* * *
“The secret of Goosebumps … was it was the first book series to appeal equally to boys and girls,” Stine told The Washington Post in 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the series, which has sold over 350 million copies. “In fact, these books were originally done for a girl audience. And then the fan mail started coming in, and it was half from boys.” Anyone who read just a handful of Goosebumps books in elementary school would find this bit of trivia unsurprising. Stine’s books regularly featured both boys and girls as likable protagonists fighting killer cameras, werewolves, or ventriloquist dummies.
The Goosebumps film likely intended to do the same—and rightly so, considering its audience on opening weekend was split evenly between males and females—but it fumbles most significantly with how it portrays its young heroine. The first big twist reveals that Hannah (Odeya Rush) is one of her father’s creations—a book character come to life. Stine tells Zach he wrote Hannah to be a good, normal teenage girl, someone to love and to act as his companion. Zach, who has a growing crush on Hannah, is devastated but agrees to hide her true identity. But it turns out that Hannah already knows: “A girl can only have so many 16th birthdays,” she tells Zach near the end with surreal matter-of-factness, before she’s swept back into a book along with the other monsters. Then comes the second twist: Stine surprises Zach by writing Hannah’s character to life again and destroying the book she came from, to guarantee she will never return to its pages. This is the happy ending; the fact that Zach will grow older and Hannah won’t doesn’t seem to be an issue.
The film dwells more on Zach’s sense of loss and existential frustration when he learns about Hannah. Meanwhile Hannah seems unrealistically at peace with it all—even though she’s kept trapped in her house, homeschooled by her paranoid dad, and forced to relocate countless times. She’s brave, funny, accessible, magical, and beautiful in the way only idealized girls can be. And she doesn’t have a say in her return to her book—Zach only realizes her fate once it’s too late. The film doesn’t try hard to make the case that Hannah’s as “real” as anyone else despite being from a book, though it easily could have. That’s Goosebumps’s implicit premise when it comes to the monsters, after all.
Compare this to The Ghost Next Door: The twist is that Hannah Fairchild herself is the ghost, and the revelation has more of an impact since she’s the protagonist, not the pretty sidekick and love interest. When she learns she died in a fire along with her whole family and was left stuck on earth without realizing it, the book makes an effort to carve out her disorientation and sense of grief.
Now, Hannah understood why sometimes time seemed to stand still, and sometimes it floated by so quickly. Ghosts come and go, she thought sadly.
It was all beginning to make sense to Hannah. The dreamlike summer days. The loneliness. The feeling that something wasn’t right.
Even earlier in the book, Hannah’s self-aware and determined—she agonizes over whether she’s doing the right thing by spying on her neighbor, she worries that he’ll think she’s crazy before concluding that maybe she is crazy. The film instead transfers all this emotional and psychological turmoil to Zach and Stine. And while movie-Hannah’s fate is controlled in the most literal sense by the men and boys in her life, book-Hannah picks her own destiny. When her neighbor is trapped in a burning house near the end of the book, she rushes into the flames to save him in an act of sacrifice that sets her free.