DISCLAIMER: I am a MA in Writing Student at Rowan University who has recently had the opportunity to study under Professor Atwood. The following review may be biased.
When I saw that I would be required to read MC Atwood’s debut young adult novel, The Devils You Know for my Seminar II class this semester as part of my MA in Writing program at Rowan University, I was very excited. Last fall I had a wonderful experience studying under Professor Atwood by taking her Writing Genre Fiction course. Atwood is hilarious and one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever met. She is also seriously talented as both a writer and an editor.
The Devils You Know was a real pleasure to read. I love that while the book is Atwood’s favorite genre – horror – it is also still young adult. While terrifying, it was also extremely relatable. This novel is about more than a creepy haunted house with scary clowns and dolls (seriously…so many dolls…). It’s a story about friendship and finding yourself in the midst of the terror known as high school.
In the beginning of the novel, Paul, Violet, Dylan, Ashley, and Gretchen don’t know each other very well for the most part. Paul is seen as being the cool black guy that everyone loves. Violet is the quiet “nice” girl that no one knows very well, but Paul has a crush on, and she is beginning to develop feelings for as well. Dylan tries a little too hard to be a bad ass and I can really see him as being a bit of a punk rocker/skater kid. Ashley is the stuck up, rich, right-winged Republican princess that owns the school and absolutely HATES Gretchen (the feeling appears to be mutual), and Gretchen is Dylan’s partner whom is every bit as weird and tough as he is.
The quintent rarely ever crosses paths and most certainly wouldn’t call each other friends. However, when the opportunity to visit the legendary Boulder House on a class field trip presents itself, all five members of the group sign up and find themselves forced to not only share in the same space and experiences, but to also work together as a team and get to REALLY know the truth about each other. Sometimes the truth can be completely alarming and sometimes you think you know someone (as is the case of Dylan and Gretchen), but later realize you don’t know that person at all.
For instance – who would’ve guessed that Paul likes to wear tights and role play during medieval events? Nice girls finish last…and get taken advantage of as seen by the way Mr. Rhinehart takes advantage of Violet by having an affair with her the day she turns 18. Dylan is not actually Dylan at all…he’s John Michael…and despite his foul mouth and constant use of the word “yo”, he’s not as tough as he wants people to think he is. He’s actually a very conservative Christian who attends church every week with his rich parents. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley isn’t the conservative Christian she wants everyone to believe she is. In fact, she’s gay and she’s trying everything to hide her true identity from everyone, especially her Republican parents. After all, her father IS a well-known senator who HATES anyone that’s not straight. If he knew the truth about her it would destroy him and the rest of her family. What’s worst – she doesn’t hate Gretchen at all. In fact, she’s in love with her. As for Gretchen? She’s tough because she has to be, not because she wants to be. Her family is on food stamps and she makes her own clothes because she has no choice. Her mother is ill and the family constantly struggles with money.
In order to survive the house and everything in it – from demonic angels to creepy evil dolls to scary clowns to even whales and everything in between, the quintent must work together. However, when the quintent’s secrets are revealed to one another, they all feel such a strong sense of shame that they want to go through the house alone. However, they later learn that while they each have their own secrets, it doesn’t make them less and if anything, knowing the truth about who they are is what will not only bring them closer together, but also force them to want to stick together to support each other and to make it out of the house alive and beyond the house, to make it through high school alive, too.
Some of the novel’s strengths lie in the extreme attention to details, particularly with the imagery and descriptions of the house. It’s a very unique and clever book that while sticking to the main conventions of the horror genre, doesn’t fall into the trap of cliches. For example: there’s an entire room dedicated to whales and aquatic lives. I’ve never been afraid of whales and squids/octapuses, but I am now! I also really appreciated the way the novel took the very successful risk of having multiple narrators/points of views. Each chapter was told by a different character – Ashley, Gretchen, Dylan, Violet, and/or Paul. This allowed the reader to get up close and personal with all of the characters. Atwood did a great job of breaking them all down and creating an equal balance between each character’s voice so it never felt like you had too much of one character and not enough of another character. It also never got too confusing or overwhelming; five seemed like the perfect number.
So why four stars and not five? While I really enjoyed this book and struggled to put it down, it wasn’t perfect. There were still some things that bothered me with this book. One of the main things I didn’t like was Dylan’s character. He really annoyed me. I didn’t like his dialogue and I had trouble believing that’s how he would actually talk. I think there was an instance in the beginning where he said something along the lines of “I remembered to turn my swag on” which made me cringe. Do people even use the term “swag” anymore? I thought that died around 2008. “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” also sounded really awkward to me. I could believe him saying it once or twice, but constantly throughout the book? And no one ever comments on how weird it sounds? I had trouble buying it. Lastly, by the end of the book I was really annoyed by his constant use of the word “yo”. I think he said it but I feel like that would be something he’d say in the beginning of a sentence, not the end and reading it vs. hearing it – it reads kind of awkwardly and annoyed me as a reader. Lastly – his name is something completely different than what everyone calls him and no one knew this? I feel like the school would at least have his legal name down and probably call him by it on the first day of class. I just didn’t buy that as being his secret.
