Front Tagline: Last one in is a rotten...ghost! (Are you kidding me)
Back Tagline: Sink Or...Sink
Official Book Description:
Camp is supposed to be fun, but Sarah hates Camp Cold Lake.
The lake is gross and slimy. And she's having a little trouble with her bunkmates. They hate her.
So Sarah comes up with a plan. She'll pretend to drown--then everyone will feel sorry for her.
But things don't go exactly the way Sarah planned. Because down by the cold, dark lake someone is watching her. Stalking her. Someone with pale blue eyes. And a see-through body...
Sarah Maas hates water, hates sports, hates camp, yet tragically finds herself at a water sports camp. Unfortunately, the one thing she does love is complaining about Camp Cold Lake in a really whiny tone. And the book's first-person, so there's plenty of insufferable sarcastic asides to go around. Sarah is a female Evan Ross, and there is no male Andy figure in the book to counterbalance the wussery. Sarah's younger brother, Aaron, is positioned to be that character everyone likes, but just because Stine's idea of character development is literally
He likes everything and everyone. And everyone always likes Aaron.
doesn't make it so.
Sarah has trouble making friends at camp. I can't believe the three other girls in her bunk don't want to be her friend. After all, she makes such a good first impression when she forces Briana to give up her bunk because she won't sleep under a window. And then when Meg gripes about being too short, Sarah tells her that thought she gets picked on for being tall, it's still better than being short. Sarah follows that by picking up Jan's bag, spilling out her asthma medicine and revealing that medical secret to the whole bunk. I think short of peeing all over their clothes, Sarah's made the worst possible first impression.
If there's a Goosebumps book set at camp, you can be sure a bonfire scene is a given, and the book doesn't disappoint in this regard. The three bunkmates get back at Sarah by convincing her that some boys threw firecrackers into the bonfire. Sarah runs away screaming and the entire camp laughs at her. Then the girls offer to make up with her, but this too is a ploy to simply place a snake on her back. So basically there are no likable characters in the book.
The two main camp counselors, Richard and Liz, present the camp's water safety rules. Liz is described by the female narrator as being quite fetching, and all the kids give her wolf whistles when she appears in denim cutoffs and a half-shirt. So basically there is one likable character in the book.
Liz is all business and starts rattling off the twenty-item swimming safety list. Sarah frets that she'll never learn twenty rules in another of a long line of comments that make the reader embarrassed for her. Richard is a card who constantly interrupts the proceedings to make "jokes" like this, prompted by one of the preteens asking to go swimming with Liz:
Don't ever swim with counselors-- they have germs!
Which begs the question: Is it really necessary to cock-block twelve-year-olds?
Liz emphasizes that the most important rule is to follow the Buddy System when going anywhere near the water. Before Richard can make a rude gesture with his pelvis, Liz proceeds to hammer home the importance of always going out in the water with another partner. Richard follows this by leading the camp in song. Actual lyrics to the camp song:
Get in the swim
Show your vigor and vim
Which is a textbook example of why you shouldn't publish a first draft. At one point another, more familiar lyric pops up:
Wetter is better
Oh man, I know what the twist is now, Camp Cold Lake is revealed to actually be
After the bonfire, Sarah races off into the woods and scoops some spiders into her flashlight, screwing the top over the creepy crawlies. Her brilliantly devious plan is to place the spiders under the covers of Meg and Briana's beds. I don't see this prank backfiring. After she makes it back to the empty cabin, Jan catches her tucking back the covers on Meg's bed and tattles once the girls get bitten by spiders. For some reason Stine expects us to take sides with the girl who put spiders in another girl's bed.
Now completely shunned by the camp, Sarah eats breakfast alone the next morning. At canoe class (?), no one will be Sarah's partner and she tattles to Liz to force Jan to be her Buddy. Out in the boat, Jan tips over the canoe on purpose, then blames Sarah. Liz swims out into the water and scornfully reminds Sarah that the presidential election of 1840 had already been decided.
Sarah's had enough and wants to run away from the camp. She tells her brother that she's going to run through the woods to the small town on the other side of the camp and call their parents to pick them up. Aaron reminds Sarah that the camp counselors specifically warned against walking in the dangerous woods, though since there weren't twenty reasons why, it must not be that big a deal.
Sarah gives up on the running away plan and hatches an even stupider plan: she'll go out into the water during free swim and pretend to drown. Since she can hold her breath for a long time, she'll just go hang around at the bottom of the lake for a few minutes, then float back up. Seemingly unfamiliar with Virginia Woolf's personal biography, Sarah thinks this will solve all her problems.
Since no one will be her buddy, she convinces Liz to let her swim alone. Sarah enacts her brilliant drowning plan by actually drowning. Whoops. As soon as she makes it back to the surface of the water, she can tell something's wrong with the campgrounds. Though it was summer when she went under, the air is a lot colder and all the leaves have fallen off the trees. What's more, there doesn't seem to be any other campers around. Sarah swims to shore and exits the cold cold water, shivering in the bitter air. As she walks around the deserted camp, flakes of snow begin to fall.
