The Babysitter's Coven

Esme Pearl has a shitty life: she's seventeen, has only one real friend in the world, lives in a small Kansas town (and hates it), goes to high school, and is being raised by her traumatized father who can't bring himself to talk about the mental illness that has landed her mother in a locked psych ward since Esme was a little girl.

That's the setup for The Babysitters Coven, the debut YA novel from Kate M Williams, a veteran writer for glossy magazines and fashion-brand marketing, who has clearly built up a lot of snark for the verse-verse-chorus idealized teen life that she's been paid to market.

Esme is a delightful character, thanks mostly to her intense nerding out on her two hobbies: thrifted high fashion and babysitting, passions she shares with her only and best friend, Janis, who is also the sole remaining member of the babysitters' club the two of them formed when they were still in middle-school.

When Esme turns 17, she starts to manifest telekinetic powers, though she isn't certain at first that she can believe the evidence of her own eyes.

That changes when Cassandra — impossibly beautiful, shabbily dressed — transfers to her high school. The new kid is weird, and maybe in a good way, but as Esme gets to know her, she discovers that Cassandra, too, has powers — the ability to manifest fire ("pyrokinesis"), and that Cassandra is an orphan whose parents hailed from Esme's town. Cassandra's mother seems to have known Esme's mother, and what's more, before she died, Cassandra's mother left her a note, telling her to "find the babysitters."

You can see where this is going, I trust (if not, I refer you to the title). The setup takes a bunch of very familiar elements from the likes of Buffy and a thousand horror movies where the babysitter has to fight off the killer/demon/monster, carefully footnotes and acknowledges each one, then spins out a spectacular, exciting, gorgeously paced story about kick-ass girls fighting demons, discovering that boys are often terrible, fending off bullies, and wearing spectacular vintage outfits scored for pennies at the local thrifts.

It's a great, great novel, one that I read to my kid (11) just as soon as I'd finished reading it for myself. It's also the first in a series, with lots to look forward to in years to come.

The Babysitters Coven [Kate M. Williams/Delacorte Press]