The Babysitter Murders

Common Sense Media says

Inauthentic story explores mental illness, Internet rumors.

Age(i)

2
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9
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers might want to learn more about mental illness and how it's treated. They also might want to explore First Amendment and privacy rights, particularly concerning teens and the Internet.

Positive messages

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.

Positive role models

Dani’s mother is at first inattentive, but once she realizes what’s happening she goes to considerable lengths to protect and help her daughter. Other adults, including a police officer and a teacher at school, are extremely judgmental of Dani and her family. Dani’s best friend doesn’t stand by her during the ordeal, but her new boyfriend tries to respect her wishes and needs. One classmate with a crush on her goes out on a limb to help her even though she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. Dani herself shows considerable bravery and self-awareness to take the steps she feels are necessary to protect the boy she baby-sits.

Violence

The violence is mostly imagined or threatened: Dani graphically imagines herself killing several people, including a young boy, his mother, and her own boyfriend. A vigilante group pursuing her seeks to exterminate, detain, or “modify” people who prey on children. A teen affiliated with that group threatens to hurt Dani. Commenters in online forums post threatening messages. Dani is encouraged to hold a knife to her therapist’s throat as part of her treatment.

Sex

Dani and her boyfriend kiss and her friend tentatively pursues a relationship with another girl. Dani imagines herself touching the genitals of her a cappella group's music director.

Language

Mild swearing and vulgar insults including "bitch," "dyke," lesbo," "skank," "prick," and "twat."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One teen character smokes; his father appears to be a recovering alcoholic and resumes drinking by the story’s end.

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.

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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?

QUALITY
 

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.

Book details

Author:Janet Ruth Young
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Atheneum
Publication date:July 26, 2011
Number of pages:336

This review of The Babysitter Murders was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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