Wednesday 13 June 2012

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Pages - 374
Published by Piatkus in May 2012
Copy kindly sent by publisher for an honest review.

People look at me funny when I tell them I have a demon.
'Don't you mean, you have demons?' they ask. 'Like a drug problem or an urge to stab your dad?' I tell them no. My demon is called Ruen, he's about five foot three, and his favourite things are Mozart, table tennis, and bread and butter pudding. 

Goodreads Summary
Alex Broccoli 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?
Many of you may remember my gushing review of The Guardian Angel's Journal last year by the rather talented Carolyn Jess- Cooke. Well I was a little nervous to read her second book and I worried how it would compare. I shouldn't have worried as The Boy Who Could See Demons is very good! In fact, it goes off in a different direction completely yet still keeping that paranormal umbrella hanging down over it.
The story is told from two points of view. Firstly you have Alex, who speaks very maturely for his age, but you realise that this is part of his nature. Secondly you have Anya, the child psychologist, who finds herself struggling to keep a professional attitude to Alex's case, as she witnesses so many similarities between Alex and her deceased daughter Polly. Anya is still grieving and probably will for the rest of her life, but she is attempting to move on and help other children, so that she doesn't have to see another child die in a similar way to her daughter. 
Alex is an intriguing and complex character. He is what my mother would call, 'an old soul in a child's body'. He is very advanced for his age of 10, which is probably the result of constantly having to deal with his mother who is struggling to live a normal life. He is mature yet a little geeky at the same time. He wears clothes left by an old man, who was the previous resident in his house, which  makes him stand out even more from other children. Although what really makes Alex stand out is his demon, Ruen.  Many may call Ruen an imaginary friend, but by the end of the book, I couldn't decide whether he was real or not, which I do believe is the way the author wants you to react. I felt she wanted to leave you questioning the knowledge and antics of Ruen, that appeared to be impossible. I found I wanted to protect Alex. He seemed so vulnerable, almost using his sense of humour to weaken the control of the demons that haunt him. He witnessed things a child should never ever see, so it was not a surprise to see that he was suffering because of it.  He is another victim of a time long past.  
Northern Ireland is a character in itself within this book. You can see how it is being given a shiny new coat allowing it to move on from the past, yet the old horrors still lurk under the new layer. This book shows that the children of Northern Ireland are still suffering from the  events of the past, as they are living with parents who are unable to deal with the events that they witnessed. The parents are crumbling causing the children to fall before they even begin to live. The effects of the IRA still appear to be causing mental explosions among the present generations. 
Beneath the plot lies the story of Hamlet, weaving in and out of the scenes helping to explore the themes of madness and treachery. You witness similarities between Alex and Hamlet; both are exhibiting unusual behaviour as they try to deal with the loss of a parent. There are other elements which appear as the story progresses, but I don't want to spoil the plot for you, so you will have to pick those out for yourself.  Although Alex's final outcome is so much happier than Hamlet's. 
This book is quite disturbing at times. The content deals heavily with child schizophrenia  and I found it really left me feeling uncomfortable. Carolyn Jess-Cooke is very good at planting a grain of an idea in your head that will make you scratch and scratch until you come to terms with what you are reading. She doesn't hold back, really  making you think and explore the situation.  I really do believe that this author has an original voice that needs to be heard. 
You can tell the author carried out extensive research while writing this book. The attention to detail was  excellent, though at times I did feel a little over powered by the amount of information provided. I found myself getting a little lost as I tried to digest it and take it all in. Apart from that I absolutely loved it!
Carolyn Jess- Cooke is an author I would highly recommend. Her books will make you think. They will teach you to glance past the haze of reality; to examine the grey areas of life where we are unsure of the truth that even science cannot fathom. 


  1. Sounds like quite an emotional book tackling a really tough subject. Thanks for the brilliant review

  2. Hearing lots of good things about this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. A child with that problem, nope, never come across it before, but it should be dealt with too

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