Hi friends! I received an ARC of this book from Atria Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book won’t be published until March of 2021, but feel free to read my spoiler-free review and add it to your list if you’re interested! Although I received this book for free, all thoughts and feedback are my own.
Synopsis & Quick Thoughts
The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer is part memoir, part true crime. The plot intertwines the story of Tony Costa and his brutal murders of several women in the town of Truro, Massachusetts, with the personal tellings of Liza Rodman concerning her experiences with her abusive mother and her interactions with Tony.
I am a true crime nut. My Favorite Murder, Crime Junkie, Conversations with a Killer, Forensic Files; you name it I’m on it. I’ve been embarrassed until now to have not read a true crime title. What a great introduction this has been. The unique ways in which Liza’s and Tony’s stories interact make for a more immersive and compelling read than one that may be given in a more objective and strictly factual manner. This story will be one that stays with me for a long time.
Hands-down, my favorite aspect of this book is the alternating styles of the chapters. One plotline is a memoir written in the fist person by Liza, which focuses on her summers and experiences in a very subjective and colloquial way. The chapters in between chronicle Tony Costa’s life, decisions, and crimes in a more biographical and professional manner. This style choice lends itself to so many interesting and important notes in this book.
The first is, perhaps most obviously, the ability to more deeply analyze Costa based on the experiences of someone who interacted with him. These anecdotes provide an insight into Costa’s psyche and character that wouldn’t be adequately explained were the prose to keep to a more newscasterly and unemotional tone. These small stories that Rodman shares are new and unique to her book and humanize Costa in a way as to make his crimes even more horrific.
Using this method of storytelling also allows Rodman to delve into other aspects of her childhood that don’t relate to Costa directly, that mainly being the abusive relationship Rodman has with her mother. This wasn’t an aspect of the plot that I was expecting, but one I ultimately ended up appreciating. Many times throughout the book Rodman shows that she’s far more afraid of her mother than she is of Tony – a literal serial killer.
The book is well-written, well-paced, and both Costa’s and Rodman’s stories are intriguing in the worst ways. I also appreciated the extra work that went into giving the readers some additional closure regarding the case.
Although I see the alternating points of view and stories as this book’s greatest strength, I believe it is also the thing that caused me to not enjoy The Babysitter as much as I wanted to. While Rodman’s and Costa’s stories do touch and overlap at various points throughout their respective plots, they do not interact as much as I expected them to. For the most part, it felt like I was reading two separate stories that only converged a handful of times.
I know this book is a memoir and non-fiction, so I know that the number of encounters between Tony and Liza isn’t something that can be retroactively changed in editing, but I do feel like in the latter half of the book the stories diverged a little too much. I wasn’t paying exact attention, but I think the last time Rodman and Costa had a direct interaction was around halfway through the plot. I don’t think I would have had as much of a problem with it if there had been some sort of reconciliation at the end, but there wasn’t. Again, I know this is a nonfiction work, but it made parts of the work feel jumpy and clunky; I felt like I was reading two books at once.
Rating & Final Thoughts
What a good start to December. The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re at all interested in true crime, I highly recommend adding this to your list for 2021. I should add a content warning for abuse (physical and verbal), sexual assault, and, of course, the numerous murders that Costa commits that are described in detail.
Preorder The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan here.*
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