The Babysitter by R. L. Stine
Title: The Baby-sitter by R.L. Stine (Book 1 Baby-sitter Series)
Summary: An innocent baby-sitting job turns into a nightmare when Jenny discovers she’s the next victim of a crazed attacker.
Oh, good, our counts are starting early.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 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.)
I am so looking forward to this book, can you tell?
Tagline: Every step she takes, he’ll be watching.
Bursts into song.
The Baby-Sitter by R L Stine – Scan by Mimi
Note: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. Also doesn’t mean it’s ever successful at killing/pranking/whatevering.
[Updated 14 Feb 2017: For a different perspective on this book, check out the Super Serials podcast episode. We are not affiliated with the podcast. And updated 10 March 2017: For yet another perspective, check out the Teen Creeps podcast episode.]
I know I’ve read this series before, but I absolutely cannot remember anything about it, not even whether I hated it or just felt meh. That’s a great sign.
[Dove: I hated it, I know that much. As a side note, it has been so long since we did one of these, I had to look up what format my comments go in.]
[Wing: Yes, yes, I’m a terrible slacker. It’s all my fault.]
As you probably know, Dove has a feud with R.T. Cusick and her abuse of punctuation. For some reason, this means I needed to have an author nemesis, and ended up with R.L. Stine. As Dove just pointed out, while Cusick is the worse writer, Stine is far more prolific. Awesome.
We open with our protagonist, Jenny, looking at her reflection in the bus window and describing herself to us. That definitely makes me care about our main character. Yup. Self-absorption is interesting, you know.
Jenny really likes how she looks in the glass, “so smooth, so cool, so calm.” So monstrous?
We’re shown/told about her vivid imagination. As in, she thinks she sees an animal darting through the hedges, maybe a deer, but realises it’s just a rock. Then we’re told that she has a vivid imagination and tries to make the world more interesting than it is. Now, while that’s a character trait I could get behind, I have no idea how she turned an unmoving rock into a moving deer. Either that is a giant rock that is being moved by something, or she cannot see anything.
Jenny is ignoring her friend Laura in favor of staring out the window. That’s sort of ok, though, because Laura is just prattling on about boys, as usual. Because that’s all girls can talk about, AMIRITE, unless they’re the main character.
[Dove: I miss Tess and Gina already. Damn you, Hoh, for setting the bar too damned high with them.]
Jenny explains it away as her being nervous about her new baby-sitting job. She’s nervous about new people, a strange house, a strange neighourhood, maybe the kid is a monster (alas, I don’t think she means literally), maybe the parents are weird, etc., and admits she could worry about a lot of things if she tried. I can get behind anxiety as a character trait (Karen Healey has a wonderful character with anxiety in THE SHATTERING), and even get behind Jenny trying to play it off as a joke, as she does here, but my guess is the text is going to play it off as a joke, too. Awesome.
Jenny’s running late for her first night at work because of the bus. I am sympathetic to this now. I will not be sympathetic to it when it happens again later. Get it together, Jenny. If the bus is your only way there, give yourself extra time in case the bus is late or slow or has to stop a lot.
Nope. Two jobs ago, there was someone in my team who waltzed in at 9:07 am every morning with the words “bus was late”. Unless you’re in Japan, you have to live with the fact that public transport is quite shoddy, so you leave fucking early. Especially on your first day. I’m not even letting it slide this once. Your start time is your start time, not a rough guideline. Being late shows bad manners, and implies a shoddy work ethic. I’m already cheering Bad Guy on.]
I do really like this bit:
“Maybe the kid’s a monster,” Jenny said, somehow feeling that she had to justify her nervousness. “Maybe the parents are weird. Maybe they belong to some sort of secret cult and when I find out about it, they keep me locked up in the basement for the rest of my life so I can’t tell anyone. Maybe the house is haunted. There’s the ghost of a young girl trapped in the attic, and I accidentally let her out, and she inhabits my body and I’m not the same person anymore.”
Also, any of those stories would be more interesting than the actual story. Look at all that missed potential. LOOK AT IT.
[Dove: The second one is, essentially, The Accident by Diane Hoh.]
Anyway, Laura starts shouting out the window at someone she thinks she knows, and she embarrasses Jenny.
Why did Laura always have to embarrass her?
Because she was Laura. She didn’t care about what other people thought. She always did what she felt like. Jenny wished she could be more like that, less thoughtful, less timid, more impulsive. She thought that since they spent so much time together, maybe some of Laura’s boldness would rub off on her. But it didn’t seem to.
Sometimes Jenny wished she could look like Laura, too. Laura was so tiny, so light, so perfect. She was the shortest girl in the sophomore class, but that was certainly no handicap because she was also the most beautiful. She had cheekbones like a model, and curly, straw-colored hair that fell down to her shoulders like a waterfall. She had sky-blue eyes and creamy white skin, and a tiny, red, heart-shaped mouth.
