This is my second time reading this novel and I have to say I like it a little less on the second pass. Lois Duncan is one of my favorite young adult authors, and the story is still very gripping and suspenseful – but some of the writing was a little clunky in places. Words were repeated awkwardly within the same sentences, details were repeated over and over again (Helen’s been dating Barry for two years, the fact that the four teens made a pact), and stories are told multiple times from different characters. I also felt the ending was a bit rushed and nonsensical – did the villain actually think he/she was going to get away with it? So many loose ends are left that the police would find out the bad guy’s identity in no time. I also wish there was an epilogue so I could find out what happened to the kids after the final confrontation.
Julie and Ray are the only likable characters as they are the only ones who really seem to feel badly about what happened. Julie’s personality changed completely, as she cut social ties, dropped from the clubs and cheering squad, and began hitting the books like crazy. The guilt has weighed heavily on her both physically and emotionally. It appears to have affected Ray strongly as well. Helen seems to only care about herself, her relationship with Barry and her looks. She is very self-centered and despite being a beauty queen, she has very low self-esteem. She also can’t see Barry for what he is, a two-timing jerk who is willing to put her life and the lives of Ray and Julie in jeopardy to cover his own hide. He uses her as a showpiece because he can claim he’s dating a local celebrity.
There are a few secondary characters as well, such as Elsa, Helen’s sister, who is described as fat, dumpy and sullen – her appearance making people dislike her. (Ray even thinks this when he first meets her, “Never had someone’s appearance made him dislike them before.” Way to dump on the heavy-set people, Duncan…) Elsa’s attitude is what bothered me – she seems to hate her little sister and take pleasure in Helen’s every mistake, although this is somewhat understandable because it’s clear Helen is the favorite daughter. There’s a scene in Helen’s family home where her mother tells Elsa not to eat any more potatoes because she doesn’t need to gain any more weight. That’s an awful thing to say to your daughter! No wonder Elsa’s attitude is so negative and depressing!
Mrs. Cox, Barry’s mother, made me want to reach into the book and punch her out. She’s one of those controlling mothers who think no one is good enough for their boy. When a distraught Helen tries to visit Barry in the hospital, Mrs. Cox is unreasonably mean to her and acts like she’s nothing. She is so domineering she actually wants her son to have a life-long injury so she can keep him by her side for the rest of her life.
The villain in the novel is NOT the fisherman – so it bugs me a lot that his image is on the cover of the book. I know the publishers are trying to lure fans of the film to read the book, but these fans will be sorely disappointed. This isn’t a novelized slasher, it’s a story of suspense and mystery. The villain in the novel is a lot more sympathetic than the fisherman, having a very good reason for wanting revenge.
Overall, this is a very different story from the one told in the film. If you’re a fan of the films, you’ll probably be disappointed. It is a decently written suspense/mystery novel, if a bit dated, and a quick, yet enjoyable read despite its flaws.