Book Review: THE BABYSITTERS COVEN by Kate Williams

The Babysitters Coven doesn’t have the story to back up its fun hook. A shallow series-starter that might have been more successful as upper-Middle Grade.

The Babysitters Coven
Kate Williams


Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed novel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil. 

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She’s Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme’s babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.”

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home. 

Esme and her friend Janice need money. They can’t seem to hold down jobs, so to maintain their ludicrous (and expensive) lifestyle, they’ve stuck with their years-old “babysitters club,” even as their friends moved on to other pursuits.

Why can’t these two supposedly intelligent, competent teenagers hold down minimum wage employment? Well, besides the fact that their fashion obsession leaves very little room in their brains for concentration… they’re just awful. For no reason.

The Babysitters Coven: a club of people I wouldn’t want to hang out with

Janice, we are told in a representative anecdote, was fired from Jamba Juice for publicly embarrassing a customer, yelling to the whole store that her order was “white girl special with an extra entitlement boost.” Esme tells the reader that this isn’t Janice’s fault: “She was just too woke for corporate America.” At first, I thought that line must be tongue-in-cheek–obviously, Esme means that as a joke, right? But as I read on, it became clear that author Kate Williams is totally serious about her characters’ adorable superiority to other human beings.

Maybe I truly am too old to understand YA, but I can’t imagine that teen readers will take away from that story that these girls are offbeat, edgy feminists. The book solidly establishes them as shallow, spoiled girls who can’t see two feet past their own internalized misogyny and self-absorption. And that would be fine–it really would be! As I often say when I rag on unlikable teen characters, the unlikability isn’t the problem. Lots of teenagers are shallow and self-obsessed. It’s realistic and, I think, valuable to explore that kind of character.

But reading The Babysitters Coven never gave me the impression that Williams was writing that sort of character on purpose. Everything about the book signaled to me that I was supposed to think these girls were quirky and cool. If Williams was interested in exploring a deeply terrible kind of teen girl… wouldn’t she have included characters who could contextualize those flaws? Wouldn’t she have had those characters grow in any significant way?

Esme reminded me of another supposedly edgy, feminist YA lead I read recently. Like with Athena from Rebel Girls, one of Esme’s primary character traits is her obsession with appearance. The first-person perspectives of both girls are full of cruel, ignorant dismissal of any teen who isn’t like them.

This is a deep problem. The book wants to coast by largely on the strength of characters that its fun to adventure with. When Esme and company are cruel and unpleasant–and never corrected for being so–it seriously disrupts the experience.

are these supposed to be teens?

Book Cover: The Babysitter's Coven

Also interrupting the adventure is Williams’ palpably sweaty attempt to replicate teen speech. Williams is careful to include slang on almost every page–characters unironically say “AF” and other internet acronyms frequently.

She overlooks, however, the equally important knowledge of what to leave out of characters’ speech. These supposedly contemporary teens still filter their observations through the lens of 80s movie stereotypes. Even characters like Esme, who Williams wants us to believe are third-wave intersectional feminists, use strikingly outdated language. At one point, Esme calls her school’s cheerleaders “thugs” to communicate their physical strength and disrespect for rules.

then things get supernatural

My patience with The Babysitters Coven was already wearing thin by the time Williams introduced the non-specific forces of evil. The book takes forever to explain Esme’s powers and heritage, but I still didn’t fully understand the rules and stakes.

The publisher logline tells us that Esme realizes her “calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil,” and the book maintains almost that level of vagueness throughout the book. In lieu of worldbuilding, we get lots of common nouns capitalized to become proper and even more fixation on characters’ experience and style choices.

Between the glacial pace, the lack of specificity, and the way Williams wouldn’t stop lampshading her borrowing from other franchises (“Wow, this is just like Buffy/The Babysitters Club/The Craft!” characters constantly note), I had to push myself to get through it.

The Babysitters Coven should have been MG

Babysitters Coven might have been a much stronger book as an upper-Middle Grade story. Esme and her friends are highly immature youthful, and one could rewirte them as 13/14 with minimal changes. A few changes to the story would have to be made (eliminating some gratuitous swearing and sexual references, eliminating the out-of-place serious plotlines with adult subject matter), but I think those are changes that should have been made anyway. The book’s repetition of plot points and careful pace would be more at home in Middle Grade. Pitched to a younger audience, the story could be the fun Buffy x BSC romp it wanted to be.

I received an advance review copy of this title from the publisher in expectation of an honest review. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.

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