Updated: Jul 10
Demons, Dolls, and Milkshakes…before I give you my thoughts, I should mention that after reading it, I have a strong desire to revisit shows and books that I considered YA horror from fifteen years ago. I must know if acceptable YA material has evolved as much as I think it has since I was a teenager or if it’s just my perception that has changed. For example, I started watching Riverdale two weeks ago—well, more like I put it on in the background while working and somehow I ceased writing and binging began—but I had this odd thought that the show is some kind of weird new hybrid of YA horror.
All the main characters in the TV show are teenagers in high school, but these high schoolers are involved in some heavy stuff. Organized crime, sex, identify fraud, vigilante justice, murder, the list goes on and on with stuff I can’t imagine being involved with at the tender age of sixteen. Now, I know audiences in their thirties are watching Riverdale, but I started to wonder how many teenagers are also watching this CW series since it’s set in high school.
Is the true market for Riverdale adults who are nostalgic for high schools, a time period where they had few cares before becoming the responsible adult they are today—especially since the show hires actors like Luke Perry and Skeet Ulrich who remind us of our own high school experience via memories of 90210 and Scream?
Or is Riverdale intended for young adults who are actually young enough to still accurately remember high school or are still attending? Is this what YA has become? Hardcore themes aimed to get the attention of this new, desensitized YA generation? Or was YA always hardcore and I just never realized?
I’m pondering all this because I finished Demons, Dolls, and Milkshakes by Nelson W. Pyles, and midway through, I got the feel that his novel was a very graphic YA story—perhaps like Riverdale. In Demons, Dolls, and Milkshakes, one of the main characters named Martin is a pretty normal high schooler, meaning he’s got some teen angst and hates his peers. Like all shunned individuals, he needs an outlet. So one evening him and two friends (and I use the term ‘friends’ loosely) get the bright idea to summon a demon and trap it in a ‘totem’ made from a leather football. Unbeknownst to his friend who are just looking to kill some time and don’t really believe any of this voodoo non-sense will actually work, Martin has a very specific reason for the conjuring ritual. Martin is keeping it a secret from the other two boys though, and I don’t want to spoil that reason for you either. Read the novel and you’ll find out 😉
Despite the ridiculous book they use—Raising Demons for Dummies: The Millennial Edition—the ritual actually works! However, when you are invoking demons and trapping them in totems, it’s important to consider their host body on this physical plane of existence. The demon, who we later call Stitch is not too happy about being incarnated into a six-inch tall pigskin doll body. Consequently, he kills Marty’s friends Stu and James.
Meanwhile there are two other storylines going on that Pyles brings together by the end. One involves a clan of demons including Lilith, Azaziel, Belial, and Cabal, and centers on the drama that goes on between them all, including the reason why the book Raising Demons for Dummies: The Millennial Edition worked. The drama between the demons ended up being a pivotal part of Pyles’s novel and that kind of surprised me. It reminded me a bit of the WB supernatural TV shows from the late 90s and 2000s. Where supernatural entities are always out to get each other and their conflicts often spill out into the world of humans.
So if you like those kind of books, definitely check out Dolls, Demons, & Milkshakes. Especially if you like comedies as there is plenty of dark humor from Stitch and Kat—you’ll meet her later when her story and Martin’s collide. For me however, I would prefer more of a focus on Martin and his devious plot for summoning Stitch in the first place. I really connected to him more than other characters and was hoping for more of the teenage angle throughout.
While we do get some information on Martin, Pyles’s novel is more focused on the relationship between the demons and Kat. He does a good job with this, but I personally am not used to following the lives of demons and viewing them as having similar traits and activities as human characters. Even though I can’t relate to the demons, I know it is a popular genre and plenty of readers can. I’m just more accustom to the dark lords of this universe being mysterious and unexplainable characters and view them more as temptations to humans that move the plot along rather than human-like themselves.
My favorite parts of the novel involve Stu—Marty’s dead friend—after a demon known as Lord resurrects him. This 16-year-old ‘zombie’ then gets involved in cannibalism…well since Stu is dead as Lord reminds him, the human female he eats is just for survival purposes rather than true cannibalism. Although, Stu has sex with her too. And while we can play semantics with the cannibalism term, no matter how you slice the sex-pie, it’s still necrophilia. However it’s written in a humorous way and I loved it! At one point this resurrected boy even gets his arm ripped off and a new one sewn on, all the while plenty of jokes are dished out between him and Lord.
So while there is some seriously graphic and sick parts involving teens (which I enjoyed), overall I think this is possibly part of that new trend of YA. Strong enough for adults to laugh and connect with, but still suitable for adolescents. What are your thoughts though? Do you connect more with the demons or with the kids like me?
The novel has over 27 five-star reviews, so take a look and leave your own feedback for Nelson W. Pyles. While you’re at it, follow him on Facebook and Twitter as he pens the sequel which I hear may already be in the works.