White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson. Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, 2021. 9780063029095
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
What did you like about the book? I really need more horror books with Black characters, so I was psyched to read this latest book from Jackson. Allegedly (2017) is one of my favorite recent YA reads and had some strong horror vibes, with its unreliable narrator and murderous events. This is more of a classic gothic but with strong Get Out strains. Marigold and her recently blended family leave California for a fresh start in the Midwest, settling in Cedarville. Mari’s mom is a writer and has won the 3-year lease in a contest designed to reboot the town by bringing in artists. Their charming old house has recently been renovated top-to-bottom, but it’s also marooned in a neighborhood of abandoned, burned-out buildings. Workmen leave abruptly as darkness approaches and there’s a putrid smell emanating from the permanently locked basement. Weird stuff starts happening right away, including plunging indoor temperatures, poltergeist-style mischief and destruction, and the emergence of a creepy imaginary friend for Marigold’s White stepsister, 10-year-old Piper. Marigold’s struggling with her own demons, including an extreme fear of bedbugs. This anxiety disorder triggers her overwhelming craving for weed, a constant drumbeat behind all her actions. On the bright side, a hot local guy (Yusef), her smart middle-school-aged brother Sammy, and their faithful mutt Buddy make strong allies for Mari as she struggles to safeguard herself and her family and figure out what’s going on in the weird and increasingly dangerous town. Jackson also weaves in plot lines about gentrification and incarceration. Suffice to say, don’t look for properties in Cedarville!
Anything you didn’t like about it? Spoiler alert: I was really disappointed when the paranormal activities turned out to have a real world cause, namely, disturbed but displaced people living in Marigold’s cellar. As the plot veered toward baroque conspiracy, I lost the thread and walked away slightly confused and a lot less frightened. Marigold’s mother (who name drops employment with the New York Times) needs to have her bonafides checked. What legit investigative reporter doesn’t do some investigation into the foundation who gives her money or the town she’s moving to? Despite her constant preparation of organic snacks, her parenting and research skills seemed weak.
To whom would you recommend this book? Teens who love horror stories and want more diversity in their characters plus a bit of social commentary may find this satisfying. It definitely had some jumpscares and Twilight Zone moments.
Who should buy this book? High school 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: November 6, 2021