Devil in Ohio

Devil in Ohio

by Daria Polatin


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A traumatized girl lives with a family after escaping a cult in this debut YA suspense/thriller that was inspired by true events.

When fifteen-year-old Jules Mathis comes home from school to find a strange girl sitting in her kitchen, her psychiatrist mother reveals that Mae is one of her patients at the hospital and will be staying with their family for a few days. But soon Mae is wearing Jules’s clothes, sleeping in her bedroom, edging her out of her position on the school paper, and flirting with Jules’s crush. And Mae has no intention of leaving.

Then things get weird.

Jules walks in on a half-dressed Mae, startled to see: a pentagram carved into Mae’s back. Jules pieces together clues and discovers that Mae is a survivor of the strange cult that’s embedded in a nearby town.

And the cult will stop at nothing to get Mae back.

Find out what happens in Devil in Ohio by Daria Polatin.

Praise for Devil in Ohio:

"Polatin weaves a thrilling and suspenseful story in her debut, inspired by true events. Jules Mathis' life is thrown into turmoil after her psychiatrist mother invites Mae—a patient, cult survivor, and troubled young girl with a pentagram carved into her back—to stay with their family. . . . Eager readers will keep turning pages to discover Mae's secrets and her connection to the Mathis family." —Booklist

"Between the danger Jules's mother brings to the family and the cringe-worthy cult rituals described, this story is sometimes difficult to read—but sometimes the most important stories are the most challenging." —VOYA

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250180773
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 373,013
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Daria Polatin is an award-winning playwright and television writer. She is a founding member of The Kilroys, an advocacy group for female and trans writers that promotes gender equality in the American Theater, and she writes for the Amazon television series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Daria lives in Los Angeles. Devil in Ohio is her debut novel.

Read an Excerpt


THE TAN CORNFLAKE LOOKED LIKE A LONELY ISLAND in the translucent sea of 2 percent milk. As I watched it drift across the screen from behind my phone, I wondered why, as soggy as the flakes got, they never seemed to sink.

My phone wasn't great with close-ups, which was why I needed a new, real camera, but I could sharpen the shot in a filter — if I could just get the framing right.

"No phones at the table," my little sister, Danielle, reminded me from over her own bowl of cereal. She was eleven, and a tattletale. She was also right — our mom didn't like us to talk, text, or snap pics at the table, but this shot was lining up so perfectly.


I rebelled against the world in my own small way.

(It's) Still Life was what I was calling the series. It was a collection I was putting together for my application to a digital photography program at the Art Institute of Chicago next summer. I wanted to magnify the everyday moments we took for granted, examine what we dismissed as mundane.

Dani's eyes narrowed. I didn't want to grant her a win, but it was too early to fight. I slipped my phone back into the pocket of the vintage corduroy pants I'd scored at Goodwill and stared, daring her to tell Mom.

Dani turned back to flipping through her InStyle magazine without further confrontation.

"I'll be there as soon as I can. Thanks, Connie."

My mother had a weird look on her face as she ended the call. She was completely inept at hiding her feelings. It was a trait she had unfortunately passed down to me.

Having your face reveal exactly what you're feeling is an extremely unhelpful characteristic, especially as a fifteen-year-old. I had paid dearly for this feature in awkward situations of yesteryear — the time I let my face show that Lucas O'Donnell already having a date to the eighth-grade graduation dance was heartbreaking; or that my neighbor Stacy Pickman did look fat in those jeans. But the worst was the time I was standing outside the gym last fall with my best friend, Isaac Kim, when I inadvertently let my jaw drop hearing Larissa Delibero describe the blow job she'd given Eric Mann. In great detail. Larissa caught my stunned look and commented, "Obviously someone's never given a BJ." Her pack of cheerleaders laughed, egging her on. "Might wanna check out some porn before you get a boyfriend. If you ever get a boyfriend."

Larissa was correct: I had never given a BJ. Sure, I had kissed a few boys, but I hadn't ventured much beyond that. The thing was, I wasn't even sure I wanted to anytime soon.

"Jules," Isaac had whispered, "you need to get that face under control."

