Fear Street #13: The Secret Bedroom
For me, the scariest Fear Street books were always the supernatural ones. Those were the ones that got in my head, under my skin, and occasionally into my nightmares. The Secret Bedroom ticks all the right boxes on this point. The plot builds slowly in a way that I enjoyed, with the creepy old house setting the perfect atmosphere for building that kind of tension. Lea’s high school drama felt relatable, although her enemy Marci felt a tad over the top. Her love interest Don was believably spineless. I’ve met that guy before. The blending of supernatural elements with petty high school bullshit was a nice touch, and it made for a pretty brutal death scene. There were a few glaring holes that the plot that the otherwise solid story relied on, like why the hell wasn’t Lea’s parents more interested in the boarded-up bedroom in their attic? I also had some spoiler-laced questions about how a few things happened. Overall, I liked this more than I didn’t. The Secret Bedroom, while not perfect, made for one of the more interesting books in the Fear Street series so far.
Observations & Spoilers
Lea is new to Shadyside. She’s had to move every few years her whole life because of her dad’s job. This is hard on Lea because she’s shy and doesn’t make new friends easily. Her parents also love fixing up old houses, and so of course they bought a run-down old house on Fear Street. There’s a boarded-up bedroom in the attic that’s totally not suspicious or creepy at all. And for some reason, her parents and the realtor are not pressed at all to see what’s inside. And that’s with the knowledge that a person was rumored to have been murdered in that house 100 years earlier. Maybe it was the booming 90s housing market, but I can’t imagine buying a house without finding out what was inside the secret bedroom attic first. Like what kind of murdered ghost am I going to be dealing with and is that worth the ungodly amount of money I’m putting down?
Lea’s problems don’t stop at the creepy old house. She also has a cartoonishly mean bully at school by the name of Marci Hendryx. Marci is dating a guy named Don Jacobs. Don clearly doesn’t like Marci and has no idea how to break up with her, and he clearly likes Lea which makes Lea a target. This part was frustrating because Lea didn’t know how to stand up for herself, Don was a spineless “nice guy,” and Marci was a template for mean girls everywhere. Thankfully the book had an overall arc of Lea finding her own voice and asserting herself. Don had no such arc. He just kept inviting Lea out to the movies, or out for pizza, and the efforts would be sabotaged by Marci who would just show up and humiliate Lea. Don would stand by and let this happen because he sucks. I bet he grows up to run for Congress.
Lea does make friends with Deena, whom we all know from The Wrong Number and now the new Fear Street: 1994 on Netflix. Deena’s the one person she tells about the strange happenings in the attic of her house. At night, Deena hears clear footsteps above her head, which is right where the secret boarded-up attic bedroom is. It’s clearly someone pacing back and forth. Her parents are out the first time she goes up to investigate. When she’s standing outside the door, blood starts gushing out from behind the door. It splashes on her shoes. She calls the police who find nothing wrong but still doesn’t open the door. Deena comes over to give her company. Lea is convinced she was just dreaming, especially since there is no evidence of blood and her shoes are clean. You would think at this point, Lea’s parents would want to open the door if for no other reason than to ease their daughter’s fears but no.
Things escalate when Lea again hears pacing in the attic and goes up to investigate. She’s at the door and asking who’s there when metal spikes protrude through the door. She’s then nearly blown away by inhuman noises that leave her disoriented with her ears ringing. No one believed her last time, so she doesn’t tell anyone about this experience either. A week later she works up the courage to go upstairs again when she hears the footsteps. This time a voice responds when she asks if anyone’s inside. It’s a girl’s voice. It begs Lea to open the door and let her out. Lea pries the wood off the door easily. Behind the boards, a nearly pristine door is revealed, and it is locked from the outside. Lea opens the door to find a little girl with blonde hair in Victorian-style clothing. Her bedroom is lit by candles and looks like a place out of time. Lea is rightly terrified when the girl tries to talk to her. She runs and locks the door behind her.
Lea eventually goes back and talks to the girl. She finds out her name is Catherine. Catherine tells Lea a story about how she had been born out of wedlock and so her parents hid her away. When she tried to sneak out to see beyond her bedroom walls, her parents had murdered her. Lea listens and sympathizes but drawn a line with Catherine suddenly wants to touch her hair. It’s just so pretty and she’s been alone for so long and she just wants to touch it. I was right there with Lea when she basically said “fuck no you can’t” and fled the room when Catherine tried to touch it anyway. There’s an unintended metaphor here for hair politics that I couldn’t help but think about during this scene even though both girls were white. The lesson is simple; don’t be like the creepy ghost girl Catherine and treat human beings like exotic objects.
Back at school, Marci starts spreading some vicious rumors about Lea. Deena gives her a heads up but doesn’t do much else about it. Everyone’s afraid of catching Marci’s wrath. Lea dreams up a revenge plot on her way home and goes back to the bedroom. Catherine apologizes for the hair incident. Lea makes Catherine an offer. She’ll take Catherine out of the room if Catherine agrees to help her scare Marci Hendryx. Catherine excitedly agrees. Lea allows Catherine to enter her body in order to leave the confines of the room, the experience is unpleasant but Lea ignores the red flags. They walk to Marci’s house; Catherine is delighted to see the outside world.
