for the slightly more ~mature~ YA reader,
March 4, 2018 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Proof That Christopher Pike Wrote Some Pretty Fucked-Up Books For Teens

Point Horror's grim fascination
Copies of Christopher Pike novels were prime bargaining material at my school. I can clearly remember sitting in a maths lesson, reading whichever one I was most recently obsessed with under the desk, trying desperately to finish it before the end of the class because I'd promised I'd give it back to its owner (who hadn't read it and who was waiting crossly at the desk behind me).
Christopher Pike's New Old Horror
Christopher Pike’s debut young adult title, the instant bestseller “Slumber Party,” came out in 1985. Its premise is hardly groundbreaking: six busty young ladies are snowbound in their luxurious winter vacation rental, gory mayhem ensues. Most of his earlier books mirror “Slumber Party”‘s horror-movie cliches, with varying batches of stranded teenagers harboring lascivious urges, dark secrets, and psychotic persons in their midst. He soon turned his sights on the supernatural, penning a prodigious series of wildly imaginative and occasionally ludicrous stories of adolescents battling the forces of evil. His books are rampant with an oddball mashup of Christian moralizing and new-age woo-wooishness, and his characters spend the bulk of their time in a frenzy of hormones and senioritis‚ that is, when they’re not trying to solve their own murders from beyond the grave or survive the attentions of various demons.
On Christopher Pike, Young Adult Thriller Extraordinaire
“He’s great,” Carrie said. “But I think it’s supposed to be for older kids. My mom didn’t want me to read it, so I bought it. I have more, too.”

I smiled, sticking the book in my bag so that I could start reading it as soon as I got home. Carrie had already introduced me to V.C. Andrews—an author whose work was most definitely NOT for kids—so I kept this little secret between us.

That is, until I decided Christopher Pike was the most genius writer I’d ever come across, and then I just had to tell my parents about the amazing plots he created.
Rereading The Thrillers Of My Youth
In the end, I think, my second reading of Weekend proved what my preteen self never wanted to believe was true: Kids shouldn’t just be taught how to read and then set loose. I wasn’t left wishing that my parents had gone through my paperback novels crossing out offensive lines with a black Sharpie, but I do wish that someone, whether it had been a librarian or my parents, had reminded me that reading isn’t just about what you get out of the plotlines, it’s about what you get out of the story. I grew up in a home where racism wasn’t tolerated, and I learned a decent amount in school, but I was so thrilled by the sex and murder of Christopher Pike’s world that I forgot to apply that knowledge to the material I was reading in my free time.
Anti-Woman Horror 101: How Rereading Christopher Pike’s Whisper of Death Killed My Nostalgia
But Whisper of Death is different. It’s not the screeching anti-abortion, anti-sex message (and Pike was the sexy one, not like that juvenile R.L. Stine!), but that I had absolutely no memory of it. I imagine my eleven- or twelve-year-old self, captivated as Betty Sue explains that all the violence and suffering is Rox’s fault. Rox’s death must have felt, in some sense, right, or I wouldn’t have remembered the book as one of Pike’s best. The deserted town and lethal fairy tales stayed with me. The shamed girl settled somewhere below, in my subconscious.
Nostalgia Reality Check: Re-Reading R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike
The weirdest thing about reading these books as an adult is that I am acutely aware they are written by middle-aged men, one of whom I would like to have a drink with at a bar and one who I would not.
#35 Pike v. Stine: A Retro YA Thriller Throwdown
If you’re about my age and went to a public middle or high school in North America, you know the key battle of the 90s in grade 6-9 classrooms across the continent: R.L. Stine vs. Christopher Pike — who is more awesome? Everyone had an opinion, and even if you read both you liked one or the other more. The only people who didn’t were the kids who claimed Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine were the same person (and I’m sure these conspiracy-theorists-in-waiting grew up to be 9/11 Truthers). For my part, I was 100% Pike — which, after reviewing the books through adults eyes, makes me worried that I was a terribly disturbed little person.
posted by the man of twists and turns (89 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I never read a single one of these... I feel like I leapfrogged over most YA as a younger reader for better or worse, but damn these actually sound kinda great and I’m glad they exist.
posted by defenestration at 10:42 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]

Well, maybe great isn’t the right word. But interesting.
posted by defenestration at 10:51 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]

Could we get the non–Google AMP version of the first article linked? Viewing the AMP version on desktop distorts the images of the covers.
posted by limeonaire at 10:57 PM on March 4

posted by taz (staff) at 11:05 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]

Definitely preferred Pike books over the Fear Street series, because with the exception of the Fear Street origin trilogy (which is such prime CW bonkers supernatural soap material), the FS books always end on the same non-supernatural cliche it felt like. Pike's definitely more bonkers just in general, but at least you couldn't say you can predict the ending beat-by-beat.

