Photo: Sarah Jackson
Freeze Tag. The Babysitter. Teacher's Pet.
For a lot of people of my generation, those words may well sound familiar: they are titles from Scholastic's Point Horror range of horror stories for young adults. When I was a teenager, my friends and I were fairly obsessed with them: we consumed these books ravenously. We swapped them around and read them over and over again, and although we branched out to some other Scholastic series like the Point Romance range, they never had quite the same allure.
R. L. Stine is probably the most well-known of the Point Horror authors but my favourite was Caroline B. Cooney. Even after I’d grown out of Point Horror, I still remembered The Cheerleader and The Perfume. I couldn’t have said why those stories stayed with me–there was just something about her writing that stuck with me.
Years passed and then one day, whilst browsing in a secondhand bookshop I saw it: The Caroline B. Cooney Collection. All three of her vampire trilogy! Needless to say, I had no choice but to buy it. On a slight nostalgia high I went searching on Amazon and found a 1p copy of The Perfume, which I hastily snapped up and then sent a happy time revisiting my teenage favourites.
(WARNING: Spoilers below!)
In The Cheerleader, lonely Althea accidentally unleashes a vampire who offers Althea what she's always longed for–popularity. In exchange, however, she must provide him with victims. The vampire is, thankfully, not sparkly or tragically misunderstood, and his victims simply become shadows of their former selves rather than being outright killed or turned into vampires. Eventually, Althea chooses to give up her popularity and fight off the vampire, returning to her previously lonely life.
Our heroine in The Perfume, Dove, is a quiet but odd girl who buys a mysterious perfume which apparently unleashes her unborn twin, Wing, who proceeds to take over Dove's body. Of course, Wing is evil–has there ever been a fictional unborn twin who wasn't? Even as a teen I was never quite certain whether Wing was real or a product of Dove’s mental breakdown. In either case, the book ends with Dove fighting Wing off once and for all.
I appreciate that these plots sound incredibly dumb summarised like this, and they will never be literary masterpieces, but in reading them I was suddenly transported back to my teenage years and the connections I had made with their characters. Although I would say I was pretty happy as a teen and had an amazing set of friends, I still understood Althea's craving to be liked and Dove's irrational fears of the outside world.
What I had never considered before was that although both Althea and Dove are initially quite weak-willed, even complicit in the evil that surrounds them, they also realise that they are the only ones who can fight it. With nothing but their own willpower they defeat it. And yet neither of them gets a happy ending. Later books in the Vampire Trilogy reveal that Althea was always thought of as a "weird girl" throughout high school and by the end of The Perfume, Dove has lost her potential boyfriend and all but one of her friends.
The Point Horror series may not have created books of the highest calibre but they were a great introduction for young people into reading, especially reading as a social activity. My friends and I swapped the books and discussed them at great length. Maybe they acted as a stepping stone for us as we progressed into reading Stephen King and Richard Layman and watching horror movies at sleepovers. They were a large part of the pop culture that influenced me growing up–if you loved them as a teen, I'd definitely suggest re-reading them, with nostalgia goggles firmly in place.
Girl Museum Inc.