Title: The Baby-Sitter IV by R. L. Stine
Summary: Jenny is recovering from her horrifying experiences of baby-sitting. Now she’s in a new house. In a new neighbourhood. And Jenny has sworn never to baby-sit again. But then Jenny’s new neighbour has a crisis and begs Jenny to baby-sit…
Poor Jenny. She should have said “no”. Because someone is watching Jenny again.
Someone who hates baby-sitters. Someone who wants her…dead
Tagline: New neighbourhood…new nightmare.
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
Initial Thoughts: My takeaway from the summary is that they’ve completely given up at this point and do not even care that the same story keeps happening to Jenny over and over and over again. Why is she dumb enough to keep baby-sitting? Why would anyone want her to baby-sit anymore? I’ve never read this book before, and already I hate it.
Also, this is the book where Dove thinks Jenny is an alien based on the cover. I can’t actually disagree with her after looking at it. [Dove: look at the cover! That’s an alien. Sidenote: Despite your Stine feud, I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE the Goosebumps movie with Jack Black. Thought this seemed like a good a place as any to mention it.]
[Wing: Up until this book, my Stine feud was actually mostly friendly and though I had issues with some of his writing, I thought he was pretty charming and delightful when I’ve heard him speak, but I am legitimately furious over this one. Still, the Goosebumps movie is on my Netflix queue.]
We open with a prologue of Jenny in the mental hospital. Awesome. These books handle mental health issues with such tact and grace and honesty, I’m definitely looking forward to reading all the words about Jenny’s treatment. Oh wait, no, the opposite of that.
The prologue is set up to make us think Mr Hagen’s corpse really has returned, but it’s just Jenny hitting a dummy with a baseball bat as a part of her treatment. Her anger and fear is gone, she’s almost ready to leave the hospital and go home, and she swears she’ll never be afraid again.
That’s not really possible, Jenny, but okay.
Skip to chapter one, and there is a hideous green face pressed up against Jenny’s cheek, and we’re introduced to more characters. I am already angry at them because I had to go back to previous recaps to see if we had bff continuity with Jenny’s friends. I NEVER WANTED TO SEE THOSE RECAPS AGAIN, STINE. I HATE YOU.
We have Claire and Rick, who have been mentioned as her friends since book two, so there is that going for it. (Still no word on what happened to Laura from book one, though.) They’re catching up at the Pizza Oven, which is a location from book two, so even that has some continuity. I hate that the bar is so low this impresses me, but it is and it does. Great.
We learn that Claire never gets Rick’s jokes, but Jenny laughs. That is also continuity from previous books, where Claire didn’t have much of a sense of humor. I don’t know what to do when Stine is getting things right. [Dove: the same thing I do when Cusick’s on a roll: wait.] [Wing: Sadly true.]
Jenny has spent the last year in the hospital, and loves that now she gets to hang out with her friends at the mall, not even buying anything, just hanging out and catching up and acting normal. And I’m going to give this one to her, because coming out of a hospitalization like that, going back to what was normal for you would be the greatest thing in the world.
Jenny is surprised that Claire and Rick have become such a strong couple over the past year because Claire is always serious and Rick never stops goofing around. That’s pretty much textbook opposites attract, though, Jenny. Claire wrote her nearly every week while she was in the hospital, and most of her letters were about Rick and how much Claire cares about him. On the one hand, yay for friendship and writing letters. On the other hand, what, you couldn’t talk about anything but your boyfriend? That’s not so great.
Character description time!
Claire: Tall and thin, nearly a foot taller than Jenny, with straight brown hair she streaked blond for the summer. She has it tied back in a long ponytail and wears a pale blue tank top over white tennis shorts. What exactly are tennis shorts? Aren’t they just regular athletic shorts? I am so confused. (But obviously not confused enough to bother looking it up. [Dove: a quick google implies that they’re shorts. Only you wear them while playing tennis. Is Claire playing tennis? IS STINE LYING TO US?] [Wing: So weird.]) No description this time about how she’s taller even than Rick is.
Rick: Has thick, black hair he never brushes, and is a big teddy bear, kind of good-looking, with a broad forehead and dark, playful eyes. He also makes a fat joke about how big Claire is getting when they sit down at a booth. I hate you, Rick.
Rick’s uncle owns a shoe store at the mall, and Claire and Rick worked there last summer, but Claire is not working there this year, and swears she won’t ever again. Rick went back because his uncle made him an assistant manager, but Claire points out all three salespeople at the store are now called assistant managers. That’s kind of a shitty thing to do, bursting Rick’s bubble, but it is also a true statement. The title doesn’t really matter much when everyone has the same role.
