PHBC1: TRICK OR TREAT BY RICHIE TANKERSLEY CUSICK
Posted by James Dawson on May 13, 2013
Martha Stevenson, an angsty Chicago teen who makes Bella Swan look positively cheerful, is relocated to small-town USA when her recently bereaved father remarries (so fast, it’s a wonder no -one mentions the possibility of overlap).
Martha’s sour disposition doesn’t improve when she discovers her new home is the local murder house AND she bears an ‘uncanny resemblance’ to the girl who was killed in her new bedroom. She’s barely hard time to complain about her stepmum’s cooking when she starts getting creepy phone calls, people lurking in her cupboard and hanging effigies outside her window.
The murderer, DENNIS (yes, I’m seeing Liz Lemon’s ex boyfriend too), was never found – is he back to claim his dead girlfriend once again?
Martha is, by turns, miserable or hysterical. She takes particular issue with the perfectly pleasant Conor, her new half-brother. I think the following gif best sums up Martha’s disposition. She’s hardly described, but is said to have ‘bouncy blond hair’, so I think Elizabeth Berkeley is a fair casting choice.
The Love Interest
Now this is where it gets weird. RTC presents not one, not two but THREE hot guys for Martha to fall for. Proper YA love square territory over a decade before Twilight, you guys. Bizarrely, for much of the novel step-brother Conor is set up to be the main love interest. He gets this description:
‘The square jaw and the way his mouth was always set – like he might be speculating over something – except the corners lifted slightly in a secret sort of amusement. The deep set eyes – so cool and steady and piercingly blue beneath low brows. He was tall and slender, but his shoulders were broad, and tonight he was wearing jeans and a bulky sweater, those strong shoulders hunched against the chilly night air. His hair was thick and always looked windswept, burnished gold and tousled across his shoulders.’
So we can only imagine he looks a bit like this:
Please feel free to draw your own Conor designs too. Don’t forget the shoulders – I sense they’re very important to the author. However, as Martha hates Conor with an irrational rage I usually reserve for high street charity workers, she instead saves all her manners for high school star Blake Chambers AND his suave guidance counsellor cousin, Greg. She’s quite nice to both of these men. Poor Conor.
Of course, this being Point Horror, all three are firmly in the frame as the prank caller/prowler.
SPOILERS: This is my biggest issue with the book. CLEARLY Martha is meant to end up with Conor – the sparing hints at all kinds of underlying lust. Getting it on with your step-siblings (or just siblings in some franchises) is fertile YA ground. In the cellar based inferno denouement, Conor and Martha even do a spot of face stroking. I was SURE those kids would get it together.
However, as Blake (with whom Martha shares a literal roll-in-the-hay) ISN’T our stalker, she’s stuck with him at the novel’s end. You kinda hope Blake IS the killer just so Martha and Conor and free to braid each other’s tumbling locks.
I wonder if this will become a trend as we continue our Point Horror journey, but perhaps unlike modern YA, the boys are more developed than Martha is. Blake has real aspirations to get out of town after high school and gets a great sense of humour too – check out this saucy number:
‘She glanced at him, hesitating. “Can I ask you something?”
“Never on a first date.” His eyes met hers with a twinkle.’
Martha, however, is utterly humourless.
Dialogue Disasters: ‘Oh Conor! Please don’t be dead!’
‘Oh Wynn! You scared me to death!’
‘Oh Wynn! You scared me again!’
‘Hey gypsy lady, how about a dance?’
‘Martha, my newest and prettiest student, how’s life treating you at dear old Bedford?’ Yes, teachers always say things like this…IF THEY WANT TO GET FIRED.
Body Count: 2
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes, Martha is given a friend in the guise of Wynn Chambers, another member of the Chambers clan.
Is it scary? Actually YES. Properly scary. RTC plays cleverly with both horror film staples (Martha has to go into her empty school to fetch a textbook) and basic childhood fears (someone coming out of Martha’s closet – and not in the liberated homosexual way). The only criticism would be that Martha never truly feels in peril.
Did the best friend do it? Erm…
Is it good? YES. A modern reviewer might pick up on the abundance of adverbs. Hell, if I, as a recovering adverb addict, notice, there must be a fair few. There is also the unforgiveable line:
‘Like invisible leaves blown across the wooden floor by a cold, invisible wind.’ Rather than the warm, visible winds we’re so used to.
But that’s a one off. Otherwise it’s a well written, if unshowy, novel. The only downside to Trick Or Treat is how vile Martha is – one can’t imagine it was the intention to create a character you might quite like to see die. At one point I wondered if Conor HAD taken it upon himself to torture his hilariously uptight sibling for shits and giggles. That would have been pretty good actually.
Martha Stevenson, coming soon to a staff toilet, crying about how everyone in the office hates her and has been giving her evils when no-one else is watching.
Over to you!
Some questions to consider.
1. Is Martha’s attitude towards her new family warranted?
2. If you had to: Conor, Greg or Blake? Why?
3. What (if any) were your scariest moments? Why?
4. Would you describe Martha as empowered? Why?
5. What do you think happens AFTER the novel’s conclusion?
See you here again on 13th June for PHBC 2 – THE BABY-SITTER by RL STINE!