Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Red Rain includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author R. L. Stine. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Lea Sutter, a travel writer, follows her adventurous spirit to Le Chat Noir, a mid-Atlantic island with a propensity for hurricanes—and the living dead. After barely surviving a hurricane there herself, Lea finds two young orphaned boys, Daniel and Samuel, and adopts them on the spot.
When Lea arrives home in Sag Harbor with two new sons in tow, Lea’s husband Mark their children, Ira and Elena, are less than thrilled. The young boys don’t quite fit in, but Lea stubbornly refuses her family’s pleas to reconsider the adoption. Around the same time, small nuisances start popping up—a stolen necklace here, an insistent room swap there—that cast suspicion on the angelic young boys. But when a man is brutally murdered in the Sutter’s driveway, suspicion falls on Mark. As the Sutters’ lives begin to unravel under the weight of the murder investigation, Sag Harbor is hit with a string of grisly homicides and missing children, including Ira and Elena. After a gruesome takeover at the local school, Daniel and Samuel’s true motives are finally revealed.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What writing techniques did you find the most successful at maintaining tension and building suspense? Was there a particular scene that had you on the edge-of-your-seat?
2. How did the prologue affect your experience of reading the rest of the book? Were you surprised at how quickly the book’s narrative caught back up with the scene set in the prologue?
3. Did you like the author’s choice to make some chapters blog posts? How did the blog post style enhance the narrative in ways that a more straightforward chapter couldn’t have done?
4. Martha explains to Lea that Le Chat Noir is “the only place on earth where the living share their space with the living dead.” (p. 11) Expand this concept of a line between life and death. Where else did you see tension between life—vitality, exuberance—and death—darkness, destruction—in Red Rain? What other dualities did you see at play in the book? Where, and between whom?
5. Which character was the strongest anchor of sanity in the book? Roz? Mark? Pavano? Whose viewpoint did you trust the most?
6. Which of the murders spooked you the most? Consider how fear works—was it creepier when you “witnessed” the murder or when you slowly discovered details after the fact? Why?
7. If you were Pavano or Pinto, who would you suspect for the murders of Dr. Hulenberger and Autumn? The other murders? The missing kids? Do you think the police were out of line in suspecting Mark for the crimes? Why or why not?
8. Did you suspect the Revenir was at play in the twins’—and Lea’s—behavior throughout the book? If yes, what gave it away? What parts of the book seemed different to you in hindsight, once you learned what had happened on Le Chat Noir?
9. Daniel asks Samuel, as they survey all their kids in the school, “Does it make you feel alive, Sammy? Does it now?” (p. 315) What do you think motivated the brothers to kill? Did they really just want to feel alive?
10. Stine saved two plot twists—one about Lea, one about Axl—for the very end of the book. Did you see either one coming? How did the twists change your impression of the rest of the book? How would you imagine a sequel to Red Rain playing out?
11. Consider the prevalence of explicit, realistic violence and terror in the media today. How did the experience of reading a thriller differ from the experience of watching one? Did you feel desensitized to the violence in Red Rain?
12. Some horror novels scare audiences through psychological manipulation within realistic scenarios, while others rely on otherworldly but abjectly horrifying scenarios. Which is scarier to you? Where did this book fall on the spectrum between these two methods?
Enhance Your Book Club
Enhance Your Book Club 1. R.L. Stine is well-known for his children’s books, particularly his Goosebumps series. As a group, pick a Goosebumps novel that you’ll read before meeting, or read a chapter out loud during book group. What similarities did you find across the genres in Stine’s writing style and approach to horror? Which aspects distinguished the adult book from the children’s one? Pretend your book group was tasked with turning Red Rain into a children’s book. How would you edit the book for age-appropriateness? Keep in mind Stine’s own note that, “I have to give the kids shivers — but not nightmares.”
2. Write your own short horror story before book club. In order to keep the Stine spirit alive, your story must include at least three of the following components: foreshadowing, a plot twist, a cliffhanger, or a teaser prologue. Read a few of each other’s stories aloud and try to identify the components used in each story. How does writing your own thriller change your opinion of Red Rain and of the genre in general?
3. Keep the undead spirit alive in your book club by taking a ghost tour of nearby haunted attractions. Use the following websites as guides: www.ghosttourdirectory.com/find-a-ghost-tour or www.angelsghosts.com/haunted_ghost_tours.html.
4. It may not be Halloween season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a spooky book club! Get into the thriller spirit with the following ideas: turn out all your lights and have book club entirely by candlelight; decorate your book club meeting space with spider webs, mirrors, and any other eerie decorations; or play an ominous soundtrack quietly in the background (think thunderstorms, wind, howling cats, or organ music).