Claire’s working the food stand at the community pool, and she likes it well enough because she gets to swim during her breaks and she sees a lot of kids from school.
We learn that Jenny’s mom got a new job as a legal secretary, which I hope means Stine is cutting them some slack with the whole being poor/Jenny has to help support her mother thing that frustrated me so much in the previous books. They’ve moved into a new house too. Jenny’s not sure how she feels about it; everything is weird for her, new house, new neighbourhood, getting out of the hospital.
And Jenny’s mom is seeing some new guy, too. Lots of changes around Jenny’s home. The guy’s name is Winston, everyone calls him Win, and he’s very good-looking, tanned, blue eyes, blond hair, very princely. That all makes him sound like a complete jackass, but whatever.
Jenny has a great night with her friends. She continues to be pleased at being out of the hospital, at being unafraid and determined to stay that way. Then Rick drops her off in front of her new house, and when she turns toward the front door, she sees a dark figure step out from the shadows at the side of the house.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss us the hell off.)
It is, unsurprisingly, her boyfriend, Cal. Oh good lord, not only do we have an unnecessary cliffhanger, but Cal has returned. I hoped we’d seen the last of him. They make out awhile, and Jenny is so pleased to be kissing him again after a year without any kisses. That would suck, if you like kisses.
Cal, too, wrote Jenny frequently while she was in the hospital. That’s sweet. He has blue eyes and white-blond hair [Dove: isn’t that the same colouring as Donny, the kid from Book 1? DIVERSITY BE DAMNED, IT’S THE 90s!] [Wing: Well, little white-blond haired kids are creepy as fuck.], and Jenny is falling in love with him. Also, he whispers things a lot, which I find weird. He didn’t meet them at the mall because he ended up having to work an extra shift at the gas station. He pretty much hates Hansen, his boss there, and just talking about him leads to him shouting and going off on one of his rages. That is how Jenny puts it; normally he is quiet, but he has an angry side, and Jenny never knew what might touch it off, make him explode in rage. Jenny, this does not sound like a healthy relationship. It sounds like you think you need to walk around on eggshells so you don’t set him off.
[Dove: please also note, his jerk of a boss was yelling at him because he left the cash register open. It’s not as if Cal was two minutes late, he did a stupid thing. Admittedly, yelling is the worst way to deal with anything, but still, the reason for the reprimand was solid, even if the execution was lousy.]
I beat you because I love you: 1 (+1) (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)
Cal keeps talking about quitting, but Jenny points out he can’t, because he needs the money too badly. His dad was laid off from the box factory, and they’re living on his mom’s salary as the assistant store manager at Wal-Mart. So maybe Jenny and her mom have moved away from money stress, but clearly Cal is going to get it all dumped on him. Awesome.
Jenny tells him to stop talking so crazy and kiss her. How about I punch you in the face, Jenny?
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
After they kiss a bit longer, Jenny runs inside. The house is still strange to her, clean and new, and she compares it to what it was like at the hospital, where she shared a room with five other girls and never had any privacy. Some of them cried at night. Every night. That is not surprising, Jenny.
Then the phone rings, even though it’s nearly midnight. Immediately she’s reminded of Mr Hagen’s terrifying calls, and the calls that came from the last two books after Mr Hagen was dead.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
When she finally answers it, Claire has called. Of course Claire called to check on her. She called earlier, while Jenny was still outside with Cal, and got worried when there was no answer. Apparently Jenny’s mom is such a heavy sleeper she once slept through a tornado. As someone who has been through many tornadoes, I am not sure I believe that, but okay. [Dove: I managed to sleep through the most exciting bits of a hurricane, but I was seven, and it was in England, so it probably doesn’t count.]
[Wing: Having also been through hurricanes, I can see sleeping through it. A tornado is much shorter and more immediately dramatic. I mean, maybe the tornado was three counties away and that’s how her mom actually slept through it.]
Claire goes on to tell Jenny how glad she is to have Jenny back with them, and it’s really kind of sweet, but there is this underlying feeling of Claire waiting for Jenny to snap again. Maybe I am reading too much into this, based on my own mental health experiences. We’ll see. [Dove: No, you’re not reading too much into it, Claire starts the conversation in quite a distant, almost passive agressive, fashion, quizzing Jenny thoroughly on precisely why it took so long to answer the phone, why nobody else answered the phone, why she had to ring twice to get through, then caps it off with “But, listen, Jen. If there’s anything… anything stressing you out, or anything messing up your mind. Anything you want to talk about… well… you know you can talk to me – right?” which makes it seem like she’s already doubting Jen’s recovery.]
