Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [YA]

Review: The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young

The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young is a tough book to read. It's the story of Dani, a young girl who babysits a little boy named Alex, and he is just the cutest thing ever. Alex is such a sweet kid and Dani genuinely loves him and enjoys being a part of his life, even though his mom (who Dani calls Mrs. Alex) takes advantage of Dani and is someone who bothered me from the very beginning of the book. But then some stuff starts to change for Dani and her mind begins to betray her. She finds herself having violent thoughts, vivid imaginings where she will stab Alex with a large kitchen knife.

At first, she tries to just shake off the thoughts but they continue, and the longer they go on, the more vivid and violent they become. Then Dani starts having similar thoughts in other areas of her life, around other people. She imagines saying horrid things to and about her best friend, her mom, doing cruel and horrible things to her new boyfriend, doing embarrassing things to her teachers and more. The thoughts get so vivid and are so strong that she looks around in a panic, desperately trying to determine whether or not it actually happened.

Dani tries talking to both her best friend and her mom about what's happening, but neither are very receptive to Dani and neither are able, or really even willing to offer the help she needs. Awkward conversations and willful ignorance... Finally, not knowing what else to do, Dani confesses her thoughts to Alex's mom, hoping that she will finally stop nagging her to keep babysitting. Immediately, Mrs. Alex goes upstairs and calls the police.

And here is where this book really started to become the mind-changer that it is. This is a book that forced me to reevaluate some of my assumptions and the lines that I've drawn. I have a tendency to view much of my world in black and white. I understand that there is a lot of gray area in the world. I get it. I do. But, I am also willing to admit that I refuse to see a lot of that gray area. Child abuse, rape etc are things that I have a firm black and white view on. So is child endangerment and the rights of a mother to protect her child. BUT, and here is where this book starts to really hit home, the mother in this book, who thought she was doing what was best for her son, did not handle it well. What she ends up doing, by calling the police is opening up a can of worms that is going to change everything and might possibly destroy lives.

One of the police officers who comes to pick up Dani from Mrs. Alex's house is a really great guy. He's concerned about Dani and he takes the time to talk to her, to really figure out what is going on with her and he tells her mom she needs to be seeing a therapist. The other cop however, is the type with a huge chip on his shoulder, the belief that he is better than everyone else, and that the rich kids (Dani) are never actually accountable for their actions. He takes these feelings home with him, and passes them along to his son, a kid at Dani's school. This cop is one of the worst characters in the novel and every single scene with him in it made my skin crawl. He talks to his son about teenage girls in a horribly inappropriate way, discussing their bodies and physical attributes. Talking about a teen girl's bra size when you are 16 is crass but not a big deal. But being 45 and talking about a 16 year old's bra size to your 16 year old son?! Creepy, inappropriate and wrong.

His son, Malcolm takes his dad's opinions about the case (stuff he overhears, because cops are bot supposed to talk about this stuff at all) and he starts spreading news around, targeting Dani, although for a long time he doesn't use her name. This creates a lot of unrest and chaos and it becomes dangerous for Dani. People start making threats and a private vigilante group comes to town to try and 'pick up where the law left off'. This scared me a little bit. While reading this book, you are firmly on Dani's side. It's so obvious that she doesn't want or welcome these thoughts, that she is desperate to get rid of them and beyond terrified that she is somehow going to act on them. But the members of the community don't get to hear that, and by the time anyone might say something about it, they are too far gone to want to listen anymore.

I read this book, and realized that those people might have been me. Not the vigilante group (although, it scared me to realize that in some circumstances, I might have agreed more strongly with them) but with the people in general who believed that she was a monster. Having access to Dani's thoughts changed things for me, made me realize that there are some instances where a black and white view of the world is dangerous and isn't always to be welcomed. It's part of human nature, this tendency to judge before being sure of all our facts and this is a book that makes you really stop to think.

Dani faces such challenges and it's really heartbreaking to watch her. She is terrified. She has no idea what is going on, why her mind suddenly feels like it no longer belongs to her and she is genuinely afraid she is going to hurt someone, and she wants to do whatever it takes to prevent that.

I don't want to really spoil this part for readers, because I think it's important for the reader to discover some of this along with Dani, but as you can gather from the synopsis, Dani finds herself struggling with a mental illness. This is one of the most complete pictures of Dani's particular illness that I've ever read. I graduated with a degree in Psychology and this is a disorder I studied during my undergrad. I get really frustrated when I read a book that paints an incomplete or incorrect picture of a mental illness, but this one was marvelously written. I want to hug the therapist that Dani ends up going to see. I'm still not sure what exactly I want to do with my Psychology degree, but if I were to take it into counseling, that is the type of therapist I hope I could be.

Watching Dani learn to live with her illness, learn to cope with the changes in her life broke my heart at the same time it was so empowering. She is such a fabulous character. I just wanted to hug her for so much of the novel because she really is lost and scared. Your mind is supposed to be the one thing that is fully yours, fully under your control. What are you supposed to do if your mind turns on you, becomes a thing you fear?

The Babysitter Murders is a book that will challenge you and your perceptions, that will help you grow as a person and as a thinker and it's one that is going to tear at your heart. It's also a book that begs discussion, the needs to be talked about. So, if you finish, and you need someone to talk to, you know where to find me.