(personal faves: The Tachyon Web and The Midnight Club)
posted by cendawanita at 11:13 PM on March 4

Oh man, The Last Vampire... even without retrospect, I sideeyed the whitewashed lead (just because she's an Indo-Aryan, that means she's blonde and blue-eyed huh?), and sure Alisa suffered power creep throughout the series, but that just made the end book so much more gutsy to teenage me.
posted by cendawanita at 11:18 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]

If you’re about my age and went to a public middle or high school in North America, you know the key battle of the 90s in grade 6-9 classrooms across the continent: R.L. Stine vs. Christopher Pike — who is more awesome? Everyone had an opinion, and even if you read both you liked one or the other more. The only people who didn’t were the kids who claimed Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine were the same person

I don't think I get this perspective—who actually discussed books, or preferences in books, with their tween friends? Especially books with twisted, violent, supernatural serial-killer themes. I never got to watch horror movies, so reading stuff like these books, Stephen King, every ghost-story book in the library, and The Amityville Horror were my go-tos, and they weren't exactly anything I discussed with other people at the time. They were more like my secret source of titillation, a private guilty pleasure. Also, por qué no los dos? I read R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.

You know what no one had an opinion on? The Fright Time series, which seemed to be a cheaper, budget series of tween horror novels. My parents got me the first ones, so I was suspicious at first, but they turned out to be great. I didn't know anyone else who read those.

My introverted, unstylish self thought of books like these as a preview for the life that lay ahead, high school and beyond. Sexy and dangerous were two things I definitely was not and I thought Stine could somehow tell me how I could change, an assumption that I now realize may have played a part in several embarrassing encounters with the opposite sex in the years to follow.

Same, same. Before this, I think my imaginings of teen life came from things like Nancy Drew books and Archie comics. After this, it was Seventeen, romance novels, and eventually Cosmopolitan. Ah, so many wrong notions in all those pages! But you could get them at the library, and for the most part, no one questioned what I read—sometimes I got a little flak for reading trashy romance novels and magazines if my parents noticed, but for the most part, no one vetted my reading material—so these were my initial sources of info on all things sexy and dangerous.
posted by limeonaire at 11:20 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]

Omg this post giving me life. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of swapping Christopher Pike and RL Stine books with my friends. They were great because they only cost maybe $5 each, so if we could all scrounge that up we could each get a book then trade them around. I sadly outgrew them when I discovered Stephen King. They weren't scary anymore after reading adult scary stuff. I was always more into Fear Street. I think I found the formulaic nature of the books soothing. Even as a kid I could tell the Christopher Pike books were fucking bonkers.

I reread the Fear Street Saga books and the 99 Fear Street series last year after Trump got elected and I was too depressed to do much besides lay around (heads up you can get both as an omnibus set for like a dollar through Amazon). They were surprisingly gory for books aimed at like 10-12 year olds. There's a memorable bit when a dude sticks his hand down a garbage disposal and it turns itself on and mangles his fingers. I still think of that to this day when I have to fish anything out of there, and I'm sure I read that scene for the first time over two decades ago. Thanks for this post, A+ would nostalgia again.

Also if people like reading trashy YA books from their youth and cackling at how eye-rolling they are I can strongly recommend the hilarious podcast Teen Creeps.
posted by supercrayon at 11:30 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]

I don't think I get this perspective—who actually discussed books, or preferences in books, with their tween friends? Especially books with twisted, violent, supernatural serial-killer themes.


though also in our case, it's to marvel at American culture. we thought american teenage life was full of lockers, proms, and murders. and the inexplicable hatred of brocolli (ok that one might be from the Sweet Valley series; of which the Twins books are much better than High imo)
posted by cendawanita at 11:31 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I read The Starlight Crystal as a sci-fi geek back in middle school, and it stuck with me enough to track down a copy and re-read it years later. The plot is indeed absolutely bonkers.
posted by teraflop at 11:43 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]

we thought american teenage life was full of lockers

Did anyone else feel the bitter sting of betrayal when they discovered lockers were a thing mostly of books and tv shows?
posted by supercrayon at 12:27 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

Did anyone else feel the bitter sting of betrayal when they discovered lockers were a thing mostly of books and tv shows?

Wait, what? We definitely had lockers all through high school in late '90s Texas, though never the full height ones seen on some shows that you could actually stuff an entire Screech into. I knew some kids who went to schools where lockers were banned for fear of contraband, but that was relatively rare.
posted by kmz at 12:35 AM on March 5 [34 favorites]

Yeah, not sure I’m getting the lack of lockers thing either. I definitely had a locker every year of intermediate school (AKA jr high) and high school.

The murders won’t so common though.
posted by defenestration at 12:43 AM on March 5 [20 favorites]

Also, whether it was life imitating art or vice versa, I definitely witnessed kids being put into lockers by bullies.
posted by defenestration at 12:46 AM on March 5

I read all of the Christopher Pike books when I was young and totally forgot about them for the past 20 years and now I want to re-read them all right now. The forced cocaine overdose scene in particular really stuck with me. So messed up.
posted by ukdanae at 12:48 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

WTF, no lockers?? How did that even work? Where did you put all your books and crap between classes? You poor babies didn't just have to schlep EVERYTHING around all day, did you?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:01 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

I had a locker in middle school, and my high school had lockers, but I never got one. I think you had to sign up, and I was never there anyway. Maybe you had to pay? I don’t know, I never used one.

