Long before Twilight and The Hunger Games and whatever other dystopian, supernaturally-tinged young adult book series comes along next, young readers like my friends and I were spun for YA novelist Christopher Pike. To walk into a bookstore and see a shelf of brand new, neon-splashed book covers bearing Pike’s name was just the best thing on earth – it meant that once I had arrived home in half an hour’s time (I would have started powering through those books in the backseat of the car, were it not for the fact that merely reading passing billboards made – and still makes – me feel a bit queasy) I’d grab a drink and a cat and a handful of snacks and screw off to some shady, remote part of my family’s hobby farm to devour my teen thriller in one spectacular sitting.
R.L. Stein, a contemporary of Pike’s and the author of the wildly popular Goosebumps and Fear Street serials, never did it for me the way Christopher Pike did. Goosebumps skewed a bit young (it was really more for readers aged seven to 10) and the Fear Street books felt flimsy and juvenile.
Pike’s books, though, felt like works of some substance. Violent, pulpy and occasionally a bit too advanced for their target audience (The Midnight Club is a story about teenagers dying in a ritzy hospice; that’s a really hard nut to crack for an 11-year-old) Christopher Pike’s books were my introduction to genre writing, ranging all over the spectrum from supernatural romances (See You Later) and noir-ish thrillers (Last Act), to tales of Nikita-esque vengeance (Witch) and proto-torture porn (Whisper of Death.)
I think the thing I loved the most about Christopher Pike’s books, though, was they did not talk down to their young audience, nor did they round off the edges of teenage excess – Pike’s characters drank, took drugs, had sex. Occasionally they also got infected with alien bat creature virus after engaging in some very ill-advised lake nookie with the handsome quarterBAT of the high school football team and ate their nerdy best friend alive, but hey, that’s the risk you take if you’re the main character in a Christopher Pike novel (Monster.)
Years ago my husband bid on six or seven large lots of Christopher Pike books following a discussion we had about our favourite childhood novels, and then promptly forgot about all of them once he won the first. Over the next month or so, we took delivery of approximately 150 Christopher Pike paperbacks, the duplicates sometimes numbering three or even four. Every summer since then, I dig out my seriously pared-down collection and, on beautiful days and nights, immerse myself in Pike’s twisted world of revenge fantasies, supernatural thrillers and murder mysteries, gladly welcoming back those wonderful feelings of nostalgia that only come from revisiting cherished moments in your life. That we should all be so lucky. And now I’ve put them on my nails. 🙂