Review: Devilish by Maureen Johnson

Devilish by Maureen Johnson. Razorbill, 2007. Currently available.

Genre: YA Paranormal Fiction

imagesFace Value: Well, it sure is creepy! Those demon eyes are disturbing. The girl on this cover doesn’t look anything like how I picture Jane, Allison, or Lanalee, so I’m not sure who she’s supposed to be. Just another possessed teenage girl, I guess!

Does it break the slate? It does. Although Jane could easily succumb to temptation or take an easy out and leave her friend behind, she always chooses the fight. Jane does not back down, ever.

Who would we give it to? There are a lot of paranormal fiction fans out there reading books that do not feature strong female characters. This book offers a great alternative to those stories. It has the creepy supernatural elements, and there’s some romance as well, but it remains a book about two girls who make powerful, assertive choices when facing demonic opposition. 

Review: A book about demons is not really my thing. I’ll take realistic fiction, historical fiction, or even science fiction – but I don’t usually care to read about the supernatural. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I am in a reading slump, my friends. My reading malaise led me to the local public library. I wandered to the YA section and headed toward the “J” section, for I knew that a book by Maureen Johnson would surely lift my spirits. Devilish was the first Johnson book I saw on the shelf, so I grabbed it and went on my merry way.

Devilish is a creative riff on a classic. Johnson took the basic concept of Faust and planted it in a Catholic all-girls high school. It’s a smart transposition of the story. Developmentally, adolescent girls experience a greater range of sudden emotional change and risky behavior. Although we know that neuroscience offers explanations for teen behavior, it’s still easy enough to believe that these girls are merely possessed. Even a skeptic like me can find it palatable to set a fictional demonic invasion amongst a socially and academically competitive group of high school girls.

Our fearless narrator is Jane. We see the chaos through her eyes, and it’s a fun perspective for the reader to experience. Jane is a smart woman. Some of her teachers think that she’s too smart – and it’s the girls who can outsmart the system that cause adults in authority roles the most perturbation. Jane is the target of many reprimands due to her inability to conform.

Jane’s best friend Allison is the typical “target” character. She’s a frumpy girl who tends to be overemotional, and she doesn’t have Jane’s natural talent for academic work. Jane’s primary role as Allison’s best friend is that of defender. So when Allison has an embarrassing moment to top all embarrassing moments, Jane feels that it is her job to clean up the mess and help Allison return to some sense of normalcy. But for the first time, Allison doesn’t need any help cleaning up the social mess. She rejects Jane and seems to thrive on her own.

Jane is increasingly perplexed by Allison’s newfound confidence and resilience. Then she learns that Allison has made a deal with an emissary of the devil. Which explains everything, of course. OR NOT. I loved that Johnson wrote this book with the cavalier tone of a realistic fiction novel, because it was almost funny how quickly Jane adapted to the idea of demonic forces influencing her life. Jane is smart enough to ask questions and be skeptical, but she’s also smart enough to accept that sometimes logic is not useful – especially when danger is lurking. In those cases, instinct is best.

That’s where Jane excels as a character. She has impeccable instincts. She also has a integrity and makes sacrifices for her friend. Devilish is definitely a fun romp of a novel, but it has substance at its core. The strong female friendship between Allison and Jane is the root of both the problem and the solution in the story. If you are interested in Slatebreaking paranormal fiction, Devilish is fun and smart and features great girl characters.

Reviewed from library copy.

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