Needless to say, Laura was very popular. She could go out with a different guy every night of the week if she wanted – and she usually wanted!
Instead of reading this as Jenny being envious of Laura’s beauty, I’m going to read it as Jenny not understanding she has a crush on Laura and not sure what to do about it.
Jenny goes on to describe two different people as “nuts” and a “nutcase”. I am giving her ten points for each of them, because they are so completely pointless.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 21
Laura is trying to convince Jenny to go out with Chuck. Jenny thinks he’s ok, but tries too hard to be funny. Laura thinks he’s hilarious. As an example, she reminds Jenny that he put hardboiled egg slices over his eyes at lunch earlier. It’s a riot.
That is not a riot, Laura. That is stupid.
He’s also dissected a rubber chicken in biology, and pretended to be deaf to a substitute teacher, even talking in fake sign language. So not only are his jokes stupid, but he’s ableist. I want him dead.
[Dove: If you want a mildly amusing prank, myself and a friend stole a colleague’s mug, sent him a ransom note, made a Facebook page for it, and photoshopped the mug on to a bunch of landmarks, got international friends (thanks, Wing) to log in as the mug, and also sent threatening images to the owner of the mug, i.e., images of other mugs being destroyed by a hammer, with his mug looking on in total horror. That is significantly better than mocking the disabled. FUCK YOU, CHUCK. FUCK YOU WITH SOMETHING RUSTY.]
[Wing: Good times.]
We get a lot of dialog to learn that Jenny will be baby-sitting on Thursdays and Saturdays, and she got the job because when she was at the mall with her cousin, they ran into this little boy who was all alone, and helped him find his parents (sort of). Donny is only six, but he wasn’t too worried about not knowing where his parents were. They were frantic, though. Donny asked if he could bring Jenny home with him, which sounds less like a baby-sitter and more like a really creepy relationship. (Or a replacement sister…)
Anyway, Jenny is now sitting for the Hagens twice a week.
The Hagens’ neighbourhood is full of big old houses with wide lawns and majestic old trees. It sounds gorgeous, particularly during the autumn, with crisp winds and lots of falling leaves. The blocks are long, and eventually there are more woods between houses than houses.
The Hagens’ house is next to an empty, narrow lot of tangled trees and low brambles; it’s a big old Victorian (of course it is) with dark, mottled shingles, loose shutters, and broken windows. This sound like a great place to live. (I’m not actually being sarcastic.)
Oh, great. The house is right out of a horror movie, Jenny thought. There’s probably green slime pouring out of the walls!
Oh, Jenny, don’t make me like you with references like that. I can only see this going badly.
Chapter one finally ends, and we haven’t even yet met the Hagens on screen. This is going to be fun.
Mr Hagen is a worrier, we learn. He and Jenny should get along well. He worries that she got lost finding the place, that her jacket isn’t warm enough, that something had happened to her. He’s another guy who makes stupid jokes: the house was built before the Civil War, and he cracks that no one has done any work on it since then. Ha. Ha. Ha. So funny.
She describes him like this:
Mr. Hagen was a big man, so tall he had to stoop in the low entranceway. He was built wide with big shoulders and powerful-looking hands. He was good-looking in a square-jawed, old- fashioned kind of way. He was wearing a charcoal-gray suit which was snug against his broad chest. His dark hair was cut short, almost a crew cut, and thinning just a bit in front. His eyes were small and steel-gray, and never seemed to stop darting about. His cheeks and ears were red, whether from excitement, or nervousness, or just their natural hue, Jenny couldn’t tell.
This is more description than we’ve seen for anyone else. Are we getting into a creepy father-figure/daughter-figure thing? Because no. Also he limps. This should be important, but I can’t remember whether it will be or not. (It’s been awhile since my reading and working on this recap.)
Mrs Hagen gets a couple lines of description, but nothing much.
[Dove: However, she is described as wearing a “peasant blouse and a dark wraparound skirt” which make her look “older“. In the 90s, that look was in, so I’m not really getting how that made her look older. Unless the mean in a “ah, look at the clueless crumbly, who thinks she’s down with the kids” way?]
Donny — you know, the kid she’s baby-sitting — is watching Ghostbusters. He says it’s awesome. It is awesome, but this is set up to give us an aside about how Mrs Hagen was a linguistics major and she is very interested in how words travel. This would also be very interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere either.
In the middle of a bunch of examples of how Mr Hagen is a worrier, we learn there have been attacks on baby-sitters across town, someone in a ski mask breaking into homes and beating up baby-sitters. Yes, with that happening, it sounds like the perfect time to start baby-sitting for people you’ve only met once, briefly, at a mall. Jenny is smart.