Catherine leaves Lea’s body when they get to Marci’s house. Lea knocks on the door. Marci is her typical snotty self and tries to slam the door in Lea’s face, but Catherine’s ghost won’t let the door close. Lea lets herself in and Catherine slams the door shut behind her. Marci is rattled but still shitty so she keeps trying her usual stick of saying mean things. Then Catherine levitates a vase and Lea uses her practiced line: “there’s a reason I live on Fear Street.” Marci starts to get really freaked out. Coats start flying out of the closet. Then the invisible Catherin picks Marci up a few inches off the ground. Marci starts yelling for her mom, Lea starts to realize that things have maybe gone a little too far. Marci runs up the stairs frantically. Marci is running along the upstairs balcony when she suddenly trips and falls against the railing. The railing breaks and Marci falls face-first from the second floor. The landing is described as an egg cracking. Her mother witnesses the entire thing. Marci dies instantly.
Lea is horrified. Marci’s death is her fault, but to everyone else, it was an accident. She realizes now that Catherine is very dangerous. Shit only gets worse when she realizes that Catherine can now take over her body whenever she pleases. And Catherine wants to kill Don to complete Lea’s revenge. Lea’s pleas for her to stop are ignored. Lea tries to show the bedroom to her parents, but somehow it is still boarded up and they just think she’s running a fever. Catherine explains to Lea that she had never actually been in the attic bedroom. The blood on the door, the loud sound, the spikes… all of those were illusions that Catherine created to keep Lea out. The room Catherine was actually trapped in was Lea’s bedroom. When she realized that she couldn’t keep Lea from investigating the room in the attic, Catherine used her ghostly powers to make Lea think she had gone into the secret bedroom. In reality, Lea had never left her own room.
Now Lea is trapped, and she realizes that her only hope of getting rid of Catherine lies in the secret bedroom. One day when Lea notices that Catherine has left her body, she gets her dad’s tools and goes into the attic. She manages to get the doors pried up just in time before Catherine comes back. She fights Catherine and manages to stop her from retaking her body. When she finally opens the door, the corpse/ghouls of Catherine’s parents emerge. Catherine had murdered them and they had been trapped and waiting all these years to finally rid the world of their evil daughter. Catherine screams like an animal caught in a trap as her parent’s ghosts drag her away. Lea passes out and wakes up in the hospital. She’d had a high fever. Her parents think all of her strange behavior and experiences in the last week can be explained away as fever dreams. Lea almost believes it herself. When she finally returns to the attic days later, she finds one black hair ribbon that had been Catherine’s left behind. She considers telling everybody about it but decides not to. It’s better to let Fear Street keep another one of its mysteries.
I’ve gotta say I loved the revenge plot in this book. I am here for a good protagonist revenge plot. Usually, the villains get to have all the fun in this arena. I’d have loved to scare the shit out of some people back in high school. Having a ghost to be my friend and fuck with them a little? Sign me up. I bought Lea’s reasoning for allowing it to get that far. I was reminded of Diane Hoh’s The Accident, which has the protagonist named Megan who lets a ghost enter her body in a similar fashion. I wasn’t sold on Megan’s motives, which were essentially just her being a super nice person. No one is that nice. Letting a ghost take control of your body is not the same as spotting a stranger a few bucks. If a ghost of someone you don’t know what’s you to lend them your body for a week, you’re probably going to take a lot of convincing. Megan took very little. Lea, on the other hand, had a well-documented reason that had been set up in the first chapter. Vengeance.
So overall, I liked The Secret Bedroom more than I didn’t. Sure, the whole premise relied on Lea’s parents being very nonchalant about a boarded-up room in a house that they own. But the atmosphere was creepy from the jump and built steadily throughout. The footsteps in the attic were creepy. I’m assuming it was Catherine’s parents that Lea kept hearing but that isn’t clarified. Everything about Catherine was next-level creepy. No bitch you cannot touch my hair. I liked that Lea was able to stand her ground against the ghost at the end. We don’t always get character growth in Fear Street books but we did in this one. The ending left me wanting to understand who and what Catherine was. Did she kill her parents while she was still alive? How did she die exactly if her initial story was a lie? Did they kill each other? Otherwise, I did like the ending, I just wanted to know more. But I guess there was no good way to do it without an info dump, and in that case, I’m glad it was left out.
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 Secret Bedroom is ranked 52nd of 79 in the overall Fear Street series and 26th of 49 Fear Street books in the main series, placing it in the middle-low tiers. 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.
The concept was fun in the way it tied a ghost story to revenge for high school drama. The whole thing with Catherine not really bing in the bedroom made things a bit convoluted, though. Catherine’s actual story wasn’t entirely clear and I was left wanting more.
Solid pacing, I like that it took its time without involving a bunch of fake scares. I also liked the ending and the character growth for Lea. There was a good narrative arc around her finding her own voice and standing up for herself. The one glaring plot hole is: how the hell did no one open the secret bedroom in the hundred years prior? Why weren’t Lea’s parents more interested?
Lea was believably meek, and her thirst for revenge more than understandable. Catherine was a super creep from the jump and I love an evil child ghost. Marci was mostly believable as a petty and insecure high school girl, and Don was believably useless.
Scare Factor: 2/2
This had some really good scares. I think my favorite was the inhuman sound at the door to scare Lea away. It also had some good disorienting moments. The old house built the right atmosphere and Cathrine added a nice creepy touch. Not to mention that rather brutal death scene.
This was mostly your typical haunted house story. I’ll give it a point for matching that with the revenge aspect where Lea teamed up with Catherine to get back at Marci. That felt unique, at least to this series.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
99 Fear Street – The House of Evil #1: The First Horror
COMING IN OCTOBER 2021
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
D.E. Athkin’s Mirror, Mirror.