This is a book in the series that I didn’t actually read as a kid. I remember my friend Steven bought it on a trip to Wal-Mart, and I picked up Megamorphs #2: In the Time of Dinosaurs because I had moved past Goosebumps and was really into Animorphs at the time. I had always wanted to read this book, though. I’m glad I got the chance, but I don’t feel like little-kid me missed out on much.
The book is essentially about an evil sponge that causes, or at least feeds on the bad luck of its owner. While it has an interesting concept, and the writing is actually pretty decent, I don’t think this book was executed very well. I’ll get into why in Analysis. First, let’s look at this awesome cover.
This cover is amazing. We hear about books where the cover doesn’t do the book justice, but I think in this book’s case, the cover far outshines the actual book. Those glowing green eyes are sinister, and they draw me in as a reader. I like the details of the pipes and cleaning supplies. I like how the cabinet doors are thrust open. I even like the choice of brown for the background; brown rarely looks good on anything, but knowing this is a book about an evil sponge, brown is appropriate. It’s dirty and atmospheric.
My issue with the cover is that it suggests the book could be so much more. Those eyes do not belong to the sponge-creature we encounter in the book, so despite the book not being all that bad, I felt let down by default. What’s interesting is the cover is suspenseful. It made me want to know what was under the kitchen sink. The book jumps very quickly into the evil, and so I felt let down rather quickly. I’ll explain more about that further down.
Tagline: It’s warm! It’s breathing! And it doesn’t do dishes!
The tagline is also really good. It actually made me laugh out loud. Admittedly, I didn’t read the tagline until I had finished the book. It works for the evil of the story, the sponge creature. I have no complaints here.
Kat and her brother Daniel are moving to a “mansion,” a much larger house than they had, actually just a few blocks from their original neighborhood. It was kind of interesting and relieving to read a Goosebumps entry in which its protagonists move to a new house but don’t have to deal with adolescent issues like trying to find where they fit in or make new friends. Having said that, them moving to a new town as well as a new house might have made the book more interesting, because those issues, while tired for the Goosebumps series, would have made Kat and Daniel dynamic characters. They felt really flat to me.
The book wastes no time at all jumping into the evil, as Kat and Daniel’s dog, a cocker spaniel named Killer, starts growling at something under the sink. Kat, who was asked by her parents to scrub the cabinets in the kitchen, discovers what Killer is growling at, a pulsating sponge-like creature with black eyes. The descriptions of the sponge, particularly of how it moves in Kat’s hand, made my mind jump back to Egg Monsters From Mars. This is not a bad thing, and these books were written by the same author, so it makes sense. (This book technically came first.) There are only so many ways to describe pulsating, I guess. Stine tried. He even threw in throbbing a time or two. These descriptions are alright.
The sponge’s breathing is what is weird. Whoa-ahhh. Is it shocked? Pleased? Both? Probably.
Kat’s curiosity is naturally piqued by the creature, and she shows the creature to Daniel. The two fight over it for a short time, but while examining it under the sink, Daniel hits his head on the sink. Their mom comes in, and Daniel tells her that Kat pushed him, which is startling to Kat and the reader. Kat didn’t push Daniel. Why does he think she did? When left alone with the sponge, she realizes the sponge has gotten warm and has started pulsating with pleasure. She tries to show the sponge to her mom who has no interest at all, and her father who ends up falling off a ladder while reaching for the sponge. The sponge again starts to pulsate and breathe weirdly. When Kat’s mom comes in to investigate, Kat’s father accuses Kat of pushing him off the ladder. Again, weird; that’s not what happened. Figuring the sponge creature is to blame, Kat decides to throw the sponge away. Daniel finds and gets it out of the trashcan, however. Daniel’s friend Carlo wants the sponge, but Kat, who was content with throwing the creature away before now decides she wants to hang onto it until she figures out what it is. She puts it in a gerbil cage in her room.
On his way out, Carlo steps on a nail that goes through his shoe and into his foot, making him bleed heavily. Again, Kat discovers the sponge creature pulsating wildly.
Kat decides to bring the sponge to school to show her teacher, who she is certain will know what the creature is. When she shows her teacher, however, the creature is dried up and looks like a normal, nasty sponge. The teacher slams her fingers in her desk drawer and Kat has to escort her to the school nurse. Several other bad things happen: Killer, the family dog, disappears. A tree limb cracks and almost falls on Kat. It rains on Kat’s birthday causing her party to be canceled. Kat slams her hand down on a pair of scissors.
Daniel discovers a book in his school library called Encyclopedia of the Weird. When he goes to show Kat, he pulls it out from under his shirt like he was hiding the book, which was weird to me. Are kids not allowed to check out books at their school library? Is he worried someone will see him reading and make fun of him? He flips to a page in the book that has the sponge. It’s called a Grool. It does not eat or drink, but rather gets its strength from feeding off peoples’ bad luck. The kids read that the Grool cannot be killed “by force or by any violet means,” and it can’t be tossed or given away. The book states that if someone tries to give the Grool away, he or she will die within one day.
Kat gets interested in a picture of another creature in the book, a Lanx, a potato-like creature with teeth. This creature is not important to the plot, and I knew it would not be. It was extremely clear to me that this picture stuck out to Kat only to set up a “twist” ending.
After Kat’s birthday party gets rained out, she decides to bury the sponge. Kat wakes up the next day and discovers the entire yard has died. She decides she has to retrieve the Grool. She tries showing the Grool to her visiting aunt, but the Grool again appears to be a dried up sponge.
