Judging a book by its cover:
|There's something waiting in the dark....
Let's find out!
This book is about an intelligent girl in her tweens with an annoying 11 year old brother that have recently moved into a new house with their parents... Wait.. This sounds familiar! Luckily besides perhaps reusing a few stock characters things are different here than in Dead House. Most notably that this book uses third person instead of first. Like I thought, this works far better.
Anyway, Margaret is the main character here, with her brother Casey and her parents Dr. and Mrs. Brewer. They have moved to California fairly recently because Dr. Brewer (a botanist) got a job at the labs of "Polytech." He got fired and has been spending all his time in the basement growing plants. Mom's sister in Arizona winds up in the hospital for reasons I don't believe are ever specified, however, it is implied it is important enough for mom to go be with her but not important enough for people to worry she's gonna die. Thank goodness!
The first few chapters show the kids being kids. They drink juice boxes, play frisbees, call each other dork, mention "playing Nintendo," the movie Robocop, and Casey watched an unspecified Schwarzenegger movie.Given that it is mentioned lots of stuff gets shot at and blown up I'm guessing it's not the 1994 classic, "Junior." All this certainly does detail the era and up the nostalgia factor.
Unfortunately it's not all fun and playing Nintendo. Dad is acting strange and ignoring them in favor of the mysterious goings on in the basement and with mom leaving the kids are worried. It doesn't help that at the end of chapter 1 dad semi-threateningly tells them to "stay out of the basement." Twice! I kind of expected them to say the title in the book, but so soon, and twice? Seems a little premature. Surely they will stay out of the basement after this prompt and stern warning!
Que their friend Diane. She shows up full of typical youth-filled boredom and curiosity. Wondering if perhaps her friends' dad was a mad scientist she cons them all to go check out the basement using the ultimate motivator: calling them chicken. So of course they all go down there and discover a basement full of jungle-like plants. Lots of vines, ferns, stems, stocks, and the word tendrils get tossed around like crazy. I liked the fact that they all reach out and touch the leaves of one odd plant. It's not like any plants ever gave anyone terrible rashes or anything! Fortunately instead of making them itch all these plants did was breath and moan. Wait, are plants supposed to do that? No?
Predictably dad finds out they didn't STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT! And while he is upset with them he doesn't yell at them or punish them in any way. In fact he acts distant and weird. Margaret catches him eating plant food. She sees him shed green colored blood. Also, he hasn't called her by any of her nicknames in a long time. Nicknames like "Princess" or "Fatso." Yes, Fatso. Don't worry though, it's not offensive because she is extremely skinny. I am pretty sure it is sound parenting to call your young daughter fatso. I am positive the fact that she is underweight has nothing to do with this loving nickname! To add to the oddness he has been wearing a baseball cap all the time. This can only mean that a) he has decided to be a dodgers fan. B) he is trying to mask the fact that he is going bald. C) he has leaves and stems growing out of his head. I'll let you figure out which is correct.
Dad understands the kids are concerned however and is ready to put their minds at ease. All that is going on is that he is using the basement to genetically engineer a race of half animal half plan monstrosities. I know my mind is at ease!
Later on Dr. Brewer's old boss Mr. Martinez shows up. Turns out he is interested in the work he was doing and wished he didn't have to fire him. Great to see that someone appreciates his fine work in the field of monstrosity engineer! This and the fact that mom is heading home put the kids at ease. Finally everything can go back to normal. Before that however, perhaps they should take another trip to snoop around in the creepy plant filled basement to find some kites, because if there is any way to celebrate your mom coming home it's with some good old fashioned kite flying! So what do they find in the basement? Mr. Martinez's pants. I assumed he was just doing a little "pollinating" with their dad, but the kids think something more sinister is going on. There is thudding coming from a large cabinet which seems to confirm these suspicions. Inside they find... their dad! But their creepy, distant, inhuman, plantlike, probably evil, dad is gone picking up their mom. Who could this tied up guy REALLY be?
