THE NEW YEAR’S PARTY

Jan 4, 2024 | Fear Street

Fear Street Super Chiller #9:
The New Years Party

© 1995 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Bill Schmidt.

 

Spoiler-Free Review

I’m pretty sure that The New Years Party was the first Fear Street book I ever read. It was a birthday present, so it’s fitting that I am posting this review on my birthday. The twist at the end has stayed with me all these years, but I recalled very few of the details. The New Year’s Party doesn’t have a wildly original premise. In fact, it bears a lot of resemblance to The Halloween Party. Both books contained way too many characters and suffered from having overly convoluted holiday-themed revenge plots. I really enjoyed the different timelines and the multiple twists at the end of the book. The revenge plot was compelling and the character motivations were solid. It was unfortunate that the books left some pretty glaring questions at the end, with a really cheesy closing line to boot. It was a frustrating book in many ways because it held some real promise in some parts, but fell utterly flat in others. I almost wish that Stine had taken this exact same premise and centered it on different characters. I want to tell you exactly who, but you’ll have to read below the jump for a spoiler like that. The New Year’s Party ended up being a mixed bag of good horror and familiar frustrations. I enjoyed scratching the nostalgic itch of re-reading this.

Score: 3

       

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Observations & Spoilers

The book goes back and forth between 1965 and 1995. The 1965 storyline is the only thing I remembered from when I first read it (that, and the twist at the end). On my second read, it’s definitely the strongest and most compelling part of the story.

 

Part 1 – 1965

It’s New Year’s Eve 1964. Beth is trying to enjoy her party, but kids keep bullying her brother Jeremy and it’s pissing her off. Her shitty boyfriend tells her to just ignore it. Then two kids stage a fake armed robbery with ski masks, and of course, they target Jeremy. He pleads for his life while a fake gun is pointed at his head, and everyone at the party thinks it’s fucking hilarious. Jeremy is mortified and storms out of the party. Beth curses her best friend for being in on the prank, then follows her brother out. Beth tries to get him to come back in, but he won’t have any of it. So she gets into the car with him. There’s a bad snowstorm raging, but that doesn’t stop Jeremy from driving way too fast. They hit a young man. Jeremy wants to stop and check on him, but Beth insists it had to be an animal and they should drive on. Jeremy takes off again, spins out, and the two siblings crash into a ravine.

 

Part 2 – 1995

Reenie and her friends are working on a Trig project that sounds incredibly boring. They are just wondering where Sean is when Reenie goes to open her closet and his corpse falls out. Only Reenie doesn’t fall for it. It’s just another one of Sean’s pranks. People love pretending to be corpses in Shadyside, apparently. Sean is Reenie’s boyfriend and the only member of their group who understands anything about the really tedious-sounding trig project they are all working on. The other couple in the group are Greta and Artie. They are currently fighting about how Artie wants to drop out of school and is hanging around Marc too much. Marc dropped out last year to become a mechanic. He is not a part of the trig project.

 

Reenie has been worried that their group’s pranks have been going too far, and then they do exactly that. She, Sean, and Greta get talked into taking a ride in Marc’s souped-up new car with Artie. They drive to a spot in the woods near Fear Lake. Marc gets out and falls over the ledge. When Reenie goes to see if he’s OK, she also slips and gets flung right out onto the ice. The ice predictably cracks and she falls in, but Sean is able to pull her out. It then turns out that Marc and Artie had staged his fake fall. The prank was not only dangerous but also pretty dull and uninspired. If you’re going to almost kill a friend with your pranks, they should at least be creative. The group finally agrees to no more pranks, much to Reenie’s relief.

 

I already mentioned there was a huge cast of characters, so brace yourself for a few more. There is a new guy at school named Ty. He’s shy. Ty the new guy is shy. He’s in the trig project group. Then two more new kids move into town; a brother and sister named Liz and PJ. Liz seems really cool and bonds right away with Reenie. PJ is very tall and even more awkward. Greta starts making friends with PJ, which really pisses Artie off because Artie sucks in a lot of ways. Liz confides with Reenie about her brother’s condition; he’s got a weak immune system.

