Tagline: “Play it again, hands!” (Once you read the book, this proves itself to be a pretty clever reference, one that will completely lost on the children of America.)
Premise: After wildly unlikeable protagonist Jerry finds a piano in his new house’s attic, his parents sign him up for piano lessons with Dr. Shreek of the Shreek School, perhaps hoping it will distract Jerry from his obnoxious habit of, well, being obnoxious. It works, except for the part where Jerry keeps insisting he’s hearing piano music and seeing a lady ghost playing it. His lessons begin normally enough as he meets Mr. Toggle, the Shreek School’s janitor and master of machinery (lots of homemade floor sweepers and the like) and studies with the Santa Claus-like Dr. Shreek. But there’s something weird about the school. Jerry’s friend Kim says that students go in and never come out, Jerry can’t seem to find his way around, and he’s never seen a soul besides Toggle and Shreek. Soon enough, Jerry learns that Toggle has a habit of cutting off students’ hands and programming said hands to play pianos with the aid of robots, lots and lots of gray-suited, head-bobbing robots. (Also, Dr. Shreek is a robot, but this is highly irrelevant.) Fortunately, Lady Ghost from Jerry’s house shows up just as Jerry’s hands are about to get taken. She and a legion of ghosts reclaim their hands, overtaking Mr. Toggle and carrying him into the woods, never to be seen again.
Creepiness factor: Fairly low. “Disembodied hands operated by robots” is a cool concept, but not exactly spine-tingling.
Signature Stine moment: The guy uses “dry as death” again! It didn’t make sense the first time, nor does it here, but it is preceded by another delightfully clunky simile.
“Her gray eyes narrowed in sadness. ‘This is my house,’ she said. Her voice was a dry whisper, as dry as dead leaves. As dry as death.”
Accuracy of title: Pretty accurate, actually. When Mr. Toggle takes away someone’s hands, it seems as though he must kill them. Otherwise, why would Lady Ghosts and all the ghosts she awakens be dead? Even if the deaths were unrelated, Piano Lessons Can Mean You Getting Your Hands Cut Off By An Amoral Mechanical Genius is a much clunkier title than what they came up with.
Moral of the story: I’m having trouble seeing a moral here. I guess I’ll go with this: if you hear scary stories about your music school, you should probably quit piano lessons, as those stories are most likely 100% true.
Overall rating: Would’ve been a 5.5, but I bumped it up a number for one page and one page alone. How hard did I laugh at this page? So hard. My laughter could be accurately described as uproarious. This reminds me of everything I love about Goosebumps, the sheer absurdity and silliness and eerie feel of it all. Full marks, Sir Stine. Full marks. Or, you know, 6.5/10.