Book Review: The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

August 24, 2021 – Alli Boyer, Adult Services

What would you do if your babysitter suddenly disappeared? As a child, Liza Rodman simply thought her frequent babysitter left town, moved on to bigger and better things. It wasn’t until she was an adult, and started having nightmares starring this old babysitter, that Liza confronted her mother and asked the question, “What happened to Tony?” Come to find out, Tony didn’t disappear that summer: he was arrested on multiple murder charges.

The biography The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer jumps back and forth between two lives: the life of a young Liza Rodman growing up with a hectic single mother, and the life of Tony Costa as his stability derails and he contemplates his crimes. What is most interesting in this biography is the contrast between the two lives. Liza had an abusive, neglectful mother – who let a creepy stranger frequently watch her children. In fact, throughout Liza’s childhood most of her babysitters ended up simply being strangers her mother met on her way to a night out. 

In contrast, while Tony did have a few traumatic experiences, his life was relatively normal – as far as the lives of other serial killers we hear about are concerned. Tony grew up in a loving household, with a doting mother – a mother who often overlooked the disturbing behavior of her son. He had a wife who loved him, although she was a victim of Tony in her own right. To see these two lives play out side-by-side, to see Liza making amends and working on her mental health as an adult, and to see Tony go down the dark path he went down, I just found it really interesting to see how it all played out. I also like that Liza did her own bit of investigating into some of the supposed victims of Tony Costa, and there’s some nice resolution at the end of it.

Admittedly, biographies can be a hit or miss for me. Sometimes they can feel stuffy and too linear, like “I was born and then this happened and then this happened.” I was happy to find this one reads more like creative nonfiction – not in the sense that the story sounded like a work of fiction, but in the sense that the language is vivid and engaging and the story, while linear, jumps between two characters in the middle of the rising action. You are present with these characters – who just so happen to be real people. There is also a deep personal connection between the author and the story: she is retelling her life experiences, and she’s being raw and honest, which demands its own kind of attention.

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