babysitterWhat’s it all about?

Christmas is just around the corner so day-dreamer Jenny Jeffers accepts a job as a baby-sitter for the Hagens. Just her luck that the family live in a house direct from your worst nightmares AND there’s been a recent series of attacks on young baby-sitters. Perhaps she should have gone to Afghanistan to be on the safer side. As soon as she starts, Jenny starts receiving menacing phone-calls, people lurking outside and sinister messages in her school bag. The phantom childcare basher has his, or her, sights fixed firmly on Jenny.

The Girl

After last month’s epic character fail, I’m pleased to say Jenny is a MUCH more pleasant specimen. Jenny Jeffers is a fully realised high school girl, far better painted than many contempory YA characters. Stine quickly establishes Jenny as a girl with a vivid imagination, which helpfully explains why she later chooses to remain at the Hagen house: ‘She was always trying to make the world more interesting than it actually was.‘ Amen to that sister. Later, Jenny ponders her own cautious nature: ‘Why had she been so reluctant? Because she preferred imagining things to actually doing them.’ Take that John Green.

DemiAs if putting a picture of her on the front wasn’t enough, Stine helpfully does all the imagining for the reader: ‘You shouldn’t put yourself down. You look just like that actress Demi Moore.’ Here is what Demi Moore looked like as a sixteen year old.

It’s also worth noting that Jenny does VERY well not to punch Donny, the precocious brat she’s in charge of, in the face.

 

 

 

The Love Interest

After last month’s highly confusing love square, Jenny gets just one PLI (Potential Love Interest) in the hunky, yet goofy, form of Chuck. He’s described as follows: ‘He had a dimple in his right cheek. With the curly blond hair and all the freckles on his face, he looked like Huck Finn.’ From this point on, I shall be using my sister’s 1990s board game ‘Heartthrob’ to ID the Point Horror love interests. If you can’t remember it, here’s a reminder:

Sadly for Jenny, I feel ‘Jerry’ is most like Chuck (there isn’t an actual Chuck in the UK version – again, see above). One look at the picture should confirm that Chuck is a mega dickhead. OK, let’s be fair. From the evidence in the book (hiding under Jenny’s table to peer up her skirt, lurking outside the window in a Halloween mask) it seems pretty likely that Chuck has what we would now call ADHD. That doesn’t stop him being really annoying. More annoyingly, after each irritating thing he does, he provides Jenny with a glimmer of honesty and she thinks this is mega hot. I’m gonna try that on dates from now on. ‘I only went out with you because I like your arms. Let’s face it, there’s no gym on earth for your face…I’m sorry, I have intimacy issues so I lash out.’ I wonder how well that’ll go down.

ChuckWith his serious boundary issues, it’s no wonder Chuck is firmly in the frame as a suspect. In fact, without giving too much away, he’s ALSO a suspect in The Baby-Sitter II, in which he’s replaced by the far, far sexier Cal as Jenny’s main piece.

Dialogue Disasters: Please – this is RL Stine, his dialogue is fantastic. Jenny gets a believable mate called Laura who rings especially true – she crashes Jenny’s job as a make-out venue for her string of lovers and Donny, although a brat, is also well-realised. However, if I was forced to pull some choice lines…

‘Wipe that fiendish look off your face this instant!’ and ‘I didn’t kill any baby!‘ are perhaps a *tad* hysterical.

Body Count: 1

Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes. Jenny’s mum and Mrs Hagen also feature.

Is it scary? In places, certainly. On her first night Jenny meets neighbour ‘Willers’ only to later discover the house next door has been empty for months. A scene where Jenny investigates a ‘strange noise’ in the garden is also effective. I think police liaison officers should be in our schools teaching young people what do when they hear ‘strange noises’ in back gardens. Answer: lock the effing door and hide in a cupboard. Never: Go outside with a torch.

There is also an Elm Street-ish quality to the fact that Jenny HAS to keep returning to the Hagen house. With each evening, you start to dread what will await Jenny at her job. Stine deals with this quite well – Jenny handles the situation pretty much as any of us would, including calling the police, locking the doors etc.