That night I had started practicing not showing every ounce of what I was feeling on my face. Each night, I stood in front of the mirror, thinking about happy things, sad things, upsetting things, all the while keeping my face in neutral. Since then I was better at it. Admittedly still not great, but at least not as bad as Mom. Baby steps.

"What's the matter?" my older sister, Helen, asked my mother, entering the kitchen, texting. She was sporting a tweed jacket and skirt, which was a little matchy-matchy for my taste, but it worked perfectly on her. She had inherited my mom's tall, slender frame, so everything looked good on her. She also had Mom's straight auburn hair. I had our family's signature auburn locks too, but unfortunately my hair had a hard time making up its mind if it identified as straight (like Helen's) or curly (like Dani's), so it occupied a frizz-filled middle ground no amount of product seemed to be able to tame.

Not taking her eyes off her phone, Helen plopped her book bag down on the kitchen table, sloshing my cereal so hard that it nearly spilled over onto my sleeve.

"Hey," I protested, but Helen ignored me, laughing at something on her screen. Ignoring me was pretty much Helen's M.O. — at home and at school. She was an effortlessly smart senior, kept a 4.0 while also being captain of the field hockey team, and was queen of her clique. My hours of homework yielded Bs — plusses if I was lucky — and I barely got to play at my volleyball games. And while I wasn't exactly unpopular, I wasn't setting any records for social status either. Sure, I had Isaac, who was a great best friend, and a few girls I knew from volleyball. I'd tried to be better friends with other girls in the past, but for some reason it never seemed to work — I always said the wrong thing or didn't say enough. I'd secretly hoped that the jump from middle school to high school would magically catapult me into the next level.

Spoiler alert: it didn't.

Lately I'd been trying to convince myself that the fact that no one paid attention to me was actually a good thing. It meant I could blend in, take my photographs without being noticed, watch the world from the safety of my screen. High school was just something I had to get through. It was okay that I didn't seem to fit in now. I'd do better later, in college — in Life. Then one day I'd be a successful photographer in New York City or San Francisco, and no one would remember that in her high school days, world-famous editorial photojournalist Jules Mathis hadn't exactly fit in.

Or at least that's what I was telling myself.

"Is something going on at work?" Helen reached for the French press of coffee that Mom had brewed for Dad. Drinking coffee was something I'd wanted to try — it seemed grown-up, more sophisticated than drinking soda or juice — but I couldn't get past the smell, which to me was like chocolaty dirt.

"Nothing's wrong," Mom practically sang, forcing a smile.

I took a bite of my soggy cornflakes and glanced at Dani, hoping she'd acknowledge Mom's obvious evasion of the truth, but she was consumed with her glossy magazine. This past summer Dani had lost a bunch of weight and had become obsessed with reading about celebrities.

"What's wrong, honey?"

My dad arrived through the swinging kitchen door and saw Mom's Everything's Fine face.

"Everything's fine, Peter." Mom smiled, not looking him in the eye.

"Liar," he wagered, kissing her on the cheek. Mom didn't respond. She just reached into the cabinet for a box of tea, proving my dad right. My parents were high school sweethearts and knew each other better than they knew themselves. True love? Kind of creepy? I could never decide.

"I have to go in to work early," she explained, plunking a bag of Earl Grey into her travel mug of hot water. "You mind dropping off the girls?"

Mom hadn't bothered to ask Helen to take us, even though Helen and I went to the same school, and Danielle's middle school was right across the street.

"Sure thing," Dad said, reaching for the French press before he realized it was nearly empty. "Where'd all my coffee go?"

DING! Helen's phone sounded — probably her boyfriend, Landon, texting that he was waiting outside to chauffeur her to school.

"Thanks, Daddy!" Helen flashed a grin and zipped out the door with a smug smile, her streak of perfection unbroken.

Mom capped her travel mug and skipped her scrambled eggs in favor of her work files, stuffing them into her bag. "Pizza okay for dinner?"

"I'll just have salad," Dani said, eyeing a too-thin model in her fashion bible.

