Oh, Point Horror! Oh, the memories! All those teenage years spend reading Point Horrors under the covers, when I was supposed to be sleeping – and telling my mum in the morning that I just couldn’t get to sleep, to explain away my yawns and the dark circles under my eyes. Having to read the first few pages of the next chapter before I dared to turn the light off, just to get past the scary cliffhanger that each chapter ended on and reassure myself that the plucky heroine was still ok. Stubbornly refusing to give up my Point Horrors even after my mum had vainly tried to get me interested in proper, grown-up horror – she’d never have said, as she was never one to discourage any kind of reading, but I knew she disapproved of Point Horror for being trivial and juvenile. Which, of course, made me love them all the more.
When I saw a shelf full of Point Horrors at the book swap at the White Swan on World Book Night, I couldn’t resist. After browsing the shelves for a while, I picked up Twins – one I had particularly strong memories of. I assume this one appealed to me when I was a teenager, enough so that it was the only one on the shelf at the Swan that I could actually remember some of the plot of, because I am a twin myself. Not identical of course – and as far as I know, my twin is not evil – but still, stuff about twins always grabs my attention.
Anyway, on with the book. WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.
Mary Lee and Madrigal are twins, completely alike in every way – or so Mary Lee believes. When their parents announce that they are separating the twins, and Mary Lee is to be sent off to boarding school while Madrigal stays home, Mary Lee is devastated. Madrigal, however, is not.
Mary Lee goes about her unhappy time at boarding school. When Madrigal comes to visit, Mary Lee is shocked to find that her sister has not been similarly moping and unhappy. Madrigal is the life and soul of the party and all of the girls at boarding school – who have given up on Mary Lee as cold, unfriendly and withdrawn – instantly love her.
Mary Lee is feeling alone and unloved, as her beloved twin ignores her in favour of all of the girls at school, who have almost forgotten she exists. The girls all go out together for a ski trip, and Madrigal, for some inexplicable reason, convinces Mary Lee to switch ski suits with her so they can pretend to be each other. Desperate for a chance to be one of the popular girls, Mary Lee agrees. She sets of for the ski slopes with all of Madrigal’s new friends, watching Madrigal get into a ski lift alone, as no one wants to be seen with poor, unpopular Mary Lee.
Suddenly, disaster strikes! The ski lift Madrigal, disguised as Mary Lee, was sat in breaks, and Madrigal falls to her death. Still believing that she is Madrigal, the girls cart Mary Lee off to the hospital, as she is in shock from witnessing her sister’s death. Mary Lee tries a few times to tell them who she is, but they all assume she’s just asking about her sister. Mary Lee gradually comes to a decision – as she was the unpopular one, the one no one loved and no one will miss, even her parents who shipped her off to boarding school but kept her twin at home, she decides that she will not tell them that the beloved Madrigal was the one who died.
Shortly after arriving back home however, Mary Lee makes a shocking discovery. Her twin wasn’t exactly like her at all – she was evil! Not just evil, mind you, but eeeevil! All her schoolmates are initially sympathetic towards her, but Mary Lee quickly realised that it isn’t friendliness, they’re just afraid of Madrigal. Madrigal and her new boyfriend, the mysterious (and eeeevil) Jon Pear (who is always referred to like that – never Jon, always Jon Pear) have been doing something awful to the kids at school. Jon Pear refers to this as “our game”, but Mary Lee is at a loss for what this might mean.
Mary Lee has a few encounters with an old friend Scarlett, and her brother Van – whom Mary Lee always had a crush on, and it turns out secretly loved her too all along! – who now apparently despise her, thinking that she is Madrigal. Jon Pear makes reference to Madrigal’s trip to the boarding school to “off” her twin, and congratulates her on how well it went. Mary Lee starts to have the sneaking suspicion that Madrigal wasn’t quite the sister she thought she was…
Jon Pear asks Mary Lee to pick a target for their next “game”, and she plays along, wanting to see what it is that her sister got mixed up in. Jon Pear picks up a girl from their school, flirts with her and tells her they’re going to a party, then the three of them drive off to The City. Once in The City, Jon Pear stops the car in a dangerous neighbourhood, tells the girl to get out so she can get in the front with them, then locks the doors and leaves the girl panicking on the streets.
