[Book Review] Weekend by Christopher Pike

The weekend in Mexico sounded like a dream vacation. Four guys, five girls--and a gorgeous oceanside mansion all to themselves. It should have been perfect.

Except nothing was going the way they'd planned. There was the girl upstairs who was fighting for her life. The phone lines that went dead. And the explosion in the garage that could have killed them all.

But not even that prepared them for what happened next. Because while they were getting some sun, someone else was getting revenge--and the terror wouldn't stop until the weekend was over..

Weekend opens with a large cast of teenagers--Shani, Kerry, Angie, Lena, Robin, Sol, Flynn, Park, and Bert--in route to their weekend destination: Lena and Robin's vacation home in Mexico. But they know it isn't going to be the best weekend ever; Kerry and Lena, for example, can't stand each other--Kerry thinks Lena was behind a particularly humiliating prank, and Lena is dating Kerry's ex-boyfriend--and Lena's sister, Robin, is still battling life-threatening kidney failure with little hope of recovery.

That long list of characters alone should hint that the opening of this book wasn't exactly the least confusing thing I've ever read. Besides the fact that the setting is rather unclear until the teens arrive at the vacation home and that there are far too many names to keep straight during this stretch before their personalities get the chance to shine, Pike goes out of his way to keep Robin's circumstances frustratingly vague until fifty pages in. So I spent the first fifty pages wondering what exactly was going on with her. Page eighteen reveals that she's had an accident, but doesn't specify her condition; at this point, I assumed she had been paralyzed or something similar. Page twenty-four, however, was worded such that I assumed she had in fact died. Finally, Pike reveals via flashback that Robin's kidneys failed after she drank a beer spiked with pesticide. I don't know why this was kept secret during the first fifth of the book, but it certainly made that portion unnecessarily confusing.

Once Robin's backstory is properly revealed, however, the book improves significantly. The mystery finally comes into view: was Robin's poisoning really accidental? The other young adults seem to think otherwise, and before long, the main character, Shani, is pondering who might have poisoned the girl and whether not they had actually intended to murder her. The obvious suspect of these first chapters is Lena, Robin's sister, who (like Robin) was adopted by her wealthy parents and is set to inherit their fortune.

But another mystery arises at this point, though it's on a somewhat more meta level. Because while Robin has been resting her haggard body at the peaceful Mexican beach, she has befriended a local Native American man who taught her a parable that is an extremely obvious metaphor for Robin's life... and thus a guideline for the how the rest of the novel will play out. So the second mystery of the book is figuring out which Weekend character corresponds with which parable character. With Robin being clearly represented by the dove, that leaves the question of who the eagle, the raven, and the snake equate to. After a certain point, it becomes obvious; I figured this particular mystery out by page one hundred eleven. (I did not, however, predict the culprit and circumstances of Robin's poisoning until the reveal.)

Now, I have to dwell on this parable for a moment longer. Not because of its contents, but because of its messenger. As I've been reading a few of Pike's books within the last month, I've noticed that Pike has this weird thing about minority characters. He consistently includes them, unlike the other Point Horror staple authors, but he also can't seem to break out of the whole "Magical Minority" series of tropes. In fact, two out of the three Christopher Pike books I've read so far both had a "Magical Native American" character. (The only Native American character that didn't fit this stereotype was depicted as a swindler.) Unfortunately, I can't say that this particularly surprises me, given the The Secret of Ka clusterfuck. Given the books I've read so far--and it's perfectly possible that the two-out-of-three ratio is simple chance and not indicative of all his works--it seems to be that while Pike clearly wants to represent minorities in his fiction, his reliance on stereotypes--negative or positive--completely undermines his intent. It doesn't help that Weekend also contains several instances of words that could be considered racial/ethnic slurs.

So on the one hand, Weekend has a fairly interesting mystery at its core. The poisoning of Robin is an intriguing plot thread that came to a relatively satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, there's a lot going wrong here. There are too many extraneous characters. The parable, while a clever idea, was terribly unsubtle in its execution. Both characters who are explicitly stated to be racial minorities are stereotypes of their demographic. And after a climax full of too much melodrama for my taste, the ending is absolutely saccharine.
It's a bit disappointing, really. Because while the central plotline of the book had a lot of promise, the various flaws severely detracted from my enjoyment. I'm still hoping to find some gems in Pike's long list of books, but I think that at this point, it's become pretty clear that he and I are not on the same page.

If you're interested in this book, either because you've read it or because you want to know more about it before deciding whether or not you'll check it out, I recommend listening to the audio discussion of Weekend by Christopher Pike available on the Teen Creeps podcast. In Teen Creeps, comedians Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai discuss YA fiction from the 80s and 90s, including novels from Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, and all the other major names of that era! I'm a new fan of the podcast as of August 2017, but I'm really looking forwad to delving into the backlog!

You can listen to the Weekend episode of Teen Creeps here at Feral Audio.

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