Book Review

White Smoke

White Smoke

  • Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Genre: YA Horror
  • Publication Date: September 14, 2020 
  • Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

CONTENT WARNING: anxiety, drug use, gore, blood, violence

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson!

Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.

The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.

But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?

As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.

Whoa, this book had me on the edge of my seat. It’s a combination of horror, with psychological elements thrown in, and I couldn’t put it down. This was a single session audiobook for me, and Marcella Cox kept me intrigued with her narration, even if there were some words that she mispronounced. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was so much more than I had initially expected, while it toed the line with my tolerance for horror, since I’m a total wuss.

The story starts out with a mixed family moving to a new house that comes attached to an amazing opportunity. But as I got further into it, I realized that there’s so many issues occurring all at once. There’s family tension, between Mari and her white stepfather, her stepsister who seems to be out to sabotage them while separating their parents. In addition, there is something weird about the house itself. Things start to disappear, there’s strange noises, doors open and close on their own, and no one can go in the locked basement. On top of all of that are Mari’s internal issues — she struggles with anxiety, especially surrounding bedbugs, and there’s a substance abuse issue that runs through the story, which has eroded her family’s trust in her. 

While moving to the midwest seems like a brand new start for everyone, the house and the town itself have some serious secrets. As Mari starts to get to know her new town and the cute guy she met, she learns more and goes on a quest to find out what these secrets are. But the problem with that is the fact that the more secrets she finds out, she realizes that the secrets can be dangerous.

I loved the connections between Mari and her younger brother, Sammy, as well as with Yusef. You know I can’t resist a book with a charming pet, and Buddy was such a cutie! But these connections are made amid a setting of gentrification and criminalization of marijuana, which is decimating the population of the town. 

This story had me on the edge of my seat. The increasingly creepy setting within the house made me stay listening to this audiobook late into the night, when I should have been sleeping. But a word of warning — there’s a lot of information about bedbugs, which made it especially difficult for me to stay comfortable while lying on my own bed. I can’t lie, a lot of this made me feel incredibly itchy. 

Mari is an intriguing character. She’s not the smartest, which made her often overlook warning signs and clues, but she is loyal and sweet for the most part. She cares deeply about the people she is close to, even her antagonistic young stepsister. However, her substance use has caused significant issues within her family, and I thought that this was done very well. In addition, the anxiety rep is great and Mari is not shy about speaking up for herself when it is questioned. It made me love her even more.

While this isn’t a genre I’d normally read, it was a great introduction to Jackson’s incredible ability to write riveting, emotional characters and plots. This was my first Jackson book, and I can promise that it won’t be my last.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 10

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