Title: The Taking of Jake Livingston
Author: Ryan Douglass
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Length: 255 Pages
Category: YA, Paranormal Thriller, Horror
Rating: 5 Stars
Content Warnings: See below as part of my review
At a Glance: The Taking of Jake Livingston is a tour de force of horror, an absolute spectacle of storytelling, and the very definition of unputdownable.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Jake Livingston sees dead people everywhere. But he can’t decide what’s worse: being a medium forced to watch the dead play out their last moments on a loop or being at the mercy of racist teachers as one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep. Both are a living nightmare he wishes he could wake up from. But things at St. Clair start looking up with the arrival of another Black student—the handsome Allister—and for the first time, romance is on the horizon for Jake.
Unfortunately, life as a medium is getting worse. Though most ghosts are harmless and Jake is always happy to help them move on to the next place, Sawyer Doon wants much more from Jake. In life, Sawyer was a troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school before taking his own life. Now he’s a powerful, vengeful ghost and he has plans for Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about dead world goes out the window as Sawyer begins to haunt him. High school soon becomes a different kind of survival game—one Jake is not sure he can win.
Review: “So that’s why you’re so quiet? You’re distracted by the dead.”
Jake Livingston doesn’t have anything approaching an easy, let alone normal, life. As a sixteen-year-old kid who sees dead people everywhere, all the time, on repeat, he’s doing a pretty admirable job of surviving life as he knows it. But, then again, as a sixteen-year-old kid who sees dead people, Jake couldn’t be more on the fringes of life as the only medium at school who watches ghouls amble through his neighborhood and ghosts die again and again. He’s also the only Black eleventh grader at the overwhelmingly white St. Clair Prep, which makes him feel even more alone and isolated.
Then Jake discovers there’s a dark and vengeful spirit, who once was a tortured and troubled boy named Sawyer Doon. Sawyer is determined to hijack Jake’s body so he can resume his killing spree. So he can punish and wreak chaos, untethered from the limitations of his death.
This book has an abundance to say, things that are not always easy to hear, and it speaks those things with heart-wrenching candor. There are a multitude of subjects Douglass confronts and makes Jake and Sawyer deal with in the telling of their story, so be forewarned that sever depression, suicide, child abuse, homophobia, racism, a mass school shooting, and attempted rape are among them. Not to mention the gore typical of the horror genre. While The Taking of Jake Livingston could never be characterized as an easy read, it’s so beautifully written and its subjects so emotionally eloquent that it surpasses the YA label while still confronting and dealing with teenage topics like first crushes, new friendships, and failing grades. Jake has internalized the lesson beaten into him by his father that no son of his will be gay. When a new guy, Allister, starts paying Jake some attention, Jake learns a touching lesson about loving and accepting who he is.
Ryan Douglass’s The Taking of Jake Livingston is a tour de force of horror, an absolute spectacle of storytelling, and the very definition of unputdownable. Douglass succeeds at making this comprehensive nightmare painfully transparent, candid, and he even elicits some compassion for the boy who is, without a doubt, the villain, though not despite his horrific crimes but because of how and why Sawyer came to commit them.
You can buy The Taking of Jake Livingston here: