Tagline: “He walks. He stalks…”
Premise: 12-year-old (surprise!) twin sisters Kris and Lindy discover an old ventriloquist’s dummy in a dumpster. Lindy keeps him and becomes a neighborhood sensation with her new routine. Jealous, Kris gets a dummy of her own. Jealous of that, Lindy pulls pranks on Kris to convince her sister that the dummy is both sentient and evil. The joke’s on both Kris and Lindy when it turns out that, yeah, the dummy is sentient and evil and now it’s on them to destroy it, which becomes harder after Kris reads some nonsense words on a piece of paper in the dummy’s pocket that enact some kind of enslavement curse. (Pretty crazy!) Here’s the best part: after the evil dummy is literally steamrolled and destroyed, the other dummy, completely neutral to this point, says to Kris, “Hey, slave, is that other guy gone? I thought he’d never leave!” I sense a sequel coming on!
Creepiness factor: Oh, so high in comparison to everything that comes before it. The dummies have a serious uncanny valley feel going on with partial movement of their facial features and their tendency to get mistaken for small children. And the multiple misdirections don’t come off as contrivances so much as genuinely surprising twists.
Signature Stine moment: This book was absent the usual clunky similes and faux-profound sentence fragments, so I had a lot of trouble finding a signature moment. And then I saw this:
“I’m never going to sleep again, she thought.” (Note: this book was back to third-person narration since there were two protagonists. Fair, but I missed first-person, which is back for The Girl Who Cried Monster.)
These 12-year-olds are the most insomnia-ridden bunch of tweens I’ve ever come across. I don’t think there’s been a single title so far that didn’t include at least one sleepless night caused by what can only be described as generalized anxiety disorder, or at least symptoms of such a disorder. Now, I remember being 12, and I remember being a remarkably neurotic 12-year-old, but I can’t recall a single night of restlessness. But when Kris can’t sleep due to her own mind, and maybe a dummy or a twin sister, playing tricks on her, that just feels normal in Goosebumps Land.
Accuracy of title: It’s not entirely accurate; the wacky antics of Mr. Wood and his successor Slappy last much longer than a single night, as proven by the multiple sequels that follow Night of the Living Dummy. However, I’m giving this title a free pass, because making a reference that will doubtless be completely lost on your intended audience is a flatly wonderful idea.
Moral of the story: If your sister displays a talent for ventriloquism, just let her have her moment and go back to your junk jewelry collection. Also, for the love of all things holy, if you find a piece of paper in your pawn shop dummy’s shirt pocket, don’t read the words on it out loud. There is no possible benefit in this.
Overall rating: 8.5/10. Solid premise, fine execution, and a few truly eerie moments. I didn’t even get into the rancid green liquid spewing from Mr. Wood’s mouth or the way Mr. Wood insults a heavyset lady to great effect. If you’re going to read one Goosebumps book (and how could you possibly stop at one?), it should probably be Night of the Living Dummy.