Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children: Secrets Of The Shopping Mall by Richard Peck

Several months back one new podcast I’ve been listening to — How Did This Get Played — lead me to another new one: Teen Creeps! Hosts Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai spotlight young adult scare fair from the 70s, 80s and 90severy week, often with a guest. This instantly perked my ears because I actually had a similar idea for a podcast a while back. In fact, I may have even dabbled with calling it Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children which I eventually turned into a not-so-reoccurring feature here on the ol’ blog.

I read a few Goosebumps in my youth, but was far more drawn to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books, but even more so to Christopher Pike’s offerings. I can’t say how many I read or how far I got into the genre, but it’s been a lot of fun listening to Katai and Nugent explore that territory on the podcast. At some point in the back catalog — I’ve been going through every episode from the first one — someone mentioned a book called Secrets Of The Shopping Mall by Richard Peck, noting that it was about kids in a mall at night and something creepy living in there too. I immediately requested a copy from the library and read it in about three sittings after Thanksgiving!

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Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children: The Ghost Next Door by R.L. Stine

goosebumps the ghost next doorAs I mentioned when I reviewed Christopher Pike’s Weekend, I was way into the world of young adult horror in my earlier years. Long before I dove into the mega scare franchises that had taken on legendary status to a kid growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I read a metric ton of books by Pike and R.L. Stine.

So, when I saw a free copy of The Ghost Next Door from Stine’s epic and beloved Goosebumps series, I had to grab it. I don’t think I read this one as a kid, I’d probably moved on to Fear Street by that point, but it was a fun look back at the kinds of stories I remember from childhood.

In the cast of The Ghost Next Door, Hannah’s all alone in her small town during the summer. Her friends have all gone off to camp or are on extended vacations, so she’s pretty surprised to see Danny appear and say he’s been living next door for a while. Hannah and her family have no recollection of him actually moving in and weird, wild things start happening that make her think that he’s the titular specter.

Not to toot my own horn too much, but I called the big twist pretty early on this 1993 book for children. I take more pride in that than I probably should as a 33 year old man. But, I think this would have made my 10 year old brain SPIN had I read it in 1993 when it first came out. I’ve often said that it doesn’t really matter how good the movies are you see as a kid because they become important for a variety of reasons. In other words, the very idea of playing with narrative structure like Tarantino did is mind-blowing even if you saw it for the first time by one of the many 90s imitators (or if your first exposure to the Citizen Kane story was through an episode of Tiny Toons or Alvin And The Chipmiunks or whathaveyou).

Let’s call this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY if you’re so inclined to avoid such things. The big reveal here is that Hannah is actually the ghost, which explains why her friends aren’t writing her back and only a few people actually seem to interact with her. I caught on to this when she was writing the letter to her best friend complaining about how nothing was happening (I think she actually says “Everything is dead around here,” or something to that extent) and she wants to hear back. It seemed unlikely that her bestie would totally abandon her like that (or maybe I’m just a hopeful romantic when it comes to besties). I wonder if kids who read this book were more or less likely to catch the Sixth Sense twist coming because they’d been exposed to something similar.

Okay, back out of spoiler country now. I had a great time reading this story, not just because it was a nice trip down memory lane, but also an easy read that I could pick up and put down while I was taking care of the kids for a few days. It also makes me want to get a Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children podcast because it’s super interesting finding out what kinds of stories we gravitated to as kids and how they changed the way we understand how these things work. Maybe in a few months…