By Francesca Jeffries.
Just before they turn thirteen, cousins Leslie and Trish have their fortunes read by their grandmother’s weird friend, Mrs Kashmer. The outlook is ominous: both girls will encounter grave trouble before their sixteenth birthdays. Before they can find out more, the reading is interrupted by the sudden death of Granny Barrows.
Three years later, and Leslie Barrows’ life is pretty much perfect – on the surface, at least. She’s doing well in school, has a hot new boyfriend, Rick, and is looking forward to the elaborate Sweet Sixteen party her loving parents are planning for her. Trish’s parents, on the other hand, have just gone through an acrimonious divorce, and now she’s constantly over at the Barrows’ house, being moody. Even more of a nuisance is Rick’s ex-girlfriend, Caroline, who just won’t leave him alone. And Rick’s refusal to shake off the needy Caroline goes hand in hand with his overbearing attitude towards Leslie. Her new relationship is also causing problems with best friend Deborah (who has become addicted to talk shows) and ex, Steve, who is now dating Trish, despite being clearly – and intensely – still into Leslie.
In the run-up to her party, Leslie encounters a streak of really bad luck. Her handmade invitations go missing; her restaurant reservation is cancelled; her dress arrives, ripped to shreds… and Trish is faced with a similar string of catastrophes. Then the mishaps turn to violence – someone tries to run Leslie over and Trish is pushed down an escalator at the mall. It seems Mrs Kashmer’s prediction is coming true, and the cousins start to wonder whether either of them will make it to sixteen.
Sweet Sixteen is the tale of a girl having a really lousy month in the run up to her birthday. Leslie is subjected to one grievance after another so we can have the fun of working out who is behind the mischief. The peripheral characters comprise our list of suspects and are, therefore, key to our enjoyment of the story. The problem is, they’re all so horrible (the boys, possessive and manipulative; the girls, shrill, petty and jealous) that it’s little comfort when the psycho is unmasked and overcome, because boring Leslie is still surrounded by arseholes.
Still, Sweet Sixteen deserves credit for its well thought out twist and refreshingly subtle final showdown. Loose ends are tied up, a positive life decision is made (and then unmade), and the perp’s psychological problems are acknowledged and treated with sympathy. The last 30-or-so pages go a long way towards making up for the mediocre preamble.
This Point Horror takes a gentler, more PG approach to the horror genre, with the victims being subjected to stressful – rather than fearful – situations, for the most part. As the story progresses, there is some violence, but it isn’t until the finale that Sweet Sixteen approaches anything resembling scary. There is one ominous scene involving Leslie’s granny, which may be slightly unsettling if, like me, you’re a bit feretrophobic*, but it’s clear from the get-go that the episode is all just a vivid dream. This entry may offer a suitable gateway into pre-adolescent horror for a curious ten-year-old (in fact, Sweet Sixteen was my own first foray into Point Horror) but I think it would leave most fans of the genre wanting.
*fear of coffins (not ferrets).