Harry Potter has been an enormous part of my life since I was ten years old. I’ve collected so many figurines, stickers, audiobooks, shirts, wands, necklaces, etc over the years. I’ve read so much fanfiction. So much. I’ve watched so many ABC Family marathons. I’ve spent so many days, nights, weeks, lifetimes immersing myself in the books, trying to will myself to Hogwarts through the sheer force of my love for it. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work, except in the ways it kind of did.

But I haven’t done a full reread of all the books in years. I used to fall asleep to Order of the Phoenix, and later Goblet of Fire, but the last time I read one of them all the way through was when I reread Deathly Hallows in preparation for the final film. Fanfiction and the films have completely taken over. And while they’re great in their own ways, I feel like it’s time to get back to the source material, to remember the days when it was all fresh and new and to find out if that core love is still there, even through a more critical adult lens.

So, I’m undertaking the project of reading all the way through, from beginning to end, and in an attempt to make something useful out of it, I’m going to be blogging each chapter as I read it. This is obviously going to be a long-running project–there are a lot of chapters. I’m thinking of trying to post two a week, but, you know … we’ll see. These aren’t going to be recaps so much as just my thoughts, feelings, and memories, with healthy doses of Dumbledore criticism and Hermione praise, I’m sure.

JKR says that Hogwarts will always be there to welcome me home. I’m coming home. You should come with me.

Disclaimer: These books all contain pretty terrible and offensive portrayals of mental illness, blindness, romantic relationships, female friendship, fatness, being poor, etc etc. R.L. Stine appears to hate consent and everyone who isn’t rich, beautiful, and neurotypical. My fave is problematic, I already know. I would advise against reading any of this series, not just the ones discussed here, if you think any of these things might upset or trigger you.

In lieu of a happy wagon post, here’s one about Fear Street. It’s pretty much the same thing, anyway.

As I’ve previously mentioned, Fear Street has become one of the great joys of my life. I’ve read an embarrassing number of them over the past eight months or so, and, despite having loved almost all of them, a few favorites have emerged ahead of the rest. So now I’m going to tell you about those, and try to entice you to read them, too, so I’ll have company in being a grown adult reading these absurd teen horror stories.


Nicole always thought her friend Lucy’s life was so much better than hers. She had cooler parents, a cuter boyfriend . . . next to her, Nicole felt like a loser. So when Lucy asked if she wanted to switch bodies, Nicole thought it sounded like a fun idea. Good for a laugh. She didn’t realize the switch would actually work. Or that Lucy’s life might not be so sweet after all. Turns out, Lucy’s got a few issues. And she’s about to get her revenge — using Nicole’s body!

This was one of the first ones I read and it’s amazing. I figured out the twist about halfway through, but even so, I was legitimately hooked and anxious about how it would all turn out. Don’t judge me. It’s really depressing if you think about it too hard, so don’t do that either. Just read, try not to hate Nicole too much even though she’s incredibly annoying, and laugh
along with me at the terrible twist! ending. And look forward to creepy well drowning scenes, heads being torn off with sounds like the scrape of Velcro, and the most inept police officers (or are they?) ever, in typical Shadyside fashion.

“The Face”

They say something horrible happened that day. But Martha can’t remember any of it–not the smallest detail. They say it will come back to her in time. But someone wants her to remember now. She draws his face, over and over–the face of a dead boy. She can’t control her hand. And she can’t remember how he died. But she’s going to find the answer.

This one is sooo good. If you don’t read any of the others (and you probably won’t), you should at least read this. There are kisses that taste like salty nacho chips, kisses that taste like candy bars, implausible hypnosis, the most unbelievably convenient plot contrivances in the history of terrible writing, and a fantastic decapitation scene in which someone’s head “bounced onto the snow. And emptied out. Emptied out. Emptied out.” It also has one of the flimsiest reasons for murder that I’ve ever read, even for Fear Street. And the most word repetition of any book ever. Basically, everything about this book is the best thing about it and you’re really missing out if you don’t read it.

“College Weekend”

Nothing can ruin Tina River’s big weekend at Patterson College with her boyfriend, Josh Martin. She’s so excited, she doesn’t even mind that her cousin, Holly, will be tagging along.

But when Tina and Holly arrive, Josh is gone. His roommate, Christopher Roberts, says Josh is stuck in the mountains, delayed by car trouble. That’s weird—Josh never mentioned he was going away.

It gets even weirder when Holly suddenly disappears. But Christopher isn’t worried— about Holly or Josh. Christopher seems to have the answer to everything. Tina is confused. But one thing is clear— she’s about to learn more about love and murder than she ever wanted to know.

