THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS. It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of title that is reminiscent of, say, THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON by Stephen King (though it is nothing like that worthy novel), and the cover, with its pastels and the like puts one in the mind of a romance novel if romance novels had green tentacles around the borders, as this cover does.
The plot is straightforward enough. Alex Connolly (10 points if you get the author community reference) is a 10-year-old boy living in Belfast with his mother Cindy, a single parent who is barely eking out an existence in a residence that seems to be falling down around them by degrees. Cindy is none too steady herself, having attempted suicide on a number of occasions. When she makes another unsuccessful try at ending it all in front of Alex, both mother and son are hospitalized. The story unfolds with author Carolyn Jess-Cooke providing the reader with viewpoints that alternate between Alex’s diary and the first person present narrative of Dr. Anya Molokova, the adolescent psychiatry consultant at a child and adolescent mental health inpatient unit at a Belfast hospital.
"The ending is stunning. I have been reading this genre, whatever it is --- a combination of thriller, mystery and supernatural dark fantasy, with more blurred lines than Robin Thicke could ever dream of --- for over a half-century, but I was still extremely surprised by the book’s conclusion."
Alex has been seeing demons since he was five years old or so. He has been graced with the presence of one in particular, a Harrower named Ruen, who manifests itself to Alex in the guise of various personas. Anya is not exactly the picture of stability, and understandably so, given that her own adolescent daughter committed suicide in front of her some four years previously. She is assigned to Alex’s treatment on the fourth anniversary of her daughter’s passing, a timely coincidence that does not really bode well for the principals in the book, particularly Anya.
It develops that Ruen has seemingly developed a love interest in Anya, which is not a good thing, given that he asks questions through Alex, indicating that he has knowledge of matters that Alex could not possibly know. Is Ruen real? What is going on? Jess-Cooke gently but firmly takes readers by the hand and leads them down a road that almost imperceptibly becomes a guy-wire before making a right turn out into thin air.
Yes, that’s right. The ending is stunning. I have been reading this genre, whatever it is --- a combination of thriller, mystery and supernatural dark fantasy, with more blurred lines than Robin Thicke could ever dream of --- for over a half-century, but I was still extremely surprised by the book’s conclusion. It will put you in the mind of... No, that would be telling, and it wouldn’t be fair to either Jess-Cooke, who labored over this work for many months to make it just so, or to you, the reader, who will begin this journey expecting one of a number of possible destinations only to end up somewhere else. It’s a bit of a wild romp from beginning to end, whether or not you believe in demons (or see them).
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 16, 2013