Publisher: Amulet Books
Pub. Date: 2018
Genres: Gothic Fantasy, YA
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
The title, The Good Demon, is enticing enough on its own, which is why I stopped to look at it at the library. Then you find out that the protagonist, Clare, has been exorcised of her demon, the one known only as Her, her best friend. She’s devastated, angry and depressed. Then she finds a few clues left by her Only so that they can be together again, and it involves the reverend’s son. As she struggles with the boy being present as his father exorcised her of her demon and with finding her demon, she gets to know the boy and discovers the dark history of occult in her Southern town. The Good Demon, by Jimmy Cajoleas, is a gothic horror story of love and friendship, good and evil, and abuse.
I devoured this book, and it was thrilling, horrifying and sweet. As soon as I read the first chapter, I kept going. The writing wasn’t flowery. It had a forbidden quality to it because of memories, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to see what would happen. The story was told beautifully with present-day moments and Clare’s memories of Her.
Clare has been a lonely little girl with troubled parents. She has a mom who only looks for men that aren’t good for them, a dad who died from an overdose, and a rotten stepfather. Having her demon helped her through the rougher parts of her childhood, to the extent that they became close friends. Post-exorcism, Clare needs Her back to feel happy and normal again. And it’s dreamy the way she describes how her demon felt and interacted with her. It makes you very sympathetic to her cause.
Clare’s demon has been with her most of her life, to the point that they are very close. I don’t entirely see them as sisters, as one synopsis likes to claim, because I can see something a little more intense. As a little girl, she was entertained and saved from the horrors of her personal life by her demon. Her demon saved her many times—from snakes and evil men. The demon is actually good in that She protects Clare from harm and does Her best to make Her possessed happy. But then you see the parts where she does not good things, like manipulate and isolate Clare. Amidst the rest of the book’s discussion of good vs. evil, She adds an interesting and personal dynamic to that discussion.
Let’s get into that discussion. We start with the immediate comparison of good and evil with the reverend coming in to exorcise the demon and seeing the lasting effects on Clare since that event, her misery and anger. The conversation goes further with contrasting father and son as well as her parents. It goes even further as she starts the hunt to find her Only and the research into the town’s deep-seated roots in the occult. Even the One Wish Man adds a layer to this discussion. It’s fascinating to see where you can question who is good and who is evil, and how that changes through the novel.
Back to the characters. I love Roy’s role in this story. In the beginning, he came off as an accessory to Clare’s exorcism, but then we learn more about him. And I love Clare’s initial reaction to him and developing love for him. Their secret relationship and conversations made me so happy for Clare, and Roy is just precious sometimes. He’s not a little cinnamon roll exactly, but he is the perfect character to make Clare interact with.
Now the magic and history of the town are compelling. Because we’re dealing with demons, the magic is centered around their unique powers, some witchcraft, and the power of prayer—not in a Christian-fiction morality but in the power of a non-magical person. It has just enough explanation to understand what is going on and what it can do, but it doesn’t get into the Hogwarts sense of it. I love that it sticks to the gothic horror iteration of it. I also like seeing how magic is rooted in the town, and it’s creepy as Clare starts realizing it. The town almost feels like a small town anywhere until Clare uncovers more about the town.
I also liked the incorporation of full-page illustrations. They ran the risk of not fitting my imagination, but they makes the chapter headings more cohesive because they use similar imagery.
I would say that it’s major weaknesses are its pacing toward the end and the actual last scene. The pacing at the end speeds up and was a little tricky to follow. For the last scene, I like the message it sends, but I’m not sure that I like it as a resolution to the overall story.
So, I have to talk about the cover of this book. I didn’t realize there was a cardinal, or any other bird, on it until I reached the first scene that describes it. I saw the title and the colors on the book. The only shape I really recognized was the foot, and I thought it was a branch, or something. After reading the initial scene and recognizing what was on this cover, I’m shell shocked. I’m very disturbed that I read it with a cardinal bookmark (see photo below) because—at risk of this getting close to spoiling an event—cardinals don’t live long in this book. Anyway, I appreciate the inspired book cover, and I want to see it without library plastic over it.
This piece of gothic horror is an unusual and thrilling addition to YA fantasy. It has interesting themes and a story line worth reading. I liked it enough to want to see it adapted into a movie.