Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wait Till Helen Comes

Wow. Just...wow. I remember liking this book a lot when I was younger, but I didn't remember much about it. Now that I've finished it, I'm 99% sure that the author, Mary Downing Hahn, was having an affair with R.L. Stine, because this reads just like a Goosebumps novel (and if you've forgotten how Goosebumps books were set up, please check out the link on the right). Since the first Goosebumps book was written in 1992 (according to Amazon, anyway), and this was written in 1986, I can only guess that R.L. Stine gave Mary Downing Hahn some hot lovin' and then blackmailed her into letting him use this book as the general format of his wildly popular series, or else he'd tell Mr. Hahn about the steamy sex. See, R.L. Stine was sick of working on Eureka's Castle, and wanted to make a living in trying to scare children and teenagers and...I'm reading too much into this, aren't I?

Anyway, the book opens like any Goosebumps book in that a mother is telling her two children that she and their new stepfather bought a house in the middle of nowhere in Maryland and they shall all be moving from their Baltimore home soon. The two children are Molly, age 12, and Michael, age 10. Their stepfather, Dave, also has a child, 7 year old Heather. Bitch is crazy. For real. The book is labeled as a ghost story, but I prefer to believe it's more about a 7 year old's journey into complete and utter madness.

So some background info is given, Molly likes to read, and writes poetry. She thankfully does not speak in rhyme. Michael is a science nerd, mostly interested in natural science, and has a collection of dead bugs and all sorts of other weird shit. He speaks so maturely that he's pretty much the Dawson's Creek version of a 10 year old. Dave and Jean, Michael and Molly's mom, are both artists. Dave is a sculptor and Jean is a painter. They married some time after Jean's husband left her and Dave's wife died in a mysterious fire. Heather was only 3 when the fire occurred, and was rescued unharmed from it. I'd feel bad for her if she wasn't a total bitch all the time. Seriously, take all of the unlikeable qualities from our nominees for Queen of Lameness, and multiply them by 8000, and you get Heather. Here are some examples to illustrate my point:

-She refuses to answer anything Jean says to her, and never lets her hug her or anything
-She has openly said that she hates Jean, Michael, and Molly
-She tells lies that Michael and Molly are teasing her so that she can try to drive her father and Jean apart
-Molly let her play with her old Barbies that she was saving to someday pass along to her own children, and Heather chopped off all the hair and tore all the clothes
-Molly made her paper dolls, and she tore off all the heads and threw them on the floor in front of Molly

Those are just a few that I can think of. As a psych major, it's very obvious to see that she feels guilt for her mother's death, and has a horrible case of depression, but Dave doesn't believe in psychiatric help, and claims that psychiatrists only mess with people's heads and make them worse. I don't feel bad for him when his only biological child turns out to be a raving lunatic.

So the family moves into an old church that had been renovated into a small house. They are about a mile from any neighbors, and a few miles from the nearest town. However, located near their property are the half-burned ruins of an old house, a pond, and a graveyard. The 3 kids go visit the graveyard caretaker, and Heather finds a grave under a tree that the caretaker has missed, since it was half-buried by weeds. I thought his job was to make sure the weeds were all gone? He sucks. Anyway, the gravestone has the initials of a 7 year old child with the same initials as Heather that died in 1886, which would make her birth and death years exactly 100 years older than Heather's birth year and the current year of the book. Head hurt? That's because Coincidence and Foreshadowing just beat you with a stick.

The caretaker warns the children to stay away from this particular grave, since it hasn't been cleared and there may be snakes and poison ivy. He tries to pull Heather away, but she basically says, "Whateva! I do what I want!" and takes off. She sucks. I totally would've smacked the sass right out of her by now, but Molly and Michael just choose to ignore her.

Molly runs out to find her brother one day, but stops at the graveyard when she sees Heather talking apparently to herself. Heather yells at her to leave, and says that she's going to make Molly sorry for spying on her, and that Helen is going to come after her. Molly is all like, who the fuck is Helen, and Heather tells her that Helen is the little girl whose grave they found, and proceeds to give her full name, which I forget. She also shows Molly a locket with her initials and Helen's initials on it, and says that Helen gave it to her and that she hates Molly as much as Heather does and is going to make her sorry for ever hurting Heather. First of all, Molly never hurt Heather, and second, bitch is about at a Britney Spears level of craziness. Molly runs off and finds her brother and tells him what Crazy McPsycho said, but he dismisses it as just Heather's way of trying to scare Molly.