 

Reenie catches a ride home from school with Artie, who is driving Marc’s souped-up car. Artie immediately starts driving too fast and a car crashes into them. It turns out to be PJ behind the wheel of the other car. Artie blames PJ for running a stop sign, but it’s not really clear who was at fault since Artie was definitely speeding. Artie’s primary concern is how mad Marc is going to be about his car. Reenie and PJ’s well-being is not of any importance. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Artie really sucks and I wish he was one of the kids who will end up getting murdered later in the book. 

 

Artie escalates things later that week when he challenges some other guy to a weightlifting (pissing) contest. Thanks to Linda Belcher of Bob’s Burgers, I will now always think of “pissing contests” as “peeing races.”  Artie randomly makes the meek and awkward PJ spot him. Artie is then unable to get the too-heavy weight back on the bar, and PJ is unable to help him, so Artie ends up pinned under the weight of his own stupid decisions. He is rescued by the gym teacher, rightfully chewed out for being dumb, and sent to the school nurse. Artie unsurprisingly blames PJ for the incident that was entirely his own making. 

 

Reenie decides to host a Christmas Party while her parents are away. Artie and Marc decide they want to play a prank on PJ. Reenie is resistant but the boys talk her and Greta into it. They claim they’re not really “bullying” him if it’s something they have all done to each other. The party is going great. Liz is there with Ty, as the two new kids are now dating. Reenie starts to feel bad about the prank and ends up telling Liz about it. Liz is pissed. She feels betrayed and storms off to find her brother. Ty goes after her. Then PJ arrives.

 

PJ’s date to the party is Sandi. Sandi is the hottest girl in school and she owes Marc a serious favor. So Marc cashed the favor in to have Sandi give PJ a big kiss and then fall down dead as though his kiss killed her. Only evil masterminds could devise a prank so brutal. Reenie should have been more worried about their pranks being too lame than about them going too far. Sandi does her part. She kisses PJ and falls down dead. Then PJ has a seizure. Reenie, Sean, Greta, and Artie make everyone else leave. No one suggests that they call 911. Reenie attempts CPR with Sean, but PJ is dead. So they finally call 911. JUST KIDDING. They decide to hide his body in the basement until they figure out what to do. I need to point out that they had done nothing illegal until this point.

 

Greta finally calls the police now that an actual crime has been committed. They then realize they have to move the body back? This group is not only bad at planning pranks, but they are also bad at not getting arrested. So they go to find PJ’s body, but it has disappeared. They end up having to tell the police everything about the prank gone wrong. PJ’s jacket is found in the woods nearby, but he is nowhere to be found.

 

Part 3 – 1965

Beth and Jeremy wake up in their overturned car. They manage to get out and try to flag down a car for help, but everyone just speeds right passed them. They even find a nearby house and bang on the door, but no one can seem to see or hear them. They finally return to the car, Beth notices she doesn’t feel cold and writes it off as shock. That’s when she and Jeremy discover their bodies are still in the car. They are dead. Then darkness overtakes them and they disappear.

 

Part 4 – 1995

PJ is missing. Liz refuses to talk to Reenie or anyone else in their group. Everyone is really bummed out. Greta decides she needs to break up with Artie but keeps chickening out. She asks Reenie to come with her to Artie’s house for the breakup. Reenie goes along. They get to Artie’s house and Marc is there. The boys are working on cars in the garage. When Artie leads the girls into the garage to see Marc, they find him dead, His head is twisted around the wrong way and he is lying in a pool of blood.

 

A week later, Reenie is waiting for Sean and Ty to finish their shift at the Burger Basket. The doors are locked. She speaks to Sandi briefly. Sandi feels really bad about their prank on PJ. When Reenie returns from the bathroom, she sees that Sandi has left. Or so she thought. Because she, Ty, and Sean soon find her stuffed into a trash can with her neck twisted the wrong way.

 

Back at school, because teen murder is very commonplace at Shadyside, Reenie tries to apologize to Liz and patch things up. Liz seems sad but tells Reenie she can never forgive them. Then Reenie and her other three friends receive an invitation to a New Year’s party that Liz is hosting. She says she wants to patch things up so they can be there for each other through this difficult time. So they go to Liz’s party on Fear Street. Liz lives in an old house with no furniture, but she has decorated the living room in all black. The vibe is very off, and the kids immediately regret coming. Then they find a 1965 yearbook out on the one table. It has a memorial for Beth and Jeremy, who are also Liz and PJ. 

