New Home, New Ghosts: A Review of White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson
Hey there, Spooky Friends! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life, or welcome if you are new. My name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcase.
It’s post number101 and we’re gonna be talking about one of this year’s required Spooky Season reads. Today we shall be talking about the new release, and first horror novel, by Tiffany D. Jackson. Please give a warm welcome to White Smoke!
This book just released a few weeks ago on September 14, 2021. Now let me tell you something, this has been a release I’ve been very impatiently waiting for since it was announced ages ago. Give me an amazing haunted house tale any day of the week!
That’s what this week’s book is about, but before I give y’all a synopsis a spoiler alert is in order. A content and trigger warning is also necessary. White Smoke deals with drug use and addiction. This topic is very prevalent throughout the novel, and there is also a scene involving an accidental overdose. White Smoke also includes scenes of child endangerment and harm. Please be aware of those before reading this book. These are very prevalent through lines in this book, and there is no way to avoid them. I promise I won't be bringing them up in this review though.
Let’s get to the synopsis now. Meet Marigold, a teen from sunny California. After her mom accepts a fancy new job in the Midwest, or the middle of nowhere according to our protagonist, Marigold’s newly blended family finds themselves in a city that’s not the most welcoming. Their new neighbors are pretty standoff-ish because of the fact the house this family just moved into is completely refurbished, and totally free, all thanks to the Sterling Foundation.
It’s not just the neighbors that creep Marigold out though. This picture-perfect house comes complete with all the things that go bump in the night. Every single night, Marigold hears creeks and bumps, there is this smell of decay that only she can smell for some reason, shadow figures stalk the halls, doors slam shut all on their own, and objects break, go missing, and move every single day. Worst of all, Marigold’s little stepsister, Piper, has a new imaginary friend who really doesn’t like Marigold and wants her gone at any cost.
Folks, we got a certified haunted house on our hands. If I was Marigold, I would have gotten the hell out of dodge the first night. Marigold is not me though, so she sticks it out and stays with her family. What follows is more than just a haunted house story though. Marigold finds herself not only dealing with a ghost, but she finds herself fighting corrupt businesses, gentrification, riots, and battling her own inner demons; just to name a few things.
This book is very tightly woven. Good news is I didn’t find any plot holes. Bad news is the focus feels pulled in too many directions at times. The main focus of White Smoke should be on the haunted house and Marigold’s growth as a person. Yeah... Tiffany Jackson kinda takes a break from that in the middle of the book.
Marigold spends a good chunk of the text trying to get her hands on weed in order to deal with her anxiety. During this time, she learns about the laws surrounding cannabis that her new town enforces, how unfair they are, and how they were much, much worse just a few years prior. I understand the point Jackson is trying to make in her book. America has a lot of laws that disproportionally affect marginalized communities, and Jackson is showing one of those communities in White Smoke. But I feel that this subplot takes away from the main story. There are many instances in the book where Marigold gets pissed off at Piper because of something that happens, and then suddenly it’s the next day and Marigold is now at school having a conversation about weed and the laws that have sent a majority of the town’s population to jail. While I appreciate the conversation Jackson is opening up, it’s one that sometimes detracts from the book.
Personally, I want a haunted house tale and not much else. When the book does focus on the horror aspects, it’s a really engrossing story. I’ve already mentioned that this one has all the hallmarks of a traditional haunted house tale. As you may know, I’m a sucker for this type of book. Literally all an author has to say about his, her or their book is a story about or set in a haunted house. I’m a very simple girl. I see a book cover with a creepy, Victorian house and I’ll buy it; bonus points if there is a murder of crows on the cover too. Anyway, White Smoke begins as a traditional haunted house story before it derails. But I’m already on board because of the house. Sure, the book is a tad bit slow a few times, but the last third has an amazing twist that kept me reading until the end.
Seriously, the last third of this book is amazing. Typically I hate endings. I hate when a book I’ve been enjoying has to end, but this one was great. White Smoke doesn’t have an actual ending. Jackson leaves the story very open for interpretation. Or a sequel. Who knows. Anyway, a lot happens in the last few chapters, and this is the one time I like that not everything is wrapped up in a pretty bow by the last page. Unfortunately for you, I can’t talk much on this ending because I’d ruin the whole book, but trust me when I say White Smoke has one of the best endings I’ve read this year. It’s not a “happy” ending, it’s a “we survived and will continue to live” ending. It’s great, and I actually wouldn’t want a sequel to this book. I like that the ending is so open. Each and every reader can have a theory or idea about what happens after the story ends so he, she or they can have the story they want.
Wanna know what’s not great in this book though? Piper. Tiffany Jackson set out to create a tiny terror of a stepsister, and she succeeded in doing so. Piper is literally the worst! Reading all the shit Piper does was incredibly taxing. There are so many instances where something bad happens and Piper clearly did it, or at least knew about it, but the parents do nothing to reprimand her. She gets away with so many things it’s infuriating. And the worst part is Marigold and readers are supposed to forgive her for the danger she has put the family in by the end of the novel just because she’s a child.
Marigold forgiving her stepsister is satisfying…I guess. By forgiving her stepsister, it shows that Marigold has grown as a person, can overcome major obstacles, and can open up and let people into her life. It works into her character arc. But as a reader, I cannot forgive Piper simply because she’s a child. Piper has not shown much, if any, true forgiveness. I need something more from her to believe she has at least begun to change. As the book sits she’s just a little girl who has been spoiled her whole life and has no respect for other people’s belongings. Unfortunately, she’s necessary to the plot, but I really don’t like her.
Overall, this is a decent horror debut from an author I know creates amazing work. With a bit more streamlining, I would have enjoyed this book more. Each character is well done. Each of them convey all the emotions Jackson wants them to as well as fully making the reader feel said emotions the characters are going through. As I said, the twist at the end truly makes the book. Marigold has a satisfying character arc. The writing is steller. There were scenes that creeped me out beyond belief. There's just too much going on at times.
With that, I must bid you all adieu. Next week, I shall return with another review on a new release. I can't believe we're already nearing the end of Spooky Season! Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.