Just as she’s drifting off to sleep, she hears a long, low animal howl.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)
Well, I see Stine is in fine form with his pointless cliffhangers.
Jenny looks out into the yard. All she can see is a large green watering can near her mother’s flower garden and the garden hose sitting coiled like a snake next to the garage wall. The howl comes again, cold and hollow-sounding. I am not sure what exactly you describing with those words. They don’t seem to fit a long, low animal howl.
Then she catches a glimpse of someone – something – flitting across the grass, a little boy with blond hair. The wind blows the curtain over her face, and by the time she pushes the soft fabric out of her eyes, there’s no one in the yard, and the howling has stopped. All she can hear is faint music from several houses away.
The next day, she meets the Warsaw kids. It’s a sultry summer day, the grass is hot and dry beneath her bare feet, and Jenny is dressed in a faded pink midriff top and very short denim cutoffs. She takes a can of iced tea and a paperback mystery novel out to the sassafras tree in the middle of the backyard so she can read under its shade.
A big German shepherd comes to visit. He lives across the street and is very friendly. Still, he’s wandering around off leash into other people’s yards. Had he wandered into my backyard, my dog would have freaked out trying to protect me. She is an antisocial dog. I am an antisocial human. We are a good team.
(That’s a lie. She loves people, and they love her. I end up having to talk to way more people than I would ever do on my own when I walk her, because she’s so friendly and adorable. I’d rather pet strange dogs. [Dove: This is not entirely true. Wing’s dog hates me. I am “talky screen” to her, and I waste Wing’s time when she could be petting Dog instead.] [Wing: This is true. Though mostly Dog has given up on interrupting talking screen time and just passive-aggressively flops around sighing.])
After the dog leaves again, Jenny thinks a little bit about how she learned to stop living in a dream world in the hospital. She just put her mind to it and stopped letting her thoughts run away with her, stopped letting nightmares in, because she lives in the real world now.
Oh, Stine. Why? Why did you have to say shit like that? I do not have the time nor the energy to go off on a long rant about this presentation of the treatment of mental illness. Way back in book one, I talked a little about anxiety and how it was interesting to have an anxious character. And yes, part of some treatments is learning to recognize when you are in the middle of a dangerous thought pattern. But fixing things isn’t as easy as simply deciding to live in the fucking real world, and this sounds just like the harmful anti-med and anti-treatment propaganda that people still preach today.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1001 (+1000)
We meet Mrs Warsaw, who has only recently moved in next door. She has a round face, tight ringlets of light brown hair, and a tiny, little girl’s voice, nearly a cartoon voice, Jenny thinks. She can’t tell how old Mrs Warsaw is, but guesses somewhere between 30 and 40. Dear god, this book is making me feel old, and I rarely feel old. (Nor do I feel old enough that people of my age should have kids, but they do.) Her two kids are Sean and Meredith, and she asks Jenny for a favor, to watch the kids for a ten or fifteen minutes while she runs to the store.
She’s already met Jenny’s mom. Surely she’s been warned about Jenny’s history? Why in the world do people keep asking this girl to baby-sit?! [Dove: because the plot demands it.]
Jenny agrees, and goes over to the next yard to sit with the kids for a few minutes. Despite my complaints that the same story keeps happening over and over, I can’t actually criticize this choice. It is supposed to be for a few minutes, the kids are just hanging out in the backyard like Jenny was, and the mom was in a bind.
Meredith: Five or six, plump, chubby hands, round face like her mother, curly, light brown hair in a loose ponytail, tiny dark eyes set close to a pudgy stub of a nose. She wears a sleeveless yellow t-shirt, yellow shorts, and yellow sneakers. She has a red scratch on one chubby knee and a small band-aid on her chin.
[Dove: in case you’re wondering why Wing has emhasised just how plump/chubby/pudgy this kid is, she hasn’t. That’s how many times Stine mentioned it in a single paragraph.]
Sean: Eight or nine, skinny and pale, large brown eyes, solemn, frail-looking, white-blond hair. He wears an oversized t-shirt and baggy denim shorts that made him look even skinnier.
Seth: Sean’s identical twin. His voice is softer than Sean’s, and he sounds younger. When Jenny asks how she can tell them apart, Sean says she can’t. Seth laughs, Sean’s expression is stern. He’s not terribly friendly, Jenny decides, and wonders if he’s shy.
Jenny thinks that Meredith is not very pretty. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, JENNY, SHE IS SIX GODDAMN YEARS OLD. She does not need to be worried about pretty or not pretty. Also, based on Point Horror’s obsession with fat = evil, I’m sure she’ll end up being a little shit. I want to punch you both in the face, Jenny and Stine.
