The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young
Dani seems to have a normal life on the outside, but she starts to have violent and invasive thoughts that she can’t control. She has visions of doing inappropriate things or saying rude things about people she loves. When she starts to think about murdering the little boy, Alex, she babysits for, she knows she has a problem. When the thoughts start, she hides the large sharp knives in the garage and keeps checking on Alex to make sure she hasn’t hurt him. Though she tries to tell her mother and her best friend, they don’t understand what she is trying to express. Finally, in desperation, she decides to stop babysitting altogether, but while doing so admits to Alex’s mother what she has been thinking. Soon the Dani is at the center of a media frenzy about a killer babysitter and is the target of an extremist group. Everyone wants justice, but what is justice for something that never happened except in her mind?
This book builds slowly allowing readers time to understand Dani’s situation and relationships. The book really picks up in the middle and ending, with even the length of the chapters shortening. It reads at a very fast pace towards the end, making for a satisfying and riveting read.
Dani is a very successful character. A girl who is so sweet and kind, so afraid of disappointing others. She is also an athlete, a musician, and on the way to having a boyfriend. It is this normalcy that makes her mental illness work so well in the book. This is not a girl who is a loner, but one with a healthy family life and social life. Young has excelled at creating a girl who is normal but abnormal at the same time.
Young also works to emphasize the point that mental illness is not accepted by our society, though it should be. The book is also about the speed of media frenzy, the overreaction of a community, and the targeting of a teen who has done nothing wrong. It is about the fear of mental illness and the media’s disdain for it and yet their thirst for a big juicy story.
An outstanding look at mental illness in a teen, this book asks big questions many of which remain only to be answered by the reader. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
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