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Book Review | White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson

From the publisher: 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!

White Smoke is about a blended family who moves from California to the Midwest to get a fresh start after main character Marigold’s drug problem messes up their lives. Unfortunately, their new house seems to be haunted, and something – or someone – wants them gone.

Former track star Marigold has a serious phobia of bedbugs, which drives her to obsessively clean every surface of her home, regard all specks of dust or wooden furniture as suspect, scratch at imaginary itches, and practically bathe in rubbing alcohol whenever might have come in contact with a bedbug. Eventually she turned to pot to calm her nerves, then other drugs. Now, her family has moved across the country to start over. Her writer mom accepted a 3-year residency with the Sterling Foundation, which comes with a free house in the city of Cedarville. The Foundation wants to revitalize the once-prosperous city by attracting writers and artists like Mari’s mom.

Right from the start though, things seem a bit off. Their house is the only occupied one on their block, and many others are still damaged from a fire decades ago. Mari’s high school has barely any boys. Her younger stepsister Piper soon develops an imaginary friend named Miss Suga, who she says is the real owner of the house and wants Mari to leave. And for some reason, the Foundation told Mari’s family to never go into the basement.

Soon, things are rapidly getting out of control. Random things around the house get found in strange places, or go missing entirely. Really bad smells linger in the house. The TV seems to turn on at random times, always to the same televangelist’s show.

Personally, I found this to be well written but I still had trouble getting into it. Mari has strong cravings for marijuana to help cope with her anxiety, which makes it very hard for me to relate to her as a main character. Also, while the tension is well built and the creep factor is pretty high, I felt like the “nothing is wrong, it’s just my imagination” phase of the story went on a bit too long. It started to seem like characters were wilfully ignoring signs of

The book also addresses a whole bunch of social issues from institutional racism to gentrification to religion, but doesn’t go into as much depth on them as I would have liked. The ending comes together really well, but overall I think I wasn’t really this book’s intended audience. Still, for the right reader this could be a very enjoyable horror YA novel, especially for those who like to read diverse authors and characters.

White Smoke is available at Galesburg Public Library in our Young Adult collection, in Playaway audio format, and as an ebook in our ADML and eRead Illinois collections.