The Taking of Jake Livingston

This YA debut by Ryan Douglass is an exceptional blend of genres--horror, mystery, thriller and contemporary--that brilliantly captures how Jake, a Black gay teen medium, copes with the varying kinds of violence threatening him.

Jake is the only Black 11th-grader at St. Clair Prep: "It's like there's a giant floating Black kid sign over my head encouraging my teachers to pay me bad attention." His older brother, Benji, fights back against this kind of flak, but Jake stays silent. At home, he is "muted" around his mom, his "only good parent," whom he doesn't want to disappoint. And everywhere he goes, he studiously ignores dead world, a realm visible only to mediums like Jake, where ghosts who haven't crossed relive their deaths. Then a poltergeist acts out of its death loop. Jake recognizes the ghost as Sawyer Doon, the white school shooter who killed six classmates and then himself. Now his ghost has murdered one of the survivors--and is stalking Jake. Though unsure what Sawyer wants from him, Jake knows that only he can stop Sawyer's vengeance.

Douglass creates a clever and effective parallel between what Jake can't control--racism, a toxic father, an irresponsible brother--and his fight against Sawyer. The story builds to a rewardingly chilling and sentimental climax, as Jake must look within himself for the power to break the cycles of harm. Douglass includes entries from Sawyer's diary, revealing how familial, social failings and inner turmoil pushed a broken boy to murder. A clear comparison is drawn between Jake and Sawyer, a careful message that while strength does not surface easily, it is mineable. Moments of levity brightly contrast haunting scenes and serious topics. The Taking of Jake Livingston is an extraordinarily crafted exploration of agency during Black gay teenhood. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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