Snapshot Review: Jackal by Erin E. Adams (ARC Review)

Title: Jackal
Author: Erin E. Adams
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: October 4th 2022

TW: racism, fatphobia, alcoholism, body horror, death of a child, domestic violence, brief mention of sexual assault

**Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**

      “A young Black girl goes missing in the woods outside her white Rust Belt town. But she’s not the first—and she may not be the last. . . .
      It’s watching.
      Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.
      It’s taking.
      As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.
      It’s your turn.       With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.”

  • The setting – Erin Adams’s Jackal takes place in Johnstown. It’s a small tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone. It’s safe, where residents don’t feel the need to lock their doors and children play outside unattended. It’s deceptively picturesque because there are also dark corners to this place. The woods are home to whispers and monsters; to hidden truths and mysterious disappearances.
  • The atmosphere – Adams captures how sniffling this small town ends up being for people like Liz. Her hometown, while comforting to others, represents to her a place with bad memories. It’s a place where she didn’t fit in, a place that underneath its hospitality only ever seemed to tolerate her and her mother. Every moment she spends back in Johnstown feels like she is slowly falling down a rabbit hole.
  • The tension – I loved how well tension is built in this novel. When Liz first arrives home, there is an unspoken tension between her and her mother. There’s a lot of passive aggressiveness between the two. Liz’s mom can be harsh and Liz can’t quite get herself to be honest with her. When Liz’s goddaughter, Caroline, goes missing, there is an inherent ramping up of tension every day she isn’t found. Though it takes time to manifest, there are also problems between Liz and her best friend Mel, Caroline’s mother. This isn’t just about the circumstances surrounding Caroline’s disappearance, but years of unresolved issues. Mel represents so many white women who are unable to examine the racism in their own family even when it puts