Sometimes, it happens. Sometimes you come across a book so brilliant, so gripping, so well written... and sometimes it lets you down when it matters most: The Ending. I'm trying really hard not to rant in this review. I'm trying extra hard not to hash it all out in CAPITALS. I'm saving my emotion for my own End.
The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke is such a wonderful book that wastes so much of its potential.
The book is about a boy called Alex, who claims to see and interact with a 9000 year-old demon called Ruen, and his psychiatrist, Anya. It is set in Northern Ireland, not long after The Troubles - which is a running theme throughout the narrative - and we follow Alex as he tries to explain to his new psychiatrist the presence and effect of demons in his life, all the while dealing with his mother's clinical depression and the secret of his parentage.
Told from two different points of view - Anya and Alex - we discover a rich and multi-layered narrative covering themes of inherited guilt, depression, Irish history, schizophrenia, trust, loss and friendship. I was absolutely hooked from the start as the book swept me along with it's unrelenting pace, divulging information carefully and temptingly. Who is Ruen? Is he real or is he imagined? Is he really helping Alex or is there something more sinister going on? I never found myself left wanting for answers. They came at the right time and moved me swiftly onto the next question without stopping for breath. It was enthralling!
I felt the inclusion of the political and religious unrest in Ireland was very well done, and brought a grounding aspect to a storyline that could easily run away with it's own paranormal overtones. The Troubles were featured in a very honest and "this is just life" kind of way that I found shocking, but yet it made sense. The exploration of The Troubles' effect on the next generation was very interesting and, in fact, quite eye-opening. I felt that the setting of this novel is part of what made it so special. It felt new and it felt timely. I can't really explain why...
I loved the characters and felt for each of them individually. Anya was wonderfully crafted with a vulnerability and hard edged views, leaning on her professional abilities as a crutch for her own past. Micheal was a great counter to her tunnel vision. Alex was so fully realised I felt he could walk off the page at any second....
Which is what made the ending of The Boy Who Could See Demons so frustrating!
**WARNING - here be spoilers**
In an almighty error of judgement (I'm sorry, but that's exactly what it is) the entire storyline comes down to "it was all just a dream." I. WAS. FURIOUS. How can such a clever, sympathetic, complex and beautiful novel fall so spectacularly at the last hurdle?!
I felt like the author had been laughing at me the entire time.
A twist should never make the reader feel like they're stupid. A twist should make you go "wow, I totally didn't see that coming! I need to read this again NOW and see where I missed it!" but at the end of this book, I felt like a fool. A fool for putting a lot of belief, enjoyment and time into something that was going to GIVE UP on me when I never once thought of giving up on these characters. I thought that "it was just a dream" was so cliched, overused, predicatable and SILLY that this book would never even THINK about it.
I was geared up for a twist, but I was geared up for a mind-blowing revelation of cleverness! I was ready for Ruen to be something I had never considered. I was ready for Alex's dad to have been drugging his onions and making him hallucinate or something. I was ready for cause-specific brainwashing. I was ready for ANYTHING but "it was all just a dream" ARGHHHH!
(Sorry, I failed at the no caps thing)
**Here the spoilers end**
Right. So, at the end of the day I need to rate this book. Here's what I think:
If it had ended with Anya on the floor at the "final meeting" and Micheal's "Anya, what have you done?!" as the final lines - 10/10
However, that wasn't the ending, and although I loved every single second up until the real ending, I have to take it into account as a whole. Therefore - 5/10
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The Boy Who Could See Demons - review
Emma is a designer living in Bristol, UK. A self-confessed stationery addict, book lover and TV sci-fi geek, she enjoys sketching zombie-eyed women and finding her next source of inspiration in the pages on the bookshelf.