Retro Reads: DIE SOFTLY by Christopher Pike [Review]

Die Softly

A while back, I was reading The Vampire Diaries and I was surprised to find that it was published in 1991 and I was only just now reading it. That got me thinking – what was I reading in 1991? The answer: Christopher Pike. If you grew up in the late 80s and 90s, chances are you’ve read at least one of his books. Back in the day, they would keep me up reading all night and freak me out like nothing else. I think they were so popular because they were fairly edgy compared to most books in the Young Adult section of the library. Murder, drugs, sex, and the supernatural – Pike’s books have it all.

It’s been years since I read a Christopher Pike book so I decided to pick one up at the library, only I was shocked to find that my local library didn’t have any of his books. I guess kids today are too busy reading Twilight and Gossip Girl (both good books, but kids don’t know what they’re missing). I ended up ordering Die Softly from another library and it was just as good as I remembered.

The basic premise of Die Softly is that 18-year-old Herb Trasker doesn’t have much going for him except that he’s a good photographer. Once he finishes high school, he wants to use his talent to get out of the small California town he lives in. Unfortunately, before that can happen, he decides to use his photography skills to set up a camera in the girls’ locker room because he’s crushing on a cheerleader (Alexa). This being 1991, it’s more difficult than you might think. Herb has to go all MacGyver and connect a camera to a VCR programmed to record at 8 separate times, and this somehow triggers the camera to take 8 pictures. Yeah, I know, but these were the days before everyone had a camera on their cell phone. Anyhoo, the day he sets up the camera, a cheerleader (Lisa) dies in a car wreck. When Herb develops the pictures he is surprised to find that he snapped one of Lisa in the shower with someone sneaking up behind her. Herb may not be the sharpest tool in the drawer, but even he figures out that maybe she didn’t really die in the car accident, and now he has the evidence to prove it.

My thoughts on Die Softly (Plot Summary and MAJOR SPOILERS ahead):
Cocaine, beer, murder, sexy cheerleaders – what more could you ask for in a novel? I wanted to reread Die Softly because, for some reason, I distinctly remember the plot of this book even though it must have been 19 (!) years since I first read it. Cheerleaders killing people with bad cocaine is just one of the many outrageous, but strangely plausible storylines that Christopher Pike is known for. If you remember, Alexa is actually the murderer and the one Herb catches with his camera. Alexa and Lisa had been best friends and together they killed their “shared” boyfriend Roger by tying him to a tree, duct taping his mouth closed, and forcing him to snort cocaine. Do you hear that kids? Drugs will kill you… if deranged cheerleaders make you snort your weight in cocaine. Well, actually the coke didn’t kill him, it gave him superhuman strength and he was able to break free from his bindings. He then got into a car chase with the girls and ended up driving off a cliff. Awesome.

I remembered Herb as being really pervy and diabolical, but now I realize he’s just naïve and was manipulated into setting up the camera by his friend Sammie. Alexa and Sammie worked together to kill Lisa, and Sammie had Herb set up the camera so she could get some proof against Alexa. Watching these girls manipulate poor Herb is actually kind of sad. At the end of the book, Alexa (figuring out that Herb in onto her) goes over to Herb’s house and pretends to seduce him. Once he’s tied up, she kills him with coke, complaining that it takes most of her stash to do it. Poor Herb bites the dust, but he gets the last laugh because (unnoticed by Alexa) he rigged his camera/VCR to take pictures of her during the act. Score one for Herb. In the end, Alexa gets busted at Herb’s funeral and his mom calls her “a wicked girl.”

One thing that really struck me while reading Die Softly is that the characters seem much older than high school seniors. Herb works full time in a factory and he and his friends drink beer at the home he shares with his mom. When Alexa isn’t busy hatching elaborate murder plots and seducing boys, she’s also fencing stolen jewelry and buying drugs. Maybe that’s why I liked these books so much as a teenager – the kids in them seemed so grownup and not like anybody I actually knew.

I had a blast rereading Die Softly and I think I’m going to be reading more Pike books in the future. Does anyone else out there remember reading Die Softly? What’s your favorite Christopher Pike book? Leave your comments below!

Quotes from Die Softly:

His blood was hot. His thoughts were naughty.

“I want to die young”, she said. “That way I can stay pretty.”

Back then she had been a tomboy, and she’d grown up not entirely feminine. First there were her clothes. She dressed like an ex-convict, a male ex-convict.

I’m sorry. You can’t be worrying about my supply at a time like this. You have to die… Just be easy, and I’ll let you die softly.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Pocket Books | Pages: 248 | Source: Library | Buy on Amazon

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