 

Liz reveals that PJ is still alive and he has been helping her murder their friends. She is on a crusade against pranksters and bullies across time. Killing Reenie and her friends will give Liz the vengeance she desires for their (really bad) prank on TJ, but also the prank that had led to their deaths back in 1965. Now she plans to kill all of them with one knife! As she has already shown us with her decor, I think it’s safe to assume that Liz is not much of a planner. 

 

Liz then tries to stab Reenie first, but they wrestle the knife away from her. PJ shows back up and turns over the tables back. Then Liz manages to get the knife pressed to Artie’s throat. I was about to have my own quiet moment of vindication when Ty shows up and ruins it. That’s because this is supposed to be Ty’s revenge story. He was the young man that Beth and Jeremy had hit and left to die back in 1965. He got a clear look at their faces through the windshield before he was thrown off. He recognized Liz and PJ for who they were right away and… did nothing but quietly date Liz for several weeks. I guess he was plotting his revenge, but we’ll never know what that would have been.

 

None of our three ghosts/reincarnated teenagers have any idea how they were brought back. It’s not clear how they can be both human and ghost. The ghost mechanics did nothing to address any of this. Why did they suddenly come back to life just shy of 30 years after they died? Why not after a different number of years? We never get anything close to an explanation, which is a bummer. On the upside, I think I prefer no explanation to a half-assed one. RL Stine ends things with one of his favorite endings: a ghost fight. Ghost fights always end the same way: they all turn into smoke and disappear. This time they do it as the clock strikes midnight. All of this happens in like two, maybe three pages.

 

Then the 4 surviving kids wish each other a happy new year. Seriously.

 

I don’t know if Stine uses the ghost fight ending a lot, or if I just happened to read three books this year (this one, Ghost Camp, and The Babysitter IV) where he did exactly that. I suppose they were at least all in different series. I wasn’t a fan of it any of the times that it happened. It made the ending feel needlessly rushed and wholly unsatisfying. As much as I enjoyed the twist, I wish that Stine had taken this same concept in a very different direction. A story that centered on Beth or Ty would have been way more interesting. 

 

As for comparing this to The Halloween Party, I have to say that I liked The New Years Party better. Part of it is likely the nostalgic glow from being my first Fear Street book all those years ago, but I think it ultimately came down to a few different things. I found Liz to be a way more compelling villain than Justine. She was a bit more nuanced, and her revenge only came after the Christmas party prank on PJ. The ghost element also helped. Both books suffer from the same flaw of having too many characters. I do have to admit that I liked Terry better than Reenie as the main protagonist. Reenie never managed to be distinct.

 

We have now reached the end of my review. I’m trying to think of a clever way to wrap things up but I’m too tired. So I’m just going to pretend there are two ghosts inside me. One of them needs twelve different alarm clocks to wake up in the morning, and the other one is wide awake but has forgotten where he is. They will fight and turn into a cloud of smoke, and I will be late for work.

 

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 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

 

Concept: 2/2
The concept here was pretty cool and delivered a great twist. I enjoyed the ghosts with competing motivations. It was hardly original but it had a unique spin on it.

Execution: 1/2
I liked the way that the two different timelines were introduced, but the story really suffered from not even trying to answer the “how.” It had a fantastic twist with Ty’s reveal, but it squandered it by not going anywhere from that point. The ending was a real letdown.

Character: 1/2
I liked that Liz wasn’t hellbent on revenge from the jump, but Reenie and her friends were pretty bland. I think the book suffered from having too many characters, and Ty’s revenge plot could have been realized sooner.

Intent 1/2
Car crashes are scary, and the scene with Beth and Jeremy finding their own dead bodies in the car was pretty brutal. I have to give it a point for that.

Originality: 1/2
It was basically the same idea as The Halloween Party, so not highly original. The ghosts with competing agendas felt new, though. I just wish it had been more expansive and not a twist that came in the last couple of pages.

 

Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, The New Years Party is:
Ranked 33rd of 79 in the overall Fear Street series,
5th of 12 among the Fear Street Super Chillers

It should be noted that the series ranking for the Fear Street books on GoodReads 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.

 

 

Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #21: The Dare

 

Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
RL Stine’s The Babysitter IV

 

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