I’m sorry I missed out on Christopher Pike. He sounds awesome for YA. I was the younger demographic that read Goosebumps religiously (my sister read Fear Street). I guess Pike never wrote for that audience.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:03 AM on March 5

My high school had lockers, not much bigger than a backpack. But we had five minutes to get between classes and it was this wide sprawling campus (neighboring "junior high" and high schools had merged) and inevitably one's path between classes never went past one's assigned locker, so I rarely used mine for much.
posted by Foosnark at 2:36 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

OMG! Thank you for this post, it is the ONE GOOD THING that has happened to me this Monday morning. I can't read the posts right now, but the book about sexy alien lizards whose name escapes me right now was one of the guiltiest pleasures of my early teens. *bookmarks so hard*
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:01 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I started out with Chain Letter, one of his earliest and surely the inspiration for all those dire I Know What You Did Last Summer films.

The films were bad, but the books were by Lois Duncan, who was excellent and significantly preceded Pike.
posted by jeather at 3:35 AM on March 5 [11 favorites]

Ziggy500, did they come from a planet that was blown up by ancient Earth astronauts and is now the asteroid belt? That was Monster, which, along with Remember Me, was his best in my opinion.
posted by Jorus at 3:35 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Pike's heyday was well after I was a young adult myself, and weirdly, even though his heyday was during the time that I worked in public libraries, he passed under my radar--I think that I'd have remembered an author named after one of the captains of the Enterprise. (He's mentioned in the same breath as R.L. Stine, who I was very much aware of; it was impossible not to be.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:34 AM on March 5

You know one thing I did appreciate with Christopher Pike? He wrote the only YA book I read about the dangers of dating violence. I don’t remember the title, but I remember the boyfriend was charming to friends and family and conventionally handsome, but possessive and violent. I remember really appreciating the way it said that even handsome, beloved-by-parents boys could still be dangerous.
posted by corb at 5:07 AM on March 5 [11 favorites]

I remember a lot of R.L. Stine hoopla, but none of those books stuck with me like the Lewis Barnavelt mystery/horror stories.
posted by strange chain at 5:16 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

Apparently lockers really are passé now and kids do just shlep everything with them all the time.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:18 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]

I don't think I get this perspective—who actually discussed books, or preferences in books, with their tween friends?

Thinking back on it, tween to fourteen or so was my peak for discussing books with friends! Of course, I volunteered at a library at that age, so books were kind of my jam and I may not be representative, but I think it was at least in part because of something one of the pullquotes in the OP mentions - unlike every other form of media available to me, there was pretty much no supervision of what books I was reading, because there was a clear ethos that reading books must be an unalloyed good in our family. Stine and Pike came a bit later, so they aren't who I was reading at that age, but I was definitely reading stuff that was way heavier than anything I was allowed to watch on TV, and discussing it with friends who were reading the same books for much the same reasons.

That faded as my access to TV became similarly unsupervised. Since then, my reading habits have varied pretty greatly over the years, but even when my book reading is a daily thing, it's pretty rare I discuss any particular book with friends (beyond a superficial oh hey I read/am reading this thing) because it's so very unlikely we're reading the same books at the same time.
posted by solotoro at 5:20 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

The only people who were dorky enough to actually use their assigned locker were kids who wore both straps of their backpack.

- Dave, Class of '94
Stay cool, c u this summer!
posted by Rock Steady at 5:25 AM on March 5 [11 favorites]

Ziggy500, did they come from a planet that was blown up by ancient Earth astronauts and is now the asteroid belt? That was Monster, which, along with Remember Me, was his best in my opinion.
posted by Jorus

No, I miraculously remembered the title just now, which was The Star Group. Sexy alien lizards would appear to be a recurring theme in Pike's writing, by the sounds of it; I haven't read Monster.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:48 AM on March 5

The only people who were dorky enough to actually use their assigned locker were kids who wore both straps of their backpack.

I think I walk a little bit crooked to this day because of carrying my entire school days' worth of books over one shoulder. Cool kids have a lot to answer for.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:48 AM on March 5 [15 favorites]

was this before or after his career in starfleet?
posted by entropicamericana at 5:59 AM on March 5 [8 favorites]

Remember Me made a big impression on me as a kid. As did the Star Trek: TNG episode "Remember Me," come to think. Then I wrote a PhD thesis on memory. Weird.
posted by Beardman at 6:02 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

My parents were generally very lenient with their choice of reading material - my movies and TV were pretty tightly vetted but I could read just about anything, including a lot of inappropriate stuff from their shelves, all the Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Robin Cook I could get out of the library, so much Jean Auel, etc. The one thing I ever remember being specifically forbidden to me was Christopher Pike books. (I was a bit too old for R. L. Stine so that didn't come up.) I still don't totally know why my mom drew a weird line right there.

At any rate, clearly that means that I sneakily bought Slumber Party at a school book fair, took it home and read it after dark cover to cover, and then hid it behind some other books. It was one of my very few acts of tween rebellion and it was extremely thrilling and I felt very daring about it.

