The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

A haunting haze between reality and apparition with a troubled child psychiatrist at the center.


The Boy Who Could See Demons is Alex, aged 10. He began seeing his own particular demon, named Ruen, when he was five, on the day his father was declared “gone.” Anya is the new child psychiatrist in town, having returned to her home in Belfast hoping to help patch up children and families damaged by Northern Ireland’s “Troubles.” Perhaps she should be more concerned about troubles of her own: the day she gets the call about Alex is the four-year anniversary of her daughter’s death. Now she sees her daughter, Poppy, in Alex, who may have the same sickness, and she is clearly in danger of getting too close to this case. Worse, the boundaries begin to blur between what is real and what is not, as Anya wonders if Ruen may have a place in the tangible world.

Carolyn-Jess Cooke (The Guardian Angel’s Journal) creates in Alex and Anya sympathetic characters, and the traumatized Belfast she evokes comes alive on the page. Child psychology plays an important role, with its questions of medication and whether and when to separate a family. With a suicidal mother, a suicidal child, delusions and possible schizophrenia all jumbled up together, it’s no wonder Anya becomes a little unglued. The reader will have as much trouble as Anya does discerning fact from mirage as the story unfolds. The Boy Who Could See Demons is riveting and increasingly fast-paced, as it forces the reader to question everything that seemed secure from page one.

This review originally ran in the August 20, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 onions.

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