"Danielle, you can eat a slice of pizza," my mom encouraged. Mom was a psychiatrist and had covertly coached Dani through the change in physique. My guess was Mom had seen her share of eating disorders at the hospital where she worked.

"Okay," Dani gave in. "With pepperoni."

"No mushrooms," I requested — I just couldn't get over their texture.

"You got it," Mom assured me, hurrying out of the kitchen. "Have a good day, everyone!"

She'd forgotten her travel mug of tea. It was unlike my mom to leave in such a rush. Whatever call she'd gotten from work must have been important.

"Can we run through my sixteen bars for my audition one more time?" Dani asked Dad.

"I don't want you and Jules to be late, sweetheart," he countered.

"Please? You're so good at playing the piaaa-nooo?" she belted. "It'll take two sehhh-connnnds?" Dani could get a homeless guy to give her money if she asked the right way.

"Okie-doke. Just one time through," Dad caved as he followed her out.

I was left alone in the kitchen. This seemed to happen a lot in my family, everything kind of swirling around me. Me ending up alone.

As the upbeat strains of "Defying Gravity" from Wicked floated in, I experimented with a few filters on the photo I'd taken of my unsunk cereal before posting it on Instagram. I liked posting images that told stories — a forgotten mitten on a playground, a couple holding hands, a kid staring at the cookie aisle. I loved the way photos let you express something without having to actually say anything.

I captioned the photo #unsinkable, along with #julespix #(its)stilllife #picoftheday, and posted it.

A "like" immediately popped up, causing my stomach to flutter. Someone had noticed me.

I checked to see who had liked the photo.

ig: futurejustice

My face fell. It was from Isaac. While I appreciated the "like," somehow it didn't make me feel as special knowing that it came from him. And just like that, I went back to being average again.


THE TEENAGE GIRL'S THIN FRAME LAY ON THE hospital bed, her sleep anything but restful. Her small lungs lifted upward with a short, jagged gasp for air as her sedated body struggled to keep itself oxygenated.

It had been a long night for the girl — ambulance, EMTs, ER doctors. She'd landed in the trauma unit, where the staff worked to stem the bleeding from the wounds on her back. The police had been there too, trying to find out what they could about the incident, but the girl was so depleted she could barely speak, and when the police ran her description through a missing persons database, they came up empty. They hoped that a social worker from Child Protective Services might be able to obtain more information.

And they needed it.

The girl had fiery rope marks on her wrists, ankles, and the back of her neck, telling the tale of forcible restraint. What was even more disturbing, though, were the extensive bruises that covered her body. Purple and blue swirls of blood circled just under her skin's surface like weather patterns of hurt.

The hushed conversation around the hospital had surged during the morning shift change: Who was this strange girl who'd been found by the side of the road with the sign of Satan carved into her back? And more important, what had happened to her?

The girl expelled a labored breath, her rib cage sinking back toward the bed.

"How ya doin', sweetie?"

Connie — a veteran nurse who lived for her patients — shuffled in, tired from being up all night. Although she was supposed to have left the hospital hours ago after her night shift, she had traded shifts with a colleague so that she could stay near the new arrival and make sure she was okay. The girl didn't stir.

Stepping over to the bedside, Connie checked the patient's chart. She adjusted the girl's IV of antibiotics. Although the girl's pitch-black strands of hair were still caked with mud, they managed to keep their raven luster, even under the hospital fluorescents. Her milk-white skin had been wiped clean, although a few specks of dirt still spotted her cheeks.

Connie leaned over, stretching her stout frame across the sleeping girl to get a glimpse at her back. Despite the white bandages that had been placed over the girl's wounds, blood had seeped through the barricades and now painted the thin hospital gown. She'd have to change the dressing after she checked her vitals.

Connie placed a gloved hand on the girl's shoulder. The girl's eyelids flickered, then slowly separated.

"Open for me?" Connie held a thermometer near the girl's mouth to check her temperature. The girl let the nurse get a reading.

"Have to make sure you don't get a fever. Last thing you need is an infection," Connie warned. She checked the thermometer. "A perfect 98.6! Good girl. You hungry, sweetie?"