A Conversation with R.L. Stine
You wrote jokes and joke books as a young writer. Do you plan on going back to comedy at some point? Do you see any similarities between writing comedy and horror?
I think there’s a close connection between horror and comedy. When you go to a horror movie, you always hear people laughing and screaming at the same time. I try to include a lot of humor in my horror writing, especially for young people. I use the comedy to lighten the mood any time I feel a scene is getting too intense for kids. To me, the structure of writing joke books and horror novels is similar. I always think of the big, climactic horror scene as the punch line. Recently, I wrote a kids’ series that was pure comedy—not scary at all. It’s called Rotten School.
Though you’re most widely known as a children’s author, Red Rain isn’t your first adult novel. What brings you back to adult fiction, even with such success in the children’s book world?
Many of my devoted Goosebumps and Fear Street readers of the 90’s are now in their twenties and early thirties. I keep in touch with that audience on Twitter, and I feel very grateful to them. Many of them requested that I write something new for them. These readers inspired me, and I actually wrote this book because of their many requests.
How is writing for adults different than writing for kids—stylistically, technically, or content-wise? Do you prefer one over the other?
When I write for kids, I have to make sure they know the creepy events in the book are fantasy. The readers have to know that the scary stories couldn’t happen. They are just make-believe. I don’t want them to believe the story and become frightened. Writing for adults is the complete opposite. The horror will not work unless every detail is real, unless the story and characters are completely believable.
You once explained that you don’t feel competition from gruesome horror movies because your target audience is too young for R-rated films. Do you feel differently with Red Rain, knowing that your older readers are indeed exposed to graphic, violent movies?
I’ve always made a distinction between the slasher/torture movies and horror stories. I think a horror story needs some wit and cleverness, twists and surprises. It’s a different process to plot a thriller with twists and turns—not the same as a story in which someone is held prisoner and is slowly tortured. Red Rain has some pretty graphic, nasty scenes. But I didn’t write them because I felt pressure from any other horror source. I just wanted to tell a nasty story.
Do you believe in karma, ghosts, or anything else supernatural? How does the supernatural influence your writing?
My friend from New Orleans said she had the ghost of a young boy living in her house, and she saw him in the kitchen several times. I’ve never had this kind of experience. I’ve written dozens of ghost stories and I’ve never seen one. But I keep looking.
Red Rain is set primarily in Sag Harbor, where you have a home. What locations in the book, if any, are based on actual spots in your town? Would you ever set a grisly murder in someone’s real-life home?
The Sag Harbor locations and streets and the pier are all real. I tried to be as accurate as I could to give authenticity to the story. The restaurants and shops are all real, too. I did make one change for plot’s sake: I put a middle school next to Sag Harbor Elementary. It doesn’t exist there but I needed it close.
Do you envision any single character in Red Rain as a truly reliable narrator? Who can readers trust to most clearly point out danger ahead?
None of the characters are reliable narrators. Lea is reliable in many regards, but she has a very big secret she is keeping. Mark is reliable and honest with the reader, but it takes him a very long time to begin to figure out what’s happening in his household. And Pavano is basically clueless.
You once said, “I try to shock readers and tease them and lead them off in the wrong direction.” Did you know the twists in Red Rain would happen when you started writing? If not, when in the writing process do you formulate them?
I started with a seven-page outline of the premise. I knew there would be evil twins and naïve, unsuspecting parents. I knew there’d be hideous murders. But the story didn’t really develop until I began writing. This is very unusual for me. For all my kids’ books I do a very detailed chapter-by-chapter outline before I begin to write. I usually think up the ending first. But not in this case. With this book I planned only three or four chapters at a time. I kept thinking of new wrinkles and new twists as I wrote. I rewrote the first 60 pages twice, and I kept moving chapters around—something I’ve never done in my life. I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I thought of Lea’s big surprise. It meant I had my ending—and I knew how to get there.
Which one person, alive or dead, would you be most excited to see reading Red Rain?
One person reading it won’t get me excited. A few million people reading it would be very exciting to me! But, seriously…I would love to see one of my now-grownup readers reading this and rediscovering the “I-want-to-keep-turning-the-pages” feeling that he or she had at age.
If you had to live through one book that you’ve written, adult or children’s, which would you pick, and why?
Ha ha. My impulse is to say that I’ve lived through them all! But…I’ve written several time-travel novels, (Beach House and Haunted come to mind), and I guess they are the ones I’d like to live in. I’ve always been fascinated by time travel. I have a real yearning to go back, say, 50 or 60 years, just to smell the air and see what people look like and listen to what they talk about. I wouldn’t like to live in most of my books. I don’t like true life horror. But I’d love to travel back a few decades just for the fun of it.