The only down side is that Stine relies on ‘shocks’ for scares. This is almost impossible to do in print. There are a series of BANG, BOOM and YAIIIIs to represent ‘jumps’ but these don’t really come off. They would on screen, but as a reader, the capitalisation drew my eye at once, actually spoiling the surprise slightly.

Did the best friend do it? No. But you will figure out who did.

Is it good? Very good. Much better than Trick or Treat. There’s a reason RL Stine is rightly considered the Godfather of teen horror. The characters are rounded and sympathetic, the set pieces are excellent, the villain has good motivation. The Baby-Sitter could sit confidently next to any recent YA. If anything there’s an ease to it – it feels current and modern. Unlike like some current, overwrought, over-seasoned YA, it isn’t trying to be something it’s not, it’s simply a well-written, pacy thriller aimed at readers exactly like Jenny Jeffers.

Over to you!

Some questions to consider:

1. At what stage would you have quit the baby-sitting position? Would you have taken it in the first place?

2. What do you think Jenny sees in Chuck?

3. Do you think Jenny’s a good baby-sitter?

4. What do you keep in your SHOEBOX OF SECRETS?

5. What do you think happens to Mrs Hagen and Donny after the novel ends?

Join us on the 13th July when we shall be discussing FUNHOUSE by DIANE HOH.

Unknown

 

 

11 thoughts on “PHBC2: The Baby-Sitter by R.L Stine

  • June 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm
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    The Baby-Sitter: Reader, I loved it.

    As mentioned, R.L. Stine is the undisputed don of teen horror, and I’ve always thought of this as one of his best. Properly scary, genuinely funny, it’s a book that would stand up on its own, outside of the Point Horror umbrella.

    For a start we actually – hurrah! – have a heroine we can root for. Okay, Stine may beat us about the eyeballs with Jenny’s overactive imagination (mentioned, I think, on every sodding page), but she’s a likeable, plucky lead. She lies to her employers, has a slutty best mate, can’t be remotely arsed with PE lessons, and – most astonishingly for a Point Horror – actually calls the police to report her stalker. At one point she even listens to a Bangles cassette on her Walkman (Bangles! Cassette! Walkman!). Yes, I liked Jenny. I’d quite like to be her mate.

    Love interest Chuck, on the other hand, I would never tire of punching in the face. I spent the duration of the book trying to work out exactly what his deal was, and the only conclusion I came to was this: Chuck’s deal is that he is a massive douche. Honestly, Jenny can do better, and I’m kind of judging Laura here for not stepping in to save her so-called bezzie. (It’s interesting that you mentioned Chuck’s appearance in The Baby-Sitter II as that’s the only one of the four installments I don’t recall very well . Hopefully he dies in that one. Were Mrs Hagen and Donny in it?)

    The psycho’s identity may be signposted a mile off, but I honestly think he/she (are we allowed to do spoilers here?) was one of the most sinister and memorable villains in Point Horror history. The whole book has an obvious Halloween/Elm Street vibe, but I thought the reveal was particularly chilling, especially as we’re never told the nature of the ‘attacks’ on other baby-sitters; shudder. The psycho’s comeuppance was particularly brutal, too. Making a noise like a ‘full carton of eggs hitting the sidewalk’? Ouch.

    Yeah, I can only assume that R.L. had been on the J.D. when he decided that ‘YAIII’ was an acceptable way of transcribing a scream. The ending was rushed, and Mrs Hagen was baffling from start to finish (in on it, or simpleton? There doesn’t seem to be a middle alternative). But all in all, I thought this was a triumph. Even at the end, there’s a sense of things being left unresolved. I liked that.

    Oh, and my SHOEBOX OF SECRETS? Why, it contains the tattered remains of Richie Tankersley Cusick’s career, of course! Bwa ha ha ha!

    Reply
  • June 13, 2013 at 11:04 pm
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    Paul – it’s worth doing this as long as you continue to write reviews. I love you.

    Yeah, I think spoilers are allowed in the comments, although I might keep them out of the main text. The whole point of a book club is to discuss a book that everyone’s read.

