Ryan Douglass, The Taking of Jake Livingston, Anderson Press, July 2021, 246 pp., RRP $16.75 (pbk), IBSN 9781839132506
The Taking of Jake Livingston is a dramatic, tense and emotional YA novel. Despite its short length, the novel is detailed and the characters are well developed. Ryan Douglass has also managed to incorporate and explore numerous sensitive topics in an insightful way.
Jake Livingston is a queer, black teenager attending a predominately white school, St. Clair. Outwardly Jake appears to be an average, albeit shy and sensitive teenager but in reality, his life is far from average. Jake is surrounded by death and trauma. He can see dead people. For the most part, the spirits are harmless. They are stuck in a death loop, repeating the same events of their final moments over and over.
Then there is Sawyer Doon. A psychotic teen who shot and killed six kids at his high school and then took his own life. The Taking of Jake Livingston is written from the perspectives of Jake and Sawyer. The two boys can almost be likened to one another, both sharing common experiences, although it quickly becomes apparent that Sawyer’s story is much more horrific and tragic. Maybe the appropriate support, love and care would have changed the hate-filled actions that stemmed from his neglectful and abusive life.
Sawyer’s ghost has returned vengeful and powerful. He has unfinished business and needs a willing body to execute his plans. His ghost is intent on haunting Jake, and the real world and the dead world are moving a little too close for comfort and bodies begin turning up. Jake must learn how to use and control this gift he has. It is now a game of survival. His life and everyone he loves depend on it.
The Taking of Jake Livingston contains strong language and themes including racism, homophobia, abuse, suicide and murder. For this reason, it would be better suited for readers fourteen years and older.
Although short, this novel is a provoking and challenging read. It is recommended for readers who mostly enjoy horror and thrillers although some of the minor themes, such as a sweet, slow-burn romance, may appeal to other readers.
Reviewed by India Boon