The camp is eerily quiet until a single voice catches Sarah's ear. Sarah encounters the source of the sad song she heard resting on the rickety old porch of a cabin. A pale girl wearing all white greets her, which confuses Sarah even further since though it's snowing, the date couldn't be past Labor Day. The pale girl introduces herself as Della and gives Sarah a nice warm white bathrobe. Della is thrilled that Sarah's come, because she needs a buddy before she can enter "the Other World." Great, just what getting into Heaven needed, another rule.
Della floats up, revealing that she's a ghost, and that Sarah too has died. Della tries to bully Sarah into being her buddy but Sarah freaks out and runs towards the water. She swims out as far as she can and is suddenly greeted with the welcoming image of Liz performing CPR on her.
The entire camp cheers on Liz's mouth to mouth with the girl, only to stop once she exclaims she's alive. She confides that they thought she had died. Jan spoils the celebratory mood by chiming in that she and her boyfriend George Glass are sure Sarah just drowned for the attention. The bunkmates eventually decide that they've been too mean to Sarah and offer her a genuine fresh start. Everything seems to be going so well until Sarah starts seeing the ghost of Della everywhere around camp.
Slowly losing her mind, Sarah visits with the head counselor and asks to hear about the camper who drowned at Camp Cold Lake. The counselor clams up and insists that no camper ever drowned at the camp. Sarah insists that one did, Della, but he won't listen to her. He explains that the camp has so many safety rules for swimming that some people even consider it "the Curse of Camp Cold Lake." Oh, now I get the title, it's like when you have a bad hair day!
Outside of his office, Della taunts Sarah and Sarah hurls insults at the ghost girl. Unfortunately, Briana chose that moment to walk up to Sarah in a friendly manner, and she's genuinely crushed that Sarah would insult her for no reason. Sarah tries to convince Briana that she was talking to the ghost and Briana gives her a strange look.
Richard suggested that Sarah take up water-skiing, with the idea being that the sport is so hard that she'll have to focus all her energy on performing and won't have time to think about ghosts. This is an excellent plan up until the moment where Della takes control of the motorboat and attempts to kill Sarah. At one particularly gruesome moment, Della runs the motorboat over Sarah's head, attempting to decapitate her with the blades of the motor.
Sarah figures that she's had enough of Della trying to kill her in the water and revives her plan to run away. She runs into Briana on the way to the woods and Briana strangely wishes her good luck. As Sarah makes her way through the forest, she spies Della's ghost hanging out in a tree and looking very happy. Della tells her that she'll never leave her, after all she's her buddy.
Sarah is repulsed and lashes out at Della for trying to drown her just because she herself drowned. Della laughs at this and asks her why Sarah had thought she drowned? Della tells Sarah that the counselor was right, no child has ever drowned at Camp Cold Lake. After all, how could anyone drown when there are twenty different rules in place to prevent it? No, Della had wandered off into the woods and was bitten by a poisonous snake.
Della explains that she had to make Sarah afraid of the water so that she would try to escape from the camp through the woods. There are so many poisonous snakes in the woods that it's impossible to make your way through without being bitten. Sarah feels a snake wrap itself around her leg. Before the snake can bite her though, a voice cries out, warning that Della is not her buddy: Briana!
Briana rushes over and pulls the snake off of Sarah's leg and hurls it into the woods. Briana reveals that she went to the camp last year and Della tried to get her to be her buddy, but she resisted. That's why Briana came back this year, to warn whoever Della targeted next not to be her buddy. Suddenly empowered, Sarah proclaims that even though she hates the camp, she'll come back next year to warn the next potential victim against being Della's buddy. Della howls out in anger and falls off the tree limb, disappearing into the darkness.
But the Twist is:
Sarah goes to hug Briana, only to discover that her arms go right through her. Briana explains that Della killed her last summer, and the only reason she didn't become her buddy is because she didn't like her. Briana then holds up a large poisonous snake and asks Sarah to be her buddy.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Sarah Maas and her brother Aaron, who disappears like 1/8 of the way through the novel.
How did the other counselors not notice that the kid who died last year is now enrolled again for camp?
Briana is an African-American, and yes, cringe-inducingly, she is described as having cornrows. Well of course, because the only way to differentiate between a black person and a white one in Goosebumpsworld is to give the black character racist physical traits. At least he resisted the urge to have her eating fried chicken out of a hollowed-out watermelon-- though I haven't read the Goosebumps 2000 books yet, so keep your fingers crossed. Also, doesn't being a black ghost cancel out?
R.L. Stine Shows He Is Down With the Kids:
Sarah gripes that she'd rather be at the mall, eating a big bag of fries. A bag of fries?
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Sarah cries out as she begins to sink into quicksand. Luckily she remembers that quicksand doesn't exist and it must just be mud. Pshew.
Great Prose Alert:
Then he began talking about towels.
The Curse of Camp Cold Lake is a frustrating book. On the one hand, it contains a very effective sequence in the middle with the spooky snowy abandoned campgrounds. And the twist that Della didn't drown is both clever and unexpected. But the final twist with Briana is illogical, the prose is clunky and poorly conceived, and the protagonist is insufferably annoying. So, thumbs down. Great cover though.