Between the busy tech week leading up to the school musical’s opening night and her overwhelming crush on her best friend, Cordelia Scott thinks she’s at her limit—until a demon named Fred appears and tells her she’s accidentally sold him part of her soul. To escape the fires of hell, she must help Fred defeat an even more powerful demonic entity that’s been plaguing their community for nearly 100 years and the supernatural creatures under its command. But how hard could it be to put on a great show, hide her feelings from Veronica and destroy a demon?
Alex Brown’s Damned if You Do feels both modern and mythical. Brown’s characters are regular teenagers who do things like suffer through pop quizzes, gather in a cozy coffee shop, visit churches that may be hiding dark secrets and fight monsters such as the aswang, a creature from Filipino folklore. They also deal with horrifying, somber realities, such as the physical and emotional abuse Cordelia received from her father, which she recounts in as much vivid detail as she does her visions of hell.
But Damned if You Do doesn’t leave readers solely in darkness, and its weightier problems are balanced out with plenty of dry and witty humor. Readers will enjoy scenes of Cordelia bantering with Fred, sharing tender moments with Veronica and thriving in her role as stage manager.
Ultimately, this book is about healing and the immense work it takes. Cordelia and her friends must decide: Do we allow others to define who we are, or can we take control of who we’re becoming? Whether it’s dealing with abandonment, abuse or exploitation, Damned if You Do asks us to take a hard look at how our experiences shape how we see ourselves—and how we can take back our own power and agency.
Brown strikes a delicate balance between light and dark, showing readers that the grimmest parts of ourselves are worth accepting. Damned if You Do is mature and complex while making plenty of space for humor, friendship and love, affirming the power of relationships to help us grow in ways that feel impossible on our own.