Book Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons


The Boy Who Could See DemonsTitle: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mental Health, Mystery
Pages: 400
Publication Date: 10th May 2012
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Rating: ★★★★

Alex Connolly is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter's battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex's mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn't exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex's claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons?

After Alex’s mother attempts suicide again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya to deal with his mental health issues – since his Dad left he has been experiencing frightful hallucinations of demons.  Battling issues of her own, Anya soon begins to wonder whether Alex’s demons really are just a symptom of mental illness, or if there is any truth to them.

The book was fascinating to read, first and foremost because it has a lot of parallels with the novel I am writing!  The story unraveled in a very interesting way, split between Alex and Anya’s perspectives, and kept the reader constantly wondering if Ruen, Alex’s demon friend, was real – even to the end, this was kept as an uncertainty.   It is easy to forget that children can suffer from mental illness too, and it was wonderful to see this highlighted in the book.  Though personally, I think the demons were real.  Anya never explored how Alex could have known some of the private information he did and her justifications for some of his behaviours were weak, so I’m still not convinced.

I also think it was very clever of the author to add such a tragic background for Anya, which is revealed slowly as the story progresses – this made Ruen’s existence even more of a mystery, and put Anya’s own mental state into question.

I loved the setting of the book.  It was interesting to bring in aspects of Ireland’s political history, and I was really excited when it actually became a major theme of the book.  I’ve become so accustomed to books being set in America that it made a refreshing change.

However, I do have one major criticism.  I felt there were a few parts of the story that confuse me even now.  At one point Anya sees Ruen in a music room, and collapses as a result.  The figure she saw is later loosely explained as being a visiting professor (and not a demon at all) but it is puzzling why he displays the features of a demon, and I felt the whole scene was a bit of a muddle.  If Anya really had hallucinated it, she would be far more concerned, especially with the history of mental illness in her own family… surely?  Instead, I felt this was swept under the rug and not elaborated on enough.

Otherwise, this is a brilliant and thought-provoking story, and I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read the book – are the demons real or not?

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)

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