I admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for novels that deal with mental illness. I think it is a topic not discussed openly enough or taken seriously enough. Too many times I’ve seen it used as a poor novel writing device, however when I find a good, such as Finding Alice one I snatch it up and devour it quickly.
This particular book just happened to catch my eye as I was browsing the library, finally. It only took a month to finally pay off my fees and walk back in there. I hope this means I can do more reviews now. Anyways, I had skimmed over the title of this book sometime ago when I was trying to find novels on mental illness. Time later, I stumble upon it happily, the back jacket instantly catching my interest with its topic. I’ll move on to the summary now for you.
Quick Summary: Dr. Anya Molokova moves back to Northern Ireland to help as a child psychologist at the MacNeice house, a mental health facility for adolescents. One special case she is assigned shortly after her arrival, ten year old Alex Connolly. Alex is a bright young man who has dealt with his depressive mother who has once again attempted suicide. Besides needing help dealing with this sensitive situation, Alex has another problem about him. He claims that he can see and speak to demons, specifically his best friend Ruen who only he can see, as well as acts of violence and anxiety. Anya is instantly pulled emotionally into the case, because it hits so close to home. Her own daughter suffered some similar delusions and behavior, her condition was early onset schizophrenia. The doctor is determined to help out this young boy with his mental illness, however something strange begins to happen as she works with Alex. Strange occurrences and disturbing coincidences have made Anya question the reality of her own perceptions. Is Alex really suffering from a mental illness, or is Ruen a bit more real then Anya would like to believe?
Onto my thoughts about this wonderful book that I blew through in a couple hours. I enjoyed it quite a lot. The chapters alternate between Alex and Anya, each told in their point of view. At first I was unsure if I would like this type of writing, it can sometimes come across as disjointed or confusing. However, it is done quite well and the differences between the characters points of view blend together really well. An example of this is Alex writes his demons name as ‘Ruen’, while on the other hand Anya who has only heard the name writes it down as ‘Ruin’. Little things like these makes the characters really stand out as individuals. I found all the important characters very well rounded and unique, they come across as real people in a very stressful real situation. Besides just the main two characters, the secondary ones such as Alex’s mom Cindy and the Child Services man Michael each have a distinctive personality and reactions to situations. It made the book seem more intense, this writing is dealing with a tender and complex issue that will get varied responses and reactions. The characters show this well. Even the demon Ruen has his own personality and place in this book, and is actually one of my favorite characters.
One large question you think of through the book is of course, “are the demons real?”. However, there is so much more to this book then just trying to find out that answer. It’s about how violence can affect children even if they were not directly the subject of it (the book mentions a lot of the riots and civil distress in N. Ireland.) How do people perceive a child with a mental illness and what is the best course of action for them? Stay with the family, be removed, medication, no medication? There is a lot of questions with just that. Not to mention it is about pain and internal demons as well. Anya’s guilt over the loss of her daughter, Cindy’s depression and suicidal tendencies, Michael the social workers desire to save all these kids from bad places, and of course Alex’s feelings on his mothers condition as well as his own. It is a well layered novel in my opinion.
The story sort of comes off as a mystery thriller, figuring out who Ruen and and Alex’s condition. However, it didn’t really feel like one to me, or at least have the depth of one. It was still a good read, but still didn’t feel like it fell into that genre. I do like trying to figure out ‘who done it’ or what is going to happen next, and usually am pretty spot on. This book kept me guessing through its entirety, I thought I had it, but then something would come up and I had to second guess myself. It wasn’t till almost the end of the book that I had a small feeling of what the answer could be, and was right, but still pleasantly surprised by what is revealed. On that note I was happy and felt satisfied, I like being wrong sometimes! Once a big reveal comes about though, I feel like the rest of the book suddenly changes pace and goes too quickly. It felt a bit rushed, a little disjointed, and I wasn’t totally happy with it. Personally, I felt the author could have taken another chapter or maybe two to really wrap up the end completely so it doesn’t have that afterthought or just wanting to finish the novel type feeling . I would have given it a higher rating if the ending wasn’t quite so lacking.
So, in the end, a good book dealing with one specific type of schizophrenia, a bit of mystery, and an interesting demon named Ruen. I give it a 4\5.