Front Tagline: They're watching you learn... the hard way.
Back Tagline: He's Hearing Voices... From Another World!
Official Book Description:
Tommy Frazer's dad just got married. Now Tommy's got a new mom. And he's going to a new school-- Bell Valley Middle School.
Tommy doesn't hate school. But it's hard making friends. And his new school is so big, it's easy to get lost. Which is exactly what happens.
Tommy gets lost-- lost in a maze of empty classrooms. And that's when he hears the voices. Kids' voices crying for help. Voices coming from behind the classroom walls...
Tommy Frazer has just moved to a new school, and in order to make friends, he agrees to volunteer for the Dance Decoration Committee. The Dance Decoration Committee is a pretty hopping organization, what with all of three total members. Later in the book we find out that there is a Refreshment Committee too, so I think Bell Valley Middle School specializes in very specific delegation of duty.
Tommy's fellow decorators are Ben Jackson and Thalia Harpert-Rodis (it may be a mouthful, but at least it's not another Hannah). Ben is a smart aleck, which RL Stine shows by having him crack wise literally every time he opens his mouth. I won't point it out too much, but let me assure you, Ben says something sarcastic after anytime anyone says anything for 120 pages straight. Thalia is a pretty blonde girl who wears a lot of make-up and keeps re-applying lipstick every three or four pages. Be sure to read It Came From Ohio to hear more from RL Stine on how to establish character via affect traits.
Tommy volunteers to go get some more paint from the art room upstairs. On the way out of the gym he runs into a tall, intimidating girl with gray eyes. After some wandering around, he finally finds the art room, grabs some paint cans, and is about to leave when he hears faint cries for help. He can't quite figure out where they are coming from, so like most people when he hears cries for help, Tommy runs in the opposite direction. However, it's late afternoon, and the school is creepy when it's abandoned... especially when it's THE HAUNTED SCHOOL ©.
Tommy gets lost upon exiting the art room and somehow ends up in a very strange wing of the school. He opens a door and inside one of the classrooms there are roughly two-dozen lifelike gray sculptures of children. Tommy thinks they look like they are frozen in time and uses a lighter he has in his pocket to see the figures more carefully. He strokes one of the statue's hair. As he's stroking the hair it comes off in his hand, which is still nowhere near as creepy as the fact that Tommy stroked a statue's hair. The principal bursts in before Tommy does something untoward with the remaining figures and asks him what he's doing in the room. He tells her he's lost. She explains that the 1947 class of Bell Valley Middle School disappeared one day and because public schools have so much money to work with, they decided to close off the old school and build a new school structure around the old one. What.
The principal goes on to say that a local artist made an artistic tribute to the missing children by sculpting their likeness based on a class photo taken of the 25 member class shortly before their disappearance. The school then put the beautifully rendered art on display in an abandoned building.
Tommy makes his way back to the gym where Thalia and Ben are lying down pretending to be asleep since he took so long. LOL those guys are funny. Tommy asks Thalia about the strange girl he ran into and she tells him her name is Greta and that Tommy should stay away from her. Then Tommy starts to tell her about the strange voices he heard upstairs and she freaks out and leaves. It's probably Tommy's fault for surprising Thalia by not properly prefacing his comments with "Listener Beware-- You're In For a Scare" though.
A couple days later, Greta swipes Thalia's lipstick, and Tommy actually makes a stand and forces Greta to give the lipstick back to her. When Tommy returns to his seat, he hears more voices pleading for help, but from where could these voices be coming from???
On the night of the big dance, Tommy and Thalia hang up the two banners they've spent days on and are very proud of. The two banners read:
BELL VALLEY ROCKS!
Now, as proud as the two of them may be of that comma, it appears that the only decorations the Decoration Committee turned out were two banners, a poster of a buffalo, and some balloons. The school has hired a band composed of five guitar players and one drummer to perform for the dance. Greta is their drummer, yet she picks up a guitar and has a jousting match with one of the guitarists, leading to the BELL VALLEY ROCKS! banner being torn in two. Actual dialog following this event:
"We need it," I declared.
"Yeah. It's our best banner."
Ben comes up with the radical idea, and stay with me on this because it's awfully confusing and experimental, to get some tape from the art room and tape the banner back together. Tommy agrees that it's just crazy enough to work and the two trek up to the art room to get the tape before the school shows up for the dance. Somewhere along the way they get lost and Ben crashes through a boarded up door, leading the two into the closed off portion of the abandoned school. The two kids are very concerned about being late for the dance, so when Tommy sees an elevator, he jumps at the opportunity to use it. Also Tommy's a fat kid, so big shocker that he doesn't want to take the stairs.