Meredith and Sean don’t like their new house because they think it’s haunted. Seth laughs at them because of this. For some reason, this prompts Sean to tell Meredith to shut up and he calls her Piggy. Despite the fact that he is only 8 or 9, I want to punch him in the face, too. [Dove: me too.] Meredith gets him back, though, by telling Jenny that their mom called Sean Bunny Rabbit because he was so tiny and pale, he looked like a little bunny rabbit. She has a mean laugh. All of these kids are terrible.
Sean attacks her and begins “furiously pounding her back with both fists.” Dear god, these kids are terrible. Get out now, Jenny.
Seth helps break them up, and when Jenny tells Sean he shouldn’t hit his sister, he complains that he didn’t hurt her. So this is a trio of abusers, I guess. Fabulous. Seth tells Jenny that they fight all the time, but sometimes are nice to each other. He flashes her a sweet smile when he says it, and then goes to play catch with Sean. The way I feel about these kids, I bet he’s the one skinning baby bunnies or something.
Jenny finally gets them all calmed down by teaching them to play slap ball, which is basically softball with a tennis ball and no bat, and also sounds like a terrible game for these three kids to play. Slap ball, slap your sibling, it’s RIGHT THERE.
Despite that earlier crap, and her fears about baby-sitting, Jenny is almost sorry when Mrs Warsaw comes home, because she’s only just warming up to the kids and starting to feel comfortable with them. [Dove: but they’re monsters!] [Wing: Clearly Jenny likes terrible people.]
When Mrs Warsaw gets home, Sean and Meredith go running to the car to greet her, but Seth goes inside. So … Seth is a ghost, y/y? Jenny helps Mrs Warsaw carry in the groceries, and both Meredith and Sean admit they like Jenny. Mrs Warsaw tries to pay Jenny, but she won’t accept money because it was only for a few minutes. While they’re talking, Meredith starts crying out that Sean is hitting her again, and Mrs Warsaw runs off to scold them, leaving Jenny in the kitchen. She hears a weather report that they’ll have more of the same, heat and humidity, and then an icy hand touches the back of her neck and cold fingers slide wetly down her back.
Okay, gross, and also a chapter cliffhanger.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)
If it wasn’t Stine (and the fourth cliffhanger in five chapters), I might have let it go and not counted it, but I’m cutting him no slack. He’s certainly not cut me any with these four books. Ugh.
Of course, Jenny doesn’t find anyone in the kitchen, even though she expects to see one of the kids. She’s freaked out enough that she yells good-bye to Mrs Warsaw and runs out the front door. When she looks back at the house, she sees a face in the high, narrow attic window, but she can’t tell who it is. Whoever it is has dark eyes and dark hair, and is not one of the kids, not someone she’s ever seen before.
Clouds move, sunlight hits the attic window, and when she can see it again, the face is gone.
Jenny’s psychiatrist in this book is Dr Simonson. I keep wanting to call her Dr Simpson, so be prepared for that typo. She has gray hair, and is a small, pleasant woman in her early sixties, with a soft, soothing voice, large blue sympathetic eyes. Jenny likes how thoughtful and calm she is.
They talk about how Jenny is settling in back at home, how she was with her friends, and even the baby-sitting. Then Dr S asks what scared Jenny. Jenny doesn’t want to tell her about the icy hand or the strange face in the attic window, so instead she lies and says nothing scared her this week.
Oh, Jenny, have you learned nothing?
After her appointment, Jenny goes to visit Claire at the pool. It’s a cloudy day, threatening rain. I thought we just heard a weather forecast that said it would stay hot and humid? I get that in real life weather reports change, but authors choose what to include on the page, and if it has no point, like that stupid weather report, it shouldn’t be included.
After hitting the mall to grab some things for her mother, she goes home and finds Mrs Warsaw and her mom having tea. Mrs Warsaw wants her to baby-sit that night, and Jenny is understandably reluctant. Why is her mom even considering this to be a good idea? (Why is her mom called Mrs Jeffers here? Jeffers is Jenny’s last name, and traditionally she would have taken her father’s last name, so why after the divorce is her mom still Mrs Jeffers? Maybe give her a freaking first name, STINE.) [Dove: Most of my friends’ divorced mums kept the married name to have the same name as their kids. However, I doubt that much thought went into any part of this book.]
[Wing: That is so weird to me.]
Jenny finally agrees to do it and actually has this thought: It’s just a baby-sitting job. What could happen?
DED FROM STUPID: 1,000,000 (+1,000,000) (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.)
