Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: The Babysitter Murders

Janet Ruth Young
Dani's been having disturbing thoughts. The seventeen year old girl loves her best friend, her mother, and especially the little boy she babysits (Alex), but lately she's been having thoughts of hurting them -- anything ranging from the most hurtful insults to graphic murder -- and she doesn't know how to stop it. Confessing her unwanted thoughts leads to a media frenzy in her small town as everyone speculates on who the "nanny nutjob" might be and Dani becomes vilified as she tries to simultaneously keep herself safe while figuring out how to stop her thoughts.

This book was sort of terrifying. It's told in a disarming way -- third person present tense -- which distances the reader from Dani but also gives a more objective view of the events. It's a struggle to adjust to this sort of writing, but in the end it works well for the story. Dani is sort of an everygirl character (responsible, good friend, good daughter, good grades), but her terror at the thoughts she's been having is palpable. On more than one occasion she hides kitchen knives from herself just in case.

Let's be clear: Dani doesn't want to hurt anyone. Quite the opposite. These are people she loves and she consciously, actively wants to keep them safe, but she isn't sure how. When she can no longer handle the thoughts on her own she knows that she must do whatever she can to keep Alex, the boy she babysits, safe. This means confessing her horrible thoughts to his mother, who immediately calls the police. What follows is both the public outcry at the fact that Dani isn't arrested, and the private struggle Dani and her mother go through as they find help for her.

This is a very interesting (and scary, quite honestly) book about a very specific type of OCD. It's well-written and the subject matter is so captivating that the book is difficult to put down. However, many of the characters, especially a schoolmate who has a crush on Dani, feel two-dimensional: a little flat, as if their entire character is dictated by the role they play in the book's plot. The dialogue is sometimes a bit forced and cheesy, and the subplot involving Dani's best friend always seems to just take up space; next to Dani's very strange, very huge problems, everything else seems a little silly. All of these flaws only accentuate that, really and truly, this is a book about a premise, a subject matter. Everything -- characters, dialogue, relationships, subplots -- comes secondary to that.

And you know what? It's not bad. While this would really bother me in many books, here the flaws are more than forgivable for the simple fact that, next to Dani's problem, nothing else matters. Though the ending is a little odd, the story stops in the right place, bookending Dani's journey and leaving the reader satisfied with the story. It's a very complete picture of a very different sort of mental illness and it's troubling, difficult, to read. Despite that, this is a book (and a character) that, even in the direst of circumstances, never surrenders to the dark.


  1. Hmmm, this one sound intriguing too. Of course it does, everything you read has me tempted.

    1. Oh, thanks. *is flattered*

      This one really is worth reading; it's got such weirdness to it.

  2. Oh my gosh, I have GOT to read this book.