June 18, 2013

Diane Hoh: "Funhouse"

Title: Funhouse [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Diane Hoh [Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 1990
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Clean, short book - an easy introduction to the genre for young, reluctant readers. No graphic descriptions...but see below.
Cons: Lacks substance. Requires suspension of disbelief on many levels.
WARNING! The outcome of the first "incident" might upset some youngsters.
Will appeal to: Those who are new to thrillers and mysteries.

Blurb: When the Devil's Elbow roller coaster goes off track, killing one teenager and maiming two others, everyone thinks it's just an accident...except Tess. She saw someone tampering with the track. Then another "accident" occurs in the Funhouse and Tess may have been the intended victim. (Goodreads. Forget the Amazon blurb...it gives you a false impression)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version. 
So, I bought this book a while ago because...who doesn't love funhouses? Also, the blurb sounded promising. What I got, though, was a simplistic tale, a typical '90s product I guess, because YA has drastically improved since then (despite instalove, love triangles, abundance of vampires/creatures and recurring themes derivative plots doing their best to destroy the genre...). Mind you, I should probably judge Funhouse as a child of its time, and it would likely rate much better if I did - but I can't. It's an OK book, nothing wack, but nothing that good either.
Tess is a teen with a problematic family - and here comes the first issue I have with this book, because it all seems a bit overdone. Her mother died when she was 9; her father remarried 4 years after; now his second wife Shelley has recently left him, and Tess is living with said stepmother because her father has very little interest in her - while Tess' brother, Guy Joe, decided to stay with his father despite not even liking him, because he's "his real parent" at least. Also, Shelley decides to go on a long vacation with a friend, carelessly leaving Tess alone in their isolated flat. Talk about bad parenting. Not to mention that Tess and Guy Joe's relationship can only be described as dry.
Tess' friends are fairly typical, and some of them don't even get enough screentime for us to really get to know them. What's worse, they can't seem to give Tess the benefit of the doubt when the roller coaster "incident" happens and she thinks she may have seen someone tampering with it. The police is even less willing to give Tess any credit, which is short-sighted to say the least. (...And where are the C.S.I. anyway?...). Especially since further "incidents" happen after the first one. But of course, the heroine must remain isolated and an easy prey for the villain (see also: stepmother going on vacation). [...]

One thing that I appreciate about this novel is Tess' effort to be her own person, despite having an ex-boyfriend who would be more than willing to lose the "ex" bit, if only Tess would let him take care of her and dictate his own opinions on her. Actually, Tess is often tempted to do so, but despite being scared and basically alone with her nightmare, she never relents.
The Tess-centered sections of the book are interspersed with pages from the villain's diary - and the villain is, in her/his turn, reading an old diary written by a deceased woman, who killed herself after her husband committed suicide as well. These old tragedies have extended their branches in the present, and without them, there will be no reason for the villain to act as such. Still I agree with another review I found on Goodreads - this person must have been a bit disturbed to begin with, to say the least, because cause and effect? um, can I say disproportionate? Also, the villain's diary - whose main purpose in the novel is, of course, to provide the reader with some clues about her/his identity - is self-contradictory...the villain is already executing her/his vengeance plan, while on the other hand there is an entry where she/he is apparently still reading the dead woman's diary and discovering the truth bit by bit...
Actually, finding the culprit is not too hard a task, because someone has definitely the best opportunities, and the potential motive applies to a certain person better than to anyone else. Also, Tess' involvement in the chain of events is clearly not limited to her first, unlistened accusation...and that says something, too.
I found the ending highly improbable for a couple of reasons...without giving too much away: 1) surely the villain should have heard the nickname of a certain character mentioned before? and 2) there's a final, completely unrealistic dialogue among two parents, who appear to be still unaware of the villain's identity, while said person is right in front of them with Tess and other witnesses...  
All in all, an average read. If you are new to mystery books, this might be a good place to start...but still I'd recommend Agatha Christie instead ;). I first read her as a teen myself, after all...

For more Thriller/Mystery books click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Sandra Scoppettone: "Playing Murder".

Different cover...REAL creepy (meaning, bloody)

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