I am obsessed with this cover and after reading the contents of this book, I’m obsessed with this story too. While I have some issues on background and the general spooky world, mostly the lack of information, this book is too good not to read. This book made me cry and think and feel so many different things that I read it in less than three hours because I couldn’t put it down.
Thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour! Be sure to follow along with the tour schedule and check out all of the other amazing posts!
I received an e-ARC from PenguinTeen in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler free, honest review and all thoughts and feelings are my own.
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Published: July 13, 2021
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Horror
Get Out meets Danielle Vega in this YA horror where survival is not a guarantee.
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.
For some reason, I have been really into paranormal fantasy, especially if it has horror in it. When I saw there was a book tour for this book, I jumped on the occasion and I’m so happy I can review this book! I mean, murderous poltergeists, terrifying demons, and queer kids trying to find themselves – in one book? Who wouldn’t want to pick this up?
The beginning of this book jumps right into the story and the action and everything was a bit jarring at first. We don’t get much info about Jake’s experience with being able to see ghosts before this story begins, though we do meet his medium mentor once during the book. I wanted more backstory on his powers and definitely more scenes with his mentor, but with what we had, I could kind of understand what was going on. And let me tell you, if I constantly saw the world of the dead surrounding the world of the living, I would probably have had a million heart attacks and would never leave my house or wake up, ever. Because it sounds terrifying!
“Woodbead is dead, but I can still see him, bursting into light every time the javelin splits his head. His shirt knifes open and firecrackers burst like bees from his chest, dispersing him in a siege of glowing embers.”
The descriptions of the spirit world, ghosts, and ghouls, and all the in-betweens were horrifying. I read this book in one sitting, starting from 7pm and finishing at 10pm (with dinner in-between) – I was jumping at every sound and at one point, my sweet kitty jumped up on the bed and touched my leg, and I straight kicked her. Yeeted her off the bed because I was so spooked, I flinched! She scared me and unfortunately, she paid the price. Ryan is amazing at bringing these horrific depictions to life and my heart was racing. There were so many moments in this book when I felt myself on the verge of a panic attack because I was legitimately terrified, as if I was the person in danger!
“It’s like … a giant rotisserie chicken stripped of meat, obscuring everything behind it. A torso that would disappear around my hand f I reach out to to touch it. No nipples, a stretched, long neck, and a giant head, alienshaped, with gaping hold in place of eyes.”
In terms of the plot, I thought this book was really interesting. We have a murderous poltergeist, set on killing the people he couldn’t murder when he was alive, and since he’s here, he might as well try and steal the body of the medium who can stop him. Meanwhile, poor Jake is just trying to scrape by. As a gay kid, still in the closet, he doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers, but it’s hard not to do that when you can see ghosts. Or when a cute boy transfers to your school.
This story touches on a lot of topics and many of them are very uncomfortable. As just some of the topics discussed we have school shooting, suicide, murder, child molestation, rape, child abuse, assault, racism, homophobia, bullying, and the list goes on. Ryan does not hold back in this book and I kind of love that. I like that he’s not afraid to discuss these topics and bring attention to them, and he does so without making it feel like it’s thrown in there “just cause”. He takes extra care to approach these topics in a way that suits the story rather than just a shock factor.
“What if my classmates were murdered? What if, at some point it wasn’t a drill? What if they passed into the afterlife and were stuck in their death loops, dying forever? I would see my acquaintances running down the hallways and staircases in terror. I would never be able to forget it because it would be right in my face all the time.”
One of my favorite things about this book is the growth Jake goes through. When we first meet him, he’s pretty much a loner. He has one “friend”, who’s not really a friend, and Jake is alone for the most part. But as the story progresses, we see Jake make real, genuine friends. He finds people who like him for him, and who he can trust to help him. And my favorite part, he learns how to trust himself and feel confident in his actions and decisions.
In addition to Jake’s story, we also get Sawyer’s story, and the reasoning behind why he murdered his classmates and then himself. While it was hard reading Sawyer’s diary entries and getting into his head, it added a lot to the story, and I think it made it easier to understand his actions. While I don’t condone murder or suicide, Sawyer shows us how awful his life was and how stuck he felt. His anger and sadness, built up over time, lead him to snap. And the final entry we read made me cry. I couldn’t even comprehend what that experience must have felt like and I was sobbing for this poor guy.
“Dear Diary, Don’t know why the doctor made me do this, or who I’m even supposed to be talking to. It’s too dark in the shed to even see what I’m writing. So there’s no way to make sense of what I’m thinking. The lantern only shows me the center of the page. What I wrote before doesn’t matter. What I write next won’t either.”
While the horror was terrifying, and the book was entertaining, this was a story that made me think really hard. I laughed, I cried, I gasped in horror, and I found myself absorbed in this book. Even though the whole ghost world confused me, it seems like it confused Jake too, and so I went along for the ride. But as this book taught me, sometimes you don’t have to have everything figured out, you just need to trust yourself and trust the process and eventually, it will all make sense.
I would seriously recommend picking up a copy if you like horror. I know this is going to be a go to recommendation for me from now on and I can’t wait to read more from Ryan in the future!
Ryan Douglass is an author, poet, and freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. His work on race, literacy, sexuality, and media representation has appeared in The Huffington Post, Atlanta Black Star, Everyday Feminism, Nerdy POC, Age of Awareness, LGBTQNation, and Medium, among others.
His debut novel, THE TAKING OF JAKE LIVINGSTON, is a YA horror out through Penguin/Putnam July 13th, 2021.