Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-84775-9
Scary old people is a popular trope in kiddie horror stories, so it’s just a matter of time before something like Secret Agent Grandma shows up in the Give Yourself Goosebumps line.
This is also the first time your character gets the closest to a name: Cookie, the embarrassing nickname given to you by your grandmother who will be coming over to stay with you during the summer, while your parents go on a trip. Your grandmother is 75, and you haven’t seen her since you were a kid. She’s likely uncool and boring, you think, as you head over to pick her up at the train station. Perhaps your mother’s mysterious warning and what seems like an earthquake that occur while you are waiting for your grandmother is a sign that something is wrong. Indeed, as you meet your grandmother, you see a message written on the window: EMPLEH. What does it mean?
Depending on your choices, your grandmother will be a creepy alien (not a spoiler – see the cover), a secret agent akin to a Men in Black agent, and more. Yes, there are quite a number of disparate arcs here, and depending on your often random picks, you will either be stuck in a kiddie-friendly version of The Colour Out of Space, a cheesy alien caper, or falling face flat into the occasional bad ending that is more like a middle finger stabbed into your eye. The whole thing is a wacky, random, nonsensical kind of acid trip – the good kind, naturally.
What’s really entertaining here is how RL Stine had put together something that could have been a hot mess, but the end result is instead an unexpectedly coherent kind of campaign. The tone of the whole thing wobbles precariously between farce and homage, and the atmosphere is still a creepy one fraught with a sense of dread. Going off alone with your creepy grandmother can be a frightening experience, as there will be cute, but very hungry, creatures out for food, and you are the closest thing they have to a snack. The bad endings tend to end up with you being chomped down or struck with a case of body horror, but there are some random ones too like attending an alien conference only to find out that it’s a tedious one on trade and zoning and end up falling asleep, heh. It’s actually a disappointment to get a good ending, as they are actually the most boring endings bordering on anticlimactic letdowns after all the stuff you have experienced to get there.
Secret Agent Grandma is indeed an out of this world blast!