All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los Angeles‘ Make March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.
To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.
Today’s piece is from novelist Adam Korenman:
I’ve always loved scary stories. Since I was a kid, campfire tales of monsters and mysteries never failed to draw me in. When I was younger, my go to author was R.L. Stine. Goosebumps introduced me to a soft, kid-friendly version of the genre, where the worst troubles my characters faced were “scares.” Then came Fear Street, where people could actually get hurt, though it was usually revealed to be a prank in the end.
Later in life, I’d graduate to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. With a higher body count, and gore that would shock a butcher, these stories forever cemented my love of horror and my infatuation with the macabre. Between those years of childhood and young adult, there was another author that captured my attention. He wrote about kids, too, but they faced actual dangers. Lives were really on the line, and not everyone made it home okay.
I’m talking, of course, about Christopher Pike and the children of Spooksville.
The 24-book series (and limited run TV show) followed the adventures of Adam Freeman, a new kid in town, as he joined with and eventually led a group of friends against the forces of darkness. Each novella charted a new path, expanding on the history of the town, the world, and even the universe itself. The kids faced off against witches, vampires, crab monsters, aliens, and demons from another plane of existence. Throughout it all, their friendship grew and developed, romances blossomed, and they became big damn heroes.
For me, it was a revelation.
For the longest time, this was my favorite series. Years down the road I would find The Last Vampire (also Pike), The Discworld series, and A Song of Ice and Fire. But none had as much of an impact, or as much meaning, as Spooksville.
I remember picking up the first book, The Secret Path. The cover art by Lee MacLeod drew me in, hinting at wondrous adventures to be had. Inside, I met the main protagonist, Adam. I’d been reading for some time at this point in my life, and I had never encountered a protagonist named Adam. It may seem like a minor detail, barely worth a mention, but it gave me an instant connection to this young boy. As I went further, I discovered my relationship with the hero went further than just names. He was a new kid in town, a little pudgy, and unsure of himself. He’d started to notice girls, maybe even more than notice, but wasn’t sure what any of that meant. He wanted to fit in, but also to make his own way.
He was me.
Shortly after arriving in town, Adam meets Sally and Watch. The two friends don’t immediately take to Adam, but are welcoming enough. They tell him that they are going to check out the “Secret Path,” a mysterious portal in the town with connections to the local witch. Adam thinks it is all a game and goes along with them. He tries to show how brave he can be and nearly gets eaten by a tree. When they final do find the end of the path, he is no longer certain this is just for play. The three new friends find themselves whisked away to another plane of existence. They’re still in town, but a horrific mirror universe. An “Upside Down,” if you will. There, Adam sees bodies that could belong to his parents. He is captured and nearly killed in a dungeon. He is rescued and in turn rescues his friends from execution. And this is just his first day in Spooksville!
The mature themes of the series really spoke to me. It wasn’t just another Goosebumps clone, where talking dummies chased children around a house until the babysitter splashed them with lemonade, or some other such nonsense. There was real danger. People died. Scars were earned. The fear was real. In the short novellas, these kids would face off against dragons and giant spiders and child-eating-teachers. More than that, they dealt with real emotions.
Sally immediately takes to Adam, but the crush isn’t mutual. She learns to deal with it, understanding that infatuation doesn’t always go both ways. When Adam is jealous of the local hero, Bryce, he has to deal with those emotions in a mature and realistic way. The answers to life’s problems aren’t delivered on a silver platter, and the smart choice isn’t always the right one.
I loved every single book in the series, but my favorite has to be The Cold People.
During a rather chilly day—abnormally so, one could say—the group encounters a blue person. They look human, but their skin is frightfully blue. Wherever they go, the frost seems to follow. When the kids first meet the blue person, the situation immediately turns hostile. Watch is attacked and taken, Adam is injured, and Sally and Cindy barely escape. The group links up with local hero and legendary badass Bryce to take on the new threat.
They learn that the “Cold People” are residents of ancient Atlantis, cryonically frozen for thousands of years. They’ve managed to cheat death, but the substance they used to freeze their bodies has also driven them mad. Adam begins to exhibit signs of poisoning, but the truth slowly dawns on him. He has been infected by the strange blue substance, and it will consume him.
This story touched upon so many different themes that it felt overwhelming—in a good way. Adam has started to realize his crush on Cindy, but she seems more interested in Bryce. Sally is dealing with her feelings for Adam, but her loyalty remains with Watch. Bryce the person doesn’t always live up to the legend. Adults can’t always be trusted to do the right thing.
It’s a lot for a kid in junior-high to manage.
Near the end of the book, Adam is in a truck driven by Cindy. The poison has gone to his head. He looks at Cindy and sees her the way a Cold Person would: As a threat. Why should she be warm when I am so cold? Adam managed to force down the dark thoughts. He kicks Cindy loose and takes on the most dangerous part of the mission, lighting the reservoir on fire, by himself. With his body rebelling against him, he manages to flick the lighter just in time, saving the town.
Spooksville wasn’t just a series of wacky adventures. It was a place of real consequence. Adam, Watch, Sally, Cindy, and Bryce became as tight knit as any group of friends could be. Their journeys around the cosmos inspired me to write. I can honestly say that, without this series, I would never have dreamed of becoming an author.