Author: Ryan Douglass
Publication Date: July 13, 2021
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Source: I received an e-arc through Netgalley from the publisher as a part of my participation in TBR and Beyond Tours for the book.
Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, Racism, School Shooting, Murder, Child Sexual Assault, Child Abuse, Bullying
Rating: ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ out of ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️
Links to Purchase
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.
When I first read the description for this book and saw that it’s comps were Get Out meets Danielle Vega, I was all in for what I hoped would be a fun paranormal story. Thankfully, The Taking of Jake Livingston did not disappoint but rather it delivered far more than I could’ve expected. While this book deals with very difficult topics from the racism and bullying Jake experiences at his school from his fellow classmates to the school shooting that Sawyer committed and the active shooter drills Jake’s school does, I felt that the author took great care and tact in dealing with this topics that are all too present in today’s world.
I found the types of ghosts and ghouls which are presented to be fascinating, especially the fact that most of the ghosts Jake sees are caught in a “death loop” where they continuously play out the last few moments of their life due to an inability to move on to the afterlife. While some of the ghouls were definitely on the more grotesque and frightening side, for me the real cringe worthy moment was when Jake and Sawyer had their interaction in the bathroom and all the bugs (spiders and cockroaches) started appearing and crawling out of places that bugs have no business crawling from.
Sawyer was an interesting character and I like how the author slowly revealed who Sawyer had been in life and all the things that led up to the school shooting by interspersing the book with journal entries from Sawyer. Once Jake finds Sawyer’s journal then the pieces of why Sawyer was continuing to kill people from his school and his desire to possess Jake became all the more clear. It was interesting to look at the areas where Jake and Sawyer were the same in that they were both closeted gay teens and they had both experienced physical abuse by their father; to where they differed in that Jake had morals and empathy towards others, something that may have been due in part to his being a medium.
Of all the relationships in the book, I think my favorite was the one that develops between Jake and the ghost of one of Sawyer’s victims, River. I loved that when Jake astral projects into the loops of Sawyer’s victims, that River recognizes that Jake isn’t from her school or even a part of the loop. I especially enjoyed how River ends up playing a key part in helping Jake fight Sawyer and that they have what appears to be a lasting connection. The other ghostly interaction that I found to be great was when Jake gets to meet his ancestors and they help him to understand why he needs to keep fighting Sawyer and not allow him to win. It was especially nice that Jake’s grandfather reassures Jake that there’s nothing wrong with the fact that he’s gay, that he’s still loved, supported and protected by those who came before him.
As much as I enjoyed this book and will be buying a copy to read again, especially come fall and Halloween, there were a few minor questions I was left with. One was that I wanted to know more about where Jake’s powers as a medium came from, was it hereditary and if so from whom did he inherit it? The other, larger question/issue I had was with a major event that happens towards the end of the book and the aftermath of that event. How is it that there’s no major punishment or consequence for what was done?
About the Author
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/Putname July 13th, 2021