So after countless pages of Heather running off, Molly finding her, Heather telling her that Helen will make her sorry, Heather telling Dave that Molly was spying on her, Dave yelling at Molly, and Michael telling Molly that there's no such thing as ghosts and not to listen to Heather, Michael and Molly set off one day for the not-so-local town library. In it, the library tells them the history of the half-burned house. She says that the little girl, Helen, her mother, and her stepfather lived in it, and a mysterious fire happened and only Helen survived. She also says that Helen shortly afterward walked into the pond and drowned, and that many people believe that any deaths involving the pond were because Helen haunted it. Ouch, there's that Coincidence and Foreshadowing again!

Michael and Molly ride home, and are greeted by accusations from Dave that they dragged Heather out into the woods and left her there. In reality, Heather basically told them to fuck off and ran in the woods to hide from them, and then Michael and Molly decided to go to the library. The whole family gets into a fight, with Dave yelling at Michael and Molly, Jean yelling at Dave for yelling at her children, and Heather sitting back and watching everything while laughing. Dave takes Heather into his van and storms off, while Jean blames the fight on Michael and Molly and runs off to take a walk and be by herself. This family is messed up, yo.

After awhile, Jean returns, and then Dave and Heather (with an ice cream cone for Heather), and they all go to bed. Molly, who shares a room with Heather, hears Heather get up and sneak outside through their window. She follows, and finds Heather in the graveyard talking to a ghost, which she actually sees for the first time. Molly runs back home and gets back into bed, frightened. She pretends to be asleep and Heather comes home and whispers in her ear that Helen is going to make her pay. Psht, and Dave thought a psychiatrist would mess with Heather's head, she's already insane! Molly runs to her brother's room, wakes him up, and tells him everything she saw. He tells her there's no such thing as ghosts, and takes her outside to prove that Heather couldn't have climbed back in through their window. Just as they find an overturned box that Heather must have used to boost herself up to the window, Heather screams that Michael and Molly are spying on her, and Dave comes in all pissed. Why would a 10 and a 12 year old spy on a sleeping 7 year old? I mean, seriously, is Dave retarded? Can he not connect the dots and see that Heather is lying? Apparently not, because another argument insues, and it's all the same old crap. If you're sick of reading the same old argument again and again in this condensed form, trying reading the book.

Jean and Dave go into town or something for the day, taking Heather with because Dave says that he's sick of Molly and Michael bothering her. I'm sick of reading about your post-traumatic-stress-ridden daughter, Dave, so go for it. Molly and Michael go have a picnic by the pond, and return to the house. Before they walk inside, however, they hear crashes coming from within. Thinking there's a burglar, they run to the end of their road to wait for Dave, Jean, and Psycho. When their van pulls up, Dave cautiously leads them into the house. There they discover that everything of Molly, Michael, and Jean's has been completely ruined, while Heather and Dave's shit is untouched. They call the cops, who chalk it up to just random vandals, since nothing has been stolen. Molly swears she can see a message from Helen written on the wall, but when she tries to tell someone it fades away. Heather tells her later when they're alone that she told Molly she'd pay.

After this, Molly makes a promise to herself that she'll watch Heather at all times. A few days later, Dave and Jean go off to Baltimore to try to replace some of Jean's ruined art supplies. Heather is under strict orders to stay in the house, but naturally as soon as her father is gone she disappears. Molly remembers her promise to herself and goes off to find her. She finds Heather at the pond, talking to Helen. Helen is telling her that no one loves her like she does, and that Heather must come into the pond with her so they can be together forever. Heather starts to go, and Molly tries to run to save her. However, a sudden sheet of rain blocks Heather from her view, and Molly only sees the empty pond. After some searching, she finds Heather's body, gives her mouth to mouth, and revives her. Heather is half being a snot, half being a frightened child upon awakening, and Molly takes her to the half burned house to dry off a bit, as the rain is coming down really hard and their house is too far away. In the abandoned house, Helen is waiting for them. She rants and raves and pushes them into a hole in the floor. In this hole, Molly finds the skeletons of Helen's parents, and is appropriately freaked out. Heather, also freaked out, confesses to Molly that she started the fire that killed her mother by playing with the stove and then hiding from her mother for fear of getting punished. Her mother died looking for her. Heather says if she tells her dad he won't love her any more, and Molly assures her that he still will. All of this could have come out during therapy and saved the family years of tension. I'm looking at you, Dave.

