Where do I start with this book? The cover, in which a young boy is in some sort of giant sandwich, covered in what looks like grape jelly? Sure, I could start there. Except it DIDN'T EVEN HAPPEN. Seriously, I've talked about false advertising in these books before (looking hard at you, monkey scientist), but at least in the previous entries, while the books might have promised more awesome than they delivered, they did actually...try to offer some of what they promised. This book? Well, buckle up dear readers, because this is gonna be a bumpy ride.
First, some business. This is a bonus review, meaning that it's being released for free for everyone thanks to my awesome Patrons. Every goal I unlock, I get to drunk livetweet and review another Give Yourself Goosebumps book, and this one is a doozy. The livetweet thread can be found here. Also, as the picture clearly shows, I'm drinking some bad life decisions to accompany this book, in the form of a Spiked Watermelon Steel Reserve...something. It tastes like Jolly Rancher. It has a surprisingly high abv. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?!
The answer, of course, is this book, where I am a young boy sent to spend the summer with my aunt and uncle. Who are, by all accounts, just sort of all right, but have had the misfortune of begetting two truly foul children in the form of my cousins, Barney and Dora. Now, Goosebumps is really hit or miss with regards to gender roles and this book is definitely not...good. But especially not good because we are presented with essentially two visions of gender, and both of them are toxic AF. Barney is a bully, and lives only to pound. Dora is a shrieking tattletale. With this sort of intro, I am not excited for whatever comes next.
Turns out, it's a mysterious forbidden basement. Which, despite my aunt and uncle living in their house for some time now, is still full of random stuff from the previous owners. I am told not to go down there because it's dangerous, so of course the first chance I get I make a direct line for the sweet transgressive safety of this basement. It is underwhelming. It's got a bit of old furniture and that's about it, but it does well from hiding me from either of my cousins. That is, until TRAGEDY STRIKES. Namely, I get really hungry. Seriously, the whole plot of this book revolves around really back appetite control. I'm hungry but don't want to brave the kitchen because I hate my extended family (which, okay, fair). But then I notice that there is an abandoned fridge in the basement. That has been left on. And has a bit of food inside.
Readers, what? Now, before we get to this, I want to state that this book gets back into the tradition of these Give Yourself Goosebumps books and starts things up with a no-choice choice. Escape from the Carnival of Horrors actually started this where it would let you "choose" to avoid the path the book obviously needed you to pick, but then haha would just make you pick that anyway. It was kinda cute the first time, but increasingly annoying in subsequent books in the series. The last book finally just got rid of it. Well, it's back, and this time it's double dipping. That's right, this book includes not one but two different instances where you can "choose" to avoid the seriously self-endangering things the book wants you to do, only to be informed you're doing them anyway, this is R.L. Stine's house and if you don't like it HE WILL TURN THIS AROUND RIGHT NOW. *sigh*
So yeah, I tried to avoid eating mysterious fridge food. I really did. But no amount of avoiding allowed me to escape my fate. Instead, the main branch of the book is between what you eat from the fridge. There is: a bit of chocolate cake and a bit of purple shit packaged as "Purple Peanut Butter." The purple stuff smells amazing but is, well, purple and looks not appealing at all. Seriously I think there was purple peanut butter in the 90s because 90s! But I don't remember trying it then and when given the choice of cake you know I'm going with the cake.
The problem, of course, only becomes obvious later in the day, when I seem to be growing. And growing. And growing. I'll spoil it now because why not: the book is divided into two main branches, the "eat cake and grow" branch and the "eat purple crap and shrink" branch. Neither are great options, tbh, but it does give the book something of a balance. And I got some very different endings depending on which one I went with. For growing big, things escalate quickly and pretty sure I'm on the run from the cops, trying to find who made this dastardly cake.
Now, there are endings like...becoming an elephant poop scooper, or being experimented on by the government. The kinda nice thing about this book, for all its issues, is that it has zero problem is just straight up killing me in many interesting ways, which is something that the series as a whole has largely avoided, despite that being like THE ENTIRE POINT OF CYOA BOOKS. So when I grew to large and literally died when my head entered the vacuum of space, then crushed an entire state with my dead body, that was pretty cool. I also got made into a literal gingerbread man, too, which was creepy. Most of the "good" endings here involve me getting cured and basically avoiding any repercussions of my actions, with just some general PTSD to keep me on my toes in the future. Avoid cakes. Got it.
