Part of Your Nightmare Existing Was A Suprise
Did you know Disney released a book series like Goosebumps but with their villains? Well, neither did I, but it’s called Disney Chills; there are six out and a seventh releasing this year, and because it seems like fun, we’ll be reviewing all of them over the next few months. Starting with Part of Your Nightmare, a book that takes the horrifying implications of Ursula’s powers and then goes even further with them.
Let’s get this out of the way: the Goosebumps comparison is not just because it’s a pulpy horror book for children, and it’s not just a marketing pitch. This series feels like a spiritual sibling to the long-running (and ongoing) series. What I’m saying is R. L. Stine could’ve written this. I’m saying it uses the same approach and pacing methods as a Goosebumps book.
And this has good and bad sides. The frequent cliffhangers at the end of chapters are an unfortunate holdover, as are artificially added (sometimes with little justification) “jump scares.” The worst aspect, though, is the plot goes full speed ahead no matter what. Characters make serious emotional leaps and ill-advised snap decisions. Yes, these are very young characters, so it’s not unbelievable or contrived for them to not think through their actions, but even as an adult reader who’s giving Part of Your Nightmare every benefit of the doubt, the pacing was off. It was like a top spinning faster and faster, desperate to reach the ending and not caring about the implications of things like magic being blatantly used around bystanders. I’d almost guess the author had a limited page count and (correctly) figured using a good chunk of that limit to ensure we could empathize with the main character was a good idea.
But also, the book maintains the good of children’s horror. The stuff that makes horror fans. Part of Your Nightmare’s plot actually gets morbid and has consequences. Bad things happen and are not fixed. There are scenes of genuine body horror and near-death situations. Multiple times it plays up the inherent creepiness of bodies of water at night and things shifting around deep below. It even has a near-apocalyptic scene towards the end that would’ve been phenomenal if allowed more time to affect the story.
There Are Some Disturbing Concepts In This Book
But by far, what impressed me the most is how creatively it uses its source material. Ursula is ultimately a wish-granter with evil intentions, and they could’ve done almost anything with her, but they chose a story that’s almost the reverse of The Little Mermaid. This is a mild spoiler, but the starting point is that Shelly, our main character, wants to be much better at swimming. So, she’s given gills. And a lot of Goosebumps (and children’s horror in general) uses being turned either partially or totally into something else as the big threat—it’s a great way to skirt around death or gore—but it works really well here conceptually.
Part of Your Nightmare differs in a few big ways from the classic Goosebumps formula, though. Mainly that it addresses the real-world concerns of kids. There are interviews online where R.L. talks about how he (at least not at that time) doesn’t include in Goosebumps things like divorce, drug use, or addiction. Basically, nothing that kids might come across in real life. Those books are escapism. Part of Your Nightmare focuses on such things as divorce, Shelly missing her father, her feelings of isolation and peer pressure, and hints at both parents’ extreme stress. I can’t speak about what it’s like to have divorced parents, and I don’t know how well the book depicts related things, but it was still notable how much attention Part of Your Nightmare gave those topics and the emotional effects of it.
Now, at this point, it would be pertinent to actually talk about the main character in depth. But I’ve basically covered most of what she’s like already. I do like that the prose keeps her aquatic interests at the forefront with how she describes things. It shows a commitment to a cohesive character. But, if you’ve read a nerdy child protagonist eager to prove herself to popular kids, you’ll find few surprises. The other characters, though, get some trope-breaking moments that genuinely elevate the story. There’s a much more three-dimensional “popular girl” character than I expected. She’s capable of being nice, empathetic, and fails to be vindictive when it would be narratively expected. Even her entourage gets their moments to prove themselves. There’s also a sort of love interest (the crush is bluntly acknowledged, and you get the impression it’s reciprocated) that gets a lot of fun and spooky scenes with the main character—and those scenes often contain some of the best dialog writing in the whole book.
Part of Your Nightmare Defies Some Usual Tropes
But that’s not the thing you’ll notice first. No… there’s something so glaring that probably even young readers will find it odd: the attempts at slang. I’m twenty-seven as I’m writing this, so I could be wrong, but I’m almost sure no one says “hashtag” in their everyday speech anymore—if they ever did. It happens so often and only gets increasingly annoying. The only saving grace is that it eventually stops happening.
If you can push past that, though, there’s a fun little story here. Part of Your Nightmare otherwise respects its intended young audience, respects their ability to infer information and get the moral(s) without overstating it, and respects the horror genre overall. It’s not scary, probably not even for young readers, but it has the same structure and sensibilities as a horror story. There’s a genuine feeling of tragedy, loss, and people being punished for decisions they couldn’t know the full ramifications of. If you’re a fan of Disney villains, Goosebumps, or want something you can read in, like, an hour, try Part of Your Nightmare.
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