Stay Out of the Basement by R.L. Stine
One of my kids loves Halloween – she starts celebrating in September – and, since she wanted to read some horror for children during October, we listened to a few of R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS books together. Each is a standalone short novel with a pretty hefty scare factor.
Stay Out of the Basement (1992) is the second novel in the series (which contains dozens of stories) and there’s no reason to read the first one first. It’s 144 pages long in print format and just over 2 ½ hours long in the scholastic audio version we listened to which is narrated by Elizabeth Morton.
Margaret and Casey’s father is a botanist who’s been fired from his university for some reason the kids don’t know. But that has not stopped his research program. Though, now that he doesn’t have access to his lab on campus, he’s been doing his experiments in the family’s basement. Whatever he’s working on, it must be really important because he’s ignoring the kids and even yelling at them when they interrupt his work. This is unusual because Dr. Brewer had always been an attentive and affectionate father in the past.
That’s not the only oddity the kids have recently noticed about their father. His skin and hair are starting to change, and so is his eating behavior. When they sneak into the basement and take a look at his work, they suspect they know why Dr. Brewer got fired, and they soon realize they are in a lot of danger.
Stay Out of the Basement is a spine-chilling story with plenty of action, a plot twist that most kids probably won’t see coming, and a few basic botany lessons. The basement setting is particularly creepy.
There are a few major weaknesses with this story including some inexplicable actions by the father and the kids. For example, the father is adamant that the children should not go into the basement but, when he leaves the house, he doesn’t bother to lock the basement door. The kids suspect there’s something dangerous down there so, on more than one occasion, when he leaves home, they go into the basement to see what their dad doesn’t want them to see. Later, we find out there is a window in the basement which the kids are able to see through and even crawl through (we learn about it when they need to escape). Why didn’t they just use this window to view the basement instead of going down there?
I appreciated the botany and genetics lessons but, if Stine is going to take the opportunity to teach kids something about biology, I propose that a bit of scientific ethics would have been appropriate here. (I would say more about that, but don’t want to give away any of the plot.)
Lastly, the Brewer kids can be pretty obnoxious, yelling at each other to shut up, calling each other names, Casey demanding that his sister make him a sandwich, etc. This gets old fast and my daughter and I thought it was especially annoying in the audio version. However, younger kids, who are the target audience for the GOOSEBUMPS stories, are likely to like it better than we did.