The girl's thick lashes swept up toward Connie. Weary with sedatives, she shook her heavy head no. She sank her ear back down onto the pillow, her eyes fluttering closed.

Connie decided not to fight it and let the girl drift back to sleep.

"I'm here, Connie!" Dr. Suzanne Mathis raced through the doorway. "Got here as fast as I could," she explained, pulling her white hospital coat around her. "Is this —"

Suzanne's gaze fell on the sleeping girl. As her eyes took in the blood-spotted gown, the waifish body, the bruises, her expression clouded over.

"She's about Julia's age, right?" Connie asked Suzanne.

Suzanne nodded, but her face paled at the thought of her daughter Jules being compared with this injured girl.

"Are her vitals stable?" Suzanne asked, stepping toward the bed.

"They are, but she's been mostly nonresponsive. Poor thing's been through a lot."

Suzanne perused her chart. "Do we know her actual name?"

"Came in with no identification so it's 'Lauren Trauma' till we know more."

"The police couldn't figure out anything more?" It was unusual for someone to arrive with absolutely no identifying factors.

Connie shook her head. "Not yet. This one's a mystery."

"How's her back?" Suzanne asked, noting the blood-speckled bandages.

"It's —" Connie started, but wasn't sure how to finish. "I've never seen anything like it," she concluded.

The girl's chest rose and sank, rose and sank. The two women watched their patient, mesmerized by her mysterious arrival and clearly traumatic past.

"She's like a broken angel," Connie sighed.

Suzanne finally tore away her stare. "I'm going to get some tea. Page me when she wakes up?"

Connie nodded. "Will do."

Suzanne took one more look at the patient's sleeping face. She watched as the girl's eyelids twitched.

What nightmares lay behind those lids?


THE CRISP AUTUMN LEAVES CRUNCHED UNDER MY SECONDHAND oxfords. They were a little more formal than the Converse I'd sported last year, to go with my recently adopted vintage look. The heels made a satisfying click against the pavement.

As I headed down the sidewalk toward school, I braced myself for Monday morning. Everyone would be talking about how much fun they'd had over the weekend — what parties they'd gone to, who got wasted, who hooked up with who. Friday night I'd Netflix-binged on British comedies with Isaac — one of the only things he and I could agree on to watch. He was a big documentary fan, and I'd recently gotten into old movies. There was something about them that I found comforting. I'd also stayed in on Saturday night, theoretically to babysit Dani while my parents had their date night, but really to rewatch Casablanca.

"You again." I heard a voice coming from a yellow school bus. Isaac peered down at me through the rectangular slat of an open window.

"Come on, Rapunzel," I returned. Isaac flicked his chin-length black hair out of his eyes. He was in perpetual need of a haircut.

"Ugh, fine, I guess I'll continue to spend nearly every waking moment with you," he conceded, hopping down the steep steps of the vehicle.

"Who else would you hang out with?" I asked, adjusting the straps of the new tan book bag Mom had gotten me at a Labor Day sale last week. I liked its brass buckle and thick stitching, but the faux-leather straps were already starting to fray. No wonder it was on sale.

"Who else would you hang out with?" Isaac countered. Fair point.

As Isaac and I turned up the lawn-lined walkway toward the two-story redbrick building, our steps fell in sync. We'd been best friends since third grade, when he moved from Alaska to Ohio to live with his aunt. I never asked too many questions about why, but it seemed like whatever had happened to Isaac earlier in his life had made him the kind of person to make room for himself wherever he went.

"True or false," Isaac started. "In the United States, campaigns that support candidates for public office ought to be financed exclusively by public funds."

"Do we have a quiz?"

"Wrong answer. It's my next topic." Isaac was super into Speech and Debate, and had competed on a team since middle school.

"Do I even need to ask which side you're arguing?" Isaac was always fighting for the underdog. He was a perpetual man of the people.

"Campaigns should be fought fair and square, with the same budgets on both sides. It's not an impartial selection process if one side gets unlimited private funding and the other doesn't. Additionally, it's absurd the amount of money that's spent, period. Why not put that money to better use? Like toward infrastructure, or public resources?"


Excerpted from "Devil in Ohio"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Daria Polatin.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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