DED FROM STUPID: 1 (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.)
I thought about taking the point away because Jenny thought about not taking the job with the Hagens after learning about the attacks, but then she decided there was no way the attacker would choose the Hagen house, which is on the far end of town. Which, you know, makes it kind of the perfect place to attack without being seen. So no, I’m not taking that point back. In fact, I’m giving her more.
DED FROM STUPID: 10
[Dove: Gotta mention:
“Well, if you have any problems at all, the number is on the pad by the phone in the kitchen,” Mr. Hagen continued undaunted. “Donny will show you where the kitchen is. And by all means, be sure to keep all the doors locked. Did you read in the paper about the attacks on baby-sitters in this town?” He shook his head sadly and sighed. “Some world we live in.”
Is it just me, or is that a weird way to put it? I’d put “by all means” in front of something not-important, like “by all means, help yourself to a can of soda from the fridge”, and simply let the phrase “be sure to keep all the doors locked” stand on its own, especially in the context of what follows. Am I over-thinking this?]
[Wing: That is a really good point. You are not over-thinking it. Also, considering who he is, that’s not being terribly subtle.]
We pick up with Jenny again once she gets Donny to bed. The old house is creepy, with creaky stairs and dark shadows and a grandfather clock that ticks and tocks loudly, insistently. It sounds beautiful, but Jenny doesn’t understand why anyone would want to live in an old house. She only wants a home that is that is sparkling and brand new.
A loud banging brings Jenny to the window. She thinks it’s just a loose shutter on the front of the house, but looks anyway, pushing back the heavy crushed-velvet drapes. Outside, everything is in darkness, and all she can see is trees, no other houses, cars, or any sign of human life. This place sounds awesome, but also like the perfect place for someone to attack the baby-sitter. Good grief.
An animal howls nearby [Dove: Werewolf?] [Wing: OMG I DIDN’T MAKE A WEREWOLF REFERENCE. Fail, Wing.], and she hopes it’s only a dog. What else would it be? A coyote? A wolf? But even if it was, how in the world do you think it’s going to get into the house? You’re telling yourself not to be worried about a person coming into the house, but you’re worried about an animal getting to you? Good grief.
There’s a moose head on the wall, its fur caked with dust and mold. Why in the world would the Hagens leave something like that up? Even if they liked decorating with animal heads, surely cleaning it would be a good step. It sounds more like it came with the house than something they put up. Why would they leave it up when it is so dirty and, come on, mold.
Throughout everything, the grandfather clock keeps tick tocking away. Telltale heart, anyone?
Jenny is starting to regret putting Donny to bed, because a tiny kid can totally keep you safe. Oh, Jenny.
Then we get this awesome cliffhanger:
Jenny decided to check out the kitchen. She turned toward the hall – and something grabbed her leg.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss us the hell off.)
Spoiler: It’s the cat. Jenny didn’t even know they had a cat, and is miffed that they didn’t tell her.
(Jenny spends some time imagining that the ghost of a woman she imagined earlier now has her and will carry her into the clock to spend an eternity listening to the tick tock along with all the other ghosts. Once again, a much better story than the one I’m actually reading.)
Donny sleeps through Jenny’s scream, and through the animal howling, which is coming closer and closer. She peeks out into the backyard hoping to see it, but the howling stops. She goes down to the kitchen, which is bright and redone and, to Jenny, much less creepy than the rest of the house. Unfortunately, there aren’t comfortable seats in the kitchen, her backpack is in the den, and she realises that she won’t be able to hear Donny from the back of the house.
Back in the living room (yes, there are lots and lots of words devoted to Jenny walking around the house, and it is boring), Jenny reads the newspaper and learns that there was a third baby-sitter attack. If she’s been following this story, wouldn’t she have seen this already? It’s not like the newspaper was delivered after she arrived at the house … no, no, I’m not looking for logic, never mind.
AJ cannot deal with this nonsense
Jenny decides to distract herself by reading the book she brought, but oops, it’s a Stephen King novel. Rock on, Jenny. This is the perfect setting in which to read a Stephen King novel. Let’s get down with our fear. (Dove and I love Stephen King.) She thinks about distracting herself by watching TV, but decides she can’t sit still long enough to do that. Jenny, you haven’t sat still at all. Instead she decides to explore the house. Which is, yes, more words devoted to Jenny walking around the house. This book is super awesome and creepy. /sarcasm
[Dove: on the subject of words, boring and Stephen King, I would read that man’s grocery list. I really wish King had written this story. Although if he had, it would be littered with the word “fuck”, have an Eldritch Abomination and be about 800 pages longer… and I’m ok with that, because I would care about the characters.]
