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A Good and Happy Child: A Novel Paperback – April 22, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This stunning novel marks the debut of a serious talent. Evans manages to take a familiar concept—the young child haunted by a demon invisible to others—and infuse it with psychological depth and riveting suspense. The setting alternates between George Davies's difficult childhood in Preston, Va., a small college town, after his father Paul's untimely death, and his equally challenging life as an adult and new father in New York City. Ostracized by his classmates and emotionally isolated by his mother, a struggling academic, young George begins to be visited by a doppelgänger, who, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, intimates that foul play was involved in Paul's death. When those visitations lead to violence, George begins receiving psychiatric treatment. Meanwhile, some of his late father's colleagues claim that demonic possession is a reality. Evans subtly evokes terror and anxiety with effective understatement. The intelligence and humanity of this thriller should help launch it onto bestseller lists. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Perched precariously on the precipice between horror and psychological drama, Evans' first novel explores the notions of demons--how real they are and how real we are able to make them. Eleven-year-old George Davies' father, a self-purported mystic and studier of demonology, dies a mysterious death after traveling to Honduras for equally mysterious purposes. Soon after, George is visited by a "Friend" that only he can see, who leads him on thrilling yet terrifying journeys to a shadowy ether-world, pulling him ever closer to a dangerous awareness of his father's death (the cornucopia of fatherhood issues emanating here would make Freud's head wobble). Is the boy really possessed, or simply crazy? And which is better? Evans deftly marks the labyrinthine wards of clinical treatment in stark contrast with scenes of floor-dropping exorcisms as the boy becomes ever more volatile and his Friend ever more diabolical. This is an edgy, compelling read--more unnerving than scary--that will slide its hooks deep inside and throttle you more than a few times before it's all over. Ian Chipman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307351289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307351289
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,017,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Justin Evans is a digital media executive based in New York City where he lives with his family. He received a BA in English from Columbia University and a MBA in Finance from NYU Stern. His first novel, A Good and Happy Child, was named a Best Book of 2007 by the Washington Post, was translated into six languages, and optioned by a major film studio. Justin attended Harrow School for one year at the end of the eighties.

Write to Justin at justin@justinevans.com.

Customer Reviews

I also recommend making sure you've got time to read the last 75 pages or so straight through.
Melanie Ivanoff
Too many good books out there to spend time on ones I don't like, no matter how much others like them.
Pegi Bevins
This was an unexpected treat: a great book, very well written, well paced, disturbing, very scary.
Maria F

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You really can't go wrong with this one if you like fiction that keeps you guessing while making your heart race as the suspense builds. I found it VERY hard to believe this was the author's first book since it has the hallmarks of a more experienced author...but a debut novel it is.

This one will have you wondering about the line between pyschosis and true visionaries and mystics, as well as whether demonic possession is actually occurring here. The plot alternates between past and present, as George Davies, age 30, remembers a very odd childhood and the "friend" who came to visit him then, setting off a tragic series of events.

Author Justin Evans makes George Davies believable, both in his boyhood years as well as his adult life, where old fears resurface after the birth of his first son. I read this one in one day, not pausing except when I had to. This works on so many levels and it deserves the many starred reviews it received. This is a promising author and I intend to keep an eye out for more of his books. I can't wait to read them.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Lleu Christopher on February 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A Good and Happy Child is a well-written, always interesting and at times suspenseful tale of demonic possession -sort of. There is a deliberate (I assume) ambiguity throughout the novel, culminating in an ending so open-ended that it's almost as though the novel should have had an additional section. In Justin Evans' novel, George, the narrator, tells the story both as an eleven year old boy and as a troubled married man. In the latter, he is being treated by a psychologist because he is unable to touch his young child. In his early years, we gradually learn, George was possessed by a demon, who also attacked, and possibly killed, his father.
On the other hand, all of this may be a psychological condition motivated by grief and anger regarding his late father.

The book interested me enough that I gave some thought to the author's motives and intentions. What I concluded is that the the book's extreme ambiguity is not so much a literary or intellectual device as a sort of failure of nerve on the author's part. The novel sets up a radical division of beliefs, between George's mother and her intellectual, secular friends and his father and *his* friends, who are also intellectual, but in a religious way. When George begins having problems, such as hearing voices and seeing another young boy who is not real (unless he's a demon, that is), he gets caught in the middle of this ideological crossfire. In what I'd have to choose as my favorite passage in the novel, George gets some very good advice from Kurt, Georges' mother's new boyfriend. Kurt tells him that he doesn't have to choose sides, that part of growing up is finding your own "side." In other words, George does not have to accept either the radical secularism or the religious zealotry of either parent.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ivy Shoots on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This novel is so well written it was a real pleasure to read. The author created extremely vivid and believable characters and painted remarkably detailed, almost Dickensian pictures of people, scenes, and events. I think this example illustrates his great talent for evoking visual images with few words: "Emotions swept his features like one of those time-elapse shots of weather streaking across a sky."

Just like another reviewer here, I read about this novel in Parade magazine and was lured by how terrifying it was said to be. And just like her, I kept waiting for the really scary parts. While I was totally engrossed with the story, by the time I had 50 pages left, I became preoccupied wondering how the direction it was going in could result in something truly frightening in the "horror genre" sense.

I think marketing this book as Horror and calling it "incredibly scary," as one blurb on the back cover says, sets up an unfair expectation. Even though the novel ends up being much more satisfying and thought-provoking than a formulaic beach read like a Dean Koontz, sometimes you just WANT a good scare and not a lot of angsty subtext and ambiguity. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't, so don't give me an Almond Joy when you promised me a Mounds, if you know what I mean.

But that's certainly not the author's fault, nor is the subsequent fact that a reader may expect the sort of chills she got reading The Exorcist, when this story veers to the same subject matter.

Don't read this book for "sleep with the light on" cheap thrills and chills. Read it because George is a compelling character who will draw you into his troubled world and have you worrying, suffering, scheming, and doubting reality right along with him.
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Format: Hardcover
"A Good and Happy Child" opens in Manhattan, where thirty-year-old George Davies is about to revisit his nightmarish past. He is an only child, his parents are dead, and he has just become a new father after four years of marriage. However, much to his wife's consternation, George cannot bring himself to hold his own baby. Just the thought of picking up the little boy fills him with boundless anxiety. George's wife is horrified. "How could she stay married to a man who couldn't care for his own child?" In desperation, George visits a psychiatrist named Dr. Surman to help him get to the root of his problems.

George begins to recall events from his early years growing up as the son of college professors in the Bible Belt town of Preston, Virginia. In 1982, at the age of eleven, George was a pudgy and nerdy kid, the butt of teasing by classroom bullies. His father, Paul, died after contracting a mysterious illness in Honduras, and the boy is worried that his mother will find another man to replace his dad. Among the candidates is Tom Harris, Paul's best friend, who has a doctorate from Harvard, but who is physically unkempt and harbors some strange ideas about religion. When George sees a disembodied face staring at him in the shower one day, he faints. His mother, Joan, calls her friend, psychologist Clarissa Bing, for a referral. However, in spite of visits with his therapist, Richard Manning, George continues to see his "Friend," who may be a demon or simply a figment of his overactive and troubled imagination. As time passes, George suffers from headaches, sleeplessness, anxiety, and eventually panic. The "demon" is putting unpleasant ideas in his head, and these ideas lead to tragic outcomes that may or may not be George's doing.
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