Ben Reviews – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine

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I have a lot of nostalgia for the Goosebumps series. As a kid who was into horror, but whose parents weren’t entirely irresponsible, my choices were somewhat limited. I’m genuinely glad that R.L. Stine achieved the success that he did. It’s a fine line to walk creating horror stories that aren’t too scary or explicit to be read by kids.

That said, upon revisiting it as an adult, I think there’s some room for improvement. This book that clocks in at about 25,000 words still somehow feels padded for length. It took me about 2 weeks to get through this even though I only spent about 3 hours actually reading it. It’s really boring.

I don’t have any idea what goes into writing a children’s book, particularly one that is as pushed in schools as the Goosebumps series. I imagine there’s a little more editorial oversight. Maybe that’s why the vast majority of the text feels like a comprehensive reading prompt on a standardized test. I can just imagine questions at the end of each chapter. “Who is Kris’s best friend?” “What does Kris like to collect?” “Why is Lindy angry with her sister?”

There are a lot of pointless details given that feel like character development, but they really aren’t. They’re just text. Nothing happens that holds a reader’s attention until about 2/3’s of the way through the book. The only characters that are developed are Lindy and Kris, and even they are very one dimensional.

I understand that it is purposely simple so as not to put off children who are still learning reading comprehension. But does it have to be so boring? I often hear people lamenting how the children don’t read these days, but if I was 8 years old and I had to choose between reading Night of the Living Dummy and doing basically anything else, I’d choose basically anything else.

I’m pretty sure I read this because my parents wanted me to read something and this had cool cover art. And, by the way, they changed the cover art to some hideous cartoon nonsense. They had some of the best cover art in the whole horror genre and they threw it away. For shame.

Literally pay this artist whatever they want and use this cover again!


Content and Ideas 3/5 – There are a couple of ideas in this story. There is the concept of the haunted doll, in this case a ventriloquist dummy. The feud between the sisters and the struggle that conflict that will ultimately bring them back together. I would have liked to see a little more development of either of these ideas. I understand if the haunted dummy needs to be limited to keep the book from becoming too scary, but there’s no reason that the relationship between the sisters couldn’t be given a little more attention.

Organization 2/5 – As I said in the body of the review, a lot of page count is spent on details that are entirely irrelevant to the plot. It might make the book into a better teaching material, but I don’t care about teaching materials. I didn’t care as a kid and I don’t care as an adult. Boring is still boring.

Use of Language 4/5 – I will make a concession to the format of a children’s book on this one. I think writing for children, particularly writing horror for children, poses a unique challenge to the author. The language needs to be carefully controlled. It shouldn’t be so complex as to be overwhelming but there should still be the occasional word that the child might have to look up or ask someone to define. R.L. Stine strikes that balance well.

Personal Preference 2/5 – This isn’t one of the stronger Goosebumps books, in my opinion. It does introduce a classic character, so I can understand it’s appeal to other nostalgia readers or completionist kids.

Recommendation Strength 1/5 – This doesn’t go for the whole Goosebumps series, but rather just this book. There are many better choices to jump into the series on and since the sequels to this one are both better, and make no reference to, this one there really isn’t much of a reason to read it.


I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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