By Caroline B. Cooney.
Mariah lives inside her own head: in a world where she’s adored by Andrew (who rarely speaks to her) and part of the teen-royalty clique of Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle (who barely acknowledge she exists). When she sees Andrew sign up for an unidentified ‘Night Class’ it seems the ideal opportunity to finally get close to him and make her daydreams a reality. Autumn signs up to get some distance from her suffocating friendship group, and Ned adds his name to the list because, after years of being labelled a loser, he’s willing to try anything to cobble together a personality for himself. Andrew is drawn to the class for the simple reason that it is at night time, and, despite his huge ego, he loves watching others from the shadows, rather than being seen, and having to be perfect. And it turns out the class is all about the darkness: learning to control it, to become one with it, in order to create fear in the vulnerable and ‘Easy To Scare’. At the end of their disturbing orientation, the instructor gives his four students their first assignment: to pick an ETS so they might scare that person out of their wits.
Mariah is appalled, but she cannot drop out of the class. The instructor makes it very clear that if she tries to quit, her brother Bevin – a quiet, lonely boy who is being bullied towards suicide – will be designated an ETS for another Night Class. Each has their own reason for staying, and so the four students cling together, justifying each other’s actions, choosing their victims, and, in so doing, they discover the darkest, most unpleasant parts of themselves.
Unsurprisingly, for a story which revolves around darkness, Night School is a particularly dark entry in the Point Horror franchise. Caroline B. Cooney tends to revisit certain themes: the supernatural; the pain and loneliness of being an outsider; and the concept of choice and consequence. She explores all of these in considerable detail in Night School, and whilst it makes for a fascinating, unique and unsettling entry, there’s not much time for actual plot development. The last chapter feels like the midway point, and though it ends on a bone-chilling shock, I was left wanting – and expecting – more. There are strong parallels with Cooney’s Vampire trilogy, so it is possible further instalments were intended. I would happily revisit this group of characters, and the intriguing ideas Night School introduces.
Whereas most PHs go for discrete shocks and scares scattered between classes, homework, dates, and trips to the mall or pizzerias, Night School never relieves the tension. Every page is saturated with darkness, fear, oppression and secrecy. It’s suffocating and yet, there’s another layer of horror on top of it all: an unspeakable suggestion which is hinted at throughout; the constant implication that a character is going to do something truly awful. Of course, they never do, but when the issue finally comes to a head towards the end, we feel a genuine sense of dread at what we might find behind a closed door. And that last sentence is so terrifying, it sent an actual shiver down my spine.