The Taking of Jake Livingston

Listening Library. Jul. 2021. 731p. $63. ISBN 9780593411513.
Gr 7 Up–Jake, who is gay, one of the few Black students at his exclusive private school, and a medium who interacts with spirits, is derided by teachers and bullied by classmates. All he wants is to stay invisible. Sawyer, now dead, shot and killed several classmates and then himself. Instead of finding peace in death, his spirit reaches for power, justice, and revenge. Jake appears to be a perfect vessel for Sawyer’s rage and terror. Unexpectedly befriended by an unusual student and the new boy at school, Jake finds that he must face the menace that only he knows is supernatural. Alternating between Jake’s real-time plight and Sawyer’s journal leading up to his heinous act, this novel tackles mental illness, rejection, and loneliness. Unfortunately, both the narration and the plot execution are uneven. Many of the issues are presented and relationships established too quickly without warranted character development or backstory. Though almost everyone in school, including adults, acts horribly, two students inexplicably decide to be Jake’s friends, immediately believe his fantastic tale, and make questionable decisions for him but then just as inexplicably are unbothered by his disappearance and the horror that he ends up facing alone. The use of two narrators, Kevin R. Free and Michael Crouch, for the two time lines is effective but imbalanced. While Sawyer’s reader provides a stellar performance with just the right accent and accentuations, Jake’s point of view reader is less masterly, with especially weak interpretations for female characters.
VERDICT Regardless of its flaws, this novel takes a hard look at brutality in many forms, racism, homophobia, and consequences of the choices that we make.

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