Be Careful What You Wish Fur Might Just Scare A Child
Be Careful What You Wish Fur may have the worst pun of a title yet, but it proves that the Disney Chills books continue to improve as stories. The societal commentary from the first book combines with the physical threats of the second and even uses the focused structure of the third. The result is so close to YA fare, like Rules for Vanishing or Horrid, that where it doesn’t reach that height feels even more disappointing, but where it works is almost triumphant.
But let’s start at the beginning. Our newest sub-genre explored is the “cursed object” story—another classic of children’s horror. While the books all involve some magic item, Be Careful What You Wish Fur barely involves the core villain’s connection to it, focusing instead on the effects of Cruella’s coat, both good and bad. It honestly couldn’t help but remind me of the perennial Goosebumps villain Slappy (though without a lot of the problematic elements from a 90s book), with the coat having an agenda, being hard to get rid of, and being actively harmful.
This makes it almost ironic that despite having the title Be Careful What You Wish Fur, it’s less of a classic wish-gone-wrong than Second Star to the Fright. Cruella’s coat solves a problem, but its downsides are just another aspect of it, not an unintended outcome, trick, or sudden betrayal. It’s simply unknown negative qualities. But as a metaphor for the book’s life-lesson messaging, it still explores getting what you want without knowing what you asked for.
This brings us to said social commentary. Be Careful What You Wish Fur is about a girl named Delia and how social media affects her. Springboarding off themes of peer pressure present in every book, this one addresses body image issues, cyberbullying, an obsession with status, “fake friends,” and even some aspects of how the desire for clout and attention can bring out toxicity in people. Because of certain body horror scenes, you could even read this book as a commentary on how social media can make people think of themselves as objects. And obviously, it’s exceedingly important to talk to children about those dangers and educate them on the pitfalls of the online world, but I can’t say Be Careful What You Wish Fur uses the ideas particularly well in the story. Granted, I’m a twenty-seven-year-old, so maybe this book depicts all-too-real experiences for the modern middle-school student, but it seems a rather heavy-handed portrayal. The fictional social media, PicPerfect, is exclusively designed around selfies, and nearly every child character’s social standing is decided by their ranking in the system. It’s almost presented like a hidden dystopia, effortlessly altering the lives of school children.
The Social Media Commentary Might Be Overdone
And where this disconnect between messaging and presentation particularly stands out is when our second main shows up. A similar thing happened in Fiends on the Other Side I failed to mention in that review: the main character has a person decide to be their friend, no matter what, with almost no prompting, and serves as a counterpoint to the social pressures. In Fiends, it was a lesson about finding things to be thankful for. In Fur, a boy who actively rejects social media picks Delia as a friend. And while disinterest in that app is certainly believable as a character trait, by the time we discover he likes vinyl records, thrift shopping, and vaguely evokes the stereotype of a hipster, the book’s lesson was overly glaring.
It’s not all like that, though. Where the book shines regarding realism is the same as the other books: the familial connections and economic situations. This time we’ve got an overworked single mom who has an implied very messy past relationship with Delia’s father and is constantly shown working hard to support her daughter. Delia’s conflicts with her mom were thus poignant and had some real emotional weight to them. A book for adults could’ve easily expanded these conflicts into large subplots. Looping back to the social media stuff, having classism play a part in it—popularity on the app seems partially determined by what clothes people can afford—was an impactful choice and made Delia’s bullying even more upsetting. I don’t have experience with fast fashion, designer clothes, or how the related businesses run, but this version of it works well thematically, informs other plot points, and adds to the sense of everything connecting logically. There’s real pressure building on all sides of Delia’s life, and most of it feels emotionally true. It’s layered worldbuilding for a kid’s book.
The horror is also even better than before. Sure, there’s at least one annoying “it was all a dream” moment, but this one doesn’t rely on the unmotivated scares of Part of Your Nightmare and is the closest Disney Chills has gotten to being genuinely frightening. I won’t spoil the big horror moments, of which there’s more than one, but the coat can choke and kill its wearers. There’s a scene that mentions multiple disappearances tied to this coat. Horror stories that involve one bad deed (stealing in this case) that causes cascading worse things to happen that can’t easily be stopped is one of my favorite setups, and Be Careful What You Wish Fur utilizes it well.
Be Careful What You Wish Fur Reads Like Tragedy
Now, I have complaints. Slang, especially teenager slang, is difficult to manage in writing, and there are odd lines of dialog sprinkled throughout the book. But considering Be Careful What You Wish Fur is about social media, it felt more organic than similar dialog in Part of Your Nightmare. But my main issue with the whole book now is pacing. Because, for much of the story, the pacing is wonderful. Sure, there’s repetition of motivation cluttering the prose, but the plot keeps up its momentum. Once again, it’s obvious what the horror ending will be early on via unsubtle foreshadowing, but, once again, that at least allows a sense of dread to build. But the ending is so absolutely, ridiculously rushed that it ruins that dread, robs the body horror of its impact, and almost ends up making an ostensibly tense moment comedic with its abruptness. It read like the book ran out of pages. So much is assumed to happen off-screen, some of the arguably most disturbing parts, and so much drama is simply undepicted. It’s a payoff with no bite. The book would’ve been better with maybe ten to twenty more pages to simply tone set, show emotions, and play up the horror. At least the implications are strong enough that a reader could speculate and imagine how Delia’s friends and family felt about it.
But, even with that said, even with a weakened ending, Be Careful What You Wish Fur is a solid entry in Disney Chills. You don’t even need to know who Cruella is to enjoy this one. The story has layers, multiple characters with strong personalities, and the social commentary is complex enough to keep an adult reader invested. With the now basically proven trajectory of these books, I’m genuinely excited to see what the next one will be like.
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