YA: Dealing with Demons | SLJ Spotlight

Four devilishly good teen titles address the darker side of paranormal fiction.
From the snarky to the serious, young adult shelves are getting a healthy dose of demonic activity this year. Whether it’s a complex romance set during the Crusades or an action-packed adventure filled with quirky humor, there’s something for every reader looking for a dash of the paranormal.

Cajoleas, Jimmy. The Good Demon. 320p. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781419731273.

Gr 9 Up –Clare has been possessed since she was eight years old. The “demon” is her comfort blanket, her binky, and her home. Clare’s mom is under her stepdad’s control, and he hates her. And no one in her small town of freaky people pays her any attention. That is, until She takes over her body. But the preacher and his boy, Roy, come and take Her away. Through a loneliness she has never known to a complicated relationship she never thought was possible for her with Roy, Clare searches for a way to get Her back. But the teen may be wishing for more than she’s ever dreamed of and more than she is willing to sacrifice. Cajoleas weaves a narrative of dreams, demons, and wishes. Every kid wonders what it would be like to have an imaginary friend, but what if you had a friend that lived inside of you that wasn’t so imaginary? Cajoleas poses the question, “Can there be good demons?” Witnessing Clare’s relationship with Her, readers will be conflicted in their answer. Even though She fell in love with Clare, the demon manipulates her and lies to her, making her do “evil” things to people she loves and cares about. Clare’s development might come a little too late for some, but this quirky tale is thought-provoking. VERDICT Purchase where horror is popular.–Rena Gibson, Ralph Ellison Library, Oklahoma City

Honeybourn, Jennifer. When Life Gives You Demons. 272p. Feiwel & Friends. Jul. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250158239.

Gr 8 Up –It isn’t easy being a teen exorcist-in-training. For one thing, you have to keep your identity a secret; not even Shelby’s best friend knows about her training. She definitely does not want her crush/geometry tutor, Spencer, learning about that part of her life, but it’s hard to keep it under wraps when demon-possessed people can show up when you least expect them. Shelby, however, is not the only one keeping secrets. Uncle Roy has not been honest about where Shelby’s mother went when she left suddenly several months back, and Spencer may know more about the demon world than Shelby thinks. Readers looking for a paranormal story that doesn’t take itself too seriously may get caught up in Shelby’s concerns, which range from real-world (obsessing about Spencer, worrying about Uncle Roy’s health, trying not to fail geometry) to demon-world (memorizing the proper pronunciation of Latin incantations and finding out what happened to her mother). Despite the dark topic, the tone is light and Shelby’s first-person narration is comical. VERDICT A rapid-paced read with plenty of action that may appeal to fans of paranormal fiction.–Mindy Rhiger, Hennepin County Library, MN

Ngan, Natasha. Girls of Paper and Fire. 336p. Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson Bks. Oct. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316561365.

Gr 10 Up –Seventeen-year-old Lei is kidnapped and forced into sexual servitude by the vicious Demon King who rules her country. Her land has three castes: the low-status Paper caste who are fully human, high-status Moon caste or demons who are half animal in form, and middle-status Steel caste who have some animal features. Lei and her fellow Paper Girls live in a special section of the magical Hidden Palace where they are subjected to forced medical examinations, abused by their trainer, and raped by the bestial ruler. While Lei’s fear and disgust at her impending assault are thoroughly depicted, her mental state afterward is less well described. Her enslavement becomes more bearable when she falls in love with Wren, a Paper Girl on a mission to kill the king, and their tender relationship provides some of the happier moments in this brutal story. Ngan grew up in Malaysia, and the setting shows the influence of several Asian cultures: the Hidden Palace resembles China’s Forbidden Palace, the king forces the girls to drink sake, characters wear Malaysian kebayas and Chinese cheongsams. Lei’s fate echoes those of the imperial concubines held by several Chinese emperors, as well as the “comfort women” forced to service World War II Japanese troops in Malaysia and other countries. Lei and her allies have backstories and motivations that make their situation all the more disturbing. VERDICT A deeply unsettling look at forced prostitution for mature readers of fantasy. Consider for purchase where Ellen Hopkins’s Tricks and Traffick are popular.–Beth Wright Redford, Richmond Elementary School Library, VT

Starr, Kimberley. The Book of Whispers. 400p. Text Publishing. Feb. 2018. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781925355512.

Gr 9 Up –Fantasy, horror, romance and history combine in an epic story of the violent Crusades. In an age when magic and religion were often intertwined, so, too, are the fates of young noble Luca from Tuscany and Suzan, a girl running for her life. Luca sees demons’ shadows, and after his father reveals to him the family treasure, The Book of Whispers, he sees the demons themselves. He also foresees the murder of his father on the crusade, so he joins the pilgrimage, accompanied by his jealous cousin, Narlo, and the malevolent priest Ramberti. Suzan lives underneath a convent and pretends to be mute or else risk having her tongue cut out like her mother. When her secret is revealed, she flees and is quickly taken under Luca’s wing. Suzan can read the magical book, and it guides them on the rough journey battling the blood lust of the pilgrims and powerful demons in human form whose goals upon reaching Jerusalem could prove cataclysmic. Descriptive metaphorical language helps propel an intricate plot and complex cast. There is clear evidence of historical accuracy and welcome mention of the fearless Tuscan Countess Matilda. Despite repeated and often gratuitous descriptions of the grotesque demons, the actual documented acts of the pilgrims and knights prove more gruesome. However, some central characters disappear for chapters before abruptly reappearing. Not for the faint of heart, this complex historical fiction YA illuminates the evil that can be wrought in the name of religion and the power of love. VERDICT A strong choice.–Lee De Groft, Jamestown High School, Williamsburg, VA

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