[Wing: I want to read that story. Make it happen, Dove.]
[Dove: Sure, because if I had power over Stephen King, I’d definitely be a data analyst who recaps awful books from the 90s in her spare time.]
Then Jenny starts hearing footsteps, and this could actually be awesome and creepy, but it’s sparsely written and it’s not. Alas. Not even with the cliffhanger chapter ending.
Spoiler: The person sneaking around the house is the only other person in the house, you know, Donny. Jenny actually forgot that she wasn’t alone in the house. Alone in the house where she is baby-sitting for the first time. She forgot. she wasn’t alone. in a strange house. when she is only there to baby-sit. Yeah. Ok.
Donny says he woke up because he was thirsty, but Jenny thinks he has a devilish look on his face. She accuses him of sneaking down the stairs; he says he just walked slowly because he didn’t know where she was and he didn’t want to scare her. She doesn’t believe that, and they joke around that he likes to scare his baby-sitters. This is more or less a cute exchange.
But then this happens.
Then he quickly added, “I’ll only go back to bed if you’ll tuck me in again.”
“Okay. That’s a deal,” Jenny agreed.
It took a long time to tuck him in. First he insisted on showing her all of his stuffed animals and telling her their names. When she finally got him into bed and under the covers, he said, “Kiss me good night.”
She bent down and kissed him on the forehead. “Good night.”
“Now tell me a story,” he demanded.
“Tell me a story. I can’t go to sleep without a story.”
“But, Donny, that wasn’t the deal. The deal was for me to tuck you in.”
“Now the deal is for you to tell me a story,” he insisted. She saw that he was a tough bargainer. There was probably no use in arguing with him.
Because no means yes, AMIRITE? Gee, I wonder how certain boys learn to keep pushing and wheedling until they get what they want out of women. /eyeroll There are some A+ baby-sitting and parenting skills on display in this book. A+.
[Dove: I believe we have found the original inspiration for STFU Parents. And to be fair, I know some pretty bratty women who I suspect had the same enabling upbringing.]
[Wing: Oh, yeah, it’s totally not just a boy thing, though I was specifically thinking about rape culture here.]
Donny likes scary stories, and Jenny makes up a story about a kid just like Donny who likes to scare his baby-sitters:
“One night, he scared his baby-sitter so badly, her hair turned white. And one night, he scared his baby-sitter so badly, her eyes popped out, and he had to find them and push them back in for her. And one night, he scared his baby-sitter so badly, she jumped right out of her skin – and it took her hours to put it back on.”
Donny thought this was hilarious. He laughed until he had tears in his eyes. He made Jenny tell that part again. And then again.
This is really just convincing me Donny is being raised to be a serial killer.
[Dove: He changed his name. Dyed his hair red. Moved to Florida. Donny Hagen/Dexter Morgan. Not a wild leap. Hell, even the timeline just about works. Why yes, that is the TV Tropes link. Evil twin.]
Anyway, Jenny’s story is really just a jump scare setup, but Donny loves it and wants to hear it again. Jenny promises to tell it again the next time she baby-sits, but refuses to give in to his demands this time.
After Jenny gets Donny to go to sleep, she heads downstairs just in time to hear a knock at the front door. There is no window or peephole in the door, which means she can’t see out. Jenny, that also means they can’t see in, so why are you even bothering to answer the door? It’s not the Hagens, you’ve already decided that. The knocking continues, and she goes through a whole list of who it might be (robber, baby-sitter attacker, etc.). She even puts her ear against the door, trying to hear something about who might be knocking. First of all, that is some seriously dedicated knocking, if it is still going on, especially with no response to her when she asks who it is. Second, Jenny, you read horror stories, I bet you watch horror movies, and yet you didn’t think it might be a bad idea to press your ear against the door? Stabbity stab stab through the door.
After all of this knocking and listening and no one answering, Jenny decides she has to open the door. No other choice.
DED FROM STUPID: 110
Why yes, I did just give her one hundred points for that. Fuck you, Jenny.
[Dove: My mother used to tell me to put the door on the chain (do you guys not have these? Do they not come as standard with doors? WTF?), and before opening, call out “who is it?” if I was home alone at night and there was a knock on the door. And just so you know I grew up in a town you can easily find by searching “top 5 towns in England”, and it is described as “ultra-safe”. However, I probably never would’ve opened it and just left the door locked. Because, y’know, not stupid.]
[Wing: So some doors come with chains, but generally, that’s more of a thing you will see in flats or hotels and not in houses. My parents’ houses never had a chain. Only one of my flats did. My current flat doesn’t, though it does have a peephole. Which I rarely use, because I expect someone to stick something through it and kill me via impaling my eye.]
