Title: The Baby-Sitter
Author: R.L. Stine
The Baby-Sitter series holds a special place in my heart, even though I’ve never actually read through all four entries. Much like I do today, when I was younger, I felt the urge to own all four of these books after reading just one. I distinctly remember begging my parents to take me to Borders Books & Music to grab the rest of the series after finishing this one. I believe I actually owned the second one already at that point, but that didn’t matter to me: I needed to own the rest before I could continue! Unfortunately, that continuing never happened, that I can remember, anyway, but I’m here to make up for that as we take another run at R.L. Stine’s The Baby-Sitter series.
The Baby-Sitter is actually part of two different series: The Baby-Sitter, of course, and Point Horror. Point Horror, as far as I know, is a series of young adult horror books from the late ’80s and early ’90s that are not really connected. There are multiple authors, settings, and themes, but they share a publisher, so I guess they tried to tie them all together. Really, though, The Baby-Sitter feels like a Fear Street book, which I loved once I felt that I outgrew the Goosebumps series. As I re-read through this one, I could see why I enjoyed it so much in my younger days. It maintains Stine’s writing style that I knew from his Goosebumps books, but turns up the real-life horror, which, as a young slasher film fan, I was all about.
Jenny, our titular babysitter, is hanging out with her friends at the mall one day when she sees a young boy, Donny Hagen, all by himself. She thinks the little boy is adorable, and he is about to get into some trouble at the fountain in the mall, so she decides to go help him out. His parents finally show up, and this ends up in a babysitting job for Jenny every Thursday and Saturday night. For most high school kids her age, giving up her Saturday nights would not be happening, but Jenny and her mother need the money, and she doesn’t really hang out much anyway. Her first night at the house is a creepy one thanks to the old, ugly house itself, an oddball neighbor, and the super anxious Mr. Hagen. Fortunately, Mrs. Hagen is there to try to keep him calm, but his anxieties do nothing to help ease Jenny’s mind, especially with the recent news of the local babysitter attacks. Oh, and the strange phone calls don’t help either.
The Baby-Sitter is definitely a time-capsule. It was originally released in 1989, and it works because of this setting. There are no cell phones or social media, and the mall was still the place to be. Stine makes some small references to the time – which helped me fall for the book even more, frankly – but he doesn’t go overboard with pop-culture references, so the book still works reading through it today. Now, I am old enough to remember a time when cell phones didn’t dominate everything about our lives, so I could appreciate it, but if my young nephew were to read this in a few years, I don’t know if he would have the same reaction. Either way, I appreciate that Stine’s writing from 1989 holds up 30 years later.
Stine does a really nice job of building tension throughout the novel. I didn’t expect to be effected by the thrills of the book at all, but I found myself holding my breath at points, and could feel my heart beating faster at others. This is the mark of a great thriller, and even though it’s aimed at a young adult audience, it was still quite effective.
There are numerous red herrings, as you might expect, but the only reason I was able to guess the antagonist’s identity was because I remembered it from when I read it 20-or-so years ago. The journey to this reveal is a lot of fun, but that’s when the story takes a step backwards, and I started to really feel that fact that this book was aimed at younger audiences. It wraps things up much too easily, and neatly, to be realistic. Some of the reveals don’t make a whole lot of sense, frankly, but I can forgive them because the rest of the book was so enjoyable.
I’m excited that I finally dove back into Stine’s Baby-Sitter books. I’ve been wanting to read through the entire series since that night I had my parents take me up to Borders. Unlike then, though, I have every intention to read through – and review – all four of these books. One-fourth of the way in, I have to say that I am excited at how well this original novel has held up. It’s not perfect, and that ending is, frankly, pretty goofy, but Stine does so much right with the rest of the novel that it’s still worth reading. I can’t wait to see where Jenny goes from here!
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.