Written by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
On holiday and on a whim, I picked this book up at a Thai bookstore with nothing but the title and (more importantly) the blurb to go on. It started with “I first met my demon the morning that Mom said Dad had gone” and ended with “He wants me to kill someone”
I write this review literally within two minutes of turning the last page of the book and to be honest I am still unsettled. The waves of raw emotions, vulnerability and realizations are still crashing against my mind. Tracing a single path of events, Carolyn Jess-Cooke has managed to unfold several stories on several levels, every single one resonating with so much humanity it is difficult not to be drawn in.
The novel revolves around Alex, a 10 year old boy, whose best friend is Ruen, a 9000 year old demon. But things aren’t what they seem. Can Alex really see demons or is he suffering from some psychological illness? Such truths have been concealed behind lies, half truths and sometimes even other truths. All the layers are carefully and painfully peeled away only to reveal a fresh wound beneath, desperately in need of attention. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the novel starkly brings to light violence in more than one form. Violence during the Troubles sets the stage for violence within the family and more frighteningly violence within and towards oneself.
When Alex’s mother Cindy is taken to the hospital after yet another suicide attempt, his claim of seeing demons is brought to the attention of Dr. Anya Molokova, a child psychiatrist. Anya, herself still recovering from the loss of her daughter Poppy, could not help but see similarities between Alex and her daughter who suffered from a psychological disorder. The narrative switches between the points of view of Alex and Anya presenting the fear, anguish and confusion of both a child and a mother coping with such traumatic situations.
Through the life of a 10 year old, the most haunting questions are asked with such innocence and urgency. What is real? What is love? Do I deserve to live? What does it mean to be human? What is good and bad? Who am I? Who can I become? Am I worth loving?
Allow yourself to be taken into the turmoil. Do not be afraid of the confusion and the uncertainty. As Alex and everyone around him struggle with their demons, find the courage to face yours and come out on the other side.