[Dove: Thanks for that.]
There’s a man standing on the front porch, knocking but not answering when she calls out to him, because that’s not sinister at all:
The white porch light revealed a short but powerfully built man. Despite the cold and gusting winds, he was wearing only an oversized, red plaid lumberjack shirt. His eyebrows caught Jenny’s attention first. They were bushy and black, as wide as caterpillars. He had thick black hair slicked down with some kind of grease and brushed straight back so that it looked more like a helmet than hair.
His nose was bent and leaned to the left. It looked as if it had been broken several times, or maybe removed and put back on wrong. He had a stubble of black beard on his cheeks, and an unlit stub of a cigar tucked between his teeth. He reeked of the aroma of cigars. It must have been soaked into his shirt and jeans.
Why does Jenny describe the adult men to us in such detail?
Anyway, he’s surprised to find her there instead of the Hagens. She identifies herself as the baby-sitter, and he says he’s Willers, the neighbor. Jenny thinks he’s lying. Jenny, why the hell did you open the door in the first place? And then she tells him that the Hagens go out every Thursday. Because that’s definitely information anyone else needs. Jenny, you are an idiot.
DED FROM STUPID: 111
Willers tells her he thought he saw a prowler out back, but Jenny didn’t hear anything or see anything. He asks if he can come in and look around, and she says no, which is finally something smart. Damn, Jenny. Finally. I still don’t know why you opened the door in the first place.
(Note from the future: Knowing who Willers is, this is both creepy and unprofessional. Damn, Willers. Step off.)
This chapter ends with Donny scaring her again. Damn, Stine, way to go back to the same well so soon.
The next chapter, Jenny’s eating pizza with Laura. Laura asks if Jenny told Mr Hagen about the neighbor. Jenny did not because she didn’t want to worry him. Jenny. Oh, Jenny. Why are you such an idiot? If you were so worried about the neighbor, why didn’t you tell Mr Hagen? Why do you keep making such stupid decisions?
[Dove: When I first recapped Funhouse, I thought, based on that text, I may have been a little harsh on how dumb people are in Point Horror. But no. Tess was the exception, not the rule. Thank you, Diane Hoh, for trying to give us female characters with intelligence, agency and a strong sense of self. Even if all of the other writers in your genre tried to undermine you.]
[Wing: It’s like Stine couldn’t figure out a way to keep the tension going without making Jenny carry the stupid ball. And I know he can do better than that [I say, despite him being my nemesis…], so what the hell went wrong here?]
[Dove: I agree that Stine can do better. Beach House is significantly better than this. Which is kind of like being the best looking person in the burns unit.]
DED FROM STUPID: 112
After this scintillating conversation, we finally learn that it’s Friday afternoon and Jenny and Laura are hanging out at the local favourite teen hangout the Pizza Oven. They spend some time talking about guys we don’t really know anything about, so it’s pretty damn boring.
We do learn that Jenny has decided to keep the baby-sitting job even though it’s creepy because she needs the money to buy Christmas gifts for people and help out her mom with bills. That’s actually a really good reason to keep a job you don’t like, so I’m not judging this decision, Jenny, just the ones where you open the fucking door when you shouldn’t. /headdesk
Jenny calls Mr Hagen a basket case for worrying so much about Donny.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 22
Then we meet Chuck, who is Jenny’s love interest. He’s been hiding under their table, and when Laura calls him on it, he says he was looking up their dresses. (They’re not wearing dresses.) I can absolutely see why he’s the love interest. I hate him already. Laura leaves them alone together after Chuck cracks stupid jokes, and I find this whole thing pointless. Jenny thinks she’s learning important things about Chuck because she figures out he uses his jokes to cover up his feelings. Which is true, but doesn’t actually make him any less obnoxious in the way he tells his jokes. Which aren’t funny in the first place.
AND THEN THIS HAPPENS:
“I’ve got a better idea.” He was tapping the table with his big hands, nervous, his brain in high gear. “I’ll come by on Saturday night when you’re baby-sitting.”
“No. Bad idea,” Jenny said quickly.
“Was that a yes?”
“No. It was a no.”
He cupped his ear with one hand. “What? I can’t hear. You said yes?”
“No. I said no,” she shouted, even though she knew he could hear perfectly well.
“What time should I come by?”
“I said no. I don’t want you to do that.”
“Please – don’t beg. I’ll come. Nine o’clock too late?”
“Chuck –” She hated the peevish tone in her voice, but she couldn’t help it. He was really being annoying. “Don’t you know when to stop?”
“No. When? That’s what I’m asking. When should I stop by?”
She got up angrily. “You’re not funny.”
