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YA Book Club: R.L Stine’s ‘Fear Street: Sunburn’ AKA the Shark Attack One

By Kate Hudson | Books | August 15, 2019 |

By Kate Hudson | Books | August 15, 2019 |


There is no way to sugarcoat this: this is the one where the shark graphically attacks and eats the guard dog who is trying to kill our heroine, because he was sicced on her by his demented teenage owner, who is masquerading as her sister who she had recently murdered to due to an incident at camp last summer. So, you know, typical familial stuff.

Now, there is something that needs to be noted in my beloved Fear Street series—if there is a pet in a Fear Street, there is an 85 percent chance it will not be making it out of the book alive, and it’s probably going to die in a way that makes you scratch your head and go “huh.” Thus, an attack dog being taken out by a shark attack. It’s just the Fear Street way. I don’t love that, but seeing as how I don’t have a time machine to go back to 1988 to address that with Mr. Stine, it’s just something I have to try to live with—just like Christopher Pike’s occasional inserted religious themes, and Jessica Wakefield’s complete and utter lack of remorse for basically anything she does. Ever.

So what is this one about, if not a shark attack?

Well, see, Claudia is going to her friend Marla’s massive beach house to hang out with her, and other camp friends, Joy and Sophie, and just like—have a good time. Only the book opens with Claudia buried up to her neck in sand, stranded, alone, and getting a gnarly sunburn. Don’t worry, a guy named Daniel shows up to dig her out, and escort Claudia back to the fancy-schmancy beach house she’s staying in—Marla’s. Only, twist, Daniel seems to know the code to get into the compound. How mysterious.

Cut to Claudia confronting her friends because it’s a s*it move to leave your friend to bake in the sun while you go waltz off—yet Marla has a plausible explanation for what happened because of course. Murderous little sisters masquerading as the older sister they killed recently usually do (by the way, this whole Marla isn’t Marla thing isn’t revealed until the end of the book but we all knew where this was headed, yes?)

Anyway, Claudia asks who the dude was who helped and Marla tells her it must have been a ghost. Yes, obviously! I say this with no irony whatsoever that explanation would most likely work on me, even at my age. I once went to a house party and spent way too much time in the bathroom, trying to talk to the ghost I believed to be stuck in the house, and then spent a lot of time trying to talk to the other people about the ghost, and friends, people insisted there was no ghost but I knew the truth. The ghost was the alcohol I drank along the way that night, and no one can take that truth from me.

Only Marla is a jerkface, so she starts to laugh at Claudia because, psych! There’s no ghost, you dummy!

Marla is kind of a jerk. But it’s not Marla, it’s Marla’s sister Allison, remember?

OK, let’s get to the whole Allison thing—see, the summer before, at camp, Allison was Marla’s bratty younger sister, always tagging along with Marla and her friends. In an effort to get rid of her for the afternoon, she’s dared to go cross the gorge at midnight that night only of course she falls and doesn’t make it. (What gorge you might be saying? Why, the gorge, of course!)

Guess what? Allison made it and faked amnesia to live with the family who found her for a year because that’s definitely a thing that happens. You find a teenager floating down the creek, and you take her home and make her your own. That’s creek-people logic, and it’s the law of the land.

Allison, of course, was mad at everyone so she went to the beach house to murder her sister because why not? Then pretend to be her, since her other camp nemeses were going to be there soon—so why not murder em all at the beach and take in some sun while she does it?

You might be asking where Marla and Allison’s parents were during all of this. They weren’t around. Don’t question it, just go with it.

So this all leads to the final showdown (I’m skipping over the shark bit because once was enough, and it was weird, and some s*it Allison pulled on her guests, such as putting leeches in a bed, cutting a water skiing rope, and putting a worm in a salad. I did not write these in order of escalating seriousness.)

Claudia, Sophie, and Joy are freaked out by “Marla” and decide it’s time to try to leave the beach house compound, only as they’re trying to find a way out they walk past a shed and it smells bad, so why not investigate it? We’re in a Fear Street book after all, baby!

So obviously they find the real Marla’s body and get freaked out, only to be confronted by Allrla (that’s a good combination of their names, right?) with a pistol in her hand and murder in her heart.

Only, there’s like 2 pages left in this book, so if you were expecting a showdown, you’d be wrong. The Daniel the ghost shows up, and it turns out, he’s not so much of a ghost as the college-aged son of the caretaker of the beach house, who basically spooks Allison into running—so what I’ve failed to mention up until now is that the beach house inexplicably has an electric fence, which is of course turned on at the moment, which Allison is running straight towards. Her last words? “The power is off, idiot!”

Reader, the power was not off, and that is how Allison left this mortal coil.

Anyway, Claudia is bummed that both sisters in the family are now dead, but then she’s pumped she met a dude, and that’s how the book ends.

Look, I judge a Fear Street based on body count and whether the mouth of a murdered person is described as an “‘o’ of horror” or something similar. I’m happy to report that the real Marla’s mouth was described as “frozen open as if she died screaming” so that’s basically dead on—and we had 2 murders, so all in all, this is a pretty good one, dog death by shark notwithstanding.

Anyway, summer is starting to wrap up, so clearly next week’s pick should be “I Know What You Did Last Summer” by Lois Duncan, so until then, friends, stay out of the water.

Header Image Source: Archway Paperback