[Dove: Don’t think I haven’t noticed that this is the book that made you start giving out points by the million.]
[Wing: Well, I’ve done it before, but not for awhile. I really do try to keep it to useful numbers, I swear.]
That night, the boys are playing hockey on a Super Nintendo (A+ game choice there, boys; I love hockey), and Meredith keeps whining that they won’t let her play. They also ignore Jenny when she tells them to turn it down. This is going well already.
Jenny baby-sits, I’m not recapping that stupidity, and once she gets the kids in bed, she hears someone walking back and forth in the attic. She asks the boys if they heard anything, but they didn’t, and now they want to know what she heard. She tries to talk herself down, telling herself that maybe it’s just an animal in the attic. She remembers a time her big bear of a father chased a scrawny, frightened squirrel around their attic trying to catch it.
The noises from the attic knock her out of her memories. She goes to the attic door and just as she reaches for the glass doorknob, a bony hand slides around her wrist.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5 (+1)
Even more important than yet another cliffhanger, though, is why in the world the attic door, an interior door, has a glass doorknob. Who designed this place?! [Dove: maybe it was a 90s thing, but the house I baby-sat for had glass doorknobs on all internal doors. Maybe you’re only allowed those doorknobs if you are reliant upon baby-sitters?]
[Wing: I wonder if this is a Brit versus US thing again. Or maybe a class thing? Because internal doors when I baby-sat in the 90s generally had metal (or fake metal) doorknobs. In fact, still today I rarely see glass doorknobs.]
[Dove: maybe it was a class thing, I was baby-sitting for a very wealthy family in a very wealthy area. I’ve not actually seen those kind of doorknobs anywhere since. Did we seriously just devote three paragraphs to doorknobs? Way to write something that holds our attention, Stine.]
It’s one of the twins. Jenny calls him Sean, he says he’s Seth, and apologises for scaring her. He thought she heard him coming. She says she was just going to check the attic, but he says she can’t because it’s locked. Their mom keeps it locked, no one is allowed to go up there. Insert weird music, except I don’t care enough to do so, because Jenny is fucking baby-sitting again, four books on, and everything is terrible and stupid in this world.
Seth says their mom said it’s too dangerous, but he’s not exactly sure why, maybe broken stairs or a bad attic floor.
Jenny then, out of nowhere, asks where their dad is, and Seth, with no emotion at all, says he died. SMOOOTH, JENNY.
Claire calls a bit later, and they gossip for nearly half an hour. Back in the days before cell phones were so ubiquitous, blocking the house line while baby-sitting was both stupid and dangerous. Oh, Jenny. COME ON.
After they hang up, the phone rings again, and it is Mr Hagen whispering hello. Oh wait, no, it’s Cal whispering hello, because him whispering things isn’t creepy at all. Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall for awhile. Maybe it will help.
At least this time he has an excuse: he has laryngitis, the worst sore throat, and he can barely talk. Of course, he also wants to come over and see her for awhile, and when she says no, and rationally points out that he’s sick, he points out that he just has laryngitis. Um, one of the ways you get that is from a viral infection, jackass.
While they’re joking around about whether he can come over (I say “joking” but there’s a completely unfunny bit where she flat out says “no” and spells it out, and he asks if that means yes, because sure, let’s drive home the idea that no = yes when a girl says it, that certainly isn’t feeding rape culture at all. [Dove: do we need a “No Means Yes” counter? I don’t want one of those. Nothing good will come of it. We should probably start one.] [Wing: Both gross and necessary, I fear.]), Jenny feels those cold, bony, wet fingers on her neck again.
She drops the phone, screams awhile, demands to know who is trying to scare her, and then picks the phone back up. Cal is, understandably, worried, because he heard her screaming, but she brushes it off, says she just spilled her soda and she has to go clean it up. Yes, yes, because he heard you screaming but missed the part where you demanded to know who touched you. Smooth, Jenny. Real smooth.
She decides it must be the boys playing tricks on her, probably Sean, because “there’s something mean-natured about that one.” Jenny, you and your judgmental nature make me want to punch you in the face. She drags herself up the stairs to confront them, is shocked to find the door open, and when she looks inside, sees that they’re gone.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 6 (+1)
They are, of course, safe and sound and hiding in a closet in the hall. This book makes my head hurt. C’mere, Stine. I need to punch you in the face. While she’s tucking them back into bed (and threatening not to baby-sit any more if they keep playing jokes on her, she once again hears steps in the attic. Sean says there’s a prisoner locked up there. The boys giggle, Jenny is sarcastic, and I’m pretty sure this means there is somebody locked in the attic. Oy.
