Fear Street #35:
© 1996 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Bill Schmidt.
The Face managed to be one of the more enjoyable Fear Street books in spite of a few frustrating flaws. I was immediately drawn in by the premise, and I don’t think I ever could have guessed that ending. The overall concept and pacing were solid. The structure felt like a fresh break from the tried and true Fear Street formula. Martha repeatedly drawing the same face that she didn’t recognize was nice and unsettling. The book’s biggest weakness was how the entire plot relied on the terrible medical advice from Martha’s doctor. Martha and her friends experienced something traumatic last November. Martha for some reason doesn’t remember any of it. Her shitty doctor’s sage advice is that her friends are not allowed to talk with her about it ever. I’m no expert on memory loss, but this just felt cruel. I fail to see how it served any purpose aside from furthering the plot. Then the whole book culminated in a giant info dump by the one who turned out to be the villain. I could have been a lot more forgiving of the whole bad-doctor-as-plot-device if it weren’t for the villain-tells-all infodump at the end, but that’s not the book that was written. It’s safe to say that R.L. Stine definitely has a thing for bad doctors, convoluted villain logic, and twisted revenge plots. In spite of my issues with all of those things, I still managed to enjoy the book. I think that’s a testament to its strengths in other areas. The Face may have fallen short of the best Fear Street titles, but it did manage to break the mold enough to be interesting.
If you enjoy my blog, please consider liking my reviews on GoodReads.
It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Observations & Spoilers
Martha doesn’t remember last November (insert Guy Fawkes reference I’m too tired to come up with). Clearly, something traumatic happened to her and her friends, but she just has a blank. She has disturbing dreams about a silver line. All of her friends remember, but they aren’t allowed to talk about it with her because of shitty advice from Dr. Sayles. Seriously, how is his advice anything but cruel? Maybe the town of Shadyside is a big draw for bad psychiatrists? I think The Sleepwalker might be the last (and only) time I have encountered good advice from a shrink in these books.
Fun side note: in searching for a bad therapist meme I came across this amazing random comics generator made by The Oatmeal.
Martha’s boyfriend Aaron has been really good to her. Or at least that’s what people keep telling her. It seemed to me like he was just getting a lot of credit for doing the bare minimum. It doesn’t help that there clearly seems to be some passion brewing between him and Martha’s friend Justine. Definitely seems suspicious to me. Martha gets a ride home from Ivan. Ivan is Adriana’s brother. He seems really upset, as he has seemed for the last few months. He almost drives them off the road but stops in time. Martha tries to bring up her concerns with Adriana, but she gets brushed off. Then Martha starts drawing the face.
I really like this whole idea of having a face stuck in your head. Martha excitedly shows it to her doctor because she’s making progress. Dr. Sayles is a total dick to her and barely even acknowledges it. Martha doesn’t recognize the boy she keeps drawing. He’s got a scar over one of his eyebrows, which feels like too specific of a detail for something she just made up. Martha gets a threatening phone call that just says “You keep drawing him because you killed him.” Her friends Laura and Adriana take Martha sledding to try and cheer her up, but as she’s sliding down the hill she starts screaming like crazy and terrifies all of the children around them. Adriana hypnotizes her to calm her down, something she learned from her new psychiatrist. Definitely not a red flag.
When Martha tries to get Aaron to tell her something about the face she keeps drawing, he finally slips up and tells her the boy is dead. She eventually gleans bits of memory from November. They were at Adriana and Ivan’s family cabin. The boy from her drawing was there with them. So were Laura and Justine. She remembers making out with the boy, and she finally catches his name: Sean. After a meltdown at a basketball game where every player on the court seemed to have Sean’s face, Martha catches Aaron and Justine making out. That’s because they’d been seeing each other on the side for months. Because Dr. Sayles said they had to keep appearances with what Martha remembered. Let’s add that to the list of ethically dubious advice from the doctor.