“Who’s being funny? I’m serious.”
Was he deliberately trying to drive her away?
She had really enjoyed talking with him. And she was beginning to feel really attracted to him. She thought she had been able to get past his constant joking and fooling around. But now he was deliberately being obnoxious. Why was he trying to make her angry? Because she had rejected him?
ONCE AGAIN, a guy who doesn’t want to take no for an answer. OMG, Chuck, shut your stupid face. At least Jenny walks away this time, on what she considers to be a good parting line (it really isn’t, but I’m just happy enough she doesn’t put up with his shit that I’ll take it).
[Dove: I’m getting the feeling we need a “No Means Yes” count. I was going to do one of those re-write things, on the above quoted lines, where you change a few words to make a point. Then I realised how horribly triggering it was.]
[Wing: I don’t even think you need to change any of the words. It’s so fucked up. RAPE CULTURE.]
Jenny shows up late to her job AGAIN. Jenny, you are really failing. Dove will not be impressed. She rates punctuality high. (Also, she’s late because the bus had a flat tire, and she complains that the driver wouldn’t change the tire because it’s against union rules. Have you looked at a bus, Jenny? IT’S AGAINST UNION RULES FOR A DAMN GOOD REASON. Do YOU want to change a bus tire? I kinda hate you right now.)
Mr Hagen is acting all nervous again, and Mrs Hagen apologises for him. WHY? Jenny has been late two out of two times she’s shown up for her job baby-sitting your son! I would be freaking nervous, too! It’s looking like Jenny doesn’t actually care much about the job, and when that job is watching a living creature, I’d like to see some care for sure. (ALSO, considering what we learn later, Mrs Hagen should probably be nervous about things too, especially when a baby-sitter acts flaky.)
[Dove: To quote, the man, the legend, the megalomaniac, Vince McMahon: YOU’RE FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRED! And now Wing is busy for 1 minute and 34 seconds. *grin*]
[Wing: HAHAHAHAHAHA LOVE IT.]
Once again, Donny won’t take no for an answer (this time, he wants to play hide and seek even though his parents wanted her to keep him quiet), and once again, Jenny tells us it’s impossible to say no to him, because he’s too clever, charming, and cute. WTF JENNY.
[Dove: this is how you end up crying in the bath, wondering why the guy you just lost your virginity to won’t call you back. Just saying, Jenny, you really shouldn’t be dating. You have no backbone and you gravitate towards men who have been taught not to accept the word “no”. Not a great combo. And that’s the best case scenario.]
[Wing: Right? Like, I don’t want to start victim blaming here, but damn, you’re the fucking BABY-SITTER. You’re in CHARGE. How the hell are you supposed to keep the kid safe if you can’t even successfully keep him from playing a game?]
[Dove: Yeah, I was concerned about my wording there. I wanted to make the point that I did, but I am a little worried I went to victim blaming territory. If I did, that was not my intention.]
Of course, they end up playing hide and seek, because everyone wants Donny to grow up to be an entitled jackass, and Jenny ends up in a room she’s never been in before (you know, on the ONE other night she’s spent in the house. It’s not like she’s lived there ten years or something.) It’s an extra sitting room, and probably should be better shut off from Donny’s access, considering how it looks:
It was hard to tell exactly because all of the furniture – what appeared to be tall armchairs and two high-backed, facing sofas – was covered with bed sheets. A thick layer of dust had settled over everything in the room. A massive tangle of cobwebs covered the one working lamp, so thick they blocked much of the light and cast eerie shadows on the maroon wallpaper.
It looked just like a room in a haunted house movie. Jenny pictured the sheets rising up off the chairs and floating after her.
On the one hand, I love that Jenny is genre savvy and recognises a horror movie setting when she sees it. On the other hand, Stine is relying pretty damn heavily on telling readers that it reminds Jenny of a haunted house and not really building the tension. And reading about a game of hide and seek in an empty, creepy house should have been tense, but wasn’t. Donny scares Jenny, again. Jenny struggles to get him to bed, again. I am bored, again.
Then Jenny gets a call with heavy breathing. Adorable bit of age showing, she uses an old-fashioned, heavy dial phone. Do kids these days even know what a dial phone is? Hee. Stupid bit is she decides Donny is on the phone, sets down the receiver, and runs upstairs to check. Sure enough, she finds him by his desk holding a telephone. Why in the world does Donny have a phone in his room at his age in the first place?
Jenny shouts at him, and scares him half to death, practically making him cry. Damn, Jenny. Even if he was the one on the phone, that’s freaking harsh. He’s just a little kid, and you just yelled at him for scaring you. He’s freaking SIX. Jenny realises she’s being an ass and gets Donny back to bed.
