The Babysitters Coven series is so full of humor and adventure! I always have a good time when I’m reading them, and For Better or Cursed helped me cope with a fairly serious reading slump. Lighthearted and fun, For Better or Cursed follows Esme and Cassandra on to the next chapter of their Sitter experience. Sitters are like babysitters, but instead of babysitting children and keeping them safe, they’re babysitting the world and keeping it safe from demons. And instead of being CPR qualified, they have specialized magic powers. In the first installment of the series, Esme and Cassandra learned the truth about their birthright and their family legacies. In For Better or Cursed, they are summoned to a Sitters’ Summit, but corruption and conspiracy threaten not only the Sitterhood and Esme and Cassandra’s families, but also the entire world.
I love the characters in these books. I love that they feel like real teenagers with strong personalities and have to deal with real-life issues (like poverty and broken families) along with cosmic and paranormal threats. Kate Williams’ writing has great pacing that made me excited to pick this book up despite struggling to read anything at the moment. The pop culture references were very fun, and Esme and her best friend Janis really remind me of Andie from Pretty in Pink (one of my all-time favs still to this day). In fact, this series gets compared to The Babysitters Club and Buffy often, but I also think there is a strong comparison to the John Hughes universe. I know there is a lot to criticize and examine concerning those films, but there is a warmth to them that I have always enjoyed, and I feel that warmth here. Not everyone will feel that, however.
While I greatly enjoyed this book, it, unfortunately, suffers from middle child syndrome (in the bookish world). I felt that the external conflict was an afterthought, and the more interesting dynamics were the interpersonal relationships. I think Williams felt that as well because the external conflict seemed rushed and a bit lacking in emotional weight. Unfortunately, the plot was constructed in a way that also pushed the interpersonal and familial relationships aside. I think Williams started exploring some interesting emotional journeys for her well-crafted characters, but those seemed to drop off as the external conflict picked up. This resulted in a slightly unsatisfactory conclusion to this installment. Luckily we have another book coming, and I hope these lingering threads will be tied up.
What I did appreciate was the continuing expansion of the diversity of the characters. Williams’ strength truly is her character work (which is why I would like to see her focus in that direction). Her characters grew and developed in fascinating ways in For Better or Cursed (trying to avoid spoilers here), and I hope to see that continue into future books.
Overall, this was a delightfully fun read, and (surprise) it takes place during the winter holidays so it gave me a lot of Christmas vibes at just the right time of year! If you are struggling to finish a book right now (which is understandable) and are having a hard time feeling holly jolly during a difficult holiday season (also understandable), For Better or Cursed might be just the thing to cheer you up!
Book published 12/15/20. Thank you to Netgalley, Delacorte Press, and Random House Children’s for providing a digital ARC for review.