In honour of Earth Day, here’s a book featuring a canoe trip, and the unique micro-environment of Shadow Island! Yes, I’m reaching, I know.
Title: Class Trip
Author: Bebe Faas Rice
According to the cover, this was an Edgar Award Nominee. Fancy.
The book opens with a monologue. There are only two people left alive out of the seven who went on the trip, and one is a murderer. Also the narrator of this chapter desperately wanted to be part of the “high school royalty” the other six belonged to, and sit at their special table in the cafeteria and stuff.
Chapter one gives us the cast of characters, in this order:
Christabel is the “golden haired goddess” leader of the clique. Melanie is her hanger-on, and a bitch to the narrator. The narrator, Angie, is rich because her family own a chain of drugstores, and she interior-monologues to someone named Michael about how much she misses him.
Ron is “over six feet tall and ruggedly handsome” and the most popular guy at Oakbridge High, and dates Christabel. Tracy is a tall, athletic “jockette” (actual word used in this book) who doesn’t really belong to Christabel’s clique. James has recently been struggling with depression. And Chip is Melanie’s boyfriend, and gets described as “athletic and popular, but not particularly smart.”
They’re all going on a week-long trip to Shadow Island with Mr. Holmberg, their science teacher, and his wife who teaches home ec. This will earn them extra science credit. It sounds like it should earn the Holmbergs one hell of a bonus, looking after these horrors for a week. God.
The group (minus adults) go out for pizza on the night before they leave for the island (they’re already staying at a hostel at this point) and Angie gets slightly tingly over James. Tracy also has a crush on James, but he’s oblivious.
We learn Michael may have had a crush on Christabel (Angie thinks he “just admired her looks.” Sure, Angie) and that he died because he drunk-drove off a cliff.
Ahaha, there’s a police roadblock because they’re looking for a man named Amos Fletcher, last seen wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants, who has escaped from
an L. L. Bean catalogue a state mental hospital. This book has everything.
The next morning the Holmbergs are sick. Also, someone has stolen a canoe. The group make the idiotic decision to go to the island without the Holmbergs to get set up (and to have unsupervised hook-up time). Angie tries to object (more sensible than the others, or just has no one to hook up with?) but is shot down.
It takes HOURS to get across to the island, and Angie thinks some stupid stuff about how Michael was a genius scientist who would have grown up to do important things, and they were science geeks together, so now that he’s dead her goal is to become beautiful and join the popular clique so he’ll be proud of her. What the what? Why would a science geek be proud of you for that? I hope he reaches back from the afterlife to smack some sense into you.
James’ hobby is tape recording stuff, like birdsong.
Also, Angie wasn’t merely included on this trip: the others, notably Christabel, begged her to come along because she’s so good at science.
The cabin, which they were told was abandoned and run-down, is abandoned and run-down. This upsets Christabel. She’s also outraged that there’s an outhouse instead of a bathroom, and no shower, just the lake. She’s blaming Ron, for no reason whatsoever.
They’re staying girls in one room, guys in the other. This reminds me of the sex-free atmosphere of Fear Street novels. Was it a rule in YA horror publishing that no one could have sex?
They divide up to fetch wood and clean up the cabin and whatever, and Chip doesn’t come back, so they go looking for him and find his corpse. He’s lying too far from the bloody rock for it to have been an accident. They MOVE THE BODY because they are idiots, so now he’s stored in a shed by the cabin. Great.
There’s a storm that night, and in the morning the canoes are gone, even though they’d been dragged up on shore and secured. Christabel blames Ron for this, too:
Christabel looked at Ron with open hostility. Gone was the teasing love-goddess personality she used to assume with him. I noticed with some satisfaction that she didn’t look so pretty in the early-morning light. She looked hard. (p. 90)
They find one of their life jackets slashed, so probably the same person who did that set the canoes afloat. Because they can SEE the canoes across the lake, they just can’t reach them.
Angie thinks that she and James are “starting to function like a team” just like she and Michael used to. He kisses her while they’re out looking for signs of the murderer. ROMANCE. They both actually sound completely insane to me, but especially James, who goes on about how he feels something special for her. Then they get distracted by the sight of a plaid-and-khaki-wearing guy in the distance, who takes a canoe and leaves the island. James says they’re safe now!
Except then Tracy has an allergy attack and drops dead as soon as she uses her nasal spray. It smells like bitter almonds, and Angie recognizes it as cyanide because her father is a pharmacist and also because she reads a lot of murder mysteries. Ha.
Christabel asks James for a drink from his flask and he gets angry at her, saying she should know he doesn’t drink any more, and soon they’re arguing about some guy James says was tricked into getting drunk and becoming just another statistic. Uh-oh. I think I know what happened to Michael. Angie doesn’t act suspicious or ask ANY questions about who they might be talking about, which makes me think she already knows.
James has also worked out that Amos didn’t kill Chip, because Amos was gone when Tracy died, and it’s unlikely there are two murderers on the island. So he thinks it was one of the group.
Everyone except Ron goes to gather wood. Ron pops back to get the flare gun, chides Angie for leaving the door unlocked, and that night Ron doesn’t come back. Except we don’t actually SEE him leave the cabin, and his last words to Angie are to tell her James doesn’t know he came back for the flare gun. I’VE SOLVED IT. Angie is doing the killing. She had the door unlocked because she doesn’t have to fear the killer, she is the killer.
Ewww, Ron was shot with the flare gun and the back of his head’s missing. They leave his body on the beach instead of stacking it with the others.
Melanie drinks some tea and dies.
Christabel takes the flare gun and leaves the cabin because she thinks James and Angie are in on the murders together.
James goes out looking for Christabel but can’t find her. When he comes back to the cabin he and Angie go out together, and find her body.
Angie grabs the flare gun and starts gloating. She’s got a little paring knife, which she used to kill Christabel, and there’s curare on the blade. Wow, she really is going to get an A in science! Oh, wait.
She explains she executed them all for killing Michael, except Tracy, who she calls an innocent bystander. Wow, cold.
“…Perfect partners, And that’s what Michael and I were.”
“Then what was he doing at that party?” James asked. His voice was cruel and cutting. “Christabel’s party? He came by himself, not with you.”
I could feel my face turn red.
“Michael,” I said, “had a philosopher’s love of beauty. And Christabel is…was…beautiful. It was only a temporary infatuation. He would have seen right through her. Maybe he had, before the party ended.” (pp. 205-6.)
So Angie is not only mad as a cut snake, but has zero self-awareness to go along with it. She’s been seething with jealousy toward Christabel through the entire book.
But at least I understand why losing weight and fitting in with the popular crowd were important to her: it was how she could get close enough to kill them. Still not quite getting why Michael would have been “proud” of her for that.
Also, she slipped laxatives into the Holmbergs’ cocoa! She does have strong planning skills, I’ll give her that.
But then the Holmbergs show up, and they see them. Knowing she can’t kill James, Angie does the next best thing (if you’re a homicidal maniac): wipes the knife clean, throws it between them, rips her clothes, and prepares to frame James.
Except James has been taping her entire confession. Well done, James. She’s crying as the Holmbergs approach.
This was a neatly-constructed thriller. I miss the absolute nonsensical insanity of Fear Street, though.