Jake Livingston, the sixteen-year-old protagonist of Ryan Douglass’s debut novel The Taking of Jake Livingston, can see ghosts. Mostly ghosts are harmless, at least in Jake’s experience. They live inside death loops and can’t really interact with the world of the living.
There are several theories for why death loops happen. Mine is that the people who end up trapped just didn’t see it coming, so their minds got stuck in a glitch. As opposed to some people who did see it coming, because they brought it on themselves. Maybe ghosts who killed themselves get more autonomy when they cross over.
For Jake, an outsider and one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, real life is more problematic than what’s going on in the afterlife. His only friend is Grady, who is nothing more than a “long lasting accident,” and his single-mother is a pilot who is often away for two weeks at a time, leaving Jake at home alone with his older brother, Benji.
Then there’s Chad, the school bully and “one of those rugby dudes who can’t mind his own business. Chews his gum extra loud and throws his voice in your face when he speaks. Just to be heard.”
When the boy who lives next door to Jake, Matteo Mooney, turns up dead, Jake’s life gets more problematic than it already is. That’s because Jake knows who is responsible for killing Matteo. It’s Sawyer Doon, a student who had gunned down several students at Heritage High. Doon is unlike any ghost Jake has ever encountered; he can make things happen in the living world.
Douglass wisely allows readers a glimpse into Sawyer’s life by way of diary entries and by doing so he becomes less a malevolent ghost and more of a troubled teenager who is bullied and traumatized until he can’t take it anymore. While little glimpses into his life in no way excuse the violence he commits, at least they offer some explanation.
I can’t say that I really loved The Taking of Jake Livingston as far as reading experiences go. That said, Jake was an interesting character and I was really rooting for him as he started to make some new friends, one a potential romantic interest. I do think the book has insightful things about friendship, bullying, school violence and as it’s a debut, I would certainly say Douglass is a young author to watch out for.