What’s that? Doesn’t sound so bad, you say? Oh, I forgot to mention, it’s an eeeevil city, as the text is at pains to point out:
It was a place where garbage was permanent and graffiti was vicious. The homeless died in pain, and the drug dealers prowled like packs of animals looking for victims…Shadows moved of their own accord, and fallen trash crawled with rats.
Jon Pear explains that he never directly hurts anyone, he never does anything he can be arrested for, he just likes to watch people while bad things happen to them. He reminds her of a time that he and Madrigal watched a man drown, cheerily waving so that he’d know they could have helped him but didn’t. Mary Lee is of course horrified by this, and vows to stop him any way she can.
To cut a long story short: Mary Lee reveals to the people at school who she really is, and stands up to Jon Pear, who threatens to destroy her. She also tells her parents which twin she really is, but it turns out they already knew – they just thought she was pretending to be her twin out of grief, and weren’t sure how to deal with it. They also tell her that yes, Madrigal was eeeevil, and she’d always hated Mary Lee – which was why they’d sent Mary Lee away to keep her safe, and kept Madrigal at home to keep an eye on her. Jon Pear shows up at the town’s winter fair to wreak havoc in some unspecified way, but is attacked by an angry mob who are sick of the way he’s been terrorising the school kids by exposing them to inner-city eeeevil. Mary Lee tries to stop them, but is pushed back. He ends up dead under the ice, but Mary Lee never knows whether the angry mob actually killed him or just allowed him to die – thereby making them OMG JUST THE SAME AS JON PEAR – because she’s busy saving a small child from drowning at the time. She concludes that in the end she defeated Jon Pear, because she was willing to save him, so he didn’t succeed in corrupting her.
*Deep breath* So. Despite the slight moments of snark above, I did genuinely enjoy reading this again. I’d remembered a few bits of it quite clearly, but forgotten most of the overarching story, so it was good to read and rediscover. That said, I have to get this out of the way here: the writing is objectively terrible. Seriously. It is roughly 90% adjectives, and the rest is some of the most over-the-top, melodramatic nonsense I can remember reading. There’s a whole chapter in which Mary Lee is coming to terms with the death of her twin, that I can remember reducing me to floods of tears when I was a teenager – now, I just find it really overblown and tacky.
But really, I wasn’t expecting great writing from this – that’s not what I read these books for back then, so it shouldn’t be something I’m looking for now! What I’m really interested in here is the story – does it stand up to my memories?
Well, yes and no. It’s certainly a page turner – I started reading it last night, and finished it on the train this morning. Although the action is a little slow at times (and in this, I think I remember this book is actually quite different to most of the Point Horrors – they’re generally quite high on action, and low on introspection), there are enough mysteries and questions raised to keep you reading.
My main problem with the book is Mary Lee. I remember feeling very sympathetic towards her when I read this as a teenager, but I don’t remember her being so… drippy. I actually started thinking that it would have been a much more interesting book if it started out exactly the same, but around the time of the ski lift accident it turned out that Mary Lee was the eeeevil one – that she was so jealous of her twin she caused her death, and proceeded to take over her life.
But no – what we get is dull little Mary Lee, and her unbelievable lack of awareness about the sister who’s apparently loathed her since they were toddlers. This being a teen book, it has a Message: be your own person rather than following in someone else’s shadow, and allowing people to get hurt is just as evil as hurting them yourself. Not a bad Message, as they go, but would have been a bit more palatable if it didn’t come from sanctimonious Mary Lee, who we never see in any danger of actually becoming eeeevil herself.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this re-read. On the one hand, it was an incredible exercise in nostalgia. Although I’d forgotten most of the plot, I was surprised to see how much of it I did remember – mostly odd isolated moments, like when Mary Lee first meets Jon Pear, and he takes a tear from her eye and puts it in a vial around his neck. Probably doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an incredibly creepy moment. Reading this book, and trying to do so through the eyes of my 13-year-old self, I can see why it appealed to me then.
On the other hand, I just can’t read books like this now without my critical hat on. I’m trying to just enjoy the nostalgia-fest, but all the while my inner critic is screaming at me that the writing is clumsy, the characters are thin and the plot is contrived. I’m not sure I’ll re-read any more Point Horrors. It was a nice little trip down memory lane, but I think I’d prefer to leave these books, half-remembered but loved, in my memory where they belong.