The Ghost Next Door
© 1993 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.
This one terrified me as a child. I distinctly remember trembling in the car ride home after reading it. It tapped into some of my deepest-held fears at the time. Needless to say, I did not forget the twist ending upon re-reading this one. It’s the kind of ending that sticks with you. Overall, The Ghost Next Door is one of the more solid books in the series. Some of the story mechanics don’t hold up under scrutiny, but the book more than makes up for that with its well-paced, character-driven narrative. It delivers on the scare factor and packs an emotional punch. My childhood fears remain validated.
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It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Ermahgerd #10: The Ghost Next Door.
© 2019 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo Collaboration with Naomi Abney.
Observations & Spoilers
Because this one’s so dark, and my memory of it terrifying me is so vivid, it’s hard to dispense my usual snarky observations. I used the gif and meme imagery here less to make a point and more to lighten the mood. This is a Goosebumps book after all.
One of my personal favorite details is that Hannah and Danny both went to Maple Avenue Middle School, which is the same name as the middle school that I went to. Danny Anderson was also the name of my Freshman year crew coach. Regardless of my connections, this book quite accurately captures the 90s pre-teen summer boredom experience and all of the awkward interactions that entailed.
The Ghost Next Door opens with Hannah having a horrible dream about being trapped in her bedroom while her house is on fire. When she wakes up, she can’t seem to shake it. That day she meets Danny, who has moved into the house next door to hers seemingly overnight. After a series of bizarre interactions with him, Hannah becomes convinced that Danny is a ghost. He seems to appear and disappear at random. They’re in the same grade and go to the same school, but don’t know any of the same people. On top of that, there’s a creepy shadow figure following Hannah around that keeps warning her to stay away from him.
Hannah confides in her suspicions about Danny in letters to her best friend, Janey. Janey is away at summer camp, and Hannah had been writing her letters. It all comes to a head when Hannah finally confronts Danny about being a ghost, only to realize that she is the one whose story doesn’t add up. After overhearing another neighbor talking about how her own house burned down five years earlier and killed the entire family, Hannah is forced to accept that her dream about the fire wasn’t a dream after all. She’s the ghost. It’s the same plot twist as The Sixth Sense and The Others, only this book came out years before both of them.
If that wasn’t heavy enough, Hannah also has to grapple with the fact that the fire was her fault. She and her brothers had made a campfire behind their garage to tell ghost stories and failed to completely put it out. Fire and death were two of my deepest-held fears as a child, so it’s no surprise that this one got under my skin. I have an issue here with the mechanics of how Hannah’s ghostdom (is that a thing?) works. Once Hannah realizes she’s a ghost, her family disappears. Were they off having mini-ghost realizations of their own? Were they only projections of how she remembered them so she could come back and save Danny from the shadow creature? It’s never really made clear.
After Hannah comes to terms with her new reality, her thoughts turn back to Danny. From the beginning, she has been watching him try to fit in with a bad crowd of kids in town. That night, they’re supposed to break into the grumpy old mailman’s house. Hannah realizes that she needs to stop it from happening. That’s the reason for her coming back when she did. That’s the reason for the shadow creature warning her to stay away. When she gets to the house, the boys are already inside and the shadow creature is waiting. The boys accidentally set a fire and Danny becomes trapped. When Hannah attempts to go in and save him, the shadow tells her that she’s too late and reveals herself as Danny’s ghost. Hannah ignores it and wills herself to pull Danny from the fire.
There’s a hint of heaven and hell at play here. Almost like Hannah was a ghost from heaven sent to save more than just Danny’s life, but also his soul. In the end, Danny is rescued. The neighbors think he’s delirious when he tells them that Hannah saved him. Hannah watches from a distance as the world fades to grey and her mother’s voice calls her to come back. I would have liked seeing an afterward where Danny and his friends have to plea on arson charges, and Danny looks up who Hannah was at the local library.
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 strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
The concept here is a good one. It made for one of the creepiest books in the series and truly lived up to the Goosebumps series name. No complaints here.
Taking off one point here for the mechanics. If Hannah was sent to save Danny, it doesn’t make sense that she would have no memory of her death, or why her parents were the but disappeared once she realized she was a ghost. It’s a minor point because the open-ended aspect doesn’t bother me in light of an otherwise satisfying and frightening story.
Both Hannah’s and Danny’s characters are solid. They had a nice dynamic. Hannah’s taste in bright neon-colored clothing was a nice mid-90s touch. I liked Danny’s angsty demeanor and their attempts to fit in with kids he thought were cool were also very believable.
I already said that this one scared the shit out of me as a kid. I think that holds up; I feel like my fears were validated. This is definitely the darkest and heaviest book in the series so far. Most of the books don’t have any deaths, let alone the death of the main character and her family right in the first chapter.
This pre-dates The Sixth Sense and The Others; I don’t know if there are any other stories that pre-date this one with similar plot twists. But even if there weren’t, Stine’s use of a child’s perspective here is unique.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• This was not one of the better ones, which was disappointing given how solid the book was.
• The low-budget fire scene was basically created with a fog machine.
• This was a two-part episode. The big reveal of Hannah being the dead was dropped at the midway point, right before the infamous “to be continued…”
• Hannah took the news that she was dead a whole lot easier in this. I thought her reaction to the book was much more believable.
• Hannah’s family was completely MIA in this one, which helped avoid some of the ghost mechanic issues that I had with the book.
• The shadow was also more conversational in this than in the book, first trying to convince Hannah that he was there to teach her how to be a ghost before revealing that he was trying to kill Danny. I think I preferred the ominous and mysterious approach in the book better.
• Hannah ended up saving Danny by playing the piano from inside the house, which prompted a bystander to run in and rescue him. I thought this was a nice improvement.
Don’t miss the next blog in this series:
Goosebumps #11: The Haunted Mask
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #5: The Wrong Number