original series.

 

Score Card

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, The Best Friend is ranked 78th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series, and 48th of 49 Fear Street books in the main series, placing the book itself in the lowest tier overall. The trilogy, as a whole, lands in the bottom tier when compared to other trilogies. 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 ’90s. The books in the latter half of the series have a significantly lower number of ratings, which (I’m hypothesizing) is due to super-fans being unchecked by more critical voices.

 

Concept: 2/2
The concept was solid. It left the right amount of open-ended/unexplained items. Enough so that I’m still wondering if Honey was all delusion or if Becka was an unreliable narrator. 

Execution: 2/2
Good tension building throughout; I was waiting for a twist and expected Honey to come out on top, but I still didn’t see how it would happen. One of Stine’s better executions.

Character: 2/2
Honey was a step or two above some people I’ve encountered in my life, just a little more extreme than your average energy vampire with boundary issues. Becka wasn’t the most likable but I was fine with that because she felt legit.

Scare Factor: 2/2
Honey made my skin crawl. The question of Becka’s sanity and whether or not I believed her as a reader kept the tension going throughout. The ending just made it all the more brutal.

Originality: 1/2
The concept isn’t original, even if the ending is. This all felt familiar and has been done before. But when it’s done well and it’s the sorta thing we like, then who’s complaining?

    

 

Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #18: The Cheater

 

Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Riche Tankersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat 

1 Comment

  1. Thomas

    I also find the nature of the ending super refreshing. Later ones will dip into less happy endings more they’re more in the Goosebump-y boo scare type than what we seen here. I assume that is why those didn’t get the same backlash and perhaps the audience matured. Actually one of them basically has the same type as this but has a hilariously forced throwaway line that was clearly trying to avoid a repeat of the backlash.

    The interesting thing about the sequel is the whole contest of having fans submit their ideas for it. It feels like either the whole thing was forced by the publisher or Stine was like “Oh, you think know better? Let’s test that out”. The sequel is not liked so just kinda proves to the point.

    Reply

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