Spellbound by Christopher Pike
Archway Paperback, 4th printing, 1988
Genre: YA, horror
Synopsis & Review: Weeks after Karen Holly’s gruesome death in the park outside Timber, Wyoming, Cindy Jones is dating Karen’s boyfriend Jason Whitfield. He’s everything a high school girl could want: handsome, popular, rich, and a football star. But he’s also got a temper and is too used to getting his own way; those traits, combined with Karen’s mysterious and brutal death, have led some people to wonder just how much Jason had to do with her death. Meanwhile, two new kids in town, English girl Joni Harper and African exchange student Bala Retala are also attracting attention. Cindy’s brother and his friend and rival Ray Bower jockey for Joni’s attention, while Cindy and her best friend Pam find themselves attracted to Bala. When Jason pulls an outrageous stunt endangering Cndy’s life, Bala is there to save her, and it seems inevitable that he caused Karen’s death, too. But a ghastly and terrible creature stalks Timber, one that no one can imagine.
This was the first Christopher Pike book I ever read back in intermediate school, and it remains a favorite. I came to Pike a bit late, in seventh grade, and it was the early heyday of Fear Street and Point horror books. Everyone was reading them, and towering above the dreck of Prom Dress and its ilk were Christopher Pike’s very odd, always disturbing and suspenseful books.
The premise of Spellbound is classic Pike and genuinely creepy. There are a few flaws, though, namely SPOILER ALERT Why on earth did [that one person] put [that other person] into a [that one awful thing]? Why not like, a meerkat, or a ground squirrel? You know, something cute and harmless in case [they] like, panicked? WTF? SPOILER OVER
Aside: WordPress, just give WordPress.com users spoiler tags already. Jerks.
But then, we wouldn’t have a story if that weren’t the case. And as I said, the premise is definitely spine-chilling–you will not forget it, even two decades later–as is the book’s climax. And I do love the resolution, one of his characteristic not-quite-happily-ever-after endings.
As usual, Pike’s teenagers are authentic, with real concerns (read: they are all obsessed with sexing), which was one reason for his popularity. Pike never patronized his characters or his readers, instead treating them with the respect lacking in many other teen horror novels of the era. (Another reason for his popularity being the awesome, far-fetched, and often completely insane-o plots.) Also as usual, the parents are AWOL, keeping his worlds almost completely adolescent, an aspect that added to the realism; what teenager doesn’t feel as though they live on a separate, claustrophobic plane from that of adults? He manages to keep Bala from sliding into a Magical Negro figure, though perhaps he and Cindy’s interactions are too simplistic. Then again, I don’t read Pike for complex discussions of ethnocentrism or colonialism, I read then for quick, ripping yarns about the weirdest things to ever happen to teenagers. And Pike is just awesome at that.
Cover: A startled (horrified?) couple in a lonely wilderness spot, threatened by an ominous shadow coming from the frame. Trademark author/title combo in a vivid blue and salmon. I’d recognize that anywhere. The covers I found were slightly different from my early edition; don’t scold me about the scanner.
Cindy raised an interested eyebrow. Pam was no one’s choice for Miss Timber. She looked too much like her old boyfriend, Ray Bower. She was a head shorter than Cindy and her backside was chunky. She also had a big nose. Yet Pam somehow avoided being a dog, and Cindy thought it was because she always seemed so ready for a good time. She was not all talk, not when it came to sex. Every time she’d been alone with Ray, Cindy had received a full report. It was no wonder Alex was having trouble beating Ray if half the stories Pam said were true. The guy had endurance.
Cindy was still a virgin. Pam thought the condition was akin to having bad acne. Cindy was in no special hurry. Not this very minute, anyway.