Cool Yule Review: Young Scrooge by R.L. Stine

Cool Yule is a special seasonal event on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I put a fun twist on some of my regular features. Readers can expect a variety of different seasonal and/or holiday-themed posts including wallpapers, playlists, reviews, recipes, gift guides, and much, much more!

Title Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story
Author R.L. Stine
Published September 13th, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Pages 192 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Horror, Christmas
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Rick Scroogeman hates Christmas. He can’t stand the carols and the pageants. He can’t stand the lights and the mistletoe. But what he hates the most is having to watch the old movie A Christmas Carol every year at school. Since his name is Scroogeman, all of his classmates start calling him Scrooge. And he hates being called Scrooge.

But everything starts to change when three ghosts visit him. At first, he thinks it’s a dream. But then he realizes that it might be a nightmare. A nightmare that could become real.

Much like the beloved classic on which it is based, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Young Scrooge by R.L. Stine takes the rather unconventional step of telling the story of the character one might traditionally consider the antagonist. Rick Scroogeman is a bully. While he believes his actions are all in good fun, as the reader watches Rick stomp on his classmates’ feet, push them into lockers, mock their weight, and mimic another student’s stutter, it quickly becomes clear that his mean-spirited “pranks” are seen as anything but by his classmates. This bad behaviour is only exacerbated by the approach of the holiday season, because Rick absolutely hates Christmas. In addition to his classmates teasing him about his surname (calling him “Scrooge” instead of Scroogeman) Rick also resents having to share his birthday with one of the biggest holidays of the year, often finding his special day is overlooked in lieu of the trappings and traditions of Christmas. After intentionally destroying the school’s Christmas play and remaining unrepentant in the face of his principal’s condemnation, it isn’t until Rick is visited by three ghosts that he is finally given a taste of his own medicine and taught the error of his ways.

While there’s nothing wrong with a flawed or unlikeable character, particularly because this provides an excellent baseline from which the protagonist is able to grow, Rick lacks the sincerity and self-awareness to make his evolution ever feel truly satisfying or enduring. (“I knew why the Ghost Of Christmas Past had brought me back to this awful place. To learn about the Golden Rule and all that junk about why it’s better to be a nice boy. But all I could think about was revenge.”) Rick’s hollow promises at the conclusion of the novel do not seem born out of a genuine desire to change, but rather a self-interested means of escaping further torment at the hands of his spectral visitors. Unfortunately, given how the novel ends, there can be little doubt that Rick’s “transformation” will be extremely short-lived.

Young Scrooge would make a serviceable book for parents to read with their children during the holidays, as it provides an accessible introduction to Dicken’s beloved classic and encourages young readers to be mindful of the power their words and actions can have on others, though the latter is somewhat undermined by the the novel’s troubling conclusion. Though R.L. Stine’s latest lacks the emotional resonance and enduring message of the original story on which it is based, Young Scrooge is a strange and silly re-imagining filled with ghosts, zombies, robots and anthropomorphic snowmen that is sure to delight younger readers on whom the larger message might be lost but Stine’s signature combination of macabre comedy and horror surely will not.

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