Summer Project #1: reading the formerly scariest/now worst books ever

So you may be wondering what I spend my summers doing here in good old Wisconsin.  Well, there was the whole camp thing.  That is a story for another day.  Or stories for several other days, if we’re including previous summers.  07 in particular was a doozy.  But after camp ended, I needed some things to fill up my days.   One of my lesser known pastimes that I have developed this summer is finding books at used book stores, book sales, and/or Savers that I read the backs of when I was younger and was terrified by so I was afraid for months, and reading them.

Literally, months.  I was so afraid of What Happened to Nancy (wondering? don’t worry.  you’ll hear about it soon.) that name Nancy sent chills down my spine and I had trepidation about talking to men named Collin until last year late middle school.  Needless to say, I was an easily scared child.  But my philosophy has advanced: face your fear.  You have a fear of heights?  You go to the top of the building.  You’re afraid of bugs?  You, get a bug, right?  Jump off the high dive, stare down the barrel of a gun, PEE INTO THE WIND!

Or, in my case, you read the books with creepy topics like rape, AIDS, and cabin trip/virginity pacts gone wrong.

The two books that I have stared into the barrel of their topic or peed into their wind or…owned their bug, are Speak Softly, she Can Hear by Pam Lewis, and It Happened to Nancy by…Nancy.  Or an anonymous teenager.  Or Beatrice Sparks, the women who claims that she ‘edited’ the diary of one of the troubled teenagers she counseled because ‘Nancy’ wanted the world to hear her story.   This book is centered around a teenage girl, Nancy, a fourteen year old who keeps a diary.  She lives with her real estate agent mother, and although her parents are divorced, she has a great relationship with her father, a businessman with a beautiful house in Arizona.  She has a joyful group of friends she calls ‘the gaggle,’ a nice boy who may eventually become more than just a friend named Lev, and a bird called Levictant (or something else equally obscure and no-sense-making.)  Nancy spends her free time having picnics, seeing movies, and going to Garth Brooks concerts.  In addition, she meets a boy named Collin, they immediately fall for each other and go on beautiful dates, and THEN HE RAPES HER AND GIVES HER HIV.  WHICH PROGRESSES INTO AIDS IN A COMPLETELY UNREALISTIC LESS THAN ONE YEAR SPAN.

Congratulations young reader, here a book where you get to hear all about your worst fears: rapists, diseases, and dying.   When I read the back of this book at Borders when I was I don’t know, NINE, I was, as I said, scared for a really really really long time.  I can’t think of much to illustrate it, but I remembered the title of this book until, well, until I saw it in the used pile at Saver’s yesterday and bought it.

The other book, Speak Softly, She Can Hear, was actually, you know, written in a legitimate and honest way and for adults.  This book didn’t inspire as much terror in me when I was young, but whenever I saw it at used book sales (WHICH WAS WAY TOO FREQUENTLY) my thought process was always “Wow, that book looks creepy, and sometimes I like creepy books, but this one might be a little too much.”  Want to know why?  Well, the premise of this little gem is that two friends, Carole and Naomi, decide to make a pact to lose their virginity to skeevy Upper East side Eddie on the same night in a cabin in the woods in upstate New York.  Clearly, this one is setting itself up to be a classic.  Anyway, as the back of the book tells you, SOMETHING TERRIBLE GOES WRONG and the incident follows Carole for years.

Now I’m going to bring up a cardinal difference between the two books.  I was terrified of IHTN for years, then read it and was amazed at the terrible writing and how this Sparks lady EVER thought she could masquerade as a 14  year old writing a diary.  To be fair, I’ve also had health class, seen Rent, and written a 20 page research paper about AIDS since I was nine and am now far less afraid of the topics in this book.  Basically, I was very underwhelmed by the scary level of IHTN.  SSSCH on the other hand, completely surpassed what I thought I would find in its pages.  We’re lucky that I’ve now read every Mary Higgins Clark book (test me) and that I am just in general not one to dwell on scary things anymore, because or else this book would have kept me up for weeks.   Because, the thing is, IHTN was pretty straightforward.  You find out on the back that she gets raped and gets AIDS, and it sucks, but there are no surprises.  There’s a lot of mood swings (warranted), depressing thoughts (also warranted) and cheesy unrealistic-as-in-a-fourteen-year-old-would-never-say-this-shit senteces (unwarranted), but you get what you expect with good old IHTN.  SSSCH on the other hand, tells you that a secret incident happens.  Okay, how bad can it be?  You think you’ve read a lot of books, so you can probably imagine what the secret incident is.

Unless you were thinking that the secret incident was Eddie inviting a hooker into the room after him and Carole have sex and she stands on the bed watching them and then everything gets crazy and the hooker dies and Eddie claims that Carole broke her neck and then Naomi appears and the three of them have to hide the body in the snow in the woods and for the next thirty years Eddie stalks Carole trying to get money out of her in exchange for him not telling ‘their secret’…you would be wrong. Way worse than I was expecting, but bravo to good old Pam Lewis because that was a twist that none of us (us being me and the other people that frequent the monthly used book sales at Westgate mall) suspected.

Luckily, neither of these books actually scared me upon reading them as much as I would have imagined when reading their summarires or whatever you call those damn paragraphs on the back are so many years ago.  They certainly would have when I was nine, or twelve, or even fifteen.  Apparently those 55 or howevermany Mary Higgins Clark books paid off (after A Cry in the Night I was never going to be the same) and now I can fearlessly tackle the creepy books from my youth with ease.  Next on the list is Ruth Rendell’s The Tree of Hands.  You’d think the title wouldn’t be self explanatory.  Nope, it is.  I will update again soon with more of my summer pastimes.  You can look forward to entries on categorizing stationary, microwaveable snacks, and why I did NOT purchase an Easy Bake Oven last Wednesday.


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