Before cell phones, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for a friend to call on the family phone and say to you, “Turn on channel eight.” And then you’d just sit there and watch the X-Games together until your father wants to use the phone and frankly, you’ve been on the phone for long enough, young lady, and there are other members of the house who need to use it.
That is all to say that I didn’t spend my phone time pranking. By the time I was a major phone user, caller ID was too prevalent to engage in phone-based pranks. Eventually, call phones became ubiquitous, but I still didn’t feel the need to prank and, besides, caller id came with the phone, right next to Snake.
Caller ID was clearly not a thing in my latest Fear Street book review. The girls in The Wrong Number spend their night calling their classmates and “pranking” them, although the pranks are more breathy talking than “Is your refrigerator running?” Either way, murder happens because that’s what the cover promises.
Immediately, we get a Fear Street trope: a chapter from the perspective of a nameless murderer. This time, the nameless one is someone who has screwed up in the past, but this time, they’re planning a nasty surprise for another nameless someone. After two pages of that, we finally get to meet our protagonists.
Their names are Deena and Jade and, like many Stine BFFs, they are opposites while somehow still being the same. Deena is shy and blonde. Jade is outgoing and brunette. They are both skinny white girls from the suburbs. How do I know they’re skinny? They make fun of the fact that the two fat kids in school are dating each other. Cool start. Wanna go after the poor kid next?
Anyway, Deena just got a brand new phone with all these buttons and Jade calls the next-door neighbor. Jade tells her that the local mall has selected her as the “worst-dressed shopper of the month.” The neighbor recognizes Jade immediately.
Then Jade calls a random boy from school and tries to seduce him. He doesn’t fall for it either. Finally, Deena gets in on the fun and calls her crush, Rob Morell. While she’s not as breathy as Jade, she does refer to herself as his secret admirer. This time, he falls for it, but really, Deena isn’t joking around, unlike Jade. She doesn’t reveal her true identity, but she promises to call Rob the next day.
And speaking of the next day, Deena’s half-brother Chuck is arriving at the airport to stay with Deena’s family for a few days. He’s been in some trouble and needs a new location. He is also our red herring. You’d think he’d be the creepy one, but the true creeper is Deena.
Her first glimpse of Chuck was promising. She hadn’t seen him since he was about ten, and he’d grown up since then. He was tall now, and his T-shirt and tight jeans showed off the taut muscles of an athlete. His hair was thick and sandy above startlingly blue eyes.
Ew, Deena, that’s your brother. Also, they’re pretty close in age. Did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Deena’s mom was pregnant? Or did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Chuck’s mom was pregnant? The timeline is unclear.
Suddenly, Deena’s dad slams on the brakes! There’s an accident! A car is on fire! A kid screams for his dog! Chuck runs to the car! There’s an explosion! Chuck emerges with the dog! Exciting times are had by all! Deena calls Chuck crazy for rescuing the dog. Man, Shadyside is a dangerous place for dogs. If they’re rescued, the hero is called crazy and their sister questions their sanity. The nice ones are killed off in an attempt to raise stakes, so the only ones left are demonic hell beasts.
Then we get a free verse from our murderer.
So he was having a little trouble keeping it together.
He needs to work on it a little before taking it to the open mic.
The girls are back to pranking, which is just Deena calling Rob and flirting with him. Not a super funny prank, but at least they’re not giving the fat kids a hard time. Chuck walks in on them and he wants in. He calls in a bomb threat to the bowling alley. Then he calls their classmate, Bobby, who lives on Fear Street, refers to himself as “The Phantom of Fear Street,” and then says that he has his “evil eye” on Bobby. At least it’s not a bomb threat, I guess. Finally, Chuck coughs and then falls over. Then there’s a chapter break. After that, he gets up and yells, “Booga, Booga.”
Despite Chuck’s cringy behavior, Jade, Deena, and Chuck grow closer. They eat burgers. They do math homework. They read the newspaper. You know, kid stuff. After the girls tell Chuck about how scary Fear Street is, he decides to cure them of their phobia. He flips through the phone book and calls the first number whose address is listed on Fear Street. A woman answers screaming.
“Please,” the woman begged. “Whoever you are, you’re my only hope! Any minute now he’ll-” But her voice was cut off by a man’s bellow of rage. While the three teens listened, horrified, the speaker phone amplified terror-stricken screams and then the sound of shattering glass.
“Hello? Hello?” Chuck said into the phone.
And then the woman was back. “Please come!” she begged again. “Please help me! You’re my only-” There was the sound of a slap, and then a new, gruff voice came on the line.
“Who is this?” the voice growled.
“What’s going on here?” countered Chuck.
“It’s none of your business,” growled the man. “You’ve got the wrong number, do you understand?”
Then the man hangs up. The kids don’t call the police. Instead, they choose to go to the address they called. Remember when you could just look up someone’s address and phone number in a giant book? What a privacy invasion. Nowadays, it takes several rounds of clicking to find out someone’s phone number, address, social security number, workplace, kids’ names, kids’ schools, favorite ice cream flavor, and credit score.