And then there is a crash, glass shattering on the floor, footsteps in the living room, and Jenny thinks someone has broken in.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 7 (+1)
It is, of course, Cal, coming to check on her because he was so worried about her. Considering the last three books, I guess I can’t blame him. He also says that he didn’t break in, the door was open a little, so he just let himself in.
Jenny is super impatient with him, and I can understand that too. It does kind of feel like her friends and boyfriend are just waiting for her to snap again, and that is a terrible feeling, especially when you already don’t trust your own brain very much.
They clean up, kiss a little, and then she sends him home because it’s almost time for Mrs Warsaw to come home. Of course, not too long after, Mrs Warsaw calls and says she’ll be a little late. It’s very loud where she is, and while she’s talking to Jenny, she says that normally they give baby-sitters a hard time at bedtime. Jenny admits Sean and Seth were a little difficult, and Mrs Warsaw can’t hear her, asks what she said about Sean. So, again, Seth is a fucking ghost, isn’t he, and we’ve actually gone fully supernatural in this series. In book four. WHAT THE FUCK, STINE.
Jenny wanders around the house, trying to entire herself. Mrs Warsaw has a collection of cute figurines, and while Jenny is looking at them, she feels that weird chill again. This time she hears a voice whispering right in her ear that if she doesn’t go away, she’ll die too.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 8 (+1)
Jenny starts searching for where the voice is coming from, but she knows the source: herself, inside her, her own head. Then, of course, she gets frantic that she’s not freaking out again, she’s not crazy, she’s not going back to the hospital ever again because she’s normal now.
This is terribly realistic, but also just terrible when combined with everything else this quartet, this author, this fucking series does with mental illness and blaming violence on being crazy. Jenny’s fears are completely understandable, but because there’s been so much casual ableism, it is also very shitty, and dangerous writing.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1,001,001 (+1,000,000)
She thinks about one of the girls from the hospital, Beka, who was a pretty, cheerful girl with sleek, straight black hair down to her shoulders and cold green eyes. She had been ready to go home after a long stay at the hospital. They never talked about what brought them there, but sometimes Beka “had her moody days […] when her green eyes lost their sparkled and she seemed to sink into herself, deep into herself. So deep that Jenny couldn’t reach her.”
Jenny says it was “such a scary feeling. To be talking to someone and suddenly realize that, even though she’s still sitting beside you, she’s no longer there.”
They day she’s going to go home, Beka tears the head off her beloved teddy bear and rips it apart. She still wasn’t normal. She still had problems, even though the doctors were ready to send her home.
Pretty sure Beka is supposed to be bipolar, and I’m pretty sure I want to punch Stine in the face. The characters with bipolar never get to tell their own goddamn story. They’re always a terrible, dangerous example for the main character to compare herself to. FUCK EVERYTHING I WANT TO BURN THE WORLD.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity.
Jenny is not going to “let” herself get crazy again.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: world goes boom.
FUCK EVERYTHING. FUCK STINE FOR WRITING THIS. FUCK HIS EDITORS FOR LETTING THIS STAY IN THE BOOK. FUCK HIS PUBLISHERS FOR PRINTING THIS. FUCK EVERYONE WHO EVER TOUCHED THE PRODUCTION OF THIS GODDAMN BOOK AND ITS COMPLETE BULLSHIT TREATMENT OF MENTAL ILLNESS.
I AM GOING TO BLOW UP THE GODDAMN WORLD.
[Dove: here, have an explosion to brighten up all this white space while we wait for Wing to get back from getting her frustration out.]
Okay. I went away. I hit things. I shouted a little. I’ve come back to finish this shit, and then I am going on a vendetta against fucking R. L. Stine.
- Jenny then decides it’s the boys playing another trick on her using the intercom, but they appear to be asleep.
- She tells Claire that she’s not going to baby-sit anymore, which is the smartest thing she could say, but I don’t believe she will follow through and also this book has already made me want to destroy the fucking world so I. don’t. care. Claire offers to go back with her if she decides to baby-sit again, and says that she’s there if Jenny ever wants to talk. It’s a nice, friendly thing to do, but this book is terrible and everything about it needs to burn.
- Cal works at a garage actually, one with gas pumps, not a gas station. Who cares? [Dove: I care. That is an integral plot point. It has given layers and depth and could even be a metaphor for… yeah, bored of this now.]
- She gets home from their double date at the bowling alley and sees a girl’s face in the Warsaw’s attic, a pretty face framed by black curls. She’s mouthing the words “help me” at Jenny. A cloud rolled over the moon and everything goes dark; the girl’s face fades from the window.