Also, reading this as a conservative Christian, I realize I’m a little biased but I did take some issues with the content of the novel. At times I felt like I was being attacked based on my views and like I was supposed to apologize or feel bad about being a conservative, Republican, Christian. I go to church every week the way Dylan/John Michael did – I don’t think that’s a “bad” thing in itself.
Lastly, demonic/fallen angels? The angels which are typically symbols for good, were made into symbols for evil. I wasn’t really okay with that imagery. I felt like the idea of Christianity throughout the novel was being shown in a negative light. Some of the jabs against Christianity/Republicans (such as the subtle George Bush reference…) felt a little over-done/cheap. I also thought of the impact/influence they may have on the novel’s target teenage audience which made me a little uncomfortable.
But overall I did really like this novel. It was very well researched, well written, and engaging. 4 out of 5 stars.
Today I read chapters 9-10 of 1 Corinthians. There were several parts of chapter 10 that really stood out to me. The first verse that caught my attention was one that I have previously highlighted and it is 1 Corinthians 10:21 which states, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakes of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” What this verse means is we have to be careful who we choose to spend our time with, what activities we decide to partake in, and really what we VALUE in this world. Do we value God or do we value man? You can have God or the world, but you can’t have both things.
This reminds me a lot of the Jeremy Camp song, “Give Me Jesus”. I saw Jeremy Camp perform a phenomenal show at Living Waters church in Burlington last weekend and the words really stayed with me in this song in particular. The words of this song are very simple and it works. Perhaps that was Camp’s point even – to strip the song of the bare necessities – Jesus. The chorus simply states, “Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus. You can have all this world, Just give me Jesus” (Camp). If you’re a Christian and you are truly saved and truly choose to follow God and to live in Christ, that’s all you need in the world. When we die and go to heaven nothing here on Earth is going to matter; the only thing that matters is our love and belief in Christ.
Here is a lyric video featuring Jeremy Camp’s “Give Me Jesus”. Thanks to iamSB for posting it on YouTube!
Another passage that stood out to me was 1 Corinthians 10: 26 which states, “For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” God created this earth and everything on it including all of mankind. We need to honor God in all that we do and remember to whom we belong. This ties in with verse 31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” As Christians and disciples of God we need to consider our actions and how we live our lives and the things we choose to partake in each day. Are we glorifying and honoring God? Do our actions show us as being God’s people? Can everyone see Christ in us?
1 Corinthians 10 concludes with verse 33 which states, “Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” It is important for us to live Godly lives and to act in a way and to live in a way that is god-pleasing and god-honoring so that people will see Christ in us so that we may reach those who are not saved and to help to bring them to Christ. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect; we will never be perfect. It just means that we will strive to be the people that God created us to be and that people will see Christ in us and be so inspired by our lives and the way we live in Christ, that they will be compelled to follow Christ, too.
The controlling values of 1 Corinthians 10 might look something like this:
Purpose: We must reject the world to follow God.
Context: Following the world will cause us to sin, commit idolatry, and separate us from God.
The opposing controlling values may look like this:
Purpose: Following the world will give us more opportunities and grant us higher status among society.
Context: Chasing materialistic worldly things can never fully satisfy us; only the love and grace of a savior can fulfill us.
Actually, looking at that again now after letting it sit, perhaps the opposing controlling value may be:
Purpose: If we don’t follow the world, we will be missing out.
Context: Following the world closes the door on God where we will receive better gifts than what the world can give us.
Am I living a Christ-focused life? I want to think yes, but to be honest, this is something I need to work on. Attending a public university and juggling my Master’s courses with teaching and working full time can be a challenge. I am guilty of putting God on the backburner so I can do all of these other things when in reality God should always be my priority. When people look at me and my life, is God the first thing that comes to mind? I’d like to think so, but I can’t help but think they see me as being a student or a social media marketer first and a Christian second. I need to fix this.
These verses really touched me today because 1. I need to get back to reading my Bible on a daily basis and not just immersing myself in his word, but LIVING his word and living for Christ and not the world. Also, 1 Corinthians 10:33 reminds me so much of my mission statement and what I want to accomplish in life; to please God. I am writing a novel not for my own gain and not for my audience’s gain, but for the glory of God. Everything that I do in life is for God’s glory and to honor and serve him and to share his love and his word with others. This is something that is so easy to forget and something I need to be reminded of. When I grow tired and when I question my work and why I am doing this, I remember him. None of this is for me, it’s all for him and I am exactly where God wants me to be doing the things he wants me to do for him.