By R. L. Stine.
Joanna is bored of her Matt Dillon-lookalike boyfriend, Dex, and wants to dump him in favour of Yale-bound, clean-cut Shep. Before she has a chance to cut him loose, Dex and Joanna get into terrible (separate) accidents and when she regains consciousness, she discovers Dex is dead. Problem solved. Joanna recuperates and starts a relationship with Shep. Everything is going well until she gets a call from Dex from beyond the grave… it turns out he is not as dead as Joanna was led to believe by their friend, Pete. But he’s not entirely alive, either. As Joanna tries to work out what is going on, Dex appears to be falling apart in front of her eyes. He is heading back to the grave, and it’s apparent he wants to take Joanna with him.
The Boyfriend has a promising first chapter, which sets the scene for an alternative, darker Point Horror entry. The main character is spoiled and selfish, with a cruel streak. She doesn’t have the usual circle of close girlfriends that Point Horror heroines usually have. In fact, her (seemingly only) friend, Mary, is shocked and even repulsed by her. Her boyfriend, Dex, is handsome but also brooding and dangerous. Anything could happen… But then, for 100 pages, nothing does. After the accidents, the plot meanders its way through Joanna’s self-pity, an uneventful date with nice-but-dull Shep, and a few boring encounters with the ‘actually not dead after all’ Dex. (This is not a spoiler; Dex is only dead for about 50 pages). There is no sense of horror, other than Dex becoming a bit green and walking with a limp. Finally, he also starts to smell a bit rotten, and The Boyfriend begins to resemble a horror story, 100 pages in.
To be fair, the zombie imagery works quite well. Dex’s green pallor, the red eyes, chunks of skin peeling away and the stench of death he’s carrying around with him are gross and well-conveyed. However, we know that ghosts and zombies aren’t in the M.O. of the Point Horror franchise, so it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Now we’re waiting for Joanna to catch up. And she takes a really long time. R.L. Stine compensates for the obviousness of the plot resolution with a double twist. And whilst the second part of the twist is as equally guessable as the first, it is quite fun being ‘in on the joke’ while we wait for it to unravel. It also provides a showcase for Joanna’s absolute callousness, which is the most entertaining thing about The Boyfriend.
Unfortunately, the hoped-for comeuppances never happen and the conclusion of the story is unsatisfactory, to say the least. Almost every character belongs in prison, but after the finale, everyone goes their separate ways to live ‘happily ever after’. Even heartless Joanna gets a moment of redemption on the last page, after squeezing out a few tears. Very disappointing.
Most Point Horrors aim to have a relatively likeable heroine, because sympathising with her makes the terrible things she is subjected to, scarier. The Boyfriend suffers from the fact that Joanna is so awful and unrelatable, it’s difficult to give a damn about what happens to her. In fact, you want her life to fall apart. But it doesn’t. Her selfishness and sociopathy make her immune to the ‘terrible’ things going on around her. She doesn’t care, so neither do we. Her boyfriend is literally decaying before her, and she just keeps going out on dates with him, whilst trying to think of a way to dump him (again). Joanna’s vile personality is too great a distraction from any horror R.L. Stine might be trying to create. As such, The Boyfriend gets a woeful fear factor rating of…