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Review: R. L. Stine provides a different kind of goosebumps with adult "Red Rain"

This article first appeared in the St. Lous Beacon, Nov. 9, 2012 - As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of R. L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” books.  They lined the shelves at elementary school book fairs, were always on hold at the library and could be found clenched in the hands of many a classmate during reading time. The fast-paced, kid-friendly creepy tales were phenomenally popular with kids growing up in the '90s; they served as an older sibling of sorts for newer series like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.”

I still remember the thrill I felt each time I discovered a new “Goosebumps” novel to read cover-to-cover. That’s why I jumped at the chance to read Stine’s newest creation “Red Rain” – one of his few attempts at an adult horror novel. In this eerie thriller, Stine channels the same style of writing that gained him popularity decades ago. But reader beware: this book is a far cry from your favorite elementary school spine-chiller.

The story centers around Lea Sutter, an adventure travel writer who treks to the mysterious island Cape Le Chat Noir – a place rumored to be filled with evil spirits and home to the undead. A skeptical Sutter ignores warnings from family and island-goers alike and explores the island, expecting to find nothing more than smoke and mirrors. However, things take a chilling turn when an ominous hurricane ravages Cape Le Chat Noir, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Narrowly avoiding death, Sutter frantically tries to escape from the gory aftermath of the storm. But before she can leave the island, she discovers something strange: two angelic twin boys who refer to her as “Mum.” Sutter feels a strong connection to the boys, who claim to have lost their parents in the storm, and she makes the rash decision to adopt the twins and bring them home with her. Though Sutter’s husband is not completely comfortable with the idea, he and her two children accept the boys into their home.

Though Lea believes the twins can do no wrong, strange things begin to happen after she brings them home. Something evil is taking over her small town and leaving a trail of gory murders. Lea's husband is framed, her children disappear and the the twins may be to blame.

In typical Stine style, this novel is full of twists and turns to keep the reader’s interest. However, unlike his books for children and young adults, this newest novel is full of much more mature topics – disturbing violence, sexual tensions and an abundance of graphic language. If you’re looking for a “Goosebumps” redux, this is not the novel for you. But that shouldn’t deter you from giving "Red Rain" a chance.

The story is told from different points of view that change with each chapter, and it keeps the narrative interesting. However, I found most of the characters to be one-dimensional. Andy Pavano, a police officer who follows the stream of murders, is really the only person who exhibits some character development. The rest appear to be caricatures of their most defining personality trait.

My other main criticism of “Red Rain” is that some themes are a bit tried and predictable. The ideas of demonic children and evil twins are themes that have appeared in the earliest of horror stories. At times the story seemed far too unrealistic and silly. However, I was still unable to put this book down – even at the most gory parts that I could barely stand to read. Stine has proven that he is still capable of producing work that draws in readers and keeps them in his grasp until the very end – and this story’s ending is worth the wait. Stine threw in one last twist that I  did not see coming.

If you’re looking for a fun, PG-rated horror story, stick to the “Goosebumps” novels. However, if you can handle a darker, more mature storyline, then give “Red Rain” a chance.

Elizabeth Bartek is a Beacon intern.

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