Rereading Weekend by Christopher Pike was the first time I was grateful for e-books.
I first became acquainted with the non-digital version of the thriller in sixth grade and, along with my younger brother, slowly became obsessed with Pike’s work, ultimately amassing a collection of his novels that rivalled the number of Barbies either of us had ever owned. We found the books at thrift shops, in library sales and on ebay, plowing through titles like The Wicked Heart and Road to Nowhere in single afternoons.
In my mind, Pike’s work was characterized by a no-fail combination of blood, boobs and brain. If it wasn’t clear from the cover of a Pike book (usually adorned with a blonde who was either dead or about to be), you quickly learned that violence was an essential aspect of a Pike novel. This was where the brains: Figuring out which innocent white kid was the killer was always my driving motivation in reading Pike’s books, and he usually managed to stump me. Along the way, there was also lots of teenage sex, which satisfied the growing curiosity that my sixth-grade Orthodox middle school wasn’t addressing.
Even at the time, I was confused why my parents were letting me spend Shabbat afternoons curled up on our couch with a copy of Die Softly. Granted, Pike’s books weren’t the only ones I read too early; I had already gone through the likes of To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and Flowers for Algernon in years prior and acted appropriately sassy around teachers and friends who insisted the novels were out of my league. They were right, of course — not because the content was inappropriate, but because there’s no way the average 10-year-old mind can understand the true impact of a novel like Harper Lee’s. Yet despite the fact that I’ve had to spend my adult years thus far rereading many of the classics, I’ve never regretted my parents’ earnest assertions that they would never censor my siblings’ and my childhood teenage reading choices. Knowing that I had the power to pick up whichever book I wanted not only helped foster my love of literature, it validated my identity. I grew up feeling capable of making my own choices and grappling, alone, with the consequences.
Christopher Pike novels, though, that’s where my parents’ logic starts to fail me. Of course, I’m happy they didn’t censor me (nor do I think it would have worked), but Pike’s novels certainly didn’t have the same literary merit as the other books I was reading; even as a 12-year-old, I was acutely aware of this. Yet for some reason, in between working my way through The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I lost myself in Chain Letter and Fall into Darkness.
It’s because I have such fond memories of reading Pike’s books alongside some of the greatest American literature in existence that I decided to re-read one of his novels at age 22. I wasn’t expecting the second reading of Weekend to be as illuminating as going through Carson McCullers’s work as an adult, but there had to be some merit to these books, right? So on a Monday night, after trying unsuccessfully — twice — to march into my favorite used book store and ask for a paperback with the tagline “Saturday they worked on their tans. By Sunday they were working on staying alive,” I caved and curled up with an ebook version of Pike’s 1986 novel.
Right away, I was introduced to the old friends I remembered: seven seniors in high school driving to Acapulco for a fun-filled weekend. The kids are visiting their friends Robin and Lena, the two adopted children of a California millionaire who say things like, “I swear, sometimes it doesn’t pay to be rich.” Soft-spoken Robin has recently been spending her days hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine after drinking a poison-spiked beer at a party. Her sister, Lena, is secretly everyone’s number one suspect because, duh, she’s a slut who loves sex and therefore a Bad Person who’s after the family fortune. Also on their way to the Mexican mansion: preppy Park; Sol, everyone’s favorite token non-white character; Big Bert, who’s as dumb as he sounds; lead character Shani; her friends Kerry and Angie; and some mysterious British kid named Flynn who no one seems to know very well.
I remembered the tropes of Pike’s novels well — the sense of impending doom, the sexually active 17-year-olds, the female narrator who’s slightly unsure of her situation — but there was one factor that I had apparently never noticed: racism. Sol Celaya “was tough to the core. Brought up in L.A.’s barrios, he’d once admitted to stabbing his first person — a member of a rival gang — at the age of twelve.” Fortunately, though, after meeting the novel’s nice, white kids, Sol “developed a knack for using English concisely. And damn it if he didn’t take to spending hours in the library.” I remembered Pike’s novels being terrifying, but not for this reason.
On their way to the mansion, the boys run into a Native American man who — I kid you not — is depicted as having a blackbird constantly circling his head. The kids know he must be Native American because, as they observe in the book, “He has that look.” For some reason, the dude can only speak Spanish and communicates to Sol some story of a dove, raven, snake and robin. “The same Robin we’re going to visit?” the kids wonder. Only time (and some basic knowledge of cliche) will tell.
