[Book Review] The Invitation by Diane Hoh

An invitation to death.

It arrives on crisp, ivory paper, printed with elegant gold script.

Sarah has been invited to the social event of the year, Cass Rockham's annual Fall Party.

But Sarah knows she isn't popular or rich enough to be in Cass's circle. To Cass, she's a nobody. A loser.

So why was she invited?

Sarah hopes this will be a night she'll never forget.

And it is. For unspeakable reasons...

In an absolutely groundbreaking plot for 80s and 90s teen fiction, a group of "losers" are invited to hang out with the popular kids, who proceed to pull a vicious prank on them. I've certainly never seen that before!

On a more serious note, The Invitation reminds me a bit of R.L. Stine's The New Years Party... which is not a good thing, as I hated that book. (Having not written a review for it, I can't remember exactly what was so terrible about Stine's "deadly party" story, but I do recall rolling my eyes throughout the entire book.) In The Invitation, a group of high school kids--Sarah, Shane, Maggie, Ellie, and Donald--are unexpectedly invited to the party of the year, hosted by the richest and most popular girl in school. Save for Sarah, they're excited to go and have a great time. As can be expected given that this is a Point Horror novel, their "great time" involves humiliation and mortal peril. It's a bad party, is what I'm getting at.

See, Cass Rockham is a moron. She thinks that "It's just a joke! We're just having fun!" is an excuse that will successfully prevent the police from prosecuting a person on kidnapping and false imprisonment charges. She's wrong, but then again, perhaps it doesn't matter. This is one of those books in which the characters are too ignorant to call the police until long after the point at which the police will be able to arrive in time to help. Because everyone knows teenagers are far more useful in potentially deadly hostage situations than trained officers.

All in all, I'd say there were two elements to the story that ruined it for me. First and foremost, the supporting characters are ludicrously stereotypical and serve no purpose other than to provide red herring suspects. Each of the "losers" at the party has some cardboard-cutout version of a person in their lives to ruin it. Sarah, who would rather stay home and practice her violin than go to Cass's party, has her mother, who expressly forbids her from going and demands that she stay home to study. As Sarah has already decided to go to the party by this point, this character and her scene could have been cut from the novel without the deletion having any effect on the plot whatsoever.

Ellie, the plain and awkward friend, has perhaps the most unnecessarily bitchy "evil older sister" I've ever read trying to ruin her life. She's a fairly obvious reference to Cinderella's evil stepsisters, up to and including destroying Ellie's dress for the party (unfortunately for Ellie, she has no fairy godmother to repair or replace her destroyed gown and is forced to wear an ugly piece of crap her mom dug up instead). Again, since so little time is spent on actually building the sister up as a suspect, the character could have been completely cut from the novel without barely any changes.

Donald and Maggie share the misfortune of Donald's (ex?)girlfriend, Dolly. She's the extreme version of a clingy jealous girl, screaming at and threatening her partner when he tries to sever their relationship. She's clearly supposed to be another suspect, but since she's barely referenced after the party begins, she could also be removed to no detriment.

Then we have poor Shane, the new girl at school whose mysterious past is mentioned enough time to make it obvious that the mystery's resolution is going to involve whatever circumstances or people forced her family to move from their old town. But in addition to the baggage of her past, she's saddled with a mother who keeps trying to bully her into ditching her "loser" friends and becoming some kind of idealized social butterfly. While this character is actually fairly useful, if only for an extremely brief scene toward the end of the book, there's no reason for her to act the way she does toward her daughter; all it's doing is adding vague shades of subplot that never get any proper resolution.

The second element that left me dissatisfied was how the villain managed it all. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that it's a story that one quickly realizes upon a few moments' reflection is quite contrived; the villain had a laughably easy time getting to and into the busy home of a wealthy family she didn't know and then enacting a malicious plot within another individual's malicious plot without anyone involved in the first plot realizing that anything out of the ordinary was going on. In other words, it's supposed to scare you... but it's just too convoluted and convenient for it to make any actual sense.

If you're looking to reminisce with some 80s/90s teen horror, I'd recommend giving this one a pass--unless, of course, "lame but nostalgic" is what you're going for.

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