Well after bit of debate Margaret finally decides to rip the tape off of tied up dad doppelganger who informs them that the guy walking around looking like him wasn't really him, it was a lab accident plant-clone that looks like him. He expressed all this with human concern and emotion. They untie him, but he goes crazy and grabs and axe. Just then mom and other dad show up. Mom does the only thing she can do, and yells, "No" because you can't yell "what fuck is going on?!" in a kids book.
Que the "which one is the real one" scene. The Dr. Brewer with the baseball cap informs them that the tied up escapee isn't really their dad, he is a plant. The escapee responds as closely to "I know you are, but what am I?" as you can respond without getting sued by Peewee Herman. To break up the insanity mom yells at the kids because it is obvious it is their fault that there are two versions of her husband.
Well escaped dad pleads with them using emotion and concern. The other cold emotionally distant dad acts... cold and emotionally distant. There is no telling which one is human! While one keeps droning, the axe wielding one gets more and more worked up. Margaret thinks dad would never act like this... ya know, trying to destroy all the evil monstrosities he unleashed on the world. He'd want to lock em up in a closet and keep working on them, clearly! But then the escaped dad calls her Princess. I guess he didn't think calling her Fatso would have the right effect at this time, but good ol' Fatso had a surefire way to tell if he is really her dad. She stabs him. It reveals red blood, meaning he is their real dad unlike the green blood giving fake, and then dad takes care of business and chops the fuck out of plant dad with his axe. Turns out he really was just steams and whatnot on the inside. Oh yah, and Mr. Martinez was found locked up in the cabinet too, all safe and sound.
Anyway things go back to normal. Dad gets his job back, which is fitting for a scientist who tampered with nature and unleashed a crazy plant monster that took over his life and could have done only god knows what to the world. He gets rid of almost all of his breathing, moaning, hellish, tortured plants. Only a few normal plants are kept, replanted in the back yard. The basement is turned into a game room. All is well. The end.
Oh wait and the last sentence says a little yellow flower tells Margaret that it is her real dad.
And they all lived happily ever after!
What did I think of it?
I thought this was an improvement over dead house. I was a little disappointed by the fact that there were a bunch of character similarities. The son and daughter in this book are pretty interchangeable with the last one, but I guess he was trying to write them very hard as very "average" children. Really the most important character in the book was Plant-dad who did get a fair amount of characterization. Some of it was pretty silly, but that's to be expected.
There were other reoccurring things I found kind of lame. For example, there was yet another scene with the young girl trying to count to fall asleep. Couldn't' come up with anything else besides counting? There was of course at least one moment of someone grabbing her shoulder from behind and startling her only for her to realize it wasn't who she was concerned about. If this keeps up over 60 books it's gonna get kind of annoying.
More positively however, I think this plays on a real fear kid could have. Having your dad acting strange, like someone else who can't be trusted is an eery thing to think of as a youth. Going between wanting to trust him because he is your father, and being skeptical because of the weird goings on is a smart thing to play on.
Also of note, the actual writing of the book felt more solid. There were less run-ons and fragments. Things felt a lot less clunky because of this and the fact that he switched to a third person narrative. The fact that his narrative "voice" is almost entirely unchanged by the move explains why first person just didn't work well for Mr. Stine.
Ultimately the greatest strength of this book over Welcome to Dead House is that Plant Man is far more unique and interesting than a generic haunted house. All hail Plant Man! With that, please enjoy this music video:
Rating: 3 1/2 evil plant things out of 5.
Check back next time for Book 3 in the series: Monster Blood. I remember this one being extremely popular. I think it was one of the few ones that got a direct sequel. Actually off the top of my head I think it got at least 2 sequels. Until then feel free to spread the word of this blog if you like it. There are all sorts of buttons on this thing so "like" it, "+1" it, leave a comment, subscribe to the rss, link your friends to it, all that good stuff. Or not. Just checking back and reading more would be cool too.