A few years ago when it came out in ebook form I reread it for the nostalgia and it was in fact kinda terrible but also a delight to revisit on behalf of Tween Me.
posted by Stacey at 6:23 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]

Look, whatever the man's literary sins - and I'm not here to defend him - don't you think he's paid for them?
posted by Naberius at 6:32 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]

But you know what trashy YA books I really loved - it wasn't RL Stine or anything like that. It was LJ Smith. Complicated romances, otherworldly elements, lonely girls trying to figure the world was perfect. Sadly none of the remakes have managed to capture the quality that was so appealing, kind of that finger on the pulse of what it was to be alien.
posted by corb at 6:36 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

Christopher Pike hit the right spots of being entertainingly trashy and subversive without being too "dangerous" or challenging. There was some genuine horror in his books and inventive, interesting plots with actual stakes (I liked how often he flirted with sci-fi in his books). They would never be high literature but they were fun. And the '90s covers are gorgeous.

RL Stine's stuff never quite worked for me in the same way.

I had a lonely Saturday night a few years ago where I bought a bunch of Christopher Pike books off Amazon for cheap. I still haven't reread them but I've kept them. I like knowing they're around.
posted by darksong at 6:47 AM on March 5

Did anyone else feel the bitter sting of betrayal when they discovered lockers were a thing mostly of books and tv shows?

I had lockers from 5th to 12th grade, though I rarely used mine once I started driving to school. (I have a giant grin on my face, though, because this has always been one of my favorite things about the United States. We're such a giant country with weird little differences in laws and norms by region, state, and county. And suddenly you're well into adulthood when someone says "lockers are not really a thing" and then it's just--!????)

I was not an RL Stine person, because even as a child I knew that the mere suggestion of horror would keep me up at night for days. I'm sure I read some Pike books because the splash-print of his name is so familiar, but they didn't make much of an impact on me. My young adult thriller preferences had more supernatural in them, and I feel like 80s-90s Pike books were I Know What You Did Last Summer clones. These links are tempting me to revisit Vivian Vande Velde, though. They seemed a bit "gritty" to my young self (and if she ever skimped on characterization, it was with the romantic supernatural fellow who would be banished by the end of the book).
posted by grandiloquiet at 6:57 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Last year I re-read Christopher Pike's Final Friends trilogy, my very favorite of his books as a child, and discovered it's fucking great! Holds up! You can get the whole thing in one volume for $5.35 on Amazon.
posted by something something at 7:06 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

As a 45-year-old man going back on campus for my masters, I still have a hard time two-strapping. Even though I am the only one doing it, and inside I know it just makes me look more out of place, it just feels wrong wearing both straps of a backpack.
posted by Quonab at 7:20 AM on March 5 [11 favorites]

We had lockers in my smallish midwestern town schools from 6th grade through 12th grade. The full-sized ones. In high school, we only had 3-5 minute passing periods (time between classes) and our high school was a big, sprawling, 2-3 story building (2 on one wing, 3 on the other) so groups of us would share lockers, even though it was technically against the rules. I kept all my wing 1 stuff in my awesome, centrally-located locker and all of my wing 2 stuff in Laurie's locker upstairs in the English hall. The best day was the last day of school when we were required to empty our our lockers. To facilitate this, the janitorial staff decided that it was okay if we literally just dumped all of our papers and trash ON THE FLOOR in front of our lockers. We were only allowed to do it after last bell but man, wading through and kicking all the papers around was a tradition!

Also, all the kids in high school I see these days wear both straps on their backpacks. All of them. I know kids at five different high schools around the city (from private school to performing arts school to STEM school) and they all definitely wear both straps. It's weird to me because that is NOT how it was done when I was in HS.
posted by cooker girl at 7:33 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

Oh and then I forgot to add that somehow I missed these books. It seems I went straight from Little House on the Prairie to The Hobbit to Stephen King. I remember covertly reading Salem's Lot in English class while we were going over Beowulf.

Still got an A on the test.
posted by cooker girl at 7:35 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]

My high school had lockers, and we had a dead body in a dumpster. We also had a class president go on an armed robbery spree, and then escape to Mexico. We also had a "17 year old" senior turn out to be 32 years old and on the run from the law in another state.

Christopher Pike books never seemed that bonkers to me.
posted by weed donkey at 7:49 AM on March 5 [40 favorites]

These books were my JAM in 6th grade. I went from the Babysitters Club to Christopher Pike with relative ease, along with the rest of my friends. I'd say that 75% of the girls in my class were passing these around at recess. I never liked R.L. Stine - I really liked the "teenagers in peril" thing that Christopher Pike did so well.

Remember Me was, and is, my favorite. It was influential on my views of the afterlife - and it still kind of is, I guess. Who knew that Shari's Limbo would be right up there on philosophical texts for me? I still think that the police interrogation scene was really well done. The whole switched-at-birth thing was kind of bonkers but oh well.

I read them until I became bored of teenagers in peril. My favorites were Slumber Party, about teenagers in peril at a ski lodge, Weekend, about teenagers in peril in Mexico; and Fall Into Darkness, about teenagers in peril near cliffs. I suppose that the main teenager in Remember Me had already succumbed to her peril, but it was still interesting.

And we had lockers, yeah. The little kids had a cloak room at the back of the classrooms in elementary school, but from 4th grade on we had lockers. How could you all not have lockers? Where did you put your coats? I grew up in Minnesota, if we didn't have lockers then where would we have put our winter coats/boots?
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:58 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I seem to have been just slightly too old to have been in on Pike and Stine, so I can't really weigh in there.