Finally fed up with her own shitty doctor, she seeks out Adriana’s therapist that does hypnosis. Dr. Corben rightly refuses to do hypnosis on Martha without coordinating care with her existing doctor. Martha mentions that Adriana has been doing her own hypnosis. This causes Dr. Corben to do a doubletake, but Martha still seems oblivious to this being an important detail. When she does finally remember, it all comes back at once. Just like Dr. Sayles said it would. She remembers that weekend at the cabin. Sean was one of Ivan’s friends from a different school, which was why she didn’t notice he was missing. He had tried making out with Martha one night, but he stopped it. A big fight ensued between the two of them.
The next day they went skiing down the little ski slope off the side of the cabin. Adriana tried getting Martha to go first, but she wasn’t ready. So Sean went instead. Sean flew down the hill and didn’t see the silver razor wire that had been strung across the ski slope. All of the kids watched as he was decapitated in front of them. Martha goes to her bag in the closet, the one she conveniently never unpacked after that weekend. She finds the razor wire stuffed in. She realizes that she must have killed Sean. She calls Adriana to confess, and Adriana promises to be over right away. Martha is ready to fully believe that she did it when Ivan shows up. He had followed his sister over. He tells Martha she can’t go through with confessing because he killed Sean.
Adriana tries to shut Ivan up, but Ivan is insistent. It’s why he’s been such a mess these past months. Sean had been blackmailing Ivan over a stolen car that Ivan had wrecked. Sean kept raising his price and Ivan had finally had enough. He tied the razor wire across the ski slope knowing that Sean would insist on going first. Only, Ivan thought he had tied it at ankle height. He’d only intended to trip Sean and fuck him up a little. Ivan picks up the phone to call the police and confess but Adriana goes loses her shit because she knows it was Martha. Now she was mad at Martha and Ivan for ruining her perfectly laid plans. She has a full meltdown and gives us our long-awaited villain confessional.
It turns out Adriana had a huge crush on Sean. Then Sean made out with Martha, so Martha had to go. She saw Ivan put up the razor wire, and then she’d gone out and raised it. That’s why she wanted Martha to go first. If you’re not following, that’s because it’s some very convoluted logic. Adriana had a crush on a dude she barely knew, but the guy showed interest in her best friend, so Adriana decided her best friend was the one who needed to be murdered. That’s a pretty big escalation of violence for a perceived wrong. Then she ended up killing her crush in the process. So her next best move was to hypnotize her best friend into thinking that she had killed Sean instead. Adriana shakes loose of Ivan’s grip and almost strangles Martha with the wire, but something stops her. Martha’s latest drawing of Sean’s face distracts Adriana and she loses herself in it.
This was yet another example of a book that had all the makings of a great Fear Street book. The bad doctor’s advice I could have forgiven, but that final chapter confessional from Adriana was a mess. Then she just lost herself staring at a drawing of her one-time crush that she accidentally murdered. I get the cute bit of the face drawing saving Martha’s life, and Adriana’s guilt finally catching up to her, I just think it could have been done in a less silly manner than what we got here. I think there was still more good than bad in this book, but only just barely. It’s like a book of extremes. What I liked I really liked, and what I hated were the same tired cliches that this series is prone to relying on.
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 going to go ahead and give full credit to the concept. The ideas were strong and interesting. The core elements of the story worked. What didn’t work was the way they were woven together.
I’ll say this: it kept me engaged and guessing. I’ll give it a point for that. But too much of the plot revolved around the cruel medical advice from Dr. Sayles. It was contrived and it was bad science. Then the whole thing came unraveled with Adriana’s infodump confessional at the end.
This was probably the weakest part of this book. I liked and sympathized with Martha, and Ivan was also really interesting. But I kept getting Justine and Adriana confused, and Laura didn’t seem to have too much of a purpose. The cast was too big. And Dr. Sayles was just awful.
Memory loss is a pretty scary thing in and of itself, and I think Stine did a great job at playing that part of it for scare and intrigue. Then the big reveal of that day in November turned out to be one of the more gruesome Fear Street deaths I’ve seen. So no points off here.
This felt pretty original so far as Fear Street books go. The one place it really fell short here was yet another example of a bad psychiatrist and yet another villain with a pretty ridiculous motive.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #15: The Prom Queen
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s Witch