Reader Beware Month: Say Cheese and Die!

What if you could see into the future?  It would obviously give you an advantage, yes.  But what if you couldn’t change what would happen, no matter how bleak or horrifying?  What if your future is written in stone and you can’t do anything to change it?  This is the basic theme of today’s tale, Say Cheese and Die!

We follow preteen Greg in this adventure.  One day, while he and his friends are bored (I just noticed that childhood boredom is a recurring theme in these stories), they decide to break into an abandoned house for some fun.  While exploring the basement, Greg finds an old camera and decides to take it for himself.  But every time he takes a picture with it, the picture shows something bad happening to the object within it.  Is the camera broken, or is the camera predicting horrible futures?  Spoiler alert, it’s the second option.  Which isn’t really a spoiler since that’s the basic premise of the story.

I respect the themes behind this book.  Destiny and fate, whether the future is changeable or not.  The problem is, the book never really explores these themes.  Greg, after taking the pictures and figuring out what the camera does, never does a thing to stop what may happen.  He just sort of accepts each picture as an inevitability.  That really irked me, as it made Greg seem like a really passive character.  He never felt like he was trying to do anything in the story, he just rolled with the punches.

The camera itself never really felt like a threat to me.  This story tried to do the same thing that Monster Blood did (even down to the almost-out-of-nowhere climax), making the object seem menacing even though it didn’t really move.  The problem is, the “evil” camera felt like a non-issue.  I kept thinking to myself “So… Just don’t take pictures.  Voila, it can’t hurt you.”  Monster Blood worked better because the problem kept growing even if you tried to ignore it.  This evil camera could go completely ignored and all the problems around it would be solved.

The story, for the most part, was decent.  You did get a sense of dread with each picture taken and what could happen to lead to the event in the picture.  You felt bad for the characters and their predicaments when they happened.  It even tried to answer all questions you may have at the end.  The explanation was a bit of a stretch, but still believable inasmuch a Goosebumps book can be believable.  The climax was more of an anti-climax, as the final “fight” was over in seconds with the click of a button.  And the final villain of the piece didn’t feel like a threat either, but he still worked as a bad guy.

The characters all felt well-rounded as well.  None of them really fell flat at any point and each had a distinct personality.  Some of them felt pushy at times, but I felt the purpose of that was to move the story along, which is honestly fine with me.  My only problem was with Greg, whose only real moment of action was putting a camera back where he found it.  The rest of the time, he felt like only a spectator in his own story.

Despite all its faults, Say Cheese and Die still works for the most part.  The themes behind it are very interesting, even if they aren’t explored in the least.  Bottom line, it might not be all that scary, but it’s still better than Welcome to Dead House, which I have just decided is my bottom marker.  Just remember, kids.  Boredom leads to horrible, evil things.  So stop kicking that can in the driveway and read a book.


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