Horror Suspense YA Young Adult

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass Review

A riveting social thriller and phenomenal ghost story and one heck of a debut!

Jake sees dead people — ghosts and wraiths and everything in between. Not that anyone believes ghouls follow him when he’s extra sad or that he can kind of sort of astral project. The onslaught of death and dead people is a lot for anyone to deal with when Jake just wants to blend in. Instead, his abilities make it nearly impossible for Jake to stay in the present — forget having the headspace to figure things out about himself. One of those things that need figuring out: Jake is a closeted gay teen. But being the only Black student in his grade at St. Clair is terrible enough with racism coming at him from students and teachers alike. There’s no way he’s expanding his target mark by adding gay.

“White boys can be gay because gay is all they are. Allister and I … we’re Black and gay, and being both would put targets on our heads.”

Ryan Douglass

And then Sawyer Doon hits the scene — a ghost more corporeal than any Jake’s encountered. More accurately, Sawyer is the ghost of a dead school shooter who’s returned to continue killing and take possession of Jake’s body.

At its core, The Taking of Jake Livingston is a riveting social thriller and a phenomenal ghost story. You’ve got a lot — a lot !— of scary stuff that goes down, including the attempted possession of Jake’s body and a host of gruesome murders. While the novel’s central themes of racism, racial micro aggression, bullying, and homophobia give voice to an underrepresented reality. The combination leads to a dynamic blend of action that will have you flying through the pages with your heart in your throat.

Jake and Sawyer are characters who’ve had to become edited versions of themselves to fall in line with society’s expectations of masculinity. Jake becomes quiet and withdrawn. Sawyer turns to violence. We root for Jake and are shaken by Sawyer’s actions. Douglass weaves his story threads with expert ease, including a slow-burn romance, and creates some real story magic here — a ghost story that draws you in and makes you think.

Trigger warnings: suicide, attempted sexual assault, homophobia, racism, animal cruelty, physical abuse, school shooting.


Book: The Taking of Jake Livingston
Published: Putnam
Pages: 308
Publication Date: July 13th, 2021
Age Range: 13 – 18
Stars: 4.5/5

Penguin Teen kindly sent me a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion, rating, or the content of my review.

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