This book is actually #9 in the series, but The Stepsister was our first Fear Street book, and it's an excellent place to start. The cover on the left is the one I'm familiar with, but it's since been updated. The newer cover is definitely sleeker, but nothing tops the 1990 original:
The plot revolves around Emily Casey (never trust the judgment of anyone with two first names) and her growing fear of new stepsister Jessie. As the book opens, Emily is hanging around with her biological sister Nancy (seriously, what were their parents thinking with these names?), waiting for the new family to arrive. Nancy is the cool one, and Emily the awkward loser. We know this because Emily spends the first few pages whining about her shitty hair and extra girth, while Nancy casually flips through a back issue of Sassy magazine in her green turtleneck sweater.
I incorrectly assumed that Sassy was just another Cosmo type mag, but a Google search showed that it was actually a kickass magazine for teenagers that went defunct in 1996. Perhaps Nancy was perusing this May 1990 issue featuring none other than:
Talk about staying power. At any rate, Nancy is too cool to give a shit about her new step-family, while Emily is creaming her panties in excitement. Sure, what 15-year old wouldn't be happy about sharing her room with a virtual stranger?
The step family arrives and includes:
- Hugh Wallner, described as a "stern, private man" with a "dour face" who is prone to indigestion, which is R.L. Stine-speak for "Hugh Wallner is an asshole"
- Rich Wallner, awkward 13-year old Stephen King enthusiast and lover of heavy metal music
- Jessie Wallner, Emily's new roommate and potential murderer
Jessie acts just as gushy and annoying as Emily in front of the adults, but once they're alone in their bedroom her true colors show. The room is too small, Emily's mom is too bubbly, she hates ginger kids (who doesn't?), she misses her friend Debra, and her mother doesn't want her. Jessie's really starting to grow on me, until Emily's beloved dog Tiger jumps on Jessie and she flips the fuck out. Dislike of dogs is something I simply cannot forgive.
After her outburst Jessie proceeds to rip the head off of Emily's teddy bear, hence that chapter's title of "Teddy Dies". Jessie claims it was an accident , but I have seen all the evidence I need; clearly this girl is capable of anything.
Emily's not buying it, and her uneasiness only increases when a shadow falls across the room, caused by "clouds covering the sun outside the bedroom window". Thank you for explaining how clouds and shade work, Mr. Stine. Luckily Nancy comes in with some cassette tapes (!) and breaks the tension. She mentions that her date for the evening was canceled, and then Emily reveals to Jessie that she's dating Nancy's ex-boyfriend Josh.
WHAT?! Emily justifies it by explaining that Nancy was tired of Josh and was going to dump him anyway, but...WHAT?! You don't date your sister's ex. And Emily is supposed to be the protagonist that we root for in this book? Whatever. Boo, you whore.
Another revelation soon follows at the family dinner. Brace yourselves, people. Hugh Wallner. Doesn't. Wear. TIES! He manages a furniture factory and is like, so blue-collar compared to dead Father Casey, who was a pediatrician. Add snobby bitch to Emily's list of personality traits. We then segue into a flashback explaining Mr. Casey's death during a family camping trip.
The powerboat he and Emily had been riding in capsized and he drowned, although Emily was unfortunately uninjured. She yelled out "Daddy! Daddy!" over and over, to no avail. Can we all just agree that no girl over the age of 10 should be calling her father daddy - it's creepy.
A few days later and it's the same old, same old. Rich is sullenly reading Stephen King books and Hugh is verbally abusing his children and new wife, after which he usually says something along the lines of "It was a joke!" or "I'm just teasing!" Emily goes nutty when she sees that Jessie is wearing her sweater, an allegation Jessie denies. Later, Emily is finishing typing up a school paper when she takes a break to get an apple. We are informed that it was "crunchy and fairly sweet".
You can probably see where this is going. She returns to find Jessie at her computer, and suddenly her 14 page paper is gone, "gone forever". She screams at Jessie and then basically starts to beat her senseless. No one believes Emily's claims that Jessie purposely deleted the paper. I don't believe that Emily is putting this much effort into a high school paper, but maybe Shadyside High's academic standards are higher than at my alma mater.
Emily seeks solace in Nancy's room and learns that Jessie has been seeing a psychiatrist for quite awhile, due to some serious trouble at her old high school. Later that night we finally meet Josh, the boy who's simply irresistible to the Casey girls. Josh has dark hair, is an inch shorter than Emily, and possesses a trapper-keeper. Who wouldn't want this kid? The chapter ends with Emily overhearing Jessie telling an unknown person on the phone that she could "really kill her". Cliffhanger!
The next day at school we get a cameo from a couple of SHS regulars, including Ricky Schorr from The Overnight. Emily searches for Josh and is shocked to find him conversing in the hallway with Jessie and laughing. She immediately assumes they're laughing at her, and thus Emily's downward spiral continues. Let's take a quick look at what happens over the next several chapters to contribute to Emily's fragile mental state:
- Her shampoo is replaced with bleach, causing it to be streaked with yellow and orange. Heh. Good one, Jessie.
- She discovers Tiger's dead body in their kitchen, stabbed to death. That actually would be horribly traumatic, but since it's Emily I can only muster a half-hearted "meh".
- She very cravenly steals Jessie's diary and finds out that Jessie may or may not have killed former friend Jolie.
- Tiger's dead body is stuffed into her backpack. Gross.
- Someone sets the school bathroom on fire with her in it. She survives.
- Someone pushes her down some stairs. She again survives. Come on Jessie, close the deal already!
- She totally catches Jessie and Josh steamin' up some windows! Perhaps now she can understand how Nancy felt...
Aha! But of course, it was Nancy all along. Everything is revealed during a family camping trip, when Emily falls into an open grave and is nearly beaten to death with a shovel. Gotta watch out for those open graves. And seriously, Nancy? You concoct an elaborate plan to frame Jessie for everything and you have your sister lying in an open grave, yet you still can't finish her off? Frankly, you don't deserve to successfully murder Emily.
But why was Nancy tormenting and trying to kill her sister for 153 excruciating pages? Anger over losing Josh? Bitterness over having to drive a Chevy Corsica?
Partially, but mostly because she blames Emily for their father's death. I do have to agree with her there. Why was Emily able to escape drowning but Mr. Casey wasn't? This girl has nine lives.
So yada yada, Jessie risks her own life to save Emily from Nancy even though Emily's been nothing but a bitch to her from page 13. Nancy's shipped off to the nut hut, Rich starts reading Hardy Boys mysteries, and Emily and Jessie become best friends. Huzzah, all is right with the world.
The Loose Ends:
- It wasn't Jessie making out with Josh in the car...it was Nancy desperately trying to get him back. How sad for her.
- Jessie's late night phone buddy was her secret boyfriend Darren.
- Jolie's death was indeed an accident.
So there you have it. The book ends with the three sane children sharing a good laugh over a Hardy Boys joke while Nancy languishes in a mental institution. What a lark!
Get another take here.
And one more here.