This book has a disgusting description of a person’s face being burned away by photo developing chemicals. I’m not even sure if the chemicals in question could actually do that, but if reading about it happening isn’t something you’re eager to do, I don’t know what you’re doing here. It’s great. And before that, the villain forces the heroine to dress up in his dead girlfriend’s clothes and take pictures, and then in his great-grandmother’s clothes, and, I mean, come on. R.L. Stine has some serious problems and we’re blessed with these books where he tries to work them out, the least we can do is read them. This is also one of the most blatant depictions of his favorite “he forces himself on you because he loves you” trope, which, well … maybe you’re not eager to read about that, and fair enough, but it’s impossible for me to take seriously in these books. Maybe that makes me a garbage human being. So be it.

“Fear Hall: The Beginning” / “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”

Come with me to Fear Hall. That’s the creepy college dorm built many years ago by the cursed Fear family. Hope and her roomates live in Fear Hall. Hope’s boyfriend lives there, too. They’re all good students and best friends. Everything is going great…until one of them becomes a murderer! Now Hope is about to find out that life at Fear Hall can be a real scream! I hope you’ll join me for Fear Hall. This story has so many scares, it took me two books to tell it all!

I read a recap of this duology before I read the books themselves, so the whole thing was spoiled for me. Don’t do that. Just read the books. They’re off the rails from start to finish, and so full of plot holes that it’s amazing there’s even a consistent narrative at all. I don’t know what I can tell you about them without ruining the experience of reading them, so you should just trust me. There are many gruesome murders, a violent, unstable boyfriend, terrible friends making the worst decisions possible, inept police, psychological contortions that will make your brain hurt both because they make no sense and because they’re awesome … everything you want from Fear Street, and they don’t even take place in Shadyside. Warning: there’s a lot of disturbing-ish fat-shaming, so, you know … if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, maybe give this a miss. It isn’t portrayed as an okay thing, but I also don’t think the effects it has on the girl in question are portrayed particularly sensitively. It also has a girl getting her skin burned and peeled off by six gallons of chlorine poured in a jacuzzi, though, and another one being steam pressed to death, so it’s got that going for it.

“Into the Dark

Paulette Fox refuses to let her blindness stop her from living a full life. But one thing she’s never done is fall in love–until now. Paulette knows Brad Jones is the only guy for her. Even when her friends see Brad commit a horrible crime, Paulette is sure that he’s innocent. Her friends tell her he’s out of control. That she will be his next victim. But Paulette knows he would never hurt her. Is Paulette right about Brad? Or has her love put her in terrible danger?

I haven’t laughed so much at a book since reading this, and before that, I hadn’t laughed so much since “Fifty Shades Freed”. If you’re one of my blind friends and inaccurate portrayals of blindness make you angry, you should probably skip it, but really, it’s fantastic. Paulette can tell exactly how fast her friend is driving by the way the wind feels on her face, identify people by smell, and travel all around town–even to an abandoned house–on her own, but she needs guide rails to find her way around her own backyard. She doesn’t want her parents and friends to be so overprotective of her, but she makes such ridiculously stupid decisions that she’d probably be dead if they weren’t. She refuses to call the police when her bedroom is vandalized, lies to her parents after the villain tries to pull her out her bedroom window, and refuses to call the police again when the villain creeps and heavy breathes around her backyard and takes away her guide rails, all because she doesn’t want people to think she can’t take care of herself. Spoiler alert: she really can’t. She also feels people’s faces to get an idea of what they look like, which, like. Writers. Stop this. It’s not a thing. We don’t do it. Ditto counting steps. But actually if you’re my guy R.L., don’t stop it, do it as much as you want. This book is flawless, even though the twist was obvious from the beginning, and I’ll probably read it many more times.

Honorable mentions:

“The Boy Next Door”

Lynne and Crystal think Scott has it all. He’s handsome. He’s the new star of Shadyside High’s football team. And he’s moved in right next door! Both girls will do anything. Say anything. Try anything to get the chance to go out with him. That’s all either of them want.

But that’s all Scott’s last girlfriend wanted, too – and now she’s dead.

This is R.L. Stine’s attempt at a “Psycho” ripoff, except the villain doesn’t become his mother when he kills, he just mutters phrases she’s drilled into his head. Warning: a dog gets killed with a pair of hedge clippers. Pets are another thing R.L. Stine hates. There are elements of this book that I actually find a little unsettling, especially for a Fear Street story, and a lot of it takes place from the killer’s point of view. But there are hilariously dramatic internal monologues to balance it out, and it contains the line, “Okay. So we’re both hot for his bod!” I love the idea of someone actually saying that and also the idea of R.L. Stine writing it. And I love such charitable sisterly thoughts as, “She hated it when Melinda put herself down that way. Sure, Melinda was plain, and shy, and kind of drab. But she could have a shot at any guy if she made the effort.”