As soon as she hangs up the phone downstairs, it rings again. This time, someone starts talking, calling her “babes,” and asking if she’s alone. “Babes” is a terrible fucking nickname, by the way. He tells her company’s coming and then is gone. Jenny spends much of the next chapter trying to convince herself that it wasn’t Chuck calling and pranking her. Finally she decides it must have been Willers, who knew where she was and that she’s alone.
Jenny. HE KNOWS BECAUSE YOU FUCKING TOLD HIM.
DED FROM STUPID: 113
Just as she decides to call the police, the phone rings again. This time, it’s Mr Hagen, calling to check in. He’s worried that it took her so long to get to the phone. She tells him she was in the bathroom, and the whole thing is just really awkward. This conversation calms her enough she decides not to call the police, and instead goes wandering around the room, looking at picture.
And finds out the horrible truth: Donny had a sister, but she’s dead. Jenny is actually pretty sympathetic here, saddened by their loss and understanding about Mr Hagen’s nerves. There’s also some not bad description that I like:
The moon was full, a gold coin in a pink-gray sky. On the radio, they had said it could snow. The pink sky meant that snow clouds hovered above. The strange lighting gave the ground an unreal look, made everything clearer and brighter than real life.
Of course, she then thinks swirling leaves are squirrels holding paws. So … there’s that. While night and nerves can make you think you see one thing when really another is happening, I find this whole dancing squirrels thing weird. While she’s contemplating the squirrel!leaves, Jenny notices a car is parked nearby, and there’s a man sitting in it. She freaks. the fuck. out. Understandably, really. That’s pretty damn creepy.
Next chapter, it’s Sunday morning and Jenny is having breakfast with her mother. There’s a lot of boring talk about her mom making too much food, and it’s sort of cute but, yeah, mostly boring. Then her mother tells Jenny that Chuck called to get the Hagens’ phone number and address, and her mother freaking gave it to him. WHAT THE HELL?!
DED FROM STUPID: 123
Yes, that was worth ten points. WHO DOES THAT? Why would you give out another family’s information to someone who claims to be your kid’s friend but whom you’ve never met? THIS MAKES NO FREAKING SENSE.
[Dove: My mother would totally do that — and mean well. She also walked out on Christmas day and didn’t come back for a day and a half because my 15 year old self wasn’t paying enough attention to her. So I’m not really setting her up to be the bastion for reasonable decisions.]
[Wing: I know I’m pretty sensitive of privacy issues, but still. Damn.]
Jenny brushes it off, trying not to worry her mother, but she’s again wondering if Chuck was the guy calling her the night before. It certainly is his style, based on how obnoxious we’ve seen him be so far. Maybe not the company’s coming bit (though I wouldn’t put it past him if I hadn’t figured out what’s happening), but definitely the heavy breathing.
Then Jenny talks herself out of even asking Chuck if he called her, which is dumb. What’s not dumb is that when she considers quitting, she talks to her mother about it, and in the end, doesn’t quit because they really need the money. Sometimes you have to work jobs you don’t want because you need the money, and that sucks. It’s not something I see a lot of in young adult fiction even now, so it’s interesting to see it in an older book.
Jenny tells Laura about it all, and Laura doesn’t believe it can be Chuck because he’s a teddy bear. A creepy, weird teddy bear, Laura. Keep up. Then they run into Chuck, and he’s awkward and stupid and god, I dislike him. There’s lots of stupid comments about socks because they run into each other in a sock store and this is just not engaging.
[Dove: If we’re sharing sock-related anecdotes, Wing bought me 14 pairs of socks in February. Three of these pairs should not be worn on laminate flooring, unless you particularly want to reach the other end of the room significantly quicker than anyone should travel indoors.]
[Wing: AHAHAHAHAHAHA. I’d say this wasn’t intentional, except it’s too damn funny.]
Chuck does apologise for being obnoxious at the pizza place on Friday, so that’s slightly better — until he immediately turns around and starts pressuring her to allow him to come visit when she’s baby-sitting on Thursday. God, Chuck, GO AWAY. Jenny and Chuck go to the movies, basically a date, and I am SO SO BORED.
Time for bullet points:
- Way too often, Jenny lets Donny do whatever he wants because she can’t bear to tell him no.
- Lots of scenes in an empty house which should be creepy and atmospheric, but the descriptions aren’t quite there, and anyway I’m so bored and frustrated by all the characters I don’t even care.
- More phone calls and Jenny again waffles over whether it’s Chuck or not, but never wants to actually ask him.
- Jenny finally calls the police, and Officer Mertz ends up being pretty helpful. Because of the baby-sitter attacks, they’re taking warnings like that seriously.
