Happy Easter. Or unhappy Easter for some of you. You may not like what I have to say. So I've been reviewing Goosebumps books for quite awhile now and they are sort of starting to feel all the same. I took a look at my collection and I found tucked away another book. A book that isn't Goosebumps. A book that is... Better. That book is It Came From the Cafeteria by Peter Lerangis. And you know what? I don't think I'm ever going to review another Goosebumps book again!
Judging a Book By Its Cover
Look at this beauty. No need for a "scary" font. No oozy borders. No trying to sell you on other products like a TV Show or a special edition calendar in little blurbs. Nope. None of that. What we have is the bold title in red, and the illustration letting us know what this is all about.
It Came From the Cafeteria. What did? Well just look at it. Slimy green feet. Goosebumps covers may try to scare you with piercing eyes or a grasping hand. This book knows the scariest part of any monster is the feet.
And how scared are these kids? Very, is the correct answer. Look at that girl doing the "Macauly Culkin" from Home Alone. Does she look more confused than scared? Maybe. But who wouldn't be confused by slimy green feet in the class room?
Will this be the book that puts me off of Goosebumps forever? Let's find out.
First there is Hardy. He is a poet, and the sole member of heavy metal band Smashed Brains. He is also what the British would refer to as "a bit of a wanker." He explains the big bang theory in slam poetry style. Wanker.
Then there is Cecilia. Not only is she brilliant for her age, but Ethan also has a bit of a crush on her. Of course she'd never like a regular kid like Ethan... right? She explains the big bang theory a bit less artistically. Ethan doesn't really understand it.
The teacher goes on to explain the primordial soup. Ethan can't quite believe people came from soup. Ethan may not be average. Ethan may be a bit of a simpleton. In the middle of this lecture he gets passed a note from Hardy to give to Cecilia professing his love in a ... uhh... lovely poem. Of course the teacher gets it and reads it aloud. Cecilia, naturally, believes the affection comes from Ethan. During the resulting conversation we learn a few things. Firstly that the city was built on a nuclear waste site. Second, Ethan has a younger brother named after the hobbit from Lord of the Rings. Thirdly, Cecilia likes horrible poetry. And lastly, there are weird 2 headed grasshoppers around. A result of the nuclear waste? You be the judge!
The Next day Hardy who has a bit of an ego problem strikes up a convo with Ethan. He is drawn to Ethan's normalcy. In exchange for tutoring, Ethan promises to teach Hardy about normal kids. Lesson one, things that are neat are "cool" not "cold."
Now we are off to the eco bubble! What is that you ask? Well the 8th grade students built an environment to recreate the primordial soup. Jeeze, my 8th grade class just dissected a worm. Anyway, the 7th grade class is there to observe. There he meets a strange red headed girl named Philomena, or Phil for short. She begins the conversation the way most conversations go, by telling Ethan about her time machine in the boys bathroom.
So at the eco bubble Ethan sees some scary plants. Hardy finds this hilarious. Scared? By plants? Hah. He recites some shitty poetry about it. Next he tells Cecilia that he, not Ethan, wrote tha tshitty love poem. Ethan finds a unique way to mock the poet extraordinaire. He demonstrates the ingredients to a poem via dangerous chemicals from the lab. The result? A horrible smelling concoction that gets him kicked out of class.
But where can he dump it? In Hardy's locker? That would be delightful and smelly! Bad timing though. Hardy just showed up. Bummer.
In the cafeteria the lunch lady is serving spinach-garlic-garbanzo bean casserole. The kids are all mortified by this, except of course for Hardy. Hardy does some embarassing of Ethan in front of his crush. There is only one thing Ethan can do... Dump his smelly, possibly deadly concoction into Hardy's casserole. Ultimately Hardy decides to dump it back in with the rest of the food. Oh no, everything is contaminated! Well what is the worst that could happen...
Update: the worst that could happen is that the spinach-garlic-garbanzo bean casserole comes alive! Or at the very least oozing across the floor and bubbling out of the pans! Thankfully they get the situation under control and decide to put this stinky mess into the incinerator. PROBLEM SOLVED. Plus school gets dismissed. Everything great.
After school Phil has set up things for Ethan to move forward with his crush. He meets Cecilia and thanks to Phil's smoothing things out it goes well... UNTIL THE PRIMORDIAL SOUP-SPINACH-GARLIC-GARBANZO BEAN SALAD BURSTS FROM THE DUMPSTER. Oh. Wait. It's Hardy. But that's strange, the dumpster was full of the gross goo when school let out.
