CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 23. . . .February 16, 2018
When Life Gives You Demons.
New York, NY: Swoon Reads (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), July, 2018.
264 pp., hardcover & ebook, $22.50 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-250-15823-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-250-15822-2.
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Mrs. Collins is still struggling to free herself, desperately chewing at her wrist like a wolf trying to escape a steel trap. As Uncle Roy reaches the end of the incantation, a blast of hot air causes his white hair to blow back – a definite sign that the demon is being wrenched out of Mrs. Collins. Sure enough, a few seconds later, Mrs. Collins drops back down onto the bed, completely limp.
Uncle Roy doesn’t lower his crucifix right away. Demons can be tricky. Sometimes they pretend they’ve gone and then, once your defenses are down, they attack. Just to make sure, he uncorks a small silver flask and sprinkles some holy water on her. It doesn’t burn her skin – another good sign.
Mrs. Collins moans. Her eyes flutter open, and I can see that they’ve returned to their usual color. She stares at us, confused. The possessed generally have no recollection of what happened to them, and considering how most people behave while possessed, this is indeed a blessing.
Uncle Roy takes her hand – the one not handcuffed to the headboard – and gently strokes it. “It’s all right, Rose. Just relax. You’re going to be okay.”
My irritation at him starts to fade a little; he has a very good bedside manner. That’s one more thing, according to him, that I need to work on.
I get up and walk over to the bed. I pull Mrs. Collins’s nightgown down over her legs and then unlock the handcuff holding her wrist. Her poor skin is raw from where she chewed at it. Good thing she didn’t have her teeth in.
While Uncle Roy continues to comfort Mrs. Collins, I open the door and let her husband into the room. He’s been pacing the hall for the past twenty minutes. Uncle Roy doesn’t like family members to be present during an exorcism. They have a tendency to freak out when they see steam coming out of their loved one’s ears.
Mr. Collins looks at me, his brown eyes hopeful. “Is she…?”
I nod. “The demon’s gone. She’ll be fine.”
Shelby Black is just 16 but is dealing with many problems – both normal and paranormal. Her mother left suddenly and somewhat mysteriously for Italy, and Shelby thinks it must be her fault because of a major argument between them. Since then, Shelby’s grades have tumbled. Spencer has offered to tutor her, but it’s hard to concentrate when your tutor is also your major crush. Shelby’s great-uncle is a Catholic priest and an exorcist. He has been training Shelby to do exorcisms as well. This isn’t exactly an extracurricular activity you can easily share with your friends, and so Shelby has to keep secrets from both best friend Vanessa and love interest Spencer.
Jennifer Honeybourn has created an interesting protagonist in her second young adult novel. Shelby deals with typical teenage angst about friendships and relationships and difficulties at school. She has a major argument with her mother and often resents her great-uncle’s suggestions and advice. Shelby is sure she can handle exorcisms on her own, despite never having really accomplished this. She has a teen’s enthusiasm and confidence, but without the experience necessary to back them up. As seen in the excerpt above, she also has a wicked sense of humour. Despite various setbacks throughout the novel, Shelby impresses the reader with her determination and her stubborn insistence on finding her mom and getting life back to more or less normal.
The novel assumes that the reader accepts that human beings can be quite easily taken over by demons which are, apparently, all around us. The second assumption is that an exorcism, using an incantation, holy water and a crucifix, can force this demon out of the possessed soul. Readers need to suspend their disbelief in order to accept these basic premises of the plot. The novel touches on the paranormal as well as being a more typical teen romance and coming-of-age story. The relationship between Shelby and Spencer gradually deepens and strengthens. As well, Shelby eventually realizes that Uncle Roy truly does love her and has her best interests at heart.
Honeybourn gives her young adult readers a quick-paced and easy-to-read story filled with unusual events and somewhat quirky characters. When Life Gives You Demons is sure to delight and entertain her growing number of fans.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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