- That night Jenny has her first nightmare in months: she’s at the bowling alley, bowling gracefully, and then Cal brings her Claire’s head in a bowling bag. It opens its eyes and mouth and begins to howl. I’ll give Stine this, it’s a pretty creepy scene, and it would be an absolutely terrifying dream.
- When she wakes up, she can still hear the howling from the backyard. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? She looks out the window and sees a blond-haired boy running across the backyard. She calls out for Sean and Seth, but no one answers.
- Her mom comes into her bedroom and scares her, and then tells her that there’s been a prowler in the neighbourhood; she didn’t tell Jenny because she didn’t want to scare her. Parents hiding things to protect their children is so common, and so terrible, and so stupid because it always comes out in the long run and makes things worse. Apparently the prowler doesn’t steal anything or attack anyone, he just vandalizes things: he tips over garbage cans, breaks windows, cuts up lawn furniture, and puts mailboxes in the bottoms of swimming pools.
- The next chapter has Jenny’s mom leaving for a date with Winston. Jenny doesn’t have any plans with Cal because he’s working a late shift at the garage. Of course, Mrs Warsaw shows up needing a baby-sitter because her sister has been taken to the hospital, and she can’t take the kids with her to check. I call bullshit on this; my family gathered in hospitals all the time during my mom’s long illness. Jenny agrees, and I can’t blame her much for this, despite her bad experiences with baby-sitting and how much she thinks something weird is happening at the Warsaw house. Sean and Meredith are playing a video game at the house when Jenny shows up.
- Jenny asks them where Seth is, and neither of them reply. She’s about to go searching for him when he walks into the room. The kids start demanding cake, and Jenny makes them go into the kitchen because they can’t eat it in the living room. Jenny finds a large knife in the knife rack, and the emphasis on “large” is a little weird here, because why does she need such a giant knife for cake? Then she lifts the knife to cut the cake and there’s a sudden pressure on her arm, and something pushes her hand, and the knife, away from the cake. The knife turns in her hand, and she can’t control it; the knife plunged into her chest.
- JK! She managed to drop to the floor and the knife sailed over her shoulder. This book, and its unnecessary cliffhangers, and it’s terrible treatment of mental health. The kids find her on the floor and ask if she fell; she tells them she slipped, and Sean wants to know if she cut herself. He has a weird smile on his face.
- The kids are terrible the rest of the night. Sean and Meredith fight again, Meredith refuses to go to bed until Jenny has read her multiple stories, after she finally gets Meredith to sleep, she finds the boys watching an adult movie on a cable channel, and she doesn’t get the boys to bed until nearly eleven.
- Jenny is again tempted by the attic door. It’s still locked, though, and she can’t go upstairs. Instead she goes down and cleans the kitchen. She’s just turned on the garbage disposal when that pressure returns and pushes her hand toward it. This is a pretty standard horror movie scene, and yet it gets to me every time. Except here, because I am still too angry at Stine’s treatment of mental illness, even after a couple hours away from the recap and lots of alcohol. Of course she doesn’t actually hurt herself. At the last second, she turns off the disposal. Which is a smart thing to do, but I refuse to give Stine any credit.
- She’s still freaked out about that when Sean sneaks up behind her and says he has something very scary to tell her. Before he can, though, he’s interrupted by Seth demanding a glass of water. Sean then says all he wants is a glass of water, too, but Jenny doesn’t believe him.
- Next scene is Jenny sunbathing with Claire, and she finally tells Claire everything. Claire asks if she’s told Dr Simonson, and Jenny gets really mad because she thinks that means Claire believes she is imagining it all. This is also very fair, and a valid concern, but again, Stine’s treatment of mental illness has otherwise been so terrible I will not give him credit for any of this. Fuck you, Stine.
- She’s determined to prove she’s not “crazy” because god forbid she be both crazy and experiencing something weird and potentially supernatural. That night, when the howling starts again (how convenient), she goes into the yard to find the source. The big German shepherd knocks her over, and at first she thinks he’s a human attacking her. Oy. Before she finds the person howling (and creepily laughing), her mother catches her outside and says they have to have a talk, because Claire told her everything. I can absolutely see why Jenny would find this to be a huge betrayal. Jenny’s mother says she can’t baby-sit anymore and they need to talk to her psych. Jenny refuses and demands to baby-sit one more time for Mrs Warsaw.
