Goosebumps Rewind is a feature where we take a look back at the best (and worst) of the R.L. Stine-created youth fiction series. In the inaugural installment, we will be looking back on ‘Revenge R Us” and making a case as to why it’s easily the worst installment in the Goosebumps cannon.
If you grew up in the 90s, there’s a good chance you read Goosebumps by R.L. Stine. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid and the books have never lost their charm.
Goosebumps has had multiple spin-offs since launching in 1992. We’ve gotten a TV series, two movies, a stage show, games, graphic novels, and a comic book series. There’s a lot to cover and many different options for a person’s potential favorite. People still debate over the best book, though it depends if you’re asking about the original series or the later spin-offs.
When Goosebumps books were good, they were really good like “Ghost Camp” and “The Haunted School.” However, when a Goosebumps book was bad, it had the potential to be really bad.
There’s a general consensus amongst the series’ fandom regarding some of the worst titles produced by Stine. If you ask a fan, they’ll likely mention these among the worst:
- “Legend of the Lost Legend”
- “My Best Friend Is Invisible”
- “Go Eat Worms”
- “Say Cheese and Die – Again”
- Any of the “Monster Blood” entries
Most agree the worst Goosebumps book of all time is “Chicken Chicken,” the 53rd title in the original run. Troy Steele of “Blogger Beware” ranked “Chicken Chicken” #0 among the ten worst original books.
I agree “Chicken Chicken” is awful. Yet, I would argue that it’s not the worst in the series. I’d say that honor belongs to “Revenge R Us,” the 7th book in the Goosebumps 2000 line.
Any avid reader of R.L. Stine’s work will quickly get an idea of the tropes Stine uses over and over. You’ve got useless parents and oblivious adults, friends who treat each other like garbage, horribly spoiled or obnoxious siblings, Insufferable protagonists that fail to endear themselves to the readers, and there’s——cliffhanger chapter endings. Which are immediately disproven on the next page. Let’s not forget the legendary nonsensical twist endings that came out of nowhere.
“Chicken Chicken” and “Revenge R Us” both feature quite a bit of everything listed above. But “Revenge R Us” takes it further with actual sexual harassment.
“Chicken Chicken” is about siblings cursed by a witch when they accidentally spill her groceries and fail to apologize. When the witch utters the titular phrase, the siblings’ bodies slowly and painfully metamorphose into chickens.
“Revenge R Us” follows a young girl with a teenage brother who treats her like garbage. Seeing an ad for the titular business, the lead character hopes to finally knock her brother down a peg. Yet every revenge attempt goes wrong.
“Chicken Chicken’s” biggest problems are as follows:
- Crystal the protagonist’s genuine innocence of wrongdoing
- The prolonged and rather painful transformation Crystal goes through alongside her brother Cole’s is disproportionate
- Vanessa the witch’s blatant hypocrisy, thinking she had to punish Crystal and Cole for their bad manners when she herself was rude to them
- The almost obnoxious twist ending where Vanessa curses the kids by saying “Pig Pig”
It feels like R.L. Stine was trying to do a children’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Thinner or an E.C. Comics’ style horror tale. Unfortunately, Stine fails at both and never properly justifies the torture and humiliation the children endure. Nor does he provide a believable motivation for his villain.
So how does “Revenge R Us” top all that?
Our main character Wade is a young girl who is abused and belittled by her teenage brother Micah. Attempts to get revenge on Micah through Revenge R Us keep backfiring on Wade. At the very end when it looks like Wade has finally avenged herself, she’s suddenly turned into a frog like Micah.
Yes, that’s literally the end.
Similar to “Chicken Chicken’s” Crystal, the torment Wade suffers goes beyond enjoyable because she doesn’t deserve Micah’s abuse. Rather than being an evil witch, Micah’s a loathsome human dedicated to destroying Wade’s life because he can. Vanessa had an excuse (flimsy as it is) for what she did to Crystal. Micah just wants Wade to suffer for his own gratification.
While horrible siblings are the norm for Goosebumps, it’s not a good fit when said sibling is practically an adult. Micah has been compared to Tara Webster, the sociopathic little sister of “Cuckoo Clock of Doom.” Though Tara is punished for her behavior by being erased from time, Micah’s eventual comeuppance ends up getting nullified.
Even then, Micah is leagues worse than Tara because Tara never sexually abused her older brother. Micah’s harassment includes taking pictures of Wade asleep in her underwear, and trying to rip Wade’s pants off in front of her friends. The age difference alone makes this unsettling, to the point where Micah reads a lot like a child molester.
Also unsettling is that way that Wade is treated when the novel seems to imply Wade could be a transgender girl. Admittedly Stine may not have intended to include these implications but they’re hard to ignore in this context.
Aside from her traditionally male name, there is also the fact that Wade’s most prominent moments of humiliation relate to her underwear. Whether through inappropriate photos or by way of Micah violently trying to rip her clothes off. He explicitly focuses on humiliating Wade in front of Steve Wilson, the boy she likes. Steve was there when Micah tried to rip off Wade’s pants. It’s almost as if Micah is bullying his transgender sister by attempting to expose her body and shame her for liking a boy.
As it stands, “Revenge R Us” isn’t a horror story. It’s a tale of child abuse that could also be a tale of a transgender girl persecuted by her older brother. Then the young woman is punished by the narrative for fighting back. In regards to “Chicken Chicken,” readers could at least understand that the antagonist is magical and couldn’t exist in real life. The villain in “Revenge R Us” on the other hand is grotesquely realistic anyone from an abusive or transphobic family.
I’m at the point where I hope this book never receives a follow-up. Or if it does receive a follow-up that it deals with all the transphobic subtext in a proper manner.