The Babysitter Murders
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the teen protagonist has very graphic thoughts about killing and verbally hurting the people closest to her, but at no point does she seem seriously at risk of acting on her obsessions. The community rises against her and very few people show her any understanding or compassion. The book is clearly meant to sound a warning about the danger of rumors, assumptions, and the nastiness encouraged by anonymity online, as well as to shine a light on mental illness and how easily it’s misunderstood.
What's the story?
Dani Solomon is worried she suffers from TMI -- Too Much Imagination. The reality proves to be worse: She has obsessive thoughts about wildly uncharacteristic behavior, like insulting her mom, shouting homophobic insults at her best friend, and even stabbing the sweet boy she loves to baby-sit. These thoughts upset her so much she confesses them to the mother of the boy she baby-sits -- and before long, vigilantes in and outside of town are pursuing her as a potential child-killer.
Is it any good?
This could have been a meaty story exploring mental illness, parental paranoia, and the danger of rumors in the Internet age, but there are too many false notes. The teen characters are inauthentic and unrealistic; the supposed therapy and long-term implications of this form of mental illness are poorly explained; and shallow characters and implausible plot elements turn it into a shrill exercise.
Author Janet Ruth Young does a nice job depicting the speed and nastiness with which the campaign against Dani spreads and grows, using newspaper accounts, blog posts, and the perspective of different characters. Overall, however, there’s little for readers to grab on to. The dramatic interactions are hung on huge developmental pegs -- budding romance, coming out as gay, Dani’s diagnosis -- but lack depth. It's an entertaining but ultimately disappointing read.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how Internet forums contribute to the hysterical reaction against Dani Solomon. Who do you think bears responsibility: the commenters, the blog hosts, the newspaper? Parents might want to read Common Sense Media's Internet safety tips and discuss them with their teens.
How is the campaign against Dani Solomon similar to more common cyberbullying? For help, read our articles on cyberbullying and teens.