In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to start this series off with a review of the classic children’s and YA series Goosebumps by R.L. Stein. I chose How I Got My Shrunken Head specifically because when I saw it at the library I felt like I specifically remembered being creeped out by it when I first read it. Upon re-reading though, I had absolutely no recollection of the plot at all and it was published in 1995. I was 13 in 1995 and probably too old for the Goosebumps books, so to be honest I’m not sure I ever read it. Nevertheless, I did read a lot of Goosebumps as a kid and I’m sure this one is representative of most of them.
You know how sometimes you look back on childhood and remember being really scared by the Huggabunch movie or E.T. and then when you see them as an adult you are kind of embarrassed by that. Yeah, that’s what happened with this book. It wasn’t scary in the least.
The book starts off with our protagonist playing video games with his friends. He sounds like kind of a dick because he keeps playing this jungle video game and expects his friends to just watch him because he’s so good at it. We are introduced to his jungle cry of “Ka-lee-ah!” (foreshadowing!) which he says he just made up one day and likes to use. Anyway, his friends peace out because they don’t want to watch him play video games. Then some lady stops by brandishing a shrunken head. And apparently they don’t teach Stranger Danger in his school because he just takes the head and is like, “thanks, gifts!” And this woman is Carolyn and she says that she works with his Aunt Benna in some remote island and his mom, who is also unfamiliar says “Oh, Benna never told me you were coming, but I’m sure you are great! Why don’t you spend the night in my house!” Overnight the shrunken head starts glowing and moving around the room ““ scary! No one believes Mark, except Carolyn who doesn’t say anything but seems to think it’s significant. The next day Mom and Carolyn tell Mark that Carolyn is actually there to take Mark back to spend some time hanging out with Benna while she does her science study on Remote Island. Mom apparently sees no problems with this arrangement and Mark and Carolyn leave the next day.
When they get to the island, Mark meets Mad Scientist Dr. Rawlings and his 13 year old daughter Kareen. Turns out Benna is missing and they brought Mark to the island to find her. Then everyone goes to bed. For some mysterious reason, Mark can’t sleep and he gets up and finds Benna’s journal. This journal happens to involve Benna’s suspicions that Dr. Rawlings and Carolyn are out to destroy the island, but apparently Dr. Rawlings and Carolyn saw no problems in leaving this journal out in the open like a coffee table book. So our genius hero decides he should go out into the dark jungle by himself to rescue Benna. Kareen sees him and tells him she isn’t going to tell on him because she liked Benna and wants her to come back. So Mark heads out with his shrunken head like you do.
While Mark is in the jungle he encounters some dangers ““ crazy bees, some quicksand, a tiger ““ and that’s how he discovers that (gasp!) when he says his secret word “˜Ka-lee-ah” and holds the shrunken head that he can’t get the jungle to bend to his will. Oh, I should mention that Benna’s Super Secret Journal she wrote that she gave Mark “Jungle Magic” when he was a toddler. So this is apparently the Jungle Magic. At this point, there’s kind of no adventure. All he has to do is hold the shrunken head and shout his word and then everything gets fixed. Kareen shows up when he has fallen in a pit that magically opened up in the earth to save him from the tiger and said she followed him because she’s worried about him. They find Benna hiding out in a hut in the jungle. This also didn’t involve much skill since the shrunken head just glows to tell them they’re going in the right direction. That’s probably for the best since it’s clear that Mark isn’t going to be joining Mensa anytime soon.
Right after they find Benna, Kareen is like “hey dad! They’re over here!” Bitch was a traitor! Twist! So they capture Mark and Benna and Dr. Evil’s plot is revealed because he wants to develop this island. For some reason he thinks he needs Jungle Magic and he needs to kill Mark and shrink his head to get it. It would probably be easier to ship in a few bulldozers. There’s a major plot hole here because it’s not really clear how shrinking Mark’s head gives Dr. Jekyll any Jungle Magic, but never mind because Mark just holds the shrunken head in his hand, says his magic word, and shrinks the evil trio down to mouse size. Pretty anti-climactic.
So Mark goes back to Ohio or wherever he’s from and he keeps his nasty-ass shrunken head. Aunt Benna hypnotizes him to take away the jungle magic”¦.but that night”¦.there was a hook hanging from the door!
No. The shrunken head still glowed. But what use is Jungle Magic in Nebraska.
So, the lesson learned from this first journey back into YA, is that sometimes you can’t go home again. Since I didn’t even remember the plot of this book, I can’t say if it was as good as I remember it. But, it makes me think that maybe I should re-watch the Hugga Bunch so I can conquer that demon too.