The Good Demon
by Jimmy Cajoleas
Published September 2018
The Good Demon is marked Young Adult, and the protagonist is fifteen or sixteen (I don’t remember if the book actually says which) but the subject manner is…surprisingly adult. It’s a very Southern Gothic book.
Clare, our protagonist, had a demon inside her just prior to the opening of the book. She’d had it since she was very young – in one of the many flashbacks we see their meeting. But just prior to the start of the book, the demon was cast out by a local reverend and his son. Clare is lost without Her (the only name she’s had for the demon – Her) and reacts much as an addict would when going cold turkey. And then she discovers clues left by the demon, and resolves to solve the mystery and get her demon back.
Sprinkled throughout Clare’s investigation are flashbacks to when she was possessed, and we learn what the demon really means to Clare. The demon has saved her life multiple times, and seems to truly care about her. But in poking around her town, Clare uncovers some disturbing relics and characters. She learns there might be a way to get her demon back, but the cost might be higher than she wants to pay. (It’s also a bit predictable, but the slow-creeping horror of knowing what’s about to happen is part of what makes this book amazing.) In the meantime, she’s falling in love with the reverend’s son, and their relationship only complicates matters.
The atmosphere of the book is perfect Southern Gothic – from Clare playing in the swampy woods as a little girl, to the one mysteriously wealthy family that controls far too much of the sleepy town, to the small-town feel and the enigmatic hermit off the highway. The broken families and alcoholics and domestic violence all hidden beneath a veneer of sociability – it’s one of the best Southern Gothics I’ve read in a very long time.
The writing is just amazing – evocative and entrancing and – I just loved this book, okay? I’d heard it had mixed reviews, so I was a bit wary of the book, but the premise was so interesting – and then I fell in love with it. I think this is one of my favorite books this year.
From the cover of The Good Demon:
“She was my Only.”
It wasn’t technically an exorcism, what they did to Clare. When the reverend and his son ripped her demon from her, they called it a “deliverance.” But they didn’t understand that Clare and her demon – known simply as Her – were like sisters. She comforted Clare, made her feel brave, helped to ease her loneliness. They were each other’s Only.
Now, Clare’s only comforts are the three clues that She left behind:
Be nice to him
Remember the stories
Clare will do anything to get Her back, even if it means teaming up with the reverend’s son and scouring every inch of her small, Southern town for answers. But if she sacrifices everything to bring back her demon, what will be left of Clare?