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Paperbacks from Heck: Driver’s Ed

Inspired by Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell, this new series of blog posts will highlight the 90s teen horror explosion. Get ready for neon covers, insane plot twists, and plenty of nostalgia!

Most teenagers are super excited about getting their driver’s license. The sweet freedom of the road, a means of escaping parents, and the promise of good times…

Count on young adult horror to take your enthusiasm down a notch. Car accidents, drunk driving, hitchhikers – getting your driver’s license suddenly became your worst nightmare.

Hit & Run

A group of friends, out joyriding, accidentally hit someone. Now they must make a secret pact not to tell anyone, because if anyone finds out, they might go to jail, or not get into an ivy league college.

Sound familiar? It’s the plot of I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. While this story pre-dates the 90s by quite a lot (it was originally published in 1973), the movie firmly cemented this story in 1997. That’s right, over 20 years later!

Look before you cross…

It’s also the plot of almost every other book on this list.

Like Hit and Run, one of R.L. Stine’s non-Fear Street books, written in 1992. Four friends, driving at night? Check. Someone dies? Check. The friends then make a pact not to tell? Check. Threatening messages afterwards? Check. In this case, it’s a man, not a boy on a bike, and the big reason they don’t go to the police is because they’re driving with permits.

Caroline B. Cooney’s Driver’s Ed (1995) isn’t so much about a hit and run, as about kids in driver’s ed who steal a stop sign, which results in a fatal accident. The teens then wrestle with whether or not to step forward and confess. There are also four of them…

Lest you think the hit-and-run is limited to teens in cars, we have The Biker (1995), an entry in Diane Hoh’s Nightmare Hall series. Murder, blackmail – yeah, we’ve read this one before.

The moral of the story is: traffic-related deaths do not have to result in a life-or-death pact between friends.

Don’t drink and drive…

There’s no turning back… they haven’t learned how to do three-point turns yet!

Bad things happen when teens drink and drive, like hit and runs and MURDER! R.L. Stine’s Dead End (1995) exemplifies teenage irresponsibility, when Natalie decides not to get in the car with her drunk boyfriend and goes home with her friends, instead of oh, I don’t know, getting him home safely? Instead, someone gets killed, and in true I Know What You Did Last Summer style, a bunch of the teen drivers/passengers decide not to go directly to the police. And then they start getting murdered. Um, sounds like every other book on this list so far.

And other car accidents waiting to happen…

She has returned. From the dead.

Despite the cover, this story starts off with a car accident. In Diane Hoh’s The Accident (1991), Megan’s three friends are injured in a car accident, after which Megan begins hearing the voice of a dead girl.

Driver’s Dead (1994) by Peter Lerangis, a.k.a. one of the Baby-sitters Club ghostwriters, weaves a story about a girl who is a terrible driver (she crashed her dad’s car) that is also somehow about the Vietnam war. Kirsten isn’t learning much from her alcoholic driver’s ed teacher (not the first awful driver’s ed teacher here, see also Driver’s Ed), so she takes up with sleazy Rob to learn how to drive in his messy old car. He turns up dead shortly thereafter in a car accident…

Hitchhikers from hell!

Death came along for the ride…

Count on Christopher Pike to take teen horror novels about driving to another level. And by another level, I mean purgatory.

When you’re running away from home, of course you want to pick up not one, but TWO hitchhikers, both with weird-as-heck names. Poppy Corn and Freedom Jack? Road to Nowhere (1993) by Christopher Pike is only one of two novels he wrote that feature hitchhikers.

Teresa’s highway to hell involves a lot of talking. Most of the story is Teresa, Free, and Poppy telling stories while they drive. There are a few choice destinations: about five mini-marts, a haunted castle where a psychic lives, and a church. I saw the end of this one coming a mile away, but guess what? The end doesn’t involve a pact.

Just say no to mummified hitchhikers.

Whisper of Death (1991) also features a hitchhiker on the cover, even though the story wasn’t really about hitchhikers at all. The characters do encounter a hitchhiker, who plays the role of portent. I had to include this one on the list, though, because Whisper of Death is one of my favorites, and has one of those classic Christopher Pike WTF plot twists. It also features a warning: don’t smoke at gas stations. Because you’ll die.

My driver’s ed classes weren’t nearly this horrifying, unless you count parallel parking!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane, stay tuned for the next installment of…

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