Instantly gripping, The Taking of Jake Livingston is an impressive YA horror debut with its biting social commentary and nightmare fuel inducing ghouls. I devoured this book in one sitting and am honestly still reeling.
I’ve been excited for this book since I saw the cover reveal on Twitter last Fall and let me tell you: this book did not disappoint!
“Fear will find you.”
About The Taking of Jake Livingston
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons | Release Date: July 13, 2021 | Pages: 244
Age Range: Young Adult | Genre: Horror | Format: Paperback | Source: Publisher
Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win.
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Black main character, gay main character
abuse, attempted rape of a minor, blood, bullying, gore, gun violence, homophobia, microaggressions, murder, racism, school shooting, suicide
My Review for The Taking of Jake Livingston
The fast-paced narrative carries a levity that embodies sixteen-year-old Jake Livingston’s personality. Douglass nails the teen voice and Jake feels like a real person. But there’s also a loneliness tinged into the narrative as a queer Black kid in a predominantly white school. His one friend is more of an annoyance he can’t get rid of (and honestly kind of terrible) and he feels he can’t measure up to his older brother. When he finds his people? *chef’s kiss* Each character, regardless of page time, is fully fleshed out and made me feel an array of emotions.
“I’d hate to be that kid who died in PE class. Steven Woodbead never saw it coming. He was doing a body roll.”
The prep school setting mirrors the supernatural horror that Jake experiences with the social horrors that Black people experience, particularly in white dominated settings. As the only Black kid in the 11th grade until Allister enrolls, Jake is bullied and experiences blatant racism which largely goes unchallenged by everyone but him. There are people who don’t agree but their silence helps to feed and reinforce the racist ideals that the institution upholds.
One thing that I really appreciate is that at its heart, The Taking of Jake Livingston is a ghost story. It doesn’t go too deep into the social commentary, but it’s carefully woven into the story and there if the reader wants to think about it. Jake’s life is all about a lack of control and the “taking” (possession) is another aspect of being controlled. This book is full of spooking moments and beautifully written lines.
“I know he’s behind me, but my reflection doesn’t. I can only feel him – a tickle at the back of my neck, a crinkle down my spine, like the tip of a finger tracing my body.”
The supernatural horror is chilling. Unease drifts from the pages whenever the ecto-mist appears. The book opens with an introduction to the spirit world Jake sees with body rolling Steven, almost lulling you into a sense of security with its mundane nature. Don’t let that fool you, we’ve got gore aplenty. If you’re squeamish at all with vivid descriptions of nightmare fuel, be sure to read this book in the daylight.
The book also explores the failures of the mental health system. It was a risk to include Sawyer’s journal entries and some people may feel this perspective humanizes a school shooter, but I think Douglass does a good job giving a backstory and reason for Sawyer’s actions while not justifying what he did. It’s a critique on the system that upholds the second amendment without limits, a system which demonizes the mentally ill while not providing support. Sawyer’s diary chapters are sad and tragic.
Overall, The Taking of Jake Livingston is an impressive social thriller that juxtaposes the supernatural horrors with the horrors and monsters within humanity and how those monsters are reinforced by the (white) systems of power. It’s a haunting ghost story of control and one I definitely recommend.
If you’re in the US and can’t wait to get your hands on The Taking of Jake Livingston, be sure to submit your pre-order receipt to receive a glow in the dark enamel pin!
No two readers experience a book in the same way; this was mine, but what about you?
💬 Have you read The Taking of Jake Livingston yet? If so, what are your thoughts?
💬 Did I convince you to add this book to your TBR?
💬 What are your favorite ghost books? What should I add to my TBR?