December 24, 2018

When Life Gives You Demons

Written by Jennifer Honeybourn
Swoon Reads
262 pp.
Ages 13-18
July 2018

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When Life Gives You Demons, the kind that possess people and make them levitate and revolve their heads, you get an exorcist.  But if you're sixteen-year-old Shelby Black, who is training to become an exorcist with her Uncle Roy, a priest, sometimes you're just not the exorcist who's up for the job.
Uncle Roy doesn't like family members to be present during an exorcism. They have a tendency to freak out when they see steam coming out of their loved one's ears. (pg. 6)
There is so much for Shelby to learn about exorcising demons. She's learning how to detect them and she always carries her silver crucifix, handcuffs, and bejeweled spray bottle of holy water. She's almost got the Latin incantations right and is diligent about writing reports about the exorcisms they conduct. Shelby really wants to help out, especially as Uncle Roy is seventy and exorcisms seem to being taking more out of him now. But she's still a novice, only studying how to conduct exorcisms for the past five months, ever since her mother Robin left suddenly to train at some secret exorcism school in Italy. Unfortunately Shelby fears her mother's departure had more to do with the hurtful things she said to Robin in an argument the night before.

While Shelby seems to keep bumping into possessed beings–and even a few suspected possessions that aren't–she's crushing on her peer tutor, Spencer Callaghan. But there's some weird stuff going on with him too. Spencer's brother Mike has a tattoo of the sign of the beast i.e., 666, and a dog called Cerberus. But Spencer gives her a black onyx protection rune necklace. Does he know something? How is she going to tell him what she is, especially after she learns from her uncle that her mother had become possessed while doing an exorcism and now may be a portal to the underworld?

When Life Gives You Demons is not horror, though it could have been. There are creepy demons.
The man's face contorts, and he's spitting and foaming at the mouth. And then–oh Lord–the head starts to revolve on his neck, bones cracking and popping, until it twists all the way around and his face is on the wrong side of his body.
      I wince. I really hate it when they do that. (pg. 160)
But Jennifer Honeybourn gives Shelby a humourous sarcasm about her unconventional vocation, seemingly unimpressed by the possessed she encounters. I suppose it could get a little weird seeing demons but, to Shelby, it's more annoyance, especially when she's on a first date with Spencer.
Unfortunately, my plan to ignore the demon across from me is about to backfire, because he seems to have come out of his trance.  His face has turned a dark shade of red, and he's beginning to snort. Also, his butt is hovering a few inches off the seat, so that's just great; now he's levitating. (pg. 158)
I am not a horror fan and suspected that Jennifer Honeybourn's story might be a bit too much for me but I was wrong.  It's the right mix of teen angst–though perhaps a little different than that for most teens–with Shelby crushing on Spencer while trying to find and save her mother.  There's suspense, a little romance, some family conflict, and those demons, making When Life Gives You Demons a great YA rom-com for readers who like a little paranormal with their flirtations.

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