Helen floats down the hole and apologizes to the skeletons, saying that she didn't mean to start the fire. All of a sudden her mother's ghost emerges, hugs her, forgives her, and they float away. Coincidence and Foreshadowing smack us once more. Dave, Jean, and Michael finally come looking for Molly and Heather, and Dave pulls them up from the hole. Michael spots some of the bones down there and wants to examine them for a science project. Jean is appropriately horrified, and tells him no and that they'll call the police and inform them. Heather says that the skeletons are Helen's parents, and that they need to be buried next to her. They all agree with the crazy ass 7 year old, and go home.

A few days later, the town buries the skeletons next to Helen's grave, remove her crappy gravestone, and give her one with her full name and everything on it, along with stones for her mother and stepfather. Heather starts acting like a human being to everyone, showing signs of affection and not telling lies about Michael and Molly to get them in trouble. At Molly's urging, Heather tells her father about the start of the fire, and he forgives her and says he still loves her. She hugs Molly for being right, and the book ends.

Crazy ass Heather totes has a mullet.


meredith said...

wow, I totes remember that cover! definitely not that plot at all, though.... Last summer I re-read some childhood favorites, too bad I neglected this gem but after I read "the wind blows backwards," I couldn't handle another Mary Downing Hahn. you are brave.

snappleaddict said...

I used to own The Spanish Kidnapping Disaster, but I read this one a few times as a child. I saw it at the library last week, and remembered liking it, though now I'm not quite sure why.

Sophia said...

I swear to God you win at life. I was TOTALLY a Mary Downing Hahn fan. If you start doing Lois Duncan books next, I'll bow down to you.

As for this book, yes I remember hating Heather with a fiery passion, but who didn't? Not my favorite Mary Downing Hahn book though...I think the one where the 15 year old and the 35 year old vampire are doing naughty things is kickass.

snappleaddict said...

Thank you! Unfortunately the only Lois Duncan book I ever read was I Know What You Did Last Summer, although the English class a few levels below me had to read Killing Mr. Griffin.

Clementine Bojangles said...

I loved this book when I was little.

For the longest time, I couldn't remember the name of it, and I spent more time than I care to admit to scouring the internet for the title. When I found it, I immediately ordered a copy off amazon.com, but was disappointed.

It wasn't nearly as scary as I remembered it being.


troy steele said...

I confused Lois Duncan with Louis Sachar and got really excited that you might be doing Pig City--

Then Google searching revealed that the beloved book I always remembered as Pig City was in fact called Sixth Grade Secrets. It was definitely a book for girls and I knew that when I read it in grade school too. Fuckin' rebel!


snappleaddict said...

And I just confused Sixth Grade Secrets for Barthe DeClements' Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You, which I was totally planning to do, but forgot to pick up at the library. I loved Fat Elsie more in the fifth grade one, though.

katee said...

After this recap I remember how much I hated Heather. I think I skipped a whole chunk of the book (between the two arguments) so I could get to the end confrontation. Even then I still wasn't satisfied that Heather got her due.

snappleaddict said...

Yeah, I felt bad that she felt guilty about accidentally causing her mother's death, but I still didn't think she should act like a total bitch. I mean, she was just outright rude. I think I was more mad at Dave for letting her be such a ho, and for not taking her to see a psychiatrist. Plus I wasn't convinced that someone could remember something from when they were 3 so vividly, but then again, it was a traumatic experience. All in all, Heather and Dave both sucked.

Lauren said...

This is seriously the scariest book I think I've ever read (which doesn't say much for my reading habits, probably, or my easy-to-scare tendency). I actually have a copy of it somewhere that used to belong to my sister, and even though I'm 27 I'm too freaked out to ever re-read it! It gave me nightmares for freaking YEARS. The recap makes it sound a lot less scary than I remember somehow! Something about the image of Helen pulling Heather into the pond scared me beyond belief.