Tagline: “He’s out to stop the show…for good!”
Premise: Brooke and her best friend Zeke are thrilled when they’re cast in the two lead roles of The Phantom, their school play. The play hasn’t been performed in decades since last time around, a horrible accident killed the boy playing the Phantom. In fact, it’s rumored that the Phantom still haunts the halls of their school, living below the stage’s trapdoor. Teacher Ms. Walker and her cast decide to disregard this fact until Brooke, Zeke, and new student Brian begin seeing threatening messages in spiky red paint and cross paths with Emile, the creepy self-proclaimed night janitor–and prime Phantom suspect. Because Brooke, Zeke, and Brian keep getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ms. Walker assumes one of them must be responsible for the messages until it’s discovered that Emile is the source of the words “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME” appearing around the auditorium. Unfortunately, this also means that Emile’s not their Phantom and simply a homeless man taking up residence beneath the stage. So who’s the Phantom, then? And how will they catch him? (And why do they need to? But that’s off the point.) All their questions are answered on opening night, when the real Phantom shows up onstage, telling his tragic story before disappearing forever. The play is a hit and Brooke and Zeke are headed to the cast party when they discover an old school yearbook. It features a picture of the play cast and identifies their phantom: a young boy named Brian.
Creepiness factor: This one’s not about scaring, it’s about creating suspense, and it does so terrifically.
Signature Stine moment: One of the reasons this book is so effective is because it’s mostly devoid of clunky similes and obnoxious foreshadowing.
The operative word there is “mostly.”
“The half-moon was covered by a sheet of gray mist. The mist looked like a ghostly figure floating over the moon.”
And I think we’re done here.
Accuracy of title: Perfect, and clever. For once, a pop cultural reference won’t get lost on the young audience, because literally everyone in the free world has heard of The Phantom of the Opera, from infants on up. (This is not an exaggeration. (Yes, it is.))
Moral of the story: The obvious suspect isn’t always the guilty party, so look to the second most obvious suspect.
Overall rating: 9/10. If Welcome to HorrorLand is a near-perfect Goosebumps book (and, according to me, it is), then so is this one. One is as compelling as the other, and both are simply much more fun than your average Goosebumps title. This book was my favorite as a child, and if I hadn’t read Welcome to HorrorLand this year, it still would be. For now, let’s call it a tie.