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One Evil Summer--A Literature Review

What do you really fear. . .

The success of Stine's Fear Street series stems in part from its subversive isolation of the teen protagonist. This formulation of a teen world, in which all conflicts are addressed within the confines of an adolescent sphere (including the stock teen settings of school, bedrooms, "hangouts", etc.), is not indigenous to only Stine's work; in fact, most y.a. fiction sets apart the subject within his demographic. Good y.a. fiction is exclusive; it recreates the teen realm and, more importantly, legitimizes this setting. Patrick Jones writes: "In Stine's books, the teens are independent. . . and are role (and anti-role) models"(186). Stine's characters' independence as well their tenacity in the face of doubting adults who insist the ghosts are not real, are characteristics embraced by teen readers longing for someone to take them seriously.

On Fear Street, the supernatural interferes primarily in the the lives of Shadyside's teen residents, while adults, ignorant of the town's curse, continue to move house to the various haunted mansions that line the scary part of town and seek custody of long lost (and long evil) brothers, sisters, and cousins. A typical Fear Street introduces a problem directly affecting a teen protagonist and couches it in a situation that either disallows adult involvement or, by nature of its dubious supernatural overtones, discredits the affected teen in the eyes of the adult characters.

Stine's novel, One Evil Summer, expemplifies this solitary teen against nature theme so prevalent in the Fear Street series. Although the action takes place outside of Shadyside proper, it becomes obvious that the shadows of Fear Street hang long over the lives of its resident teens. When Amanda Conklin's family rents a summer beach home, Amanda's summer school enrollment interferes with her parents' babysitting plans. This summer, the Conklins must hire a mother's helper to watch their younger son and daughter while Amanda re-learns Algebra in a seaside high school. Chrissy, the Conklin's mother's helper, is suspect from the start--the cat hisses at her unprovoked and Amanda discovers a mysterious collection of newspaper clippings among Chrissy's things. Amanda's suspicions grow when she spies Chrissy levitating, and she attempts to warn her family of what she supposes is Chrissy's evil nature. Chrissy denies Amanda's accusations and paints a convincing enough picture of innocence to persuade the Conklins of Amanda's mental imbalance. As the novel continues, Amanda becomes the victim of Chrissy's supernatural cat and mouse games, designed both to torture Amanda and further prove her insanity. A secondary plot develops at this point, as Amanda tries to convince her parents of Chrissy's evil ways. Amanda's growing frustration at her parent's disbelief escalates as Chrissy's attacks become more dire.

Though the Chrissy-as-nemesis plot is more titillating, Amanda's struggle to gain her parents' trust is perhaps more relative. When Amanda finds the bloody bodies of her pet birds, innocent victims of the mother's helper, Chrissy's manipulation (both emotional and supernatural) of the discovery points the finger of blame at Amanda. Amanda's cries of innocence, her pleas for allies are familiar: "No--please! No! Don't turn against me! Be on my side! Please! Be on my side!", she begs (Stine, 80). The feeling of emotional severence from one's parents is a common one among teens searching for identity outside of familial bonds. Stine capitalizes on this adolescent difficulty, highlighting the frustration inherent in growing up and away from parents. Amanda's words--"Don't turn against me! Please! Be on my side!"--represent an all too familiar wish to be trusted and, ultimately, justified.

Finally, Stine allows Amanda's redemption; in a fiery climax, Chrissy is destroyed and Amanda is the acknowledged heroine. After much heartache and undeserved jail time, Amanda is released to her family:

"It seemed as if the hugging would never stop. . . Everyone cried and laughed and cried some more.

"What a reunion!

"And her parents apologized again and again for not believing her. And when the apologizing stopped, the hugging and crying and laughing started all over again"(Stine, 162).

At the end of Amanda's evil summer, her victory is two-fold: the triumph over Chrissy is equal to the re-gaining of her parents' trust. Stine emphasizes the elder Conklins' contrition ("her parents apologized again and again") in a scene almost as satisfying as Chrissy's demise.

In One Evil Summer, Stine uses the trappings of the horror genre to couch a real teen fear of abandonment. Amanda's fear and frustration originate in part from her concern that she is alone in her fight against evil, her allies have been deceived and now only she can right the wrong. We feel a sense of empowerment as Amanda proves first to herself and then to authority that she is strong, capable, and (maybe most importantly) right. Her victory over Chrissy is a symbollic victory for young adults striving for acknowledgement and acceptance.