During the 90s, 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 R.L. Stine’s The Girlfriend.
Published by Scholastic in 1991, The Girlfriend should not be confused as being part of Stine’s popular Fear Street series which started in 1989. Scholastic published The Girlfriend under their Point Horror label, from which Stine was one of the first authors.
The synopsis of The Girlfriend is simple. While his girlfriend is out of town, the lead character, Scotty, decides to go on a date with another girl from their school. After the date, the new girl, Shannon, won’t leave Scotty alone, and she goes to ridiculously extreme lengths to have him for herself. Imagine a teenage Fatal Attraction, and you get the gist.
At first glance, the protagonist of Scotty is really the only character in the book that shows much dimension or has an obvious character arc throughout the story. Even though Stine seems to populate the rest of the cast with stereotypes, the increasingly dangerous mess Scotty finds himself in (and which was brought on by his own bad choices, BTW) is enough to keep the reader turning the pages until the end.
The character of Scotty is what makes The Girlfriend interesting. In broad strokes, Scotty is a flawed character, making it difficult for the reader to have sympathy for what happens to him. But it’s this aspect of the book that turns the story into somewhat of a character study. As always Stine does a great job weaving in and out of the teenage drama and the scary stuff. As the story progresses, Shannon threatens to tell Scotty’s girlfriend, Lora, about their date, and part of the fun is to see how far Scotty is willing to go to keep his secret.
Shannon is largely a cardboard cut-out character, but it works. With the structure of the book, Shannon’s sinister acts hit all the appropriate plot points. True to Point Horror fashion, there is a twist regarding Shannon at the end of the book. While I liked the twist, I did feel the story would have benefited from it being introduced a little earlier. As mentioned earlier, Shannon is a one-dimensional character, but her actions make it easy to imagine the story unfolding in cinematic form.
The biggest character surprise is from Scotty’s girlfriend, Lora. Throughout most of the book, Lora is absent from the story. However, on the last page, she makes what is arguably the most important decision in the story. SPOILER: At the beginning of the book, Lora asks Scotty to quit using the annoying adjective, “bogus”. Near the end of the story, when Scotty confesses what he did while Lora was gone, the word is still in his vocabulary, making it obvious Scotty hasn’t changed some aspects of his character (ie: he’ll probably continue seeing other girls behind Lora’s back). During the closing moments of the book, Lora acknowledges the possibility that being with Scotty is a mistake. So, despite initial reaction, Lora emerges as an extremely important character. Putting cover taglines aside, I’m beginning to wonder—is Lora, instead of Shannon, the titular Girlfriend? If so, would that make her THE most important character?
Part morality tale and part obsession/stalker thriller, R.L. Stine’s The Girlfriend is a fun early 90s horror that hits almost all of the right notes and, for such a short book, shows a surprising amount of depth. 4/5
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