“Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is needed,” (Jackson 3).
After her mom accepts a new job in Cedarville, Marigold and her blended family move from sunny California to midwestern Cedarville. Mari misses her home but after everything that happened and the mistakes she’s made, she knows she needs a change. Aside from the beautifully renovated house her family will be living in, Maple Street is a mess of dilapidated houses and secrets. Not to mention that their new home has an awful smell coming through the vents, the lights turn off, figures seem to be watching Mari as she lies paralyzed in her bed, shadows creep by doorways, or that her younger, bratty stepsister Piper has a new imaginary friend. But the house can’t actually be haunted, and as Mari’s therapist reminds her, change is good, and necessary. So why does something feel off in Cedarville?
I enjoyed White Smoke more than I thought I would. It’s more simple in horror which I think fits for YA, but it did have an odd, slow pace that made it hard for me to get into. It isn’t a big horror book, atmospheric and good for beginners to the genre, but there were still a few scares and I was absolutely chilled by a revelation in the last third of the book. I feel like White Smoke is more Get Out than The Haunting of Hill House, especially as the story escalates and if this were adapted to film I’d love to see Jordan Peele directing it. Jackson does an excellent job creating a tense and uneasy atmosphere on Maple Street, it’s clear that something is being hidden and neither Mari or the reader knows what it is. It’s thrilling and unsettling to experience as all the pieces slowly click into place. I also think Jackson did an excellent job adding the issue of gentrification with the haunted house narrative, it modernized it in a unique and creative way that I appreciated as a horror reader.
White Smoke’s greatest strength comes from it’s narrator. Mari is such a complex character, in recovery learning to cope with anxiety from a bedbug infestation that happened years before, Mari is a character who just wants to do good and she struggles through it. She is a character so overcome with guilt and grief of what happened in California and she is trying so hard to change but the odds seem to be stacked against her. Because of her mistakes her mom and stepfather have trouble trusting her, and she ends up being scapegoated and blamed for things while her brother and stepsister get off easy. It’s heartbreaking to read Mari’s struggles, especially her phobia of bedbugs which has caused her to have anxiety and spiral at points. Mari felt like a very real and important protagonist for the YA genre and I’m so glad Jackson created this character.
And as mentioned at the beginning, Jackson reveals something that completely changed the story that absolutely chilled me, it was an excellent way of subverting expectations that I didn’t see coming but worked so beautifully. I wasn’t a fan of the last-minute “twist” in Jackson’s debut Allegedly but White Smoke blew me away making it a very memorable YA horror. The novel’s ending also shocked me because, while not complete, it was fitting and sadly realistic and if reader’s didn’t catch on to one of Jackson’s inspirations for this novel they for sure will by the ending.
While not horrifying, White Smoke is an excellent addition to YA horror and has got me back on the Jackson train. I can’t wait to check out more of her work and am curious if she’ll continue on the horror route. She’s got the knack for it and I’d love to see her write some truly horrifying.
Publication: September 14th 2021
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 384 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Horror, Young Adult
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
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.