The purple peanut butter branch is even bloodier (though again, it's a complete ripoff that I don't get, like, devoured alive by my cousin or aunt or something...missed opportunity, book). I got crushed in a car compacter, suffocated to death by climbing inside the fridge and getting stuck, being ground to death in a water treatment plant, and getting torn apart by a mouse. Most of the "good" endings here involve me getting back my regular size body and maybe getting a giant lizard bodyguard. Which is admittedly pretty cool. But I want to draw your attention to two different and rather obscure paths that just creep me the fuck out.
First, there's a point where I was tiny and got to my aunt's school only to end up in the physics department, where I met disgraced scientist Dr. Abbott who agreed to help me get bigger. Now, this might seem odd from the get go, but his options for this are to "I don't know, maybe magnets, or how about a laser gun." I am 100% convinced that R.L. Stine has no idea how science works, but even so, this seems...like no. Both choices are delightful and disturbing, though. Because if you choose magnet, you literally become a supervillain, gaining powers that you decide to use nobly to terrorize your cousins. Only before you can the powers backfire and, you guessed it, you die. The laser gun option, though, is even better. Because it involves a laser gun! And it just fucking works! Well, not quite. You end up switching bodies with Dr. Abbott (don't ask) and then just decide...okay, fine. I mean, I sort of get the logic, but that's a rather terrifying ending to give a kid. You are now a middle aged disgraced scientist and college professor. Good luck with that.
And okay, that's pretty fucked up. But THE BEST (and by that I mean THE WORST) set of endings come when you are super tiny and decide to run into Dora's dollhouse to avoid being eaten by a cat. And...learn that all dolls are alive. I am not kidding, these endings reveal that all dolls are alive and really fucking mean. They immediately enslave you and put you to work doing menial chores that dolls shouldn't need done, but it's like dolls have learned to be alive by watching humans and wow, it's not a pretty sight. Anyway, in the clutches of the dolls you find your screams are never enough to set you free. It's the most terrifying thing tucked into a book that really is about bad food decisions. Hope you didn't like sleeping, because guess what you're never doing again! :D
Anyway, that's about it for endings. Unfortunately, that's not it for gripes. Because this book engages in some of the most infuriating examples of something that the Give Yourself Goosebumps books are notorious for (imo). Which is, "choices" that ARE NOT GODDAMN CHOICES. Ugh. This book has a lot of instances where you're going around and then hit a "choice" that's "What month were you born in?" or "What day of the week are you reading this on?" or "can you do ten push ups?" And setting aside that readers have no control over that and yet there are still "correct" choices for those branches, it's all just bullshit. It puts up walls that anyone actually playing along faithfully (meaning, not just exploring every single option) would never be able to cross. And that's just plops. The books are supposed to be about choice, not random useless crap. Again, ugh.
So really, things here are a bit bleak. There's some fun to be had, but despite a truly intriguing cover and the promise of purple flavored butters, ehhhhh...this wasn't very good. But let's quantify things, shall we? To the ratings!
On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 2/5 (okay so I don't care at all about any of the characters but WTF THOSE DOLLS!!! I would totally want to know more about this messed up doll society just apparently living under the noses of humanity. It sounds absolutely fucking weird and while it's not much from a book that could have done loads more, it's something)
On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 2/5 (yeah no. No it is not. There's a general sense that it's balanced well and it does offer up some grisly deaths, which is a lot of why I come to CYOA books. But false advertising aside, it falls into too many of the pitfalls of the form, giving readers false "choices" and just generally being really annoying at times)
On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 2/5 (at least this book is consistent, right? I do feel that there are some really Goosebumps-y moments and the project as a whole is one of the most 90s things I could imagine. So...there's that. But as much fun as it is to revel in purple goo, there weren't too many twists that actually worked for me. I couldn't really find anything to have a conspiracy theory about, and while the doll thing is fucked up, there really wasn't much else here to really dig into or expand the setting. sigh)
So there you have it! Thanks so much again to all my patrons for making this happen. The next bonus, UNDER THE MAGICIAN'S SPELL, probably has nothing to do with Narnia but still looks really disturbing. So if you liked this, spread the word and hopefully we can hit the next goal soon. Cheers!