Dani Solomon is the perfect teenager. Star of the tennis team, star of the a cappella group at her school. She’s popular enough, and has one best friend she can rely on for everything. She’s perfectly responsible, too, babysitting her five-year-old neighbor, Alex, while his mother is out at all hours. Alex is her life. So why is it that she can’t shake a mental picture of his death–at her own hands?
Dani’s beginning to think she might be dangerous, and the rest of the town heartily agrees. What started as the odd scary thought quickly snowballs into panic. Dani doesn’t think she’s going to hurt anyone; she certainly doesn’t want to hurt anyone. But as the villagers grab their metaphorical torches and pitchforks, it doesn’t look like that’s going to matter much. How far will fear drive the people of Hawthorne, Massachusetts to protect their children?
I so badly wanted to give The Babysitter Murders four, four and a half stars. I so badly wanted to love this book. But here’s the thing: it took me an age to get through it. Why? Because, and there is no way to get around saying this, but the first fifty to seventy pages suck.
I don’t mean that the beginning is a little slow; I mean that the first part of the six that make up the book just sucks. The second part isn’t so great either. Dani is obnoxious and too perfect. The writing seems cut from cardboard. Alex’s mother, nicknamed Mrs. Alex, is irritating. Malcolm, a cop’s son, occasional point-of-view character, and kid at Dani’s school is irritating and equally cardboard. Gordy, crush, romantic subplot, and singer in the a capella group, is completely flat, though he’s nothing compared to the second random romantic-subplot guy, also a singer, Nathan, whose purpose in the whole thing I never quite discerned. Was the love triangle supposed to be an important thing? If so, why? The premise is that Dani is believed to be a completely bonkers! It took me weeks to get through the first fifty pages, to make myself read without feeling like braining myself with my own laptop because Dani was being so pitifully stupid.
And then I read the last two hundred fifty pages in two days.
The Babysitter Murders gets better. It gets so much better. Those first seventy pages of total suck set up such a platform for the rest of the book to build off on! All those characters that you can’t keep straight for the first fifty pages come into play in at least a mildly interesting way at some point in the semi-distant future!
Dani’s problem does, eventually, become a real problem. Though I don’t agree with how her best friend reacts to the first mention of Dani’s oh-em-gee-I-keep-thinking-I’m-going-to-kill-someone thing, after a while the issue does become something very strange—well, after Dani and BFF Shelley start flippin’ out and thinking she’s crazy, but still. Dani even stops flipping out after a while, which is to say as soon as there are things she should be flipping out over, like angry villagers wanting to burn her at stake! (I’m kidding about the burning at stake. They’d rather shoot her.) Beth, Dani’s mother, steps in and adds to the story. Malcolm stops being pathetically irritating and starts being fascinatingly twisted. Gordy becomes more three-dimensional, as well as the other dude, Nathan. Well maybe not Nathan. I’m still not entirely clear why he ended up in the book at all. But Gordy gets that third dimension! He’s just a little thin!
The Babysitter Murders is an acquired taste. By which I mean to say that it takes ages to get into. The characters get a little more interesting, the reader gets a little more used to them. Eventually it makes sense. Or if it doesn’t, well, you’ve gotten through the crap part anyway. Eventually it gets less annoying that the narrative jumps perspective like an ADD squirrel jumping between bins in the bulk section of Whole Foods. Which isn’t to say the author ever stops jumping perspective. Just, it isn’t quite so annoying after the fifth or sixth narrator. At least it’s in third person, so you can actually tell whose perspective it’s in?
So a five-star premise, a four-star execution, and an oh-god-that-was-awful beginning–that averages to 3.5 stars, yes? Math nerds? Sure. Basically, though, read it. The beginning sucks. You will get through it. If you don’t like it by page 150, sure, you can set it down. But by that point you’re nearly halfway through the book anyway, and who could set down a book that late in the game? See what I did there? Mhm. Now go read. Read it fast. No, really, read quickly, maybe you can glaze over the initial suck!
Kat Alexander is a Figment Reviewer who (clearly) loves to read and comment. She’s active on a number of sites including NaNo, Fiction Press, and FanFiction under aneko24.