College applications and the SAT are already part of a stressful time for young people without adding murder to the mix. Like her contemporaries, however, Nicole Davidson knew that death could strike anytime or anywhere. This young adult writer uses this familiar rite of passage as the backdrop for his 1990 novel Crash course. The setup is suspicious enough; eight teenagers in search of higher education, along with their strict teacher, hole up in a lakeside cabin on Thanksgiving. This recipe for danger is self-fulfilling when a student dies under strange circumstances. And until help arrives, the other students succumb to their isolation and growing paranoia.
The teenage characters in Crash course are more or less strangers who have been sentenced to five days with Mr. Alexander Porter, a hard-working teacher who oversees a program for students planning to take the SAT. The story’s 16-year-old protagonist, Kelly Peterson, is surprised to learn that she was recorded without her consent; Her father has signed off on her entire Thanksgiving vacation. It’s not all bad because Kelly’s friend and passion are both listed as well.
In addition to the four popular kids from Thomaston High, there are four other characters who have different social positions. Isabel Smith is the new girl whose Native American heritage leads to awkward moments elsewhere. Kelly is especially guilty about having her strange new friend. Meanwhile, Chris Baxter is well known at school, but not for good reasons; The only black character in the story is a hulking athlete with a reputation for violence. Nathan Grant, who Jeff was quite familiar with before the trip, is a misfit in the more traditional sense of the word. Angel Manson, the alien girl from another school, comes up from the back of this diverse crew.
If she had, they might all survive the Thanksgiving holiday.
Davidson doesn’t skip straight to the murders, but when someone dies, the mystery consumes the rest of the book without pause or escape. After all, the castle is stuck in this remote cell until the bus picks them up on Sunday, and there is no nearby phone to call for help. Oddly enough, the author chooses to reveal almost who the culprit is in the prologue. Anyone who really wants to read Crash course it would be wise to skip the introduction, not to mention all this recap.
The first and only true death in the story occurs after Isabel sneaks up on the others with a a legend from the indigenous people of the region; Young lovers make a suicide pact and drown themselves in Deep Creek Lake so they can be together for all eternity. Kelly’s best friend, Brian Lopez, is visibly shaken by Isabel’s campfire story, but the reason becomes a little clearer when you remember what’s going on with his character. Before leaving for the trip, Brian was found to be arguing with his longtime girlfriend Paula Schultz. The selfish cheerleader is upset at the idea of them inevitably breaking up after high school, especially when Brian plans to skip college and go to Air Force One. The couple don’t get a chance to patch things up though – Brian disappears after going out on a rowboat in the middle of the night.
With Brian’s body nowhere to be found and Paula claiming a stranger is responsible, Mr. Porter goes in search of help. The remaining characters then try to solve the mystery on their own, which comes down to nothing more than a convenient fingertip. Chris displays his violent temper twice, but it is revealed that he is suffering from a severe case of “roid rage”. The sensitive jock has been injecting himself with anabolic steroids to get noticed by scouts. As for Nathan, his drug use and general unpleasant attitude all stem from bad conditions at home. Isabel simply heard that popular students were going to this retreat and she wanted to make friends. Of course, her story about the lovers had a greater purpose. Finally, there is Angel, the outcast who talks to animals and inanimate objects. However, she is too caught up in her own world to hurt anyone. Plus, Angel witnesses what really happened on the boat.
Where the odd is excluded, Crash course naturally gravitates towards the cool kids. Jeff Mitchell, a Harvard wrestler with a crush on Kelly, is a suspect for a hot minute before we remember that he has no real reason to hurt Brian. With that in mind, Kelly figures out who’s really to blame here. After Nathan is brutally stabbed and left with Isabel’s hunting knife – this is after he discovers who the attacker was – Kelly drags the perpetrator out into the open. At the waterfront where everyone once stood frantically searching for Brian that terrible night, Kelly confronts the culprit.
Because if he fell forward on his chest, the blade would drive right through him.
There is a hint of the uncanny in it Crash course, although the author does not follow. The mysticism and symbolism regarding Isabel is already bordering on immense. Yet it is Isabel’s story that partially inspired the crime. As Kelly suspected, Paula is the one who comes to meet her at the beach. She might have tried to silence Nathan, but Brian was a complete accident. Like Isabel, Paula knew in advance about the legend of the lovers of Deep Creek Lake, which is why she attended Porter’s SAT class and convinced Brian to come. In a dark twist set up in the prologue, Paula pulled out of her own suicide pact with Brian while they were on the water. Brian, in an attempt to scare Paula straight after hearing Isabel’s version of the legend, took his girlfriend out on the rowboat. Paula certainly changed dying with her loved one. Unfortunately, Brian slipped and drowned.
Brian’s death was an accident; he was not murdered. But Paula was worried that no one would believe her, or she feared that everyone would ostracize her. Despite her three accounts of attempted murder—Nathan and Kelly, along with Mr. Porter, who easily escaped with a broken leg—Miss Schultz was sent to a mental institution instead of prison. The sequel Crash landingwhich was published in 1996 but takes place over a year after the events in Crash course, takes place at a mountain resort near Deep Creek Lake. And as Kelly continues to mourn Brian, she becomes embroiled in another murder. However, this time she prime suspect.
The sequel’s mystery begins with Paula’s death during a rather wintry spring break. She secretly escaped from the institution to visit where Brian died and to make amends for everyone she hurt. But after Kelly forgives her, Paula is found dead from a stab wound. Kelly eventually becomes the number one suspect as part of the local police’s plan to lure out the real killer. While the scandal doesn’t quite go as planned, Kelly gets to the bottom of not only Paula’s murder, but also another crime under investigation.
Kelly turned her head to see the snowmobile slide carelessly through an opening in the trees, then cut straight toward her.
Crash landing panders to the dominant PSA culture of the decade. First there’s Nathan’s heavy drinking and then there’s Kelly’s eating disorder. Neither subject is 100% resolved by the end, so at least Davidson doesn’t set unrealistic expectations. Finally, it is the other crime that coincides with Paula’s death; A fellow student named Will has been selling guns up and down the East Coast. Had Paula not discovered one of Will’s guns, she could have lived much longer. The detective who solved Will’s undercover activities and protected Kelly, a 21-year-old named Troy, suspected drugs instead of illegal weapons. Nevertheless, this story was one of many in the 1990s that hoped to educate young people about drugs, gangs and guns.
Crash course is marketed as an Agatha Christie style story for the younger crowd, yet it is more like it The Breakfast Club if this movie had been a teenage mystery put on low flame. Crash landingon the other hand feels a 21 Jump street episode; it ends up being what can best be described as an after school thriller. There isn’t much going on in the first book, but in the second one maybe too much going on. However, for better pacing and a less predictable plot, the sequel is the better of the two Deep Creek Lake stories.
There was a time when the juvenile section of bookstores was filled with horror and excitement. These books were easily identified by distinctive typefaces and ornate cover art. This notable subgenre of YA fiction thrived in the 1980s, peaked in the 1990s, and then finally came to an end in the early 1990s. YA horror of this sort is definitely a thing of the past, but the stories live on Buried in a book. This recurring column reflects on the nostalgic novels that still haunt readers decades later.