    Reply
  • June 14, 2013 at 9:13 am
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    Careful what you wish for, Dawson. I will hound you like a grown-up Donny Hagen into the darkest corners of the Internet with my back catalogue of Point Horrors. “But James! James! We haven’t done The Surfer by Linda Cargill, yet. James? James!” And so forth 😉

    Reply
  • Pingback: The Baby-Sitter – R.L. Stine | Savidge Reads

  • June 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm
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    Oh, the visit to Sock City! One of my highlights, right there.

    In answer to your question about Stine’s non-PH work, I remember enjoying some of the Fear Street series, but always considered myself too old for Goosebumps. I also own his first adult novel, Superstitious, which was, frankly, appalling.

    Reply
  • June 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm
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    Right, I am certainly getting involved here! Dawson and Hirons – you are not having all the Point Horror glory/fun! Unfortunately, I haven’t actually read The Babysitter (I’m not sure how this happened…) but my copy of Funhouse is being ordered now and I will have my amoury of witty observations ready. I am certainly looking forward to hearing what you all have to say about it!
    Until next time….

    Reply
  • December 13, 2013 at 4:17 am
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    The Babysitter was another fave of mine, but not quite at the top rung of faves. 🙂

    Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 1:46 pm
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    Hey y’all. I’m very late to the party here but this book club appeared on Google and I’d love to be a part of it. Still waiting for my copy of Trick or Treat to arrive from eBay but I couldn’t resist diving in.

    The highlight for me was the description of the Hagan’s kitchen, so modern there was “even a microwave” on the counter. The Bangles cassette in the Walkman was also a great nod to my youth.

    I am in agreement that Chuck is completely unbearable and part of me was hoping he’d attempt a daring and heroic rescue at the quarry and go sailing over the edge and meet a gruesome egg carton end as well. But alas, he survived. I thought Donny was particularly well written however I was a trifle miffed that he’d continue to hide when his clearly frantic and distressed father is screaming “WHERE IS HE?!” at the top of his lungs.

    As so often is the case with PH books, I scratch my head at why Jenny would call the police yet not tell her mother or the Hagan parents about her ordeal, but then a young Demi Moore she would not make if that were the case.

    Overall, a good read and I agree this is one of the better books in the series. Onto the next!

    Great idea James thanks for starting and continuing this!

    Reply
  • July 29, 2014 at 7:11 am
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    Jenny Jeffers…surely Mr Stine is giving a nod to the classic babysitter movie “When a Stranger Calls”? The heroine in that flick was called Jill Johnson. Far too much alliteration for mere coincidence?
    1. At what stage would you have quit the baby-sitting position? Would you have taken it in the first place?
    Probably after the first night! A long bus ride across town followed by a walk down dark empty streets – all to earn about $5 an hour! Seriously, is the Jeffers household so tight for cash that Jenny’s extra $50 a week is the difference? I don’t reckon I would have even taken the job; from the beginning it was all a bit of a creepy, web cam kind of set up. Random girl talks to our son in a shopping mall, so we invite to come over to our house?? Unsuspectingbabysitters.com anyone?
    2. What do you think Jenny sees in Chuck?
    This is one of the great unknowns. Clearly she’s a girl with low self esteem – remember where her mother’s force feeding her pancakes to put ‘meat on her bones’ and Jenny’s all like ‘No use, Mom. I’ll always be skinny and flat chested’ (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea!). Still, you have to be desperate to let the bloke who was upskirting you (potentially for unsuspectingbabysitters.com?) join you for something to eat. I agree with the earlier comments – the BFF really dropped the ball here. Surely one of Laura’s cast-offs could have been tossed Jenny’s way instead?
    3. Do you think Jenny’s a good baby-sitter?
    Hmm…well, she does let Donny have a lot of fun, but she can still draw the line and (eventually) get him to bed. However, her performance clearly starts to decline as time goes on. If the mystery caller had turned out to be someone else, I’m thinking Jenny would have been told to hit the bricks after her make out party, so overall I’d have to give her a fail. And she so needed that money for Christmas!
    Now I think of it – there was really no other mention of Christmas in the whole book…I wonder why?
    4. What do you keep in your SHOEBOX OF SECRETS?
    Until recently – YA horror novels!
    5. What do you think happens to Mrs Hagen and Donny after the novel ends?
    Well, the first thing we need to talk about is whether we feel that Mrs Hagen knew or at least suspected what hubby was up to. After all, his psychosis wasn’t exactly well concealed! I’m thinking that they were partners in the whole babysitter bashings – she was the comforting, calm face that lured the girls into a false sense of security allowing Mr Hagen to seek revenge against them. So I think that the following weeks saw the police investigation unearth a pile of evidence to go with the shoebox of clippings that showed Mrs Hagen to be guilty of being an accessory. No doubt, some of the previous victims were able to give some evidence against her, too. Sadly, after Mom went to the big house, Donny was put into the care of the state and gradually became crazier and crazier…
    Now I need to ask a question: what do people think was the meaning of ‘company’s coming’? Mt Hagen repeats it even once Jenny’s in the car with him. I’m thinking he’s speaking to his dead daughter and telling her that he’s bringing her a friend to look after her forever. Then again, that would be odd as Mr Hagen quite clearly has no faith in babysitters. So, I’m not 100% sure what that comment means!

