During the 90’s, teen horror fiction was huge. Authors like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike already had major hits, and Scholastic’s Point Horror was thriving. Recently, I’ve made it my personal mission to collect and read as many of the titles from the decade as possible. This month, for Horror Bound, I’m taking a look at one from Nicholas Pine’s Terror Academy series.
Let’s face it—anybody picking up Terror Academy is not expecting an astounding work of literature. Instead, you’re probably looking for a book that will offer a few hours of nostalgic fun. Spring Break is the first book I’ve read of the series, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. Judging from the cover (Something we all do. Just admit it.), I assumed I was in for a full-blown carbon copy of other teen stalker/slasher books where the villain ends up being a jealous friend or angry ex. This is where Spring Break surpassed everything I hoped for, both in writing and plot.
The book opens at Central Academy, where the protagonist, Laura Hollister, is debating how she’s going to tell her boyfriend, Charlie, that they won’t be spending spring break together. Instead, she’s going with her family to a remote cabin at the lake. It’s once the Hollister’s arrive at their rural location that things take a sinister turn. The terror comes from a family of stereotypical rednecks and a few twists and turns that break the mold of what’s expected.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Nicholas Pine makes many interesting style and structure choices with his story. The writing really shines during the opening. Laura’s debate on how to tell Charlie her news is drawn out, and Pine makes the wise decision to keep the information withheld from the reader as well. It’s a move that keeps the reader turning the pages. The thriller and horror promise of the book cover is also slow to arrive. Nothing “scary” happens until well after a third of the way in. It’s a “slow burn” and hints at a more literary style of storytelling, one that is more focused on character than plot.
Throughout most of the book, I was annoyed with the main character of Laura. Whether she’s trying to find a way to sneak out to be with Charlie, being a bitch to her family, or constantly worrying about the other girls her boyfriend might be hanging out with, Laura comes across as insecure and self centered. Many readers might want to give up because of the unlikable main character, but hang in there. All of that changes after the halfway mark. By the end of the book, Laura has to fight to save her family. Here, the book doesn’t skimp on the violence either. With Pine’s writing, I was able to see a clear character arc for Laura and found myself rooting for her in the end.
There are other notable elements about Spring Break. Take, for example, the Maine setting. The book takes place during snow. While the weather may be realistic for March, I imagine most spring break horror would take place at the beach or some other appropriately sunny and warm location. Around the halfway mark, Pine throws in a couple of cliché supernatural elements. One: a Ouija board. And, two: visions and voices. Both are story moves that completely and pleasantly took me by surprise and gave the book a Christopher Pike like slant. Like I said up top, I was expecting a stalker/slasher story and nothing more. What I got was a fun read that’s full of various 90’s teen horror tropes. There are a couple of ideas, however, that I felt were left hanging, and I would have liked to see those story threads tie together into a more cohesive piece.
In the end, it’s Nicholas Pine’s writing that makes Spring Break stand out from the crowd. It’s the willingness to twist reader expectations that I admire. As the book went on, there were times where I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen or what would be revealed next. Even when the story plays it safe, Pine seems to have a lot of fun tricking the reader, i.e. one scene in particular features a Wendigo subplot that turns out to be nothing but a “jumpscare” with a moose. Spring Break was published in 1993, during the early days of the teen horror fiction boom of the 90’s. It’s refreshing to read work from an author who was already playing with reader expectations. RATING 3.5/5
Spring Break is the first of Nicholas Pine’s Terror Academy series that I’ve read, but I plan on reading more. Have you read Spring Break or any of the other titles under the Terror Academy label? Let us know in the comments below!
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