[REVIEW] The Taking of Jake Livingston, by Ryan Douglass

A tablet is held up by a pale, ghostly arm in a dark cityscape. It displays the cover of The Taking Of Jake Livingston, which shows a terrified teenage Black boy in a school uniform staring off into space.

(Buy it from Bookshop)

16 year old Jake Livingston can see ghosts–but that’s not the most interesting thing about this book.

Jake is also at the intersection of a lot of difficult life positions, and like most YA protagonists, his main goal is to figure himself out. He’s one of only two Black kids at a very white elite private school.(The other is his thug-a-be brother.) He’s a shy queer kid surrounded by homophobes. He’s depressed and probably has some form of PTSD from past abuse. His teachers and fellow students bully him in the nasty, covertly racialized way that many of us have dealt with in real life. And, he can see ghosts–one of which wants to take over his body and kill everybody.

There are some book heroes that you kind of want to be. I’d rather be anybody but Jake. Of course, so would he, but circumstances conspire to make him get over that quickly so that he can save himself from evil possession. With the help of spirits, guides, and friends Jake is able to pause his identity crises and save himself.

This is an entertaining read with a lot of layers, representation, and a quickly paced story. The characters are very strong and there’s a surprise teenage boy romance to cheer for next to all the horror and astral projection mysteries. Black culture and queer milestones are woven so seamlessly and naturally into the characters and story that I sent a copy of this to a kid I know who needs to feel seen ASAP. I enjoyed this — however, the ending is one huge plot hole and while I loved seeing Jake finally step into himself, I wish it had been a little more tightly plotted.

Also, the book is told from dual perspectives. One is Jake’s, the other would be too big of a spoiler to reveal entirely. Just know I didn’t care for him–the “evil racist white trailer park people” trope is far too convenient to fall back on in a cast of characters who are otherwise all complex and fully realized.

4 stars and a new incense jar to The Taking Of Jake Livingston.

(You made it to the end of the review, fellow reader! Pat yourself on the back and be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships and any clicks/purchases made may result in a commission being paid. For more books like Jake’s story, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Peace! )

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