Clare has been miserable since her exorcism. The preacher that rid her of evil didn’t understand that her demon — simply known as Her — was like a sister to Clare. Now, Clare will do almost anything to get Her back. After a chance encounter with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, Clare goes on an adventure through the dark underbelly of her small Southern town, discovering its deep-seated occult roots. As she searches for Her, she must question the fine lines between good and evil, love and hate, and religion and free will.
- Title: The Good Demon
- Author: Jimmy Cajoleas
- Illustrator: Michael Hoeweler
- Publisher: Amulet Books
- ISBN: 1419731270
- Publication Date: September 18, 2018
- For Ages: 14+
- Category: Young Adult
- Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.
- Content Warning: Sexual assault, substance abuse, animal cruelty
I’d like to thank Amulet Books for providing an advance copy via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. (Note: All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release.)
Loneliness can drive people to do some pretty desperate things. In Jimmy Cajoleas’s The Good Demon, Clare’s desperation takes the form of her plan to be reunited with the demon who was exorcised (or “delivered”) from her. But Clare is far from the only person in town with a howling void in her life, and the novel cannily explores the different ways that people try to chase away their loneliness…or whatever else they call the empty spaces in their souls that gnaw at them in the night.
There are few things in this world I love more than a good Southern Gothic story, and The Good Demon does not disappoint. Clare’s small town is rife with secrets, corruption, and grotesquerie. Also, this is a truly authentic Southern story. I didn’t even have to look Cajoleas up to know that he was from Mississippi. Only someone who has lived through Deep South summers can write about them like he does: “Dogs hid in the shade, panting with their tongues out, birds were scarce, and even the mosquitoes flew slower.” His dialogue, too, is spot on. Southern dialogue is a lot more difficult than most people think — you can’t just throw in a few “y’all”s and call it a day — but Cajoleas captures the cadence perfectly.
The authenticity extends to Cajoleas’s teenage protagonist. Clare’s voice always feels natural. She’s not an adult disguised as a kid, nor is she a collection of adolescent stereotypes. She’s a young adult character with a believable, compelling internal life that we sympathize with; honestly, Clare is someone I would have wanted to be friends with as a kid. Above and beyond her excellent taste in horror cinema (she name-checks Eraserhead, Don’t Look Now, and The Wicker Man, just to name a few) and horror comics (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, represent!), there were a few moments when I felt like the book had reached inside me and pulled out a tiny piece of myself to show it to me. At one point Clare visits a weird little antique shop in her town (something I used to do at that age), a place where she “could feel strange and comfortable.” That’s such an elegantly constructed phrase; I keep returning to it as a kind of mantra/security blanket, a reminder that being strange is a beautiful thing.
While others may judge Clare — her stepfather, the town busybodies, the preacher who “freed” her from her demon — Cajoleas never joins their number. Despite the provocative title and synopsis, it becomes quite clear early on in the book that Clare is not a bad person. She’s doing what she knows to do in order to fight the horrible, gaping loneliness that consumes her now that her demon has gone missing. The path she takes winds its way through some horrific parts of her small town, but (ironically) she never loses herself on the journey.
The Good Demon is a haunting Southern Gothic tale about faith, addiction, and loneliness. Jimmy Cajoleas — aided by Michael Hoeweler’s beautiful illustrations — has crafted a deeply resonant story about figuring out how to fill the howling void inside yourself…and how to find out who you are once you realize that the howling void will never go away.
I really connected with this book in a special way. I give it 5 out of 5 coffins.