Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Devilish by Marueen Johnson

I'm currently working backwards on my reviews, as Devilish is the book I read before Boy Toy. Talk about two totally different books...

This was my other new pick at the Books of Wonder signing on Sunday. I loved Suite Scarlett, as previously mentioned, and last spring or summer I read The Bermudez Triangle and really enjoyed that. So on Sunday I knew I wanted a Maureen Johnson book - the question was simply which one to pick! I ended up settling on Devilish - and when Maureen Johnson signed it she was sure to warn me to watch out for demons (with the cutest drawing ever of a demon. I will have to scan it when I get home).

Devilish opens at the beginning of Jane and Ally's senior year at St. Theresa's all-girls Catholic school. It is "Big-Little" day, where seniors and freshmen pair up so the seniors can shepherd the freshmen through their first year at the rigorous school.

In profiles published by some of the schools gossip mongers, we learn that Jane has a reputation of being "difficult," while Ally is flighty, nervous and shy. As Big-Little Day commences, Jane is concerned that Ally will freak out too much to find a Little, but as Ally has received a cupcake from a secret freshman admirer she is filled with confidence and sure that today is going to be a good day.

But it isn't long before disaster strikes and Ally finds herself utterly humiliated in front of the entire senior and freshmen classes. When Jane is comforting Ally in the bathroom, a new student, Lanalee, enters and not only offers to take care of Ally so Jane can return to class, but asks to become Ally's little. Problem solved, right?

Well, Jane thinks, or rather hopes, so. Ally returns to school the next day, suddenly clad in fashionable clothes with a hip new haircut and dye job. She shows a confidence in class that leaves Jane flabergasted and wondering what on earth happened to her best friend. The answer - Ally has sold her soul to a demon and in exchange is now fashionable and confident. Jane is horrified, and goes on to make her own deal with the devil to try to protect her best friend.

This lands Jane in the middle of a centuries old battle between the forces of good and evil - the evil being cupcake-eating beautiful demons, and the forces of good hiding under habits, robes, and the guise of an unassuming freshman. Jane has always been an above average student, but it's going to take all of her knowledge, quick wits, and combative attitude to save not only her best friend, but herself.

I can't pin down exactly what it is, but there's something about Johnson's writing that sucks me in immediately. Again, I found that I couldn't put down Devilish, even before the demons and intrigue showed up, because there was something about Jane that I just wanted to keep reading about. The narrative is engaging and witty without sounding pretentious. Suite Scarlett felt the same way (though this didn't at all feel repetitive or derivative - all of Johnson's work that I've read so far share the trait of engaging narrators that I don't want to put down, but all of the young women feel very distinct).

I also have to give the book major props for only having a peripherary romance. As someone who's never been a big fan of romance in any genre, I always loves stories that focus on young women doing something other than falling in love. Yes, Jane does spend some time thinking about her ex-boyfriend, and may-or-may-not be falling for a young and dashing demon hunter, but the book is much more focused on her relationship with Ally and trying to figure a way out of their contracts with the demon. Give me a good action or intrigue story over mushy romance any day!

Generally I'm not a big fan of supernatural/fantasy elements, but Johnson's take on demons and that eternal battle between good and evil is fun and kept me hooked for the short read.
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