Lockers, though: in middle school, we had the banks of ~3 foot high lockers, one row on top of another. Then in high school, we these little one-foot cube lockers, with just enough room for either your textbooks or a heavy coat crammed in there, definitely not both. If they gave it any thought at all, I guess the assumption was that you'd pick up all your books at the beginning of the day and leave your coat there, then switch back at the end. (Depending on the location of your locker, you *might* have time to run by and swap things out between classes, but it was far from guaranteed.)
posted by Four Ds at 8:09 AM on March 5

One of the Christopher Pikes set me up on a lifelong interest in people dying via scuba accidents (or murders).
posted by jeather at 8:11 AM on March 5

Remember Me passed around like a magical artifact among the teen girls in South Amboy one summer. If you weren't reading it, you were waiting for someone to finish and pass it to you.

And the other big book that summer was Lois Duncan's book Daughters of Eve.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 8:16 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Awesome post! I remember liking Christopher Pike better than R.L. Stine, although I think I only read a handful of either of their books. I want to go read more of them now. I DO have a really strong memory of sitting in class one day in middle school and noticing with my friend that one of the Christopher Pike books was dedicated to "My brother Mike." And we were like, "His brother MIKE?? That means his brother's name is MIKE PIKE!!" And we thought that was about the most hilarious thing.

Lockers: yes. Insanely large campus with nowhere near enough time to get from class to locker to next class: yes. Backpack rules: one-strapping it was definitely way cooler than two-strapping it. There was also a contingent of girls who wore their backpack on their fronts like a baby carrier or something (with two straps), and that was ALSO considered cool, but kind of off-limits unless you were in that social group. This was all late 90s Texas big city.
posted by aka burlap at 8:18 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Remember Me was the best one, and totally made an impression on me. I never got into VC Andrews or RL Stine, but Christopher Pike was definitely my jam. I don't remember when I was reading them, but I do distinctly remembering telling my mom something about a "condominium" from one of his books, but totally misreading the word "condom". I was such a sheltered kid. I wonder if my mom remembers that conversation, but I'm too embarrassed to ask about it. >_>
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 8:18 AM on March 5

I loooved Christopher Pike novels in I think the 6th and 7th grade, and my friends and I definitely passed them around and talked about them. However, what I remember most is reading Whisper of Death, realizing that the protagonist died having an abortion, saying "fuck this shit," and tossing it behind me as I blazed forward as an unrepentant, militant pro-choice feminist.

Oddly, one of my other Christopher Pike loving friends became a hard-core anti-abortion Catholic. I wonder if that book was some sort of life decision nexus.
posted by Missense Mutation at 8:37 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]

I never read a single one of these... I feel like I leapfrogged over most YA as a younger reader for better or worse

Like a couple of you, I somehow skipped these despite being the right age. I read one of the Lois Duncan books at some point. I definitely didn't know very many people in middle school who actually read books for fun. I think I skipped straight to King, Crichton, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison, probably just because they were already represented in my uncle's collection, which took up two walls of my room.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:40 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Oh goodness, I'm grateful for this reminder because my 2nd grader is already into the Goosebumps books. I don't want her graduating up to Christopher Pike too early. I know I read these, probably in Junior High. But maybe earlier? I know I started reading Stephen King and then Anne Rice in Junior High. Actually I think I read the Exorcist in the 6th grade. Man, my mom was oblivious.
posted by kitcat at 8:43 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

we thought american teenage life was full of lockers

Yeah, in public school in North Carolina, I had a locker (half-sized) starting in Sixth Grade . In eighth grade, we were additionally assigned gym lockers (for dressing out). These were a kind of metal basket weave which mostly encouraged theft of underwear by whatever assholes happened to be bullying you at the time during your gym period.

When I transferred to boarding school in tenth grade, we day students were also assigned lockers--half height, but rather copiously sized. However, a rigorously enforced, expulsion-level honor code meant we 1) never locked them and 2) mostly just left our shit all over campus with complete confidence that nothing would be stolen. This was, of all the things I found perplexing about private school after years of otherwise, the most to-the-core shocking. I'd literally had my backpack stolen (never to be seen again) from the floor beneath me one day during an assembly in public school ninth grade. I remember watching, gobsmacked, as people just blithely tossed their backpacks and handbags full of money and fancy designer parkas and whatever benches outside the dining hall and assumed (correctly) they would still be hanging there unmolested after lunch. It would be another year before I was comfortable enough the scenario to do as every else did and, say, if I forgot a calculus textbook, just open any unlocked locker and borrow someone else's.
posted by thivaia at 8:49 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

I don't think I get this perspective—who actually discussed books, or preferences in books, with their tween friends? Especially books with twisted, violent, supernatural serial-killer themes.