    Reply
  • July 31, 2014 at 12:51 am
    Permalink

    Jenny Jeffers…surely Mr Stine is giving a nod to the classic babysitter movie “When a Stranger Calls”? The heroine in that flick was called Jill Johnson. Far too much alliteration for mere coincidence?
    1. At what stage would you have quit the baby-sitting position? Would you have taken it in the first place?
    Probably after the first night! A long bus ride across town followed by a walk down dark empty streets – all to earn about $5 an hour! Seriously, is the Jeffers household so tight for cash that Jenny’s extra $50 a week is the difference? I don’t reckon I would have even taken the job; from the beginning it was all a bit of a creepy, web cam kind of set up. Random girl talks to our son in a shopping mall, so we invite to come over to our house?? Unsuspectingbabysitters.com anyone?
    2. What do you think Jenny sees in Chuck?
    This is one of the great unknowns. Clearly she’s a girl with low self esteem – remember where her mother’s force feeding her pancakes to put ‘meat on her bones’ and Jenny’s all like ‘No use, Mom. I’ll always be skinny and flat chested’ (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea!). But man! You have got to be desperate to let the bloke who was upskirting you (potentially for unsuspectingbabysitters.com?) join you for a bite to eat! I agree with the earlier comments – the BFF really dropped the ball here. Surely one of Laura’s cast-offs could have been tossed Jenny’s way instead?
    3. Do you think Jenny’s a good baby-sitter?
    Hmm…well, she does let Donny have a lot of fun, but she can still draw the line and (eventually) get him to bed. However, her performance clearly starts to decline as time goes on. If the mystery caller had turned out to be someone else, I’m thinking Jenny would have been told to hit the bricks after her make out party, so overall I’d have to give her a fail. And she so needed that money for Christmas!
    Now I think of it – there was really no other mention of Christmas in the whole book…I wonder why?
    4. What do you keep in your SHOEBOX OF SECRETS?
    Until recently – YA horror novels!
    5. What do you think happens to Mrs Hagen and Donny after the novel ends?
    Well, the first thing we need to talk about is whether we feel that Mrs Hagen knew or at least suspected what hubby was up to. After all, his psychosis wasn’t exactly well concealed! I’m thinking that they were partners in the whole babysitter bashings – she was the comforting, calm face that lured the girls into a false sense of security allowing Mr Hagen to seek revenge against them. So I think that the following weeks saw the police investigation unearth a pile of evidence to go with the shoebox of clippings that showed Mrs Hagen to be guilty of being an accessory. No doubt, some of the previous victims were able to give some evidence against her, too. Sadly, after Momma went to the big house, Donny was put into the care of the state and gradually became crazier and crazier…
    Now I need to ask a question: what do people think was the meaning of ‘company’s coming’? Mt Hagen repeats it even once Jenny’s in the car with him. I’m thinking he’s speaking to his dead daughter and telling her that he’s bringing her a friend to look after her forever. Then again, that would be odd as Mr Hagen quite clearly has no faith in babysitters. So, I’m not 100% sure what that comment means!

    Reply

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