I really enjoyed this one. It dove right into some really creepy shit and then delivered with its ending. It was exactly the sort of creepy atmospheric horror story that I live for; the kind that sticks around for awhile long after you’ve finished the book. The characters were well-developed, and the themes of mental health and trauma were well-executed. The only thing that really brought this book down for me was the last few pages and the portrayal of one particular male character as having demonstrated acceptable behavior. I can’t comment on the specifics without tons of spoilers, but I’m beginning to see a pattern here with these books. That aside, this was probably my favorite book in the series so far. I just wish it had a slightly different denouement.
Observations & Spoilers
Sleepwalking is genuinely creepy and perfect fodder for a horror novel. Mayra’s increasingly scary episodes take her farther and farther away from her home and almost lead to her drowning in Fear Lake. She thinks the sleepwalking has something to do with her summer job, taking care of old Mrs. Cottler in her creepy old house on Fear Street. Her suspicions are all but confirmed when she discovers that Mrs. Cottler has tons of books on witchcraft, including a whole shelf on sleepwalking.
Mayra has other problems, too. She keeps having run-ins with a strange man who clearly recognizes her, but she has no memory of him. All she knows is that he seems to want to kill her. On top of that, her ex-boyfriend Link won’t leave her alone in his attempts to win her back. Her new boyfriend Walker seems to understand, though. He’s the only one who seems to believe Mayra about Mrs. Cottler. Walker is an aspiring magician, and he believes in the existence of witch covens and the occult. It isn’t until Mayra’s mother forces her to see a psychiatrist that Mayra really begins to unravel. The welcoming Dr. Sterne hypothesizes that Mayra’s sleepwalking is rooted in some sort of repressed trauma. Mayra decides to repay a visit to Fear Lake, where she almost drowned on one of her sleepwalked adventures. Her creepy ex (Link) follows her there. Their confrontation ends with Mayra getting pushed into the water, and that’s when it all comes back to her. Cue Celine Dion.
It was on her fourth date with Walker. He got angry at some other kids and stole a car. She believed him when he said the car was his Dads. Then he started driving way too fast. He sideswiped another car. Their car spun out. They were OK, but the other car ended up in Fear Lake. Mayra got out to try and help them. She saw a man escaping; it was the strange man who had been chasing her. Walker pulled her back to the car and drove away. Mayra learns afterward that there were two people in the other car, and only one of them got out. When she wanted to go to the police, Walker hypnotized her so she would forget.
So Walker turned out to be a real piece of shit. When Mayra confronts him on it, he says it was because she was going to ruin his dreams of becoming a magician by going to the police. This is a 100% believable motive for a fuckboy murderer; self-preservation at all costs. Once he realizes the hypnosis gag is up, he tries to kill Mayra. He is almost successful, but he’s thwarted but Mrs. Cottler’s mysterious cat. The police show up soon after and Walker is arrested. There were no illusions left to save Walker’s future as a magical fuckboy.
The only thing I didn’t like in the little epilogue of this book was Mayra getting back with Link. His behavior was creepy at best, and he repeatedly disrespected Mayra’s boundaries. This was written in 1990, and “boys will be boys” was used to explain away a lot of problematic behavior without getting called out. Just because he wasn’t a total piece of shit like Walker doesn’t mean he should get away with his own bullshit. This is an unfortunate trend I’ve been noticing with these books. The only ending Mayra should have needed was for her to find contentment with being single for a while.
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 Sleepwalker is ranked 62nd of 79 in the overall Fear Street series and 35th of 49 Fear Street books in the main series, placing it in the bottom and the middle-low tiers for respectively. 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 here was relatively simple, but it was well thought out and thoroughly executed. It was exactly the kind of atmospheric horror I live for.
The story was well-paced. It drove right into some creepy shit and didn’t waste our time with a bunch of fake scares. It even had some positive thematic messaging in the end, which is not always the case with these books.
I thought the characters in this were some of the best developed in the series. Mayra, Mrs. Cottler, and Walker were all fully realized in their own particular ways. I’m only docking a point because of Link, who was problematic as fuck. And it’s not that he wasn’t believable, but the way his behavior was prevented as acceptable just because he didn’t kill anybody.
Scare Factor: 2/2
This one was genuinely creepy from the jump and brought Mayra into some really scary situations. The hypnosis at the core is what makes this the best kind of horror story; one that doesn’t go for big scares but lingers around long after you’ve finished reading.
This one subverted a lot of the tropes around mental health while still being true to people’s shitty perceptions of it. I also really liked the entitled fuckboy villain and positive messaging.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street Super Chiller #4: Broken Hearts