Review: Goosebumps Offers the Perfect Blend of Wry, Spooky Nostalgia

Hello, hello, hello, my fronds! It’s me, Count Olaf — just kidding. I’ve been slow to post this week because work has me l-e-v-e-l-e-d. I’m back with a kid lit blog, though. 

This week, I read not one, not two, but three books, not to toot my own horn. Specifically, those great American classics were books #24 to 26 of R.L. Stine’s original Goosebumps series: Phantom of the AuditoriumAttack of the Mutant, and My Hairiest Adventure. I don’t want to overexplain why I choose these books, but sometimes I engage with the Western canon, OK? OK. 

I was never into Goosebumps as a kid because the raised lettering and slime splatter on the covers scared me! But I got into the cult series after watching the movie with Jack Black and found these books as delightful and silly as you’d think. They embody the intense clarity and brevity that you so often find in children’s literature. In a brief 120 or so pages, Stine crafts memorable characters, dialogue, and plot twists. His books are funny and occasionally as scary for big kids, too. 

Save another reboot of the series, the books are relatively accessible. You’re likely able to reserve physical and electronic holds at your local libraries. Goodwill and library book sales are treasure troves for Goosebumps, too. I got these babies from the Martin Luther King Jr. Library book sale! I

In the trio I read, Phantom of the Auditorium was my favorite. This first book delivered the ideal amount of horror and mystery for me. The story, loosely reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera, follows a cursed school play. Years ago, the boy set to portray the phantom in the production vanished, perhaps becoming a phantom himself. Brooke and Zeke land lead roles in the play, but spooky stuff starts happening, such as crashing lights and threatening red paint messages. The story had enough twists to keep me hooked, and the last one didn’t feel contrived. Fun stuff!

Attack of the Mutant and My Hairiest Adventure were also amusing, but they just weren’t my speed. In Attack of the Mutant, a comic book nerd named Skipper finds himself inside of his favorite comic, The Masked Mutant. It’s funny in a dry kind of way, and I certainly identify with Skipper’s curmudgeonly nature and commitment to being unathletic as a personality. Still, the dream logic felt difficult to follow, even if it gets playful and meta with the nature of creative fiction. And the twist? You see it coming. My Hairiest Adventure, on the other hand, didn’t feel developed enough. You spend most of the book seeing Larry growing hairier and hairier after rubbing on sketchy tanning cream from the trash. (I’m sure young children have more common sense than that!) The twist at the end doesn’t feel as earned, though Stine, to his credit, places subtle plants throughout the story. 

Despite some light panning, I’m going to keep reading Goosebumps throughout quarantine to maintain some semblance of sanity. They’re excellent instruction manuals for funny, concise storytelling with crystal clear plots. And Goosebumps books are perfect for the nostalgic, spooky, hygge autumn vibes that I want to channel right now, even as the weather pushes 100 degrees in my nook of California! 

Grades: 4-7

Published: All of the books were published in 1994!

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