- And Jenny’s mom lets her, because why the fuck not. [Dove’s mind: *boggles*]
- After she gets Meredith to bed, she sits the boys down and asks if they were howling. They both claim to be the one who does it, and get a big kick out of teasing her. Once again, it is almost eleven by the time she gets the boys to bed, because Jenny is a terrible baby-sitter, even if you ignore all the other crap going on in the books. She finally gets them to sleep, and the whispering voice comes back, saying that Jenny saw it and now she must die. Then she feels the icy fingers at the back of her neck again. She staggers dramatically through indoor fog, etc., until she gets into the bathroom and sees Seth in the bathroom mirror. At first she thinks he is Sean, but he soon sets her straight, and then he tells her that she’s going to die tonight. Ho hum. Hurry up, Seth. Jenny breaks the mirror, cuts herself, and Mrs Warsaw comes home. Jenny’s mom comes over, too. And of course, it turns out that Mrs Warsaw doesn’t have twin boys. I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you. [Dove: I really couldn’t wait for you to do this book, because of the WTF moment as it clunkily transitions from human killer to supernatural with no warning. If there was a Baby-Sitter V it would be about aliens. This front cover is foreshadowing.] [Wing: Alas, there will never be a Baby-Sitter V because I am going to rip out Stine’s heart and set it on fire.]
- Mrs Warsaw says that she almost didn’t buy the house because of the stories about how a boy was murdered in it by his baby-sitter. Shocking.
- After she’s left alone in her bedroom, Jenny sees the girl in the attic window next door again, and sneaks out so she can help her. The house is empty and creepy (Mrs Warsaw took the kids to stay with her sister – why she couldn’t do that before, I don’t fucking know), and Jenny sneaks into the house. Seth appears and begs her not to let the girl out, not to let her hurt him again. He apologises for being so mean to her, says he gets confused because his baby-sitter killed him and now she’s trapped in the attic, and that Sean and Meredith kept his secret because they liked him, and he wished he could really have them as his siblings.
- Despite Seth’s pleas, Jenny lets the girl out of the attic. She comes out wearing a long gray sweater over a black skirt and a triumphant smile on her face. Her eyes glow red and her mouth twists into an ugly frown as she turns to Jenny, and Seth screams that she is going to kill Jenny. He tells Monica – the ghost girl – that he warned Jenny about her, that she killed him. Monica calls him a liar and says that he was so gleeful to lock her in the attic that he fell down the stairs after he killed her. Monica says that Sean and Meredith kept his secret not because they liked him but because they were terrified of him. Monica thanks Jenny for freeing her, then picks her up and Jenny thinks she’s going to throw her down the stairs. I want to know how ghosts are so damn corporeal in this world. And also how we’ve suddenly gone supernatural after three books of non-supernatural bad guys.
- Instead of throwing her down the stairs, Monica gently sets her on the top step and says she wants her safe, out of the way. She thanks her again, and then launches herself at Seth. He transforms, his pale skin turning sick green, ugly brown sores splotch his bald skull, and he reveals jagged rows of yellow, pointed teeth. Because ugly = evil, amiright? He and Monica fight and snarl and howl like wolves, attacking each other with claws and teeth, and they are supposed to be human ghosts, right? Because this is all really weird. And then, in roiling black smoke, they disappear. [Dove: if anyone would turn into a wolf ghost, it would be you. I’ll be a cat ghost. We can wolverine claw the walls and annoy the living.] [Wing: A+ plan]
- Jenny’s mother and Cal show up looking for her. Jenny reassures them that she’s strong now. Her mother says she should never baby-sit again, but as usual, Jenny isn’t listening to that. She says she might want to baby-sit again. It’s a lot more exciting than she thinks. That makes no fucking sense, considering it has been nothing but dangerous excitement from the first book. Fucking hell, Jenny. Fucking hell, Stine.
Final Thoughts: Burn. Everything.
[Dove: I’m so proud of you for getting through this nonsense. Somehow it manages to be boring, infurating and insulting all at once. This is pure drek. But at least you slayed the Baby-Sitter series. It’s done. You never have to bother with Jenny and her foolish choice of job ever again.]
[Wing: It has been nice knowing you, Dove, dear readers of this site, but I don’t think they will let me recap from whatever prison and/or institution I end up in after I explode all over Stine. Maybe if I set him on fire with my mind and they can’t prove it was me, except for this very public moment of hatred.]
[Dove: back in the early 00s, Mr Wing asked me “If you could get revenge on someone with the power of your mind, utterly untraceable, who would you pick and why?” I suspect Wing is now quizzing Mr Wing on whether that was a hypothetical or if he has untapped psychokinetic powers and can she borrow them for a while.]
DED FROM STUPID: 1,000,000
I beat you because I love you: 1
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: world goes boom.