“The Prom Queen”

A spring night…soft moonlight…five beautiful Prom Queen candidates…dancing couples at the Shadyside High prom—these should be the ingredients for romance.

But stir in one brutal murder—then another, and another—and the recipe quickly turns to horror.

Lizzie McVay realizes that someone is murdering the five Prom Queen candidates one by one—and that she may be next on the list! Can she stop the murderer before the dance is over—for good?

Lizzie McVay is the best Fear Street heroine I’ve read so far, maybe the only good one there is. Pushy Shadyside boys don’t get her all hot and bothered, and she actually kicks one of them out of her house and another out of her car when they get creepy, and calls one of them out for cheating on his girlfriend and assuming she must be interested in him because every girl is. She has a long-distance boyfriend she only communicates with through letters because I guess this is set in the 1800s, and she never cheats on him even though he’s not in the book at all until the end. That’s a low bar to set, but sadly, it’s saying something for Fear Street girls. She also breaks the villain’s foot at the end and manages to save herself, rather than being last-minute saved by the police or the guy she likes. And she’s mostly nice to people and not a terrible friend, except for the catty mean girl thoughts she has, like, “Rachel wasn’t the most popular girl in the class or anything, but that was mainly because she was so shy. Well, I guess it was also because she had a bitter streak in her, about being poor and all.” And, “Simone was playing Maria Von Trapp, of course. She always was the star. Even though she didn’t make a very convincing nun.” That’s so perfectly high school and I love it.

Please read any or all of these books. Do it. And then talk to me about them.

I’ve been reading a lot of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine lately, because for some reason their ridiculous plots and terrible characters are the only things that are bringing me any happiness these days. Shadyside is an awful place to live and it’s pretty amazing that any of its residents are still living at all, but their trials have taught me some valuable life lessons and now I’m here to share them with you.

  1. If you think it’s a dead body, it’s probably just a harmless household item, or a mannequin.
  2. If you have in any way broken the law, even if that lawbreaking involves murder, running away and never owning up to it is the best, most reasonable course of action. You don’t want to ruin your whole life over a silly mistake, after all, and probably no one will ever find out what you did otherwise.
  3. Stalking, controlling, clingy behavior should really get your engine revving. The creepier and more overbearing a boy is, the more he loves you. Or at least the better the makeouts will be.
  4. Speaking of makeouts, you should have them a lot. With anyone who wants to. Even if you’re dating someone, it’s okay if you just can’t help yourself and are forced to kiss someone else. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. And if it does, oh well, they should have known better than to spend a single second without you and there are many more fish in this terrible, terrible sea.
  5. Don’t call the police at all, ever. They’re useless. You’re probably just overreacting, anyway. What’s a little crime between friends?
  6. If you suspect someone of committing crimes or plotting to kill you, you should definitely still keep hanging around them. In fact, why not spend time alone with them in an isolated place? Nothing bad could happen.
  7. Girls with short hair are never destined for anything good. Long red hair is where it’s at.
  8. If you think you’ve uncovered a nefarious plot, a really great, foolproof plan is to go and confront the people who are plotting it. Once they know you’re onto them, they’ll have no choice but to just give up.
  9. Bullying leads to murder. Have you checked up on the people you used to bully in school? You should. They’re probably plotting to murder you right now.
  10. Mentally ill people are always delusional and violent. And they probably also want to murder you. Everyone probably wants to murder you. Your best friend, your boyfriend, your sister, that random guy on the street, everyone. Never trust anyone. But especially mentally ill people.
  11. Poor people, too. They’re pretty suspicious.
  12. If you’re a girl and you step foot outside your house, you’re going to be stalked. And that stalking is probably going to involve not-very-subtle chasing. Even in the middle of a sunny day, you’re not safe. Stalking. And chasing. Everywhere.
  13. No decent teenager in a relationship would ever do more than kiss, and maybe talk about their partner having a sexy bod, if they’re very daring.
  14. But sexual assault is cool if you can’t get the person you’re interested in to be in a relationship with you in the first place. They’ll appreciate it later. Or one of you will be dead.
  15. The number one rule of dating is: don’t. It will only lead to murder. Because everything leads to murder.
  16. The number two rule of dating is: if you’re going to insist on doing it, make sure you’re actually dating the person you think you are. The likelihood is that you’re not. They’re probably an evil twin, or a person with a dark secret. Involving murder. And you’re next.
  17. The number one rule of life is: if anyone annoys, wrongs, or in any way inconveniences you, murdering them is the only logical thing to do. It’s likely that you won’t even get a very heavy sentence for it.

I didn’t even touch on the lessons taught to us about blind people, all from one book, because that would be a whole post on its own.