The Babysitter II
by R.L Stine
The Babysitter II was a very middle-of-the-road sequel. The characters were solid and by far the strongest part overall. But for every element I liked, there was something of equal measure that I didn’t. The book had some very dated depictions of mental health, which were hard to look past. I hated Jenny’s psychiatrist from the jump. It was immediately apparent he was a bad fit for a traumatized teenage girl. I suppose he sucked in a believable way, but I can’t help but cringe at unhelpful depictions of therapy. It’s OK to break up with your therapist, folks. Jenny certainly needed to. The dream sequences also got really tired after the first one. Unless the book is about dreams specifically, they just feel cheap. The kid that Jenny babysits for in this round was presented as a menace to society. Eli Wexner is a child genius, he has mood swings, he likes tarantulas, and he can be straight-up weird. I think he read more as an autistic kid with inexperienced and overwhelmed parents than anything threatening. I don’t know if that’s what Stine was going for, but that’s definitely what I got as the story progressed. The other reason I’m being hard on this one is that I guessed the plot twist way earlier than I usually do. I suppose the book holds up as a competent mystery if you aren’t familiar with any other books R.L. Stine has written. For me, it felt like a partial rehashing of the first book and a mix of things I’ve seen repeatedly in the Fear Street books. The Babysitter II wasn’t the worst, and it wasn’t the best. It’s a mostly competent sequel that just didn’t bring anything particularly new to the table.
Recap & Observations:
The Babysitter II opens with Jenny going to therapy. She is severely traumatized by the events of the first book. She keeps having nightmares about Mr. Hagan coming back to life and crawling out of the old rock quarry where he died. Her new therapist Dr. Schindler sucks, or at the very least he’s not a good fit for Jenny. He records audiotapes of everything. When the creepy phone calls start up again after Jenny’s new babysitting gig, he becomes even less helpful. His assistant Ms. Gurney seems to be in love with him, but she’s the only one. Glad his dated style works for some people… or does it?
Jenny has also broken up with Chuck, her boyfriend from the last book. He reminded her too much of everything she went through, which doesn’t seem completely fair but it’s her decision to make. Chuck doesn’t take the rejection well and takes to harassing Jenny to take him back. Word of advice for the broken-hearted: a great way to make sure your ex never takes you back is to stalk them. Chuck quickly erodes his charm from the first book as he becomes increasingly desperate. So when the phone calls start up again, Jenny can’t help but suspect him. She doesn’t think he’d do it, but he’s got some real boundary issues going on.
In spite of everything that happened in the first book, Jenny still has to make money. She’s offered a good-paying job babysitting for the Wexner’s, which is close to home and easy to manage. The only catch is that Eli’s parents seem like they’re afraid of him. Eli is a kid genius of sorts. He builds his own phone, for one. He’s subject to sudden and aggressive mood swings. He has a love for tarantulas. Jenny, like his parents, isn’t quite sure what to make of him. When he makes a surprise phone call to her from the phone he built, she begins to suspect him. When someone puts a dead tarantula in her purse, she confronts him only to find that none of them are missing. When two of her friends stop by one day, Eli pushes her friend down the stairs. Eli doesn’t strike Jenny as a likely suspect; he couldn’t know about her phone calls from last summer. But she can’t help but wonder if it’s all him.
With all of this Jenny starts dating Cal. Cal is new to town. He hints that he has a dark past of some kind. For Jenny that’s part of his appeal. She has things in her past she’d rather not talk about, too. She suspects him briefly as well, but he’s never a convincing suspect. Overall, I liked Cal and thought he was a good addition to the story. Jenny has lots of nightmares throughout this book, some of which he was in. The nightmares got tedious. It felt like a substitute for real action. After a while, Jenny thinks she has it all figured out. She tells Cal the whole backstory, what happened to her with Mr. Hagan the year before and how she has been going to therapy. The only person who could be making those creepy calls was her shitty psychiatrist, Dr. Schindler!
Now it was way too early to have figured it all out. I suspected Dr. Schindler on page one, but red flags went up when we met his secretary at the end of the first chapter. Jenny devises a plan to tell Dr. Schindler that she is returning to the quarry where Mr. Hagan died to put it all behind her. She suspects he will show up that night and try to kill her. But that’s a part of her plan that she has roped Cal into. Cal hides out while Jenny waits, only it’s Ms. Gurney who shows up. Ms. Gurney, the secretary who had been infatuated with Dr. Schindler. Who had access to all of his tapes. She had grown jealous of Jenny and now she wanted to kill her. Jenny is surprised, but she still has a surprise of her own.
That’s right. Cal gets thrown into the quarry, but that’s when we find out it’s now filled with water. The police show up with Dr. Schindler who figured out Ms. Gurney’s plans a little too late. He apologizes to Jenny. Ms. Gurney had been a former patient of his and was prone to violent outbursts. Dr. Schindler helps convince her to get out of the water where she is apprehended by police. Jenny is once again OK in spite of the slew of HIPPA violations. Cal suggests they go to the movies now that it’s all over. And that’s how it ends except for the fact that there are two more sequels.
All in all, The Babysitter II was uninspired. But that doesn’t mean I won’t read the whole quadrilogy. I just hope they don’t turn out like the Monster Blood books, which read like a really dumb serpent eating its equally stupid tail until the end of time. Keep an eye out for my review of The Babysitter III next fall!
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
Overall it was a better concept than the first book, but I guessed the twist in the first chapter. I’ve read a lot of these so that is bound to happen, but that still felt too little too early.
It had all the makings of a good mystery but it wasn’t Stine’s best. I did like that Jenny reached the wrong conclusion first, but I anticipated all of it.
Eli and Cal were good. Mrs. Gurney was problematic but at least she had a clear motive. Dr. Schindler sucked but in a believable way. It’s ok to break up with your therapist, folks.
Scare Factor: 1/2
It lacked the creepiness of the first book, was more of a mystery than horror. The dream sequences got tiresome. It always feels cheap when the scary scene is just a dream. Especially when dreams have no part in what is happening in the story.
Part rehash of the first book, part predictable “crazy person” psychological thriller. The book worked, but not because it tried anything new.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Richie Tankersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat