Grotesque lumps were her breasts; a tight band of knotted tissue
was her abdomen.”
Anyone conscious in the 1980s recalls the overall good-time
vibe. Movies, TV shows, and commercials were filled with
groups of teens hanging out as units (and, most likely, break
dancing). Makes sense, then, that Duncan and Pike chose to
infiltrate and corrode such cliques, sowing suspicion from the
inside. In other words, let the geeky, ostracized loners exact re-
venge against the popular kids. So it was in horror movies aimed
at teens, and so it was in books.
Pike uses pop-culture references to fortify his stylistic weaknesses, a self-aware trait predictive of everything from Gossip
Girl to the Scream film franchise. The Twilight Zone, Stephen
King’s Carrie, and “horror flicks” in general are all referenced—
quick-and-dirty shorthand to establish, and in some cases defy,
expectations. Like Duncan’s Barry, Pike’s loutish boor Cal,
against all odds, ends up being the guy who saves the day. In an
often black-and-white YA world, that’s an impressive splotch of
Stine had cranked out oodles of kids’ books by 1986, but Blind
Date marked his YA debut. You can feel his hesitance; periodic
interjections about sex can’t surmount the writing’s adolescent
tone. Stine’s background as a Scholastic magazine humorist shines
through; the teens in this book are genuinely funny, though it
often comes at the expense of generating fear.
In this story, the ostracized one is our protagonist, Kerry.
This is a more easily digestible kind of horror. “It was scary to
be disliked,” Stine writes, and who could disagree? After Kerry
accidentally breaks the star quarterback’s leg, the whole school
hates him. Thankfully, a sexy new girl, Mandy, keeps flirting. Is
it a coincidence that she reminds him of Amanda, the girlfriend
of his brother, who was killed in a car wreck? (It is not, in fact, a
Appearing in 1986, it’s the last published of this trio of books
but also the least transgressive. A solid, readable novel, to be
sure, but also a “cozy” horror that establishes, in the end, that
everything is going to be OK. There is nothing wrong with that;
YA lit is a more welcoming place for Stine’s gentle spookies.
Duncan and Pike, by contrast, were out to worm their worrisome notions into teens’ skulls, forcing them to ponder their
own propensity for misjudgment and culpability.
Put another way, they trusted teens to not only see themselves as
the bad guys but also to see their entire world as a bad place. These
kinds of books pointed directly to the future of YA—our present day—when authors of all genres feel the freedom to tell their
often-dark stories, less concerned with how it makes a teen reader
feel than the fact that they simply feel. A fine goal, even if it takes a
long knife and a gallon of flammable liquor to get us there.