The Taking of Jake Livingston, by Ryan Douglass

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 9781984812537

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Horror

What did you like about the book?  Jake can see dead people. In fact, he can’t get away from them. They’re in his tony private school, on his bus, and in the house he shares with his single mom and older brother. As if being the only Black, queer, closeted boy at St. Claire’s Prep wasn’t enough stress, he’s increasingly burdened by the ghost of a school shooter named Sawyer, who’s first-person narration from beyond the grave alternates with Jake’s. Sawyer threatens to take over Jake’s body and finish up the killing spree he started. Fortunately, Jake has two allies who believe him: Allister, a cute new boy at school (also Black) and Fiona, a tiny, fierce girl in his English class. They join forces with River, one of Sawyer’s dead victims, to hurl the evil back where it belongs. My students are always clamoring for horror and this book certainly had plenty of blood, creepy insects and heart-pounding action. Having a queer and Black main character made the book unique and gave Douglass the opportunity to examine microaggressions and racism in school.  Sawyer, the school bullies, and most of Jake’s teachers are White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? This book had an underdeveloped feel, especially in regards to the world-building elements. Jake identifies as a medium and does have a tutor of sorts (a Black lady with dreads named Ms. Josette), but there’s no explanation as to how he arrived at this conclusion, made contact with Ms. J., or how the spirit world works. Douglass ends up throwing a lot of occult elements into the book, as though hoping something will stick. Even imaginary worlds need some internal logic. I was also put off by incorporating a school shooter into the story and by the lack of compassion for Sawyer’s dreadful past, which included physical and sexual abuse and a disinterested mental health professional.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens looking for horror. The great looking cover has a very retro-Goosebumps vibe but beware; the language and violence definitely make this a choice for older teens.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, horror if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 6, 2021

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