Ben and Tommy get into the antique elevator, which had to have been in the school back in 1947, and the doors shut them in immediately. None of the individual floor buttons work, nor does the basement or <> (Me and You and Everyone We Know button) button work either. The two boys argue about the buttons for, no kidding, four full pages before Tommy finally pushes the red button, which he assumes is some sort of emergency button. The elevator finally starts to move... sideways. When it finally comes to a stop, the doors open and there is complete blackness. The two kids get out of the elevator and the doors immediately shut behind them.
The two decide to walk along the wall and eventually they'll find a door. As they are making their way through the darkened door, Tommy hears a cough that doesn't belong to Ben. The lights turn on and the two find themselves in an old gray classroom. A ghostly looking girl who is black and white, like from an old movie, greets the two boys. She is dressed in old clothes and tells Tommy that "We heard you coming." Tommy asks who "We" is and several more black and white children pop out of hiding from behind desks. They are amazed at the color the two possess and they violently swarm the two boys, overcome with this forgotten experience. After they gather their composure, the black and white kids invite Tommy and Ben to have a seat so they can explain what's going on.
Mary, who is the girl who greeted them, tells the two boys that the five people in the room were original class members of the missing Class of 1947. The 25 member class had gathered in the auditorium to be photographed for their official group photo. The photographer the school had hired to take the shot was an evil man named Mr. Chameleon, and he hated kids. The whole class was goofing off and giving the photographer a hard time, so when it finally came time to take the shot, Mr. Chameleon used a flash bulb unlike any other, and the powerful blast of light blinded the kids, and when they awoke, they were in an otherworldly place. A place where there is an absence of color.
The black and white kids explain that best as they understand it, their black and white world is some sort of parallel world to Tommy and Ben's. They also explain the irony of the man being named Mr. Chameleon, as they can't change their colors but he can. Evil men are so uncreative when it comes to naming themselves. The kids reason that the elevator somehow brought the two color kids to this world, but the five black and white kids in the room have no idea how the two can leave. Tommy and Ben try to pry the doors open, but both the elevator door and room door are locked and the black and white kids assure them that they've tried everything, there's no hope of escape.
As Tommy and Ben look down at their hands, they are shocked to discover their fingers and hands are turning gray. Their bodies are rapidly losing their color.
Tommy and Ben spot a window and find it open. The children in the schoolroom beg the two boys to not leave but Tommy and Ben see their escape and take it. As they jump through the first story window, the kids in the class plead with them, "Stay away from the kids! They've all gone crazy! Stay away from the pit!"
Tommy and Ben land on the black and white ground and examine their surroundings. Behind them is the old schoolhouse, a small one story brick building. The Bell Valley town that is in front of them is not the town they know, it's a weird colorless version of the 1947 town. A thick fog starts to form around them as they walk through the town, and the two lose any sense of where they are. They want to return to the safety of the schoolhouse, but they have no concept of where it stands anymore. As they wander around, they hear the voices of children. One of the voices cries out "Get them!" The two boys try to run to safety, but where do they go? What direction are these voices coming from. Gradually they realize they are being encircled by a large group of roughly 20 kids, who quickly close in on them. The black and white kids are acting spacey and are not handling the fact that the two boys still have color very well. Tommy deduces that these kids are the rest of the missing class. He remembers one of the classroom kid's warning about how "They've gone crazy" and realizes what he meant.
As the group of black and white children finally forms a tight circle around the boys, Tommy counts exactly 19 kids, 10 boys, 9 girls. The black and white children begin to stomp their feet and chant "Turn turn turn to gray" over and over. Tommy and Ben are disoriented, and the children keep chanting "Turn turn turn to gray" as they move in unison around the two boys. Tommy deduces that the kids are trying to keep them in the black and white world until they fully lose their color, until they become one of them.
Tommy tells Ben that the two should make a break for it, with each running in opposite directions. The two put their plan into action, but neither gets very far before they are dragged back into the circle by the black and white kids. Tommy tries to reason with the kids, but they become violently angry when they hear Tommy wants to go back to the school. "No school!" they scream. Tommy asks them why they are so upset. A few of them answer: "No color! No color in the moon. No color in the sky. No color in my dreams." Ben and Tommy agree that there's no sense in reasoning with the kids. Suddenly the two color kids find themselves dragged along. They are told they're being taken to the Black Pit. One girl stops and looks at Tommy and says, "Will you jump, or will we have to push you?"
