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.
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.
As 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.
With 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.