So the kids drive over to the house. The back door is open, because of course it is, and they find a dead woman. That’s when they finally call 911, but they’re interrupted. A masked man attacks them! He orders the teens to drop the phone, put down the knife, and we get some general chattiness from the killer. The kids get into their car to escape, but the man gets in his car and the chase is on!
“Turn left!” cried Deena. With a protesting squeal the little car turned onto Canyon Drive. The masked man’s headlights were still behind them. “Turn right!” Deena screamed. “Now left!”
They lose him and Chuck calls 911 a second time, referring to himself once again as “The Phantom of Fear Street.” You know they know which house you call from, right? Like, the 911 people know. But the kids didn’t and they’re surprised when a detective shows up at their door.
Chuck lies and says that they were at home all night and never left. Unfortunately, there’s a witness that places them at the Farberson residence, the scene of the crime, at the time of the murder — Mr. Farberson himself. Of course, that’s not enough to arrest Chuck. However, there is special clay that is only found on Fear Street on Chuck’s vehicle, so this special clay is enough for them to book Chuck. The clay screams with the cursed souls of Fear Street, so it’s very specific. It can be loud, but it’s great for azaleas.
After Deena and Jade go to the police to tell them the truth, the police refuse to believe the girls, so they have to take matters into their own hands to prove Chuck’s innocence.
Then the girls talk about boys for a few weeks and Bobby, the kid Chuck prank called, threatens Chuck through Deena. Oh, and they also realize that the person in the mask is Mr. Farberson, the husband of the murder victim. Things are moving both slowly and quickly.
The girls go to Mr. Farberson’s office and they dress incognito, which involves a wig and layers. Then they pretend to be from a temp agency and rummage through his office only to find a pamphlet for Buenos Aires. Then they follow him to his old worker’s house and spot a package. Mr. Farberson takes the package and throws it away. The girls go dumpster diving to retrieve the package, hoping it has something to exonerate Chuck, but it contains only a dead cat. Jeez, cats aren’t safe in Shadyside, either.
Meanwhile, Rob winks at Deena from across rooms and speaks in riddles disguised as flirting. I thought Rob and his doublespeak would factor into the plot somehow, but he does not factor at all. I know this because we’re finally at the climax and he hasn’t done anything except showcase his eye problems and Cheshire Cat speech patterns.
The girls break into the Farberson residence, and they find a letter addressed to Mr. Farberson from the late Mrs. Farberson, wherein she tells him that she’s leaving and she’s taking the cat. Sort of.
“‘Dear Stan,’” Deena read. “‘There’s no use arguing anymore. I have made up my mind to leave you, and nothing will change that. I know you can’t make a go of the restaurant. When I gave you the money to buy it I believed that finally you would be successful at something. But once again you are failing.
“‘I refuse to give you any more money. In the last five years you have gone through almost all of my inheritance. I have to save something for myself.
“‘I’ll be by Saturday night to pick up my things. Good-bye, Edna.’”
So he plans to kill her and then run off to Buenos Aires with his secretary. And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for these meddling kids!
But first, he has to come home, knock out Jade, and then chase Deena through the house while shouting vaguely sexual threats and confessing to the murder of his wife. Eventually, Deena is locked in the same room as Jade. She revives her friend and they jump out the window and into an adjacent tree. Then, Mr. Faberson finds a chainsaw and starts to cut down the tree! Somehow his neighbors just ignore the screaming girls and the sudden lumberjackery, and Mr. Farberson cuts down the tree. It crashes to the ground with the girls in it.
Deena wakes up on the porch surrounded by her family, including Chuck, and the police. Chuck told the police that Deena and Jade are going to break into Mr. Farberson’s house. Also, Detective Frazier says that Mr. Farberson was suspect number one from the beginning, and they kept Chuck in jail so Mr. Farberson wouldn’t think he’s a suspect. But now that Mr. Farberson tried to kill a couple of kids and the police have the evidence they need, Chuck is free to go.
I feel like there could have been a better way to go about doing this.
Most of the book was about the girls attempting to prove their friend’s innocence, and I liked that specific aspect. However, the fact that it was all a police set-up and the police were already investigating Mr. Farberson makes the girls’ efforts pointless. Compound that on top of Chuck’s incarceration trauma and Deena’s interrogation wherein the police berate her and call her a liar, the police behaved unethically and if there is any justice, the department would have been reprimanded and the family would have grounds for a lawsuit. However, since we live in a semi-police state, this all seems like standard police procedure. Ruin the lives of innocent people in pursuit of a vague idea of justice as administered by the police union.
Are the girls good detectives? Absolutely not. Are the girls competent detectives? It seems they’re more competent than the police department, but those dudes just look for special dirt.
That being said, would I recommend this one? Yeah, sure. It’s entertaining enough if you can look over the fat-shaming that comes out of nowhere and serves no purpose other than to put down some ancillary characters. And if you overlook the police. And if you overlook some plot elements. Basically, other than a few character traits, the treatment of other characters, and the plot, it’s a fine read.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.