NetGalley Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The Boy Who Could See DemonsThe Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Read: July 8 – July 12, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Bantam Dell/Random House Publishing for sending me this review copy via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: 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?

My Opinion: This is a very hard book to review. It was very engaging and I found it immensely enjoyable, but it was also quite nuanced and intricate. I want to talk about it, but I feel like anything I could say would reveal potential spoilers.

The demons in this book are very real, and are not of the fantastical variety. Alternating between the viewpoints of Alex and Anya, we learn of Alex’s ability to see demons, including his best friend, Ruen. This made the book an instant winner for me. I loved that The Boy Who Could See Demons chose to attack mental health head on, instead of taking a supernatural route. There are supernatural elements, for sure. But at its core, the book is intensely psychological in nature.

The larger arc, which was probably a little bit lost on me as I am not much for world history, was the psychological effect on people from the political unrest in Northern Ireland. And not only the direct effect, but the trickle-down effect.

The characters were well written and likeable, if a little unreliable at times.

And that ending. Jaw-dropping.

Bottom Line: The Boy Who Could See Demons is inherently readable, and is paced like a thriller. While tacking some heavy subject matter, the prose is trim and never bogged down. This is definitely a book I would recommend checking out!

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Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Read: June 1 – June 2, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

My Opinion: I had a hard time reading this one, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down.

Story time! Last summer, my husband and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant to get some take-out. See, we love food. We eat it pretty much constantly. As I type this, I am eating s’mores trail mix with no real thought for calorie count or fat content. I have never really loved my body, but I have also never hated it. And I love food. But I digress. We stand at the counter and order the food from the same little Chinese woman who always takes our order. As we turn away and go to sit and wait, she congratulates me and asks me when I was due. Except I wasn’t pregnant. The days following that comment were the closest I have ever come to feeling like Lia does in Wintergirls. I weighed myself obsessively, I didn’t want to eat, and when I did eat, I obsessed over what I was eating and would it make me gain weight.

Being chronically ill, I can’t exercise the way most people can. Exercise actually makes me feel worse, not rejuvenated… So when I got sick a few years ago, it killed the little bit of physical activity I was able to manage. And I gained weight. And I hated it. I still do, but I am learning to manage a little better. But even with all that, the closest I have ever come to living with an eating disorder is a week after someone told me I looked pregnant.

Wintergirls triggered the heck out of me. Laurie Halse Anderson doesn’t sugar-coat the realities of hating your body. In 278 pages I was introduced to what my life could have been like if I had been pushed just a tiny bit harder. And it was scary.

From a writing standpoint, I found Lia to be a little flat. I wished that she had something going on besides anorexia and self-harm. It seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Laurie Halse Anderson has made some prose choices that were distracting at times. Wintergirls tended to read like one of my blog entries circa 2005, when I was a teenager and trying too hard to be deep and dreamy at the same time. And no, no amount of money will make me unearth those blog entries.

Bottom Line: In a sense I felt like Lia was her disease, and that made her fall a little flat. But Laurie Halse Anderson pulls no punches when talking about anorexia, and she paints a very real (and triggering) picture. Even with the distracting prose.