The group of children stops at the top of a hill. A few of the children are carrying buckets of steaming black liquid and they set them down on the ground. Tommy and Ben are pushed towards the buckets, and another girl distributes metal cups amongst the black and white kids. The kids take huge cupfuls of the black liquid from the buckets and gulp it down. One girl pours it over her entire face in an orgasmic display of depravity. Another girl takes a big swig and then spits the black liquid all over another child, the two spreading the black substance all over each other. The black and white kids are chanting "Drink the blackness," begging the two color kids to drink. Luckily the two resist peer pressure, but the black and white kids are now focused on the pit. "Jump into the pit," they're told, "Cover yourself in blackness like us!" The two are led to the edge of the pit and the steaming tar pit has a smell of rotting animals, which seals the not-jumping deal for the two.
Suddenly Tommy is shoved into the pit, but is saved at the last moment by one of the children from the classroom. The classroom kids left the safety of the schoolhouse to save the two color kids. The crazed black and white kids surround the classroom kids and the color kids. Tommy has an idea and produces his lighter. He sets a pile of leaves on fire and bright orange flames shoot up into the air. The black and white kids go nuts at the sudden burst of color and forget all about Ben and Tommy. The group makes its way back to the safety of the schoolhouse.
Ben and Tommy are safe, but they still have no way to leave. They look in a mirror and see that they're now almost entirely colorless. Only the tips of their nose and cheeks are still colored. They ask if there's any way of escape, haven't any kids escaped back to the color world? Well, one escaped a few weeks ago, as a matter of fact. Tommy thinks back and realizes it must be Greta!
Tommy comes up with an idea. If he lit up the room with his color lighter, lighting up the color in the room and washing away the gray, maybe that would wash away the world they're in now and allow them to escape back to the color world. He figures it's worth a shot, however the lighter flicks once and then runs out of liquid. Suddenly the whole room hears the sound of the elevator. The black and white kids cheer, their friend who escaped finally came back for them! The elevator door opens and Tommy greets Greta outloud, but who should appear but Thalia!
Thalia jumps out of the elevator and hugs her black and white friends. They welcome her back and are very excited to see her again. While she's carrying on, the elevator door closes behind her. Tommy groans, they'll never get back now he cries. Thalia explains that she escaped into the color world after she found an old tube of lipstick in her purse. The lipstick still had color, and when she rubbed it on the wall, it formed a hole between the black and white world and the color one. However, as soon as she went through the hole, it closed up. Ever since, she's been trying to figure out how to get back to the black and white world. Her body was stuck in black and white, which is why she had to dye her hair blonde and wear make-up and lipstick, to cover up the gray skin. She realizes that she'll never be able to be a part of the color world, she belongs in the black and white world. But she can still help Tommy and Ben.
She rubs a bunch of the lipstick on the wall and Tommy and Ben jump through the hole. Before the hole closes up, Thalia asks that they never forget her. The two boys examine each other: their color has returned! The two make their way back to the dance.
But the Twist is:
The principal is very glad to see Tommy and Ben, they're just in time for the dance's picture to be shot by the professional photographer the school's hired, Mr. Chameleon. Before Tommy and Ben can register this, Mr. Chameleon snaps the flash of his camera.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Tommy Frazer and Thalia Harpert-Rodis, who disappears halfway through the twentieth century.
When Tommy tells his teacher that he's hearing voices asking for help, the teacher mocks him in front of the entire class.
Cheap Grandparent Alert:
Tommy's grandfather gives him a red plastic lighter on his deathbed.
R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
When their teacher leaves the room, one of the kids produces a boombox from under his desk and kicks out some party music. A boombox.
Number of times Thalia is described applying her lipstick: 6.
This doesn't sound like a lot, but keep in mind she's only actually in the book for like 20 pages.
Tommy says he likes Ray Bradbury stories because of the twist endings.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ben and Tommy ask if Thalia's going to help them escape. She shakes her head and tells them sorry... sorry that she didn't explain how she's going to help them escape.
Great Prose Alert:
"Don't encourage him Tommy. He's about as funny as a dead pigeon."
"I think dead pigeons are funny!" Ben insisted.
Though it starts out very comical, in a very similar vein to Attack of the Masked Mutant, the book quickly progresses into a serious and seriously entertaining read. The Haunted School has an inspired plot and some genuinely disturbing sequences (the passage where the girls spit black liquid into each other's faces would have messed me up for life if I'd read it as a child). Possibly the best or at the very least one of the best books I've read in this series, this novel lends further credibility to the theory that RL Stine finally drummed up some Hail Mary inspiration for the final few books of the series.