Don’t Stay Up Late is certainly a solid horror novel. The book sets you up with an unreliable narrator, functioning under the scary threat of mental illness—back to this in a second—; some good scares; plot twists; and misleading hints. Lisa, a newcomer to Shadyside, gets into a car accident that leaves her with mild brain damage, producing nightmares and hallucinations. At the urging of her therapist, she takes on a babysitting job, despite people’s warnings against it because of the family’s address on Fear Street. Lisa’s hallucinations begin again, but are they hallucinations? Because she sure as hell is not hallucinating all her friends getting killed off.
My main gripe with this book is primarily with the way mental illness is used in it. I’m sensitive to the way mental illness is portrayed in pop culture, due to my own history of depression and other people I know who have suffered from mental illness. Don’t Stay Up Late could be worse on this point. Unlike too many horror novels and movies to count, Stine primarily uses mental illnesses to create an unreliable narrator, not to create a threatening villain.
However, some aspects of this part of the book still bothered me.
The main thing that bothered me is how (spoiler) someone who is supposed to be helping Lisa cope with her trauma turns out to be one of the evil people. This feeds into the stigma of seeking appropriate treatment for mental health, and into the stereotype of psychologists as “shrinks” and “kooks.”
Second, the cops treat Lisa like shit because of her mental illness. This teaches kids that no one takes you seriously or respects you when you have a mental illness. Combined with the above point, an unintentional message of this book is that one shouldn’t talk about mental illness—you will either be misunderstood, or not listened to.
Third, and most important—why the hell does everyone keep letting a girl who hallucinates demons babysit a little kid?
The horror genre has a complicated relationship with mental illness, and this book demonstrates how even something that is not deliberately misrepresenting mental illness can contribute to societal stigmas. Mental illnesses is hugely misunderstood in general in this society and Don’t Stay Up Late is clearly more of a product of society than an aggressive contributor.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book because of the above reasons, but, those aside, I did really enjoy this book and think it had a fun and strong plot that will really appeal to Stine’s fans.
Pub date: April, 2015.