When I was nine, my 12-year-old cousin had tons of these books, as well as all the Baby-Sitters Clubs and Sweet Valley Highs. I usually borrowed them from her, but sometimes we'd lie on one of our beds, press our heads together, and read them at the same time, and a couple of times she even read them aloud for me. What a lovely time I completely forgot about. She soon turned 13 and had no more time for the likes of me, and I moved over to Harry Potter, which I discussed never with my tween friends but frequently with many, many 35-year-old women on the internet.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:53 AM on March 5 [10 favorites]

I wasn't ever especially into the teen thriller genre, though I tried a few because my classmates were really into them (I was too busy reading differently problematic authors like Piers Anthony, Anne Rice and Robert Heinlein). But, I do clearly remember that my 7th grade English teacher would read Pike's Chain Letter aloud to us by installment as a reward for good behaviour. In retrospect part of me thinks that was a genius way to get kids to a) behave themselves (and encourage their classmates to behave too) and b) get the kids who weren't into reading, or had poor reading skills, or just didn't like the school curriculum books, to engage with books in a fun way. Another part of me is amazed a teacher got away with reading that to us.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:04 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

though: in middle school, we had the banks of ~3 foot high lockers, one row on top of another. Then in high school, we these little one-foot cube lockers

We had it the other way around, the bigger lockers in high school. And of course a stack of only two 3-ft lockers vs stacks of 5 or 6 1-ft cubes meant that they had to line about every hall with lockers to have enough for every student. And that in turn meant that depending on your schedule, your locker might be for instance out by the gym, not even in the same building as most of your classes. There were two solutions to that problem. One was to carry more books around, which was the solution for unpopular kids (ask me how I know). The other was to make paired sharing arrangements with friends so that each of you effectively had two half-lockers, arranged in such a way that you wouldn't need to carry more than a couple books at a time. Made possible thanks to these little doodads, which look to have not undergone a redesign in lo these many years.
posted by solotoro at 9:12 AM on March 5

Warning to anyone who decides to revisit Lois Duncan via ebook: They've done some terrible work 'updating' her books for modern technology and whatnot, it was pretty painful to read, love yourself and spend $2 on a beat-up fourth-hand paperback of the original edition instead.

I've also been trying to remember more about whether I was talking about books with my friends at that age. Conclusion: My real loves were my scifi/fantasy books, and those I was talking about with my online friends (my family was an early adopted of Prodigy and a couple of other pre-AOL networks.) With my offline friends, we were mostly just giggling over V. C. Andrews.
posted by Stacey at 9:23 AM on March 5

YES CHRISTOPHER PIKE. (The Last Vampire series is my fucking jam, even though I seriously side-eye some of the whitewashing now that I know better.)
posted by sperose at 9:37 AM on March 5

No, I miraculously remembered the title just now, which was The Star Group. Sexy alien lizards would appear to be a recurring theme in Pike's writing

ok this was obviously a theme because I came in to say that the sexy alien lizard book is Scavenger Hunt.
posted by lalex at 9:56 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I'm not even half-sorry for starting the lockers derail because I'm learning so much lmao. You want to know how mythic it was in our minds? I remember us talking jealously about some private schools because they had lockers.

In any case, our public system meant carrying everything like a camel. But otoh we don't switch class rooms, only for speciality classes like religious classes or anything with lab.

This post made me look up the synopsis of my favourite Pike books, and whattttt there are more Last Vampire books where she's NOT the last vampire???
posted by cendawanita at 10:00 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I am such a fake though, I've never read Remember Me, because I had this idea it might be too scary. Also it's never in rotation, that book was so popular.
posted by cendawanita at 10:02 AM on March 5

Lockers all through school. California. My tribe used them for storing our skateboards, with the inside door covered with photos from Thrasher and Maximum Rock and Roll. If you were really a rebel, you had a nudie picture taped to the back wall of your locker. I was not a rebel. I have no recollection if books were kept in my locker, probably not because your skateboard had to be angled to fit and took up the whole locker space.

I’m certain that we all one strapped it which kind of debunks the theory that two strapping evolved in response to skate culture even though that makes sense. I think teens today are just more concerned with practicality and less concerned with looking like you don’t care.

There was definitely sex, but murders were sort of uncommon and never involved guns. As far as people coming back from the grave and other such paranormal activity, I was not aware of it, but you might want to ask some of those devil-worshipping heavy metal stoner kids who drew pentagrams all over shit, that seems more like their deal.

I had never considered this, but high schools in other countries don’t have lockers?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:20 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Hot damn these were the best. Tawdry without being graphic, dark and weird without being traumatizing. Full of ideas that were right at the 5-7th grade level but that would freak out a lot of parents if they bothered to read them, which most never would. These were wonderful.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:21 AM on March 5

I don't think I get this perspective—who actually discussed books, or preferences in books, with their tween friends? Especially books with twisted, violent, supernatural serial-killer themes.

In my 5th grade classes? All of us.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:24 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I remember these, but hadn't thought about them in years. I think that I was probably on the leading edge of their popularity as a sort of cultural phenomenon (I have a younger sibling and I saw them more with his friends than mine, but maybe there were just more of them written by then).

They inhabit an interesting space though, between "kids books" a la the Boxcar Kids and Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys—where there really aren't any adult themes—and the "real" adult-fiction like Steven King / Dean Koontz, romance novels, etc., where sex and drugs and violence occur with more casualness.

At least among my friends, I think people transitioned pretty quickly into their genre of choice, be it SF, horror, lowbrow sub-Tom-Clancy shoot'em'ups, romance novels, whatever, and then there was always a little bit of tension between people who liked one (almost always gender-coded) genre vs. the other, and some degree of arm-twisting other people into reading books we were excited about, before we realized that sometimes your enjoyment doesn't necessarily translate to someone else's. (Although when one of my friends convinced me to read a romance novel she really liked, and I realized that girls had invented porn you could get away with reading in study hall, I started to wonder if guys were collectively doing "our" genre books all wrong.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:03 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I was OBSESSED with Christopher Pike in high school. I'm glad to hear that Final Friends holds up well, that was my favorite as well. I was sad when he started going off the deep end, starting with Spellbound-era stuff; I think Remember Me was the last book of his that I enjoyed. Then with the animals in people's bodies,and aliens and yeah I moved on.

Chain Letter, Weekend, and Final Friends though... I must have read those a hundred times each.

I picked up one of his adult novels about 10 years ago, maybe Falling or the Cold One? Anyway it was really unpleasant but somehow still very Pike and made me remember with new insight a lot of his terrible ideas about women that I had apparently internalized without any thought as a teen.

Still not nearly as damaging as VC Andrews though.... I'm a librarian and committed to intellectual freedom but hoo boy those books can seriously fuck a girl up.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:07 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

This was definitely after my time, but I think these would have been very popular in my small circle of friends. And by that I mean me and my one friend in grade school, with whom I shared a love for some of the weirder CYOA novels (e.g. Inside UFO 54-40 and Hyperspace) as well as the much maligned Fighting Fantasy series. Stuff didn't have to make any causal or otherwise sense if it was strange or subversive enough.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:12 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Oh man, the fact that Christopher Pike was a pseudonym from Star Trek is definitely my Fun Fact for the Day. Thanks, Buzzfeed writer!

And yes, I definitely read many a Christopher Pike novel and thought RL Stine was for babies. The link above re-evaluating Weekend sounds about right--I remember some seriously retro values but every YA book was like that back then or so it felt like. That's one thing that made Scream such a good parody, because the values it was parodying were still super prominent.

Are You in the House Alone (from 1976) was still on the shelves at my public library in the 1990s and it taught me some awful (and incorrect) lessons about how society perceives rape 'victims'. Weeding: it's not just for medical and tech books!

On lockers: not until high school for me and my BFF and I shared one that was about 2'x1'. As we were both honors students, we couldn't even fit all our books in the thing (luckily a friend let us use his, which was right next to ours, for overflow).
posted by librarylis at 11:20 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Fun fact: my first grader has a locker! In 2018!

I remember lockers in my high school but I never used them -- I think it was more of a pain to keep having to move your stuff around than to just carry it all with you. I was a one-strapper and I think carrying all that shit on one shoulder probably explains, at least in part, my lifelong posture and shoulder pain/tension issues.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:31 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

And now I wake up to the bitter sting of betrayal because apparently everyone had lockers but me, wah!
posted by supercrayon at 11:36 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I love that this devolved into discussion of who had lockers in their high school. We had them, but I don't remember using mine much, 'cause it was up on the second-floor back hallway, far from most classes I had, and I couldn't remember the combination after a while. I can't remember what I did with my coat, but I might've just worn it from class to class, along with lugging just about every book, notebook, and folder with me all day every day. I was in band and guitar club, so I generally had 2 or 3 musical instruments I had to lug back and forth fairly regularly, too. And yeah, I one-strapped it until the load got too heavy in high school. Now my right shoulder is permanently lower than my left, my left shoulder has scapular dyskinesis, and I was never cool anyway. 😭
posted by limeonaire at 11:37 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

RE lockers and horror, when I moved to WY during high school I was actually assigned locker "666." Still not convinced the admin wasn't messing with my head.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:51 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I read all of them, and distinctly remember reading Remember Me over and over and thinking that my parents would NOT be happy if they knew what I was reading.

Also, we had lockers, and to this day I have dreams, not where I am shoved into one, but where I have forgotten the combination and am late for classes because of it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:38 PM on March 5

Monster and Remember Me were fucking great, as was the Final Friends series.

Still not nearly as damaging as VC Andrews though.... I'm a librarian and committed to intellectual freedom but hoo boy those books can seriously fuck a girl up.

YES. WTF. Every girl in my 7th grade class read VC Andrews. Pike's books seemed pedestrian in comparison. I am still disturbed by the horribleness of My Sweet Audrina.
posted by Stonkle at 12:38 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

We had lockers in the 90s and early aughts in Texas, but a few years after we graduated they were removed, ostensibly because of the threat of bombs ... which was in no way related to or had anything to do with me, i am 99% sure
posted by alleycat01 at 12:50 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

We had lockers in middle school and they were somewhat of a big deal in terms of decorating/individualizing the inside, plus friends would decorate the outside for birthdays, but I can't remember using them at all in high school, which would have been the 1980s. I have this faint memory that you *could* get a locker, but they were inconvenient to get to between classes in the much bigger school so I just carried everything in my backpack.
posted by tavella at 2:03 PM on March 5

I'm sure I read more of these books, but the only ones that I remember are the Last Vampire series. Loved those, was too young to have any perspective on the whitewashing. Did think the messiah story line in that was a bit weird. I don't know if those would hold up - tempted to re-read.

Also, had a locker in middle and high school.
posted by cui bono at 2:59 PM on March 5

Seventh grade was when lockers suddenly became a thing along with passing between classes. I hated visiting my locker because those few minutes between periods were a largely unsupervised chaotic free-for-all when it came to bullying, so I elected to carry all my books around for the entire day, which was actually discouraged. Backpacks were actually banned from classroom, and (I think) punishable with detention. I largely skirted that rule by carrying around a messenger bag, but eventually I was forced to give it up after I was caught swinging the bag around like an Olympic hammer throw to get a trio of kids to stop yelling in my face about how I wasn't supposed to carry a bag to class.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:10 PM on March 5

I don't think the locker thing is a derail. We always had huge lockers at school. However, young adult novels were not the thing they are now. We had prestige young adult novels like "My Darling, My Hamburger" by Paul Zindel or "The Snow Goose"by Paul Gallico which we were encouraged to read or else we had junior gothic romances by Phyllis A. Whitney for furtive pleasure. The cool kids read Kurt Vonnegut. So: larger lockers but fewer books.
posted by acrasis at 4:14 PM on March 5

Lockers were for my coat and my lunch. Jr. High and High school. I didn't read these, because I had discovered Jean M. Auel which was full of cave people boning. I didn't like horror at all so these had zero appeal.
posted by emjaybee at 5:03 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I read a lot of Christopher Pike in middle school even after i’d Mostly graduated to adult books because I could finish one illicitly reading during class and take it back to the library before lunch. I remember years later reading “Gone Girl” after someone recommended it and thinking that it reminded me of a Christopher Pike book I read in sixth grade. I can’t remember which one though.
posted by thivaia at 5:04 PM on March 5

RE lockers and horror, when I moved to WY during high school I was actually assigned locker "666."

I’m pretty sure one of my stoner heavy metal friends would have traded that locker for some weed.

Christopher Pike was after my time but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have read him because even the classic sci-fi I read in junior high would wig me out if it got too scary. I’ll keep this in mind when my kids turn tween but we recently had to stop Harry Potter and The Hobbit with my eldest because of nightmares. My youngest won’t even watch America’s Funniest Videos because it’s too scary.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:51 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

fyi i just told my bestie about this discussion, and she would like to register her disillusionment that not all of y'all had lockers at school.
posted by cendawanita at 7:05 PM on March 5

Perhaps it's Canadians who are the true havers-of-lockers? I had a full-sized locker from 5th grade onwards (with the exception of one year where I switched schools and was temporarily demoted to coat hooks in the hallway, and one year stuck sharing a locker because my high school was overcrowded and there was a locker shortage). Lockers are pretty darn useful for stowing winter coats and keeping the hallways from being awash in snow boots...
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:19 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

My junior high had half-lockers but they did not stop me from using a satchel that literally made me swaybacked for a while because of the Uncoolness of the Two Straps. That satchel -- the coolest schoolbag I believed to be possible -- was a day-glo TurboGrafx 16 logo gymbag.

The next year I got a whole lot femmier, and picked up the idea that cool teen girls only ever carried schoolbooks in their arms, with a separate purse carried on the shoulder. The purse kept sliding off my shoulder, though, because of what I'd done to that shoulder with the satchel.

I couldn't get into Pike. I'd been spoilt for choice by Stephen King. But it wasn't that I had great taste. For a while there, I could read any chunk of Extruded Fantasy Product and consider it a reasonable value. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the gym and suddenly realizing how bad Queens of Land and Sea was.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:21 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I had locker 237. Redrum!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:32 PM on March 5

so i opened this tab last night when i was super exhausted and read "chris pike" as "thomas piketty" and was like what a twist!"
posted by LeviQayin at 10:34 PM on March 5

It’s weird how the details of these books stuck with me, like the rare meat fascination in Monster or the dialysis stuff in Weekend. I have a lot of fond memories that I’d rather not ruin by revisiting them. But the one that fucked me up proper was the end of Die Softly, because death by involuntary drug use was just a messed up way to end a book.
posted by graymouser at 2:39 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]

I think that maybe one of the reasons why the one-strap bag carry became so de rigueur is that there seemed to be a general consensus in the seventies, which is I'm pretty sure when you started seeing kids bring them to school, that the lonely wanderer who had his bag on one shoulder as he trudged along the highway, looking for a ride and ready to sling it off when he finally hitched one, was cooler than some scruffy backpacker in it for the long haul. (I thought that David Banner from the Incredible Hulk series had a backpack, but all the pictures that I can find show him with a duffel bag... but he does have it on one shoulder.)

Also, I wonder if maybe using lockers, even for facilities that have them, became less popular once you could go on the internet and find videos showing you how to defeat the more common brands of locks.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:46 AM on March 6

I’m pretty sure one of my stoner heavy metal friends would have traded that locker for some weed.

Heh, that pretty much describes how I came across in high school, which is part of why I thought the admin was messing with me.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:08 AM on March 6

The re-issued covers are terrible. Those covers are what made Christopher Pike books truly awesome (for 12 year old me).
posted by thefang at 8:44 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]

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