Up until this point, rereading Weekend was pretty much one never-ending eyeroll. For some reason, when I elected to pick up a late 1980s novel about high schoolers, I had never considered that racism and misogyny might be part of the equation. I nearly stopped reading at several points, but faith in my middle school self — and an increasing desire to discover who sabotaged Robin — kept me going. I barrelled through the thriller, cringing each time Sol said something like, “You should have been born in the barrio. You’re a real man” or Lena’s un-womanly love of sex was made clear through her suggestions to play strip poker or have an orgy. Meanwhile, “Shani closed her eyes, listening to her heartbeat. A cool breeze stirred her curtains. Far away, over the black sea, a bird cried. Even as the darkness outside merged inside, she knew she would dream of poison.”
It was only in the final chapter of the novel that Weekend finally stopped feeling like a test of the morals I had adopted at my liberal arts college. After a terror-filled weekend of garage explosions, ominous remarks from Robin and that damned crow showing up on every other page, the kids are finally drugged and interrogated by the mysterious Flynn, who, in a twist no one saw coming, turns out to be none other than Robin’s twin brother. This was the thriller I so fondly remembered. After piecing the night together at the insistence of Flynn’s pistol, the truth comes out: (SPOILER ALERT) plain, unsuspecting Kerry is the one who accidentally poisoned Robin. The beer had been intended for Lena, as a way to finally resolve some high school drama between the two involving cheerleading. In the end, Flynn donates a kidney to his long-lost sister and Lena decides to forgive Kerry for trying to slip rat poison into her drink, and, of course, the story about the dove, raven, snake and the robin turns out to come true, with each animal corresponding to one of the teens. (See? The insertion of that horribly offensive caricature of a Native American was actually essential to the story.)
I mock Pike’s novel but the truth is, the suggestion that a woman shouldn’t be able to have as much sex as she wants wasn’t what made me double-lock my apartment door as I was reading. Some of the thrill that I remembered from my preteen years was still there. And say what you want about Pike’s characters, but he knows how to work a plot twist. I’ve watched so much true crime television that, every once in a while, I pat myself on the back for having predicted the entirety of Gone Girl; still, I wasn’t at any point totally sure what was going to happen to the terrorized teens of Weekend.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll be reading another one of Pike’s thrillers anytime soon or that I was impressed with my middle school self for plowing through his novels. If anything, I felt disappointed in preteen me. I had, quite literally, read Weekend alongside To Kill a Mockingbird, yet the problematic depictions of race in Pike’s paperback hadn’t made their mark in my memory (nor, realistically, do I think that I even noticed them during my first reading of Pike’s book). No one likes to think of their childhood self as a case of undiagnosed racism, but what was I to think of the 12-year-old girl who fed a Christopher Pike addiction through multiple eBay purchases and never stopped to think about the characters whose gruesome murders and sexcapades she was reading with a reverence usually reserved for texts in Jewish day school?
In the end, I think, my second reading of Weekend proved what my preteen self never wanted to believe was true: Kids shouldn’t just be taught how to read and then set loose. I wasn’t left wishing that my parents had gone through my paperback novels crossing out offensive lines with a black Sharpie, but I do wish that someone, whether it had been a librarian or my parents, had reminded me that reading isn’t just about what you get out of the plotlines, it’s about what you get out of the story. I grew up in a home where racism wasn’t tolerated, and I learned a decent amount in school, but I was so thrilled by the sex and murder of Christopher Pike’s world that I forgot to apply that knowledge to the material I was reading in my free time.
Pike’s novels are well crafted, but the thrill of trying to figure out who murdered the white girl next door isn’t the only thing he put into his novels. It’s the way the author himself describes a high school prank at the beginning of the novel:
Yet it had happened many times before, in cheap exploitation films, the thoughtless kind without a shred of realism or warmth. Perhaps that was what had made the trick seem so especially base. However, though the fundamental idea had been boringly simple, its implementation had never been so wickedly crafty.
Weekend scared the shit out of me when I read it as a 22-year-old. Pike is, to his credit, wickedly crafty. In the end, though, Weekend’s offensive characterizations left the novel without realism or warmth. Like much of my 12-year-old years, filled with braces and NSYNC, Christopher Pike belongs to the past.
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
KEEP READING: More on Books