In which felonies aren't punished, babies take public transportation with no trouble, and existential dread pervades a book for children.
I’m a bookish nerd on a mission. I’m rereading the books of my ‘90s childhood: The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street, and writing a summary and review. I’m Amy A. Cowan and this is Rereading My Childhood - The Podcast.
Rereading My Childhood is written by me, Amy A. Cowan. For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written or subscribe to the Substack, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcast app. For more information about me, visit AmyACowan.com.
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Links to Amy’s Social Media and About: http://AmyACowan.com
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Neon Laser Horizon by Kevin MacLeod
If you could regress to a previous age but still retain all your knowledge, what would you do? Buy up Apple stock before it skyrocketed with the return of Steve Jobs? Save Britney Spears from her exploitative conservatorship? Warn everyone about the pandemic?
You can have as many grand ideas as vast and deep as a certain canyon, but the truth is that unless you’re literally Bill Clinton, you wouldn’t do anything earth shattering. Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. I was eleven. How the hell is an eleven-year-old going to buy stock? And there was no way I could convince my stock-less family to buy a stock that, according to every source at the time, was circling the drain. And about Britney Spears, what was I going to do? Britney Spears doesn’t know me. And as for the pandemic, disease experts were warning us about a pandemic for years and the Orange Menace still gutted the organization responsible for pandemic management right when we needed it the most.
Truthfully, you would try to change something personal. You wouldn’t date that boy with a motorcycle and a tongue piercing. You would make that life-changing move to Sydney instead of putting it off until you couldn’t afford it anymore. You would major in English instead.
In this week’s book, our protagonist has an opportunity to rectify mistakes in his past, but it may be too late to actually fix anything as an existential threat looms over this book. Get ready to contemplate your existence.
This is Rereading My Childhood - Goosebumps: The Cuckoo Clock of Doom by R. L. Stine.
Michael hates his little sister, Tara. She’s always playing pranks and getting him into trouble. The Stine Prank-o-Meter starts at “howling outside windows” and ends at “murder.” We’ll see where she falls, but I will tell you right now that one of her “pranks” is definitely a felony of some kind.
Anyways, their father bought a Cuckoo/Grandfather clock. The contraption requires a small fleet of workers to move it, and every hour a yellow bird pops out and squawks out the time. After years of seeing the clock in the window of an antique store, and years of bargaining, Michael’s father finally got it for a song. There’s a flaw in the clock, but even after the kids search the cabinet for scratches and dents, they can’t find it. And the clock accurately relays the time, so the flaw must be incredibly minor. But you know how collectors are. One scratch or missing TY tag and suddenly your understuffed toy is worthless. Yes, that’s the only possible reason.
Besides telling the time, the clock also displays the year, but it only goes to 2000. It either needs a patch like every operating system in 1999, or the clock couldn’t live in a without Beanie Babies. (The owner of Beanie Babies said that he would stop making them in 2000. People were going to retire on that Princess Diana Bear, dammit. However, it was all a publicity stunt and now I can find Beanie Babies at 7-11 between the Monster Energy Drinks and the taquitos of questionable origin.)
Before the day is over, Tara tricks Michael into stepping on gum, smashes his foot, and starts a fight over the family encyclopedia set. However, none of these things are as bad as Tara’s previous exploits.
Michael’s parents threw him a party for his twelfth birthday. They even got him a brand new bike. Before Michael can ride it, Tara climbs on it, tumbles to the floor, and scratches the bike. The parents don’t admonish Tara for tying to mount something that she had no business climbing on. They admonish Michael for being more concerned about the giant gash on his new bike than his sister falling a foot due to her own recklessness. That’s not all. During the birthday party, Tara trips Michael as he’s carrying the cake, ruining his cake and destroying the last thread of dignity he had in front of his crush, Mona. Granted, his dignity was already in dire straits.
A week before, Michael was in a play with Mona. She was on her way over to Michael’s house so they could rehearse. Tara is engaged in some light animal abuse with the family dog while Michael is trying to get his frog costume on. He is in his underwear as he’s trying to get the frog costume zipped. Mona arrives and Tara leads her straight to Michael’s door. She flings open the door and reveals Michael in a vulnerable position. Tara probably committed a felony, but, once again, the parents don’t do anything.
