Updated: May 30, 2019
If you’re within 5-10 years of my own age— which I’m not sharing ;)—chances are you remember the scholastic book fairs at your elementary school. If you wanna learn a little more about what I recall from my books fairs and how it started my love of mystery and horror, please check out this blog: What’s in the Box?
After the joy of nostalgia from discovering my old stuff passed, I decided I would tempt fate and reread The Hitchhiker, curious to see if it held up or if it would ruin my opinion of Mr. Stine. After all, in my mind, he’s pretty legendary. Yet beyond the cool covers, I don’t actually remember the writing.
So how does The Hitchhiker hold up after twenty-six years?
Terri and Christina are coming back from a road trip. I can’t remember if it was fully explained, but I got the impression that they are both eighteen and this is their summer fling before college... or they’re on a spring break excursion during their first year community college. They stop for a cute hitchhiker named James, also an eighteen year old. Tyler’s been hitching for a bit, and we’re not totally sure what he’s running from or where he’s going to, but it’s implied that he hurt his last girlfriend. Hurt her real bad… Now the girls may be in trouble if James loses control again...
Stine gets right to the action! Chapters are short and almost every chapter ends on a cliffhanger. Great way to keep teens--and myself--turning the page. I think more adult novels should follow that formula. Max Booth III did that well in his werewolf novel, and you can take a look at my review of his work here.
If you give this one a read, at first you’re gonna be pretty sure who the villain(s) and good guy(s) are. That’s when the adult in me was almost ready to shut down. This is suppose to be a mystery/thriller and the real joy is figuring out whodunit. Without giving it away, I will just give props to Stine because he spends several chapters throwing in curve balls. They will definitely keep a young adult guessing, as for the rest of us...the twists gave me just enough doubt in my prediction to keep reading with a smile on my face. Bravo.
I also like that despite the intense scenarios these teens were placed in, their language remained teenish. Nowadays, kids seem to use vulgar language non-stop in all settings. So it was nice to see Terri and Christina still speaking like teens. Granted, some readers will say that’s unrealistic and I’m naive to think that there was a time when youth didn’t use “swear” words. But if you’re a parent and want to gently bring your child into reading thrillers, mystery, and yes, horror, then you probably want them to enjoy the suspense and the literary elements of the genre, while hopefully not being exposed to too much harsh language. That aspect should come as they advance in age.
Well, even after the twists and turns, and the fun of second-guessing myself, I did indeed know whodunit. But it was a fun ride anyway and a great ride for young adults who aren’t use to having an ending pegged yet. I'm sure though that this aspect will turn off adults thinking of rereading.
There is also very little in terms of character development. The Hitchhiker is plot driven, which is fine, but don’t expect a lot of depth to the characters or motives behind their actions. Then again, they’re teens... Do teens even know why the heck they engage in the crazy stuff they do?!
I was wondering if YA was always as intense as it is today with shows like Supernatural, Sabrina, and Riverdale. I mean the teens are pretty wicked evil in these TV shows. Sex, murder, the mob, demon invocations, holy heck!
Well, the teens in The Hitchhiker are pretty ugly too, maybe not as devious as today’s books, shows, and movies, but pretty darn close. The characters in The Hitchhiker did knock a man into a coma, steal a car, use sexual teasing to trick someone, steal money, punch out a family member, and then, at the end, an adult plots to kill the teens by throwing them into a pool of piranha... Oh yeah, and more than one character is totally devoured alive by said piranha.
So...Stine definitely set the tone twenty-six years ago, but I think the main difference is that the graphic descriptions were not present in The Hitchhiker, whereas current YA is pushing harder to be more vivid and visceral in its depictions.
Moving forward, I may pick up a few more 90s YA books. I’m thinking Christopher Pike next and at least one more Stine, then I definitely want to read a female author and compare how she handles teens as opposed to male writers. Even though its nearly thirty years later, I think The Hitchhiker is still a great place to start teens on their path to horror. Probably best to keep them away from the graphic stuff until late high school, but that’s a personal decision. As for the adults looking to reread, I think it will be hit or miss for you, fifty-fifty you'll enjoy yourself.
This review was partially for "research", since I have decided to combine the YA and Splatterpunk genres. Not sure if that’s a thing yet. If not, I’m calling it #splatterpunk YA--not creative or original, I know. Or as Brad Tierney coined it 'Splatterhouse' YA. If you got something else, feel free to post suggestions.
Here’s an excerpt of my Graphic YA novella Watchers of the Black Rite
How about you? Do you like 90s YA? Did Scholastic ignite your love of horror or was the flame kindled elsewhere? Let me know your story.