Carlo eventually steals the Grool and wrecks his bicycle on the way to the park to show the Grool off. The Grool is stolen, and Kat tries to get it back from some bullies. She succeeds after one of the bullies is hit in the head with a baseball. Kat is nearly ran over on her way home, and the front tire of her bicycle is slashed.
Kat, who has had enough of the Grool and its relentless bad luck, tries to stuff the Grool down the garbage disposal. She succeeds in cutting it up, but it pulls itself back together and rises from the pipes. Daniel reminds Kat that the Grool cannot be killed, because the book said.
It is then that Kat gets a crazy idea. The book says that the Grool can’t be killed by force or by violence. She decides to try to love the Grool. She sings to it, coos at it, cradles it, and even kisses it. Her plan actually works, and the Grool disappears.
Kat, Daniel, and Carlo go out for icecream to celebrate. When they return, they find their dog has come home, and he is growling again at the cabinet under the sink. Kat opens it and finds that potato creature with teeth I told you was just in this book for this cheesy ending.
I hesitate to say that this book is awful. The writing isn’t bad and the idea of the Grool is interesting. What kills It Came From Beneath the Sink! for me is the book’s lack of suspense. Let’s start there.
Something Stine is good at that I’ve commended him on before is creating suspense. Arguably, it’s his strength as a writer. With It Came From Beneath the Sink!, however, he threw his strength out the window. The book begins:
Before my brother and I found the strange little creature under the sink, we were a normal, happy family. In fact, I’d have to say we were very lucky.
The “very lucky” part could have been interesting foreshadowing since this book is all about a creature that causes bad luck, but the Grool appears at the end of Chapter 2. That rush of that reveal kills any suspense that the beginning creates. I think back to The Night of the Living Dummy, which is an incredibly suspenseful book, and remember that the dummy is not revealed to be alive until near the end. The protagonist thinks he’s alive, and the reader suspects he may be, but there is still a question until we find Mr. Wood walking and talking. That question, that atmosphere, that what if… made The Night of the Living Dummy scary for me. This book didn’t have that.
In fact, it seemed to me that Stine went out of his way to kill any suspense in this book.
Chapter 12 ends with Kat threatening to bury the Grool if anything else bad happens around her. She tells the reader,
It was a promise I would soon have to keep.
I’ve seen this done in other books, movies, and games. (Writing it, I actually thought about Phoenix Wright from the Ace Attorney games). This technique works to create a cliffhanger or keep the reader reading, but all it did in It Came From Beneath the Sink! is let me know what was coming, and lead me to be bored when it happened.
I want to compare this technique in this book to Say Cheese and Die!, an entry I covered very recently. In it, we knew what would happen before it happened because of the nature of the evil camera. I wrote in my review of that book that this created suspense for me and kept me on the edge of my seat while reading. I think it’s because, even with the picture, I did not know how the event was going to play out; I knew the end result was coming, and was almost covering my eyes as I read, waiting for it to happen. There was still some unknown, and that unknown created suspense.
With this book, it played out exactly like Kat said it would. It rains on her birthday and she buries the sponge. I’m thinking the issue is that Stine doesn’t leave the reader waiting. We turn the page and the very next sentence is describing the bad luck that causes her to bury the Grool.
I think with horror, immediate gratification is not the reader’s friend. Stine should have kept us waiting and guessing a little more. Thst would have made for a stronger book.
The Grool is far more interesting than Kat or Daniel in this book. Daniel comes off like every little brother in a Goosebumps book: a prankster, a baby… Kat just comes off bland. All we learn about Kat is that she likes the same types of foods her father does (I think she mentions lasagna?). She gets a bedroom with a balcony at the beginning of the book, and not once do we ever read about her on it. Does she have interests? Dreams? Fears? Sadly, no.
As I wrote, the Grool itself is interesting, but I do not think it is as interesting as it had the potential to be. Near the beginning of the book, Daniel accuses Kat of pushing him into the sink after he hit his head. Kat and Daniel’s father accuse Kat of pushing him off of the ladder. The reader knows Kat was responsible for neither of these things. That was the most interesting part of the Grool to me, and that is where I feel Stine should have taken the Grool further. Perhaps when Kat’s teacher slams her fingers in her desk, she could have blamed Kat. When Carlo steps on a nail, he could have said Kat pushed him. That would imply that not only does the Grool cause bad things to happen, but that it makes it seem as if Kat is responsible for the bad things happening. That’s intense. That’s interesting. That’s suspenseful. Unfortunately, the book only took us there twice near the beginning, and that was it. Damn, Stine, you were so close to having a good book here.
Something else that irked me but that I’m a little more forgiving of is that we learn about the Grool from a book one of the characters happens to come across in a school library. It skates a little too closely on the line of convenience for my liking, but my issue with it is it just wasn’t an interesting way to let the reader know about the Grool. Secondly, we are given this information about the Grool way too early in the book.
Have you ever watched a movie trailer and then watched the movie and realized that the trailer gave everything away? That there was no real point in watching the movie because you got what you needed from the trailer? That was this book for me. I got everything I needed from the book very early on and was just left wanting for the rest of it. Stine could have given us suspense. He could have given us character development. But nah, what we got was promised bad luck, and bad luck that was mild and not even scary at that.
Reader beware… due to its lack of suspense, and its offering of well, nothing else, you will probably be bored with this one.