And finally, before that, after basketball practice, one of the other players, a boy with an enlarged pituitary gland, is missing his favorite hat. The boy finds the hat in Michael’s bag. Guess who put it there? The boy pounds Michael so much that his “clothes don’t fit too well.” When Michael doesn’t want to talk to his sister because she is the reason he looks like his just solved The Lament Configuration, he slams the door in her face. His parents punish him for slamming a door.
Back in the present, the cuckoo clock is a tempting tool for revenge.
The yellow bird popped out. I grabbed it in mid-cuckoo. It made short, strangling noises.
I twisted its head around, so it faced backwards. It looked really funny that way.
It finished out its twelve cuckoos, facing the wrong way.
I laughed to myself. When Dad saw it, he’d to ballistic!
The cuckoo slid back into its little window, still facing backwards.
This is going to drive Dad insane! I thought wickedly.
He’ll be furious at Tara. He’ll explode like a volcano.
Michael’s father does not go Captain Magma on the kids. Instead, Michael wakes up and it’s his birthday!
That’s right - like Marty McFly before him, Michael went back in time. Does he make out with his hot mother? Or at least change his birthday so it goes smoother? He does neither of these things because he’s still confused and his birthday does not change.
The next morning, he still doesn’t figure out what’s going on, but he knows it has something to do with the cuckoo clock. Downstairs in the den, the previous location of the clock, he finds a big pile of nothing. Michael’s father hasn’t purchased the clock yet. In fact, it’s not a week before his birthday - it’s the day Tara put herself on some kind of a watch list.
Michael attempts to prevent the embarrassing situation, but it’s no use. Then he travels to the day Tara implicated him in the theft. Resigned to his fate, he takes his beating. The next morning he goes to school, but he doesn’t recognize anyone in his class. He’s regressed a full grade, which means that in just a few days, he will cease to exist.
The existential threat of unbirth paralyzes me almost every night, but it prompts a seven-year-old Michael to get on a bus and venture to the antique store. Unfortunately, the store is closed for the holiday. Michael doesn’t know how old he’s going to be tomorrow, or if he’ll even exist, so he has to take action now. He picks up a brick, raises it over his head, and someone cock blocks his impending vandalism.
It’s his father, and he takes Michael home.
Now Michael is four-years-old and doesn’t have the same mobility that can get him to the antique store. He does have the mental capacity to recognize his preschool cohort’s annoying behavior. Then he breaks his arm.
He’s suddenly a baby. It’s his last chance. He needs to get to the cuckoo clock. His parents take him for a walk and they happen to pass by the antique store. With his limited power, he gets his parents to enter. While they are engaged in some light banter with the owner, Michael crawls away, finds the cuckoo clock, and waits for it to chime. Just as his parents realize he’s wandered away, the clock begins to chime and the cuckoo clock, with its backwards head, shoots out. He turns the head around and moves the year dial to the year he turned twelve.
A flash of light and he’s standing in the garage in front of a new bike. He asks were Tara is, but his parents have no idea who’s he’s talking about. Her bedroom is just a regular room, not one for a little girl who’s fate is to be on a list of female serial killers.
Michael’s birthday happens without any sibling interference. The cuckoo clock arrives, and, like before, Michael’s father got a great deal on it because of a flaw. Michael scans through the dates. 1988 is missing. The flaw. And 1988 is the year that Tara was born.
This book takes the popular wish of doing your life over and cranks up the crime and dread. Frankly, it’s a bit too much for me. I have enough fear about my existence without Stine coming in to compound that fear with a yellow, mechanical bird and felonies.
That being said, the book itself is pretty good. Tara is an onerous character whose sole existence is to annoy the main character. Normally, that would be problematic. Who wants a villain who is nothing but evil? But it works here, especially with the twist ending. If she had an ounce of likable behavior, the ending would be cruel. Since she’s okay with thievery, assault, and exploitation, maybe the world is better off without her chaos.
For right now, I’m going to be thankful for my existence and the existence of my loved ones. And I’m going to tell my sister that I’m happy that while we had our squabbles, she never destroyed my college prospects. I did that on my own. Now I’m off to find those Beanie Babies that we got from McDonald’s. Move over old Pokemon cards. Our parents said that Pokemon was just a fad. Beanie Babies are going to pay off in a big way.