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Book: “The Babysitter Lives” by Stephen Graham Jones
Publishing Info: Simon and Schuster, August 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: When high school senior Charlotte agrees to babysit the Wilbanks twins, she plans to put the six-year-olds to bed early and spend a quiet night studying: the SATs are tomorrow, and checking the Native American/Alaskan Native box on all the forms doesn’t mean jack if you choke on test day.
But tomorrow is also Halloween, and the twins are eager to show off their costumes—Ron is a nurse, in an old-fashioned white skirt-uniform, and Desi has an Authentic Squaw costume, complete with buckskin and feathered headdress. Excitement is in the air.
Charlotte’s last babysitting gig almost ended in tragedy, when her young charge sleepwalked unnoticed into the middle of the street, only to be found unharmed by Charlotte’s mother. Charlotte vows to be extra careful this time. But the house is filled with mysterious noises and secrets that only the twins understand, echoes of horrors that Charlotte gradually realizes took place in the house eleven years ago. Soon Charlotte has to admit that every babysitter’s worst nightmare has come true: they’re not alone in the house.
The Babysitter Lives is a mind-bending haunted house tale from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
Review: I did very little babysitting in high school. I had two families that I did the occasional babysitting job for, and they were family friends so it wasn’t really a ‘business’ relationship. Basically it was guaranteed pizza, soda, and the promise of watching “X Files” in syndication after the kids went to bed with a chunk of change to show for it. But I love a horror story involving a scrappy babysitter, so when I read that Stephen Graham Jones had a new audiobook about that very thing I was very, very excited. The man has already solidified his place as a favorite horror author of mine, and this trope just makes it all the more tantalizing! I went into “The Babysitter Lives” with a unique reading experience from the get go: it’s rare that I do audiobooks these days as I am not in a car nearly as much as I used to be. Because of this, I didn’t devour this book with as much aplomb as I may have a print book. But it’s still Stephen Graham Jones, and he is still a master of strange and entertaining horror stories, so as that was my only option, it was necessary, albeit a change from how I usually enjoy him.
Overall, I enjoyed “The Babysitter Lives”. I love a haunted house story, and Jones is always up to the task of tinkering with a classic trope and making it fresh and deeply unsettling or weird. It’s pretty clear pretty quickly that this isn’t your average haunted house or babysitting in trouble story, and as we follow Charlotte and her charges through a terror filled night things get more and more dire, and the plotting gets more and more compelling. There are a lot of different horror elements at play; a haunted house, shadow doubles, space/maybe time rifts, and some good old fashioned body horror and splatterpunk gore that had me cringing throughout. There were so many what the HELL is going on moments and twists and turns that it felt a bit like whiplash, but we were always grounded in Charlotte and her drive to be a responsible and effective babysitter, especially after a close call involving one of her other charges. She goes through some serious shit as this babysitting job goes on, and Jones really knows how to milk the scares and unease for all they’re worth. While it’s true that I wasn’t the BIGGEST fan of how some things shake out, I definitely get why they have to go the way they do when it comes to the story that Jones is trying to tell.
But the aspect of this book that made this all the more layered was Charlotte herself, whose babysitting duties are well honed and whose characterization makes the tale richer. Charlotte is a driven teenage girl who has dreams for herself, but is always having to deal with perceptions of those around her because of her Indigenous heritage. Whether it is the twins she is caring for who have Indian Halloween costumes, or hints of microaggressions for their parents, or even well meaning but sometimes insensitive girlfriend Murphy, Charlotte has lots of experience having to combat racist bullshit, and unfortunately it’s just another thing she has to fight against during this babysitting job. Jones balances this pointed commentary with other things at hand, so it always flows really well and just feels like another, more realistic horror (along with other aspects I haven’t touched upon here, but let’s just say that as a teenage girl Charlotte also has to protect herself from a more worldly creep than any spectre this house could create) to permeate the narrative and make it all the richer.
And finally, this is an audiobook, and I have found that even the strongest story can be derailed by an audiobook narrator who is lackluster. But we are in very good hands with Isabella Star LeBlanc, who brings all of the characters to life with varied performances, and who builds up tension with her stylistic choices in narration. I don’t do audiobooks as much anymore, but LeBlanc is a narrator who makes me think that perhaps I should carve out more time to do so.
“The Babysitter Lives” is a scary and relentless horror story that turns the haunted house and babysitter slasher tropes on their heads. We are so lucky to have Stephen Graham Jones here in the horror world! He consistently delivers!
Rating 8: Stephen Graham Jones keeps up with the weird and unsettling terror in a book about a badass babysitter!
“The Babysitter Lives” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but it would fit in on “Haunted House Books”.