- Right after this, Chuck turns up wearing a creepy mask. Because that’s a smart thing to do. Jenny starts out furious at him, as she should be, but then lets him into the house. JENNY WTF. DED FROM STUPID: 124 Chuck and Donny hit it off, and I can see no way in which this will end badly, trying to keep his presence secret from the nervous Mr Hagen when Donny knows Chuck was there. /sarcasm
- Jenny and Chuck make out awhile and then Chuck admits he made the calls. It’s pretty clear he means the breathing only calls, but Jenny thinks he means the other ones too. Before she can throw him out (or make out with him some more, based on the decisions she’s making), there’s a big crash, and Jenny goes to investigate. DED FROM STUPID: 134 So much for genre savvy.
- Willers is lurking around again. Good lord, man, you are terrible at your job and so creepy. I mean, surely it’s perfectly normal for you to creep around the house when you know the baby-sitter is there alone and surely she has no reason to worry about your presence. /eyeroll
- Sure enough, Chuck admits that he panicked when Jenny answered the phone and simply didn’t say anything at all. But that was the only call he made. After this admission, she hugs him, kisses him, likes holding him, but still doesn’t know if she believes him. Um.
- Of course they’re still making out when the Hagens get home. Damn, Jenny, you are a shitty baby-sitter.
- On the drive home, Mr Hagen tells Jenny he has one important rule for baby-sitters, and that is that they have no visitors. And that’s fine, a perfectly reasonable and understandable rule, and one I abided by when I baby-sat, which was a lot. HOWEVER, MAYBE IF THAT’S YOUR MAIN RULE, YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD HER THAT FIRST NIGHT SHE SHOWED UP TO WATCH YOUR SON? JUST A THOUGHT.
- At school, Jenny finds a note in her bag, one that sounds just like the creepy phone calls. Understandably, her first thought is Chuck, because she did just tell him about the calls.
- Saturday night, Willers tries to talk to Jenny at the bus stop when she shows up to baby-sit, but of course, he’s been so damn creepy so far she doesn’t stop to talk to him. When she tells Mr Hagen, he says there is no neighbor named Willers. See? Not only creepy, but terrible at his job, that’s Willers.
- Mr Hagen returns home early, completely freaked out, and finds Donny missing from his bed. He freaks the fuck out. Donny was, of course, hiding beneath his bed wanting to scare people. This is what happens when you let your son get away with everything and become a little shit, people.
- Despite everything (her concerns about Chuck, Mr Hagen’s rules, her freaking job), Jenny makes plans for Chuck to come over while she’s baby-sitting on Thursday. WTF, Jenny. DED FROM STUPID: 135
- Of course, what is supposed to be a study date turns into Laura off with her new boy making out and Chuck and Jenny together. This is going to end well. Sure enough, she’s making out with Chuck when Mr Hagen comes home and finds them. Mr Hagen is furious and demands that he drive Jenny home, instead of letting her ride with Chuck. While his anger is legit, that is creepy as fuck. There is no way I’d get in the car with him. If he wants to yell at me, he can do it in the house, and then fire me, and then I’ll get a ride home with my friends.
- Jenny conveniently finds a bunch of newspaper clippings about baby-sitters being attacked and a baby-sitter being responsible for the death of a child. Gee, I wonder if this is Donny’s sister? Shocking. And STILL Jenny gets in the car alone with him. Yup, one hundred points for that. DED FROM STUPID: 235
- Jenny keeps talking about how crazy and dangerous Mr Hagen is. Fuck you, Jenny. I would give this infinity points, but I’m so bored otherwise that the anger is keeping me going. Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 22
- Of course, once Mr Hagen has Jenny alone in the car, he doesn’t take her home. And then he monologues at her about his daughter dying and how he blames baby-sitters. He’s going to make her jump into the quarry. This sounds very little like any of the other baby-sitter attacks, so … yeah. Clearly she is going to survive. [Dove: Yeah, changing the MO for the last one? WTF?]
- Willers shows up, he has a gun, Hagen tries to shove Jenny, she dodges, Hagen goes over the edge of the quarry. Jenny tells us he’s dead. Willers is, of course, an undercover cop investigating the attacks. [Dove: Willers is, of course, a fucking moron.]
- Chuck is waiting for Jenny at home. He makes more obnoxious jokes about Jenny only baby-sitting him from now on. I am bored and so, so glad this is over.
Oh, god, why did I agree to have a feud with Stine? WHY?
[Dove: because I own your soul. Hey, maybe you should give yourself some DED FROM STUPID points?]
[Dove: Did your partner just walk in and hijack the keyboard? — that’s an old joke, don’t expect anyone but me and Wing to get it, but still, it’s staying in.]
DED FROM STUPID: 235
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (plus the 15 or so I gave up on counting)
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 22