Then the eco bubble explodes. Unexpected! Ethan knows this is their lunch's fault but no one believes him. They call the cops but soon learn a harsh life lesson: the cops are no help. In fact the police believe the kids are to blame for the damages. Pigs!
The cops aren't the only ones to blame them. The next day at school Ethan gets hauled into the principals office. Thankfully Phil is there to act as his attorney otherwise Hardy's accusations that Ethan is the culprit would go unanswered. While his lawyer was arguing out points of policy with the principal, the slimy lunch monster dropped out of the ducts in front of Ethan. It appears to have a least basic intelligence because it starts trying to mimic the boys speech patterns. Ethan runs out of the room and the principal notices a horrible smell. School is going to have to be canceled again. Back to the room they go, yet all that remains is a broken bowling trophy from his interaction with the casserole.
They flee as best they can and make it all the way to the boy's room. The lunch monstrosity backs them up into a stall. Cowering, Ethan makes contact with the flusher. It just so happens the stall he is in contains Phil's time traveling toilet. They went back in time to yesterday before Ethan poured his mysterious chemical compound into that awful cafeteria food. In fact the test tube is still in his pocket. But they remembered everything that happened... Is that how time travel really works? I am not actually sure. I guess maybe a time machine based on a worm hole localized in a toilet may have wonky physics. I am not going to scrutinize.
Ultimately they decide the way to get rid of his concoction without doing damage is to burn the contest. There is a vent in the science lab that harmless distributes the smoke of it outside. Things didn't turn out too badly for ol' Ethan. Hardy proved himself to be a bumbling coward during their encounter. He made a true and loyal friend out of Phil. Plus, Cecilia even asked him out! I mean, Phil and Hardy were coming too but I say it counts. Of course they need make it to the mall before it starts raining out too hard... Hey... why is the rain green!
What I Thought
How is this better than Goosebumps? Let me count the ways! No seriously, this book blows anything R.L. Stine has done out of the water. It's got character, and quirk. It's got a sense of humor and is original. It's... Good!
First lets talk about the characters. They actually have personalities. In Goosebumps you basically get 3 character types. There is the "generic tween" the "scaredy cat" and the "likes to play pranks and scare people kid."
Now Ethan could certainly be called the generic tween of the book, but the way he is used is different. In Goosebumps he would merely be the subject of repeated jump scares for 25 chapters straight. However, the author here uses him as what is known as a "straight man." He is regular to highlight just how crazy everything and everyone is around him
For example, Hardy. Hardy seems all the more kooky because he has Ethan to play off of. Hardy has an ego, and is insufferable. He always speaks in poems and raps and acts like he knows everything but doesn't even know simple slang. Ethan serves as a counter point as "regular kid."
But there isn't just the characters. There is the fun, and quirks of the book. There is wordplay. The lunch lady's name is Mrs. Gastronome, which is a word that means gourmet (and sounds pretty silly.) There is the basic essence of the plot, a slimy broccoli-spinach-whatever casserole causing havoc.
This leads me to another point in which this book is superior to Goosebumps. R.L. Stine fills his book with all kinds of monsters. You have werewolves, ghosts, aliens, vampires galore. But Peter Lerangis? He knows what truly scares kids. School lunch. Who hasn't had a sloppy joe or congealed mashed potatoes and gravy they were sure would come alive at any moment?
Pretty much this book is better than Goosebumps in every way. Even in length. Goosebumps are always around 115 to 130 pages. This book is 100 pages exactly. He knew what the perfect length for a book is and he stuck to it.
Screw R.L. Stine. Screw Goosebumps. I'm a Peter Lerangis blog now!
Rating: 5 out of 5 gross vegetables
Tough call. Now that I have forsaken R.L. Stine for all times, I am not sure where to go. Since Peter Lerangis was so good at writing this I assume he has just as many amazing children's horror books out there as his competitor. They usually list other books you can buy by the author in the back of the book. Let's check back there and see what Scholastic has to offer...
GOOSEBUMPS!?!?!? THIS MAN JUST GAVE YOU GOLD AND YOU ARE JUST PIMPING OUT THE INFERIOR R.L STINE IN THIS BOOK? Surely this can't be right. If I just turn the page surely there will be a long list of Lerangis originals...
Sigh. Oh well. Happy Easter.