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Item - The Evil Pen Pal

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(Hardback, first printing)
(Hardback, first printing)
(Hardback, first printing)
(Hardback, first printing)

Combined Summary

Series: Choose Your Own Nightmare (1995-1997) — no. 14
Translated Into: Un amigo peligroso (Spanish)
Adapted Into: The Evil Pen Pal (Interactive Video)
Author: Hill, Laban Carrick
Illustrator: Schmidt, William (Bill)
Dates: 1997 (Paperback)
1998 (Hardback, first printing)
ISBNs: 0553484567 / 9780553484564 (Paperback)
0836820711 / 9780836820713 (Hardback, first printing)
Length: 88 pages
LC Cataloging in Publication Summary: The reader makes choices that control the outcome of a visit from pen pal Billy, who is not the way he seemed in his letters.
Jordashebasics's Thoughts:

This is a ridiculous title.

One thing I've noticed about the Nightmare books is that they are very light on choices, and typically there is a long stretch before you reach the first choice. This book has the first choice on the second page!

First, the book has a serious problem with spending a lot of time getting to the point. There are several pages devoted to trying to find the phone number of a person. It involves searching through letters, then going to the library, finding phone books, not finding it in the first phone book, a bunch of phone books falling on you, finding the right phone book, copying down the number, bringing it home, getting stopped from calling by your parents, then spending the evening being especially good so that they'll let you make a long-distance call.

Even though it takes a long time to get going, once you start meeting with Billy, things get fun. Billy is wonderfully terrible. He's telekinetic, possibly pyrokinetic, although that isn't verified.

He actually kept reminding me of the kid in the Twilight Zone episode - "It's a Good Life."

This results in an assortment of dark endings, lots of broken bones, houses burning down, and at least one death caused by being squashed by a plane.

More reviews by Jordashebasics

KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

Because pen pals tend to live far from one another, a story focused on them can be hard to pull off. Even in The Evil Pen Pal, in which your friend Billy from Florida is about to visit you for the first time, a good portion of the narrative involves waiting for written word from Billy and the other two pals in your network: Sue Marchant (from Abilene, Texas) and Kevin Walker (Kenosha, Wisconsin). Is Laban Carrick Hill able to coax a good book from these dry makings? You are thrilled when your pen pal Billy says he can visit during school break. You've communicated with him a long while, but never met. The first storm clouds pop up when your brother Mike teases that he knows a compelling reason you shouldn't let Billy near your family. Mike is always trying to get you down...but is he telling the truth this time? How would he possibly know anything about Billy that you don't?

Mike has to be full of hot air. If you ignore him, the day of Billy's arrival comes quickly. Riding in your dad's car, you get stuck in nasty traffic at the airport, and worry you'll be late to meet Billy at his gate. If you hop out of the car and run into the airport to meet him, Billy has already stirred up a lot of anger among airline personnel. They're bent on confronting him, and he seems ready to leave, fast. If you don't go inside the airport, you spot Billy running from a mob outside. Billy has dangerous telekinetic powers he wields against anyone who irritates him; you or your dad may be his next victims if you don't walk on eggshells. If you catch Billy reading his book on telekinesis, you might become his protégé...but abuse of such power comes at sobering cost. What if it destroys you both?

A different scenario evolves if you ask Mike right away what he knows about Billy. Your brother presents a fragment of a letter that seems to warn Billy is a monster and you mustn't let him come. Who wrote this? Billy was scheduled to visit your mutual pen pal Kevin nine months ago...could Kevin have sent it? Previously a prolific communicator, Kevin's letters stopped at about that time, which seems ominous in retrospect. You could telephone Sue from Texas, the other pen pal in your chain, but calling her at long distance rates may end with your parents punishing you by canceling Billy's visit. If he feels snubbed and shows up on your doorstep anyway, look out! Maybe you'll search for Kevin's phone number at the library instead, but the closer you get to meeting Billy in person, the worse your odds of survival. Perhaps your mom can help solve the mystery of the "monster" warning and Kevin's disappearance, but Billy is a volcano ready to erupt no matter which story path you tread, and if his visit occurs as planned, none of you emerge unscathed.

Internal continuity is not a priority in The Evil Pen Pal. Usually, Billy has learned telekinetic powers from his book and weaponized them for his own sadistic pleasure, but even that doesn't always appear to be the case. There's little personality to any of the characters, which can result in story fatigue, but at least no narrative branch is long. This book is nowhere near as good as Laban Carrick Hill's best Choose Your Own Nightmare, Welcome to Horror Hospital, though I took some interest in the ending that sees Billy dumped in a mental asylum where you promise to regularly visit. It's the most authentic ending. All told, this book is among the worse entries in the series. A pity...I can imagine the premise executed in stellar fashion.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

Users Who Own This Item: Ardennes, Demian (hardback), Ffghtermedic, fraze, KenJenningsJeopardy74, kinderstef, knginatl (PB, HB), plowboy, Radical347, Ryuran333, strawberry_brite, waktool (Original, 1st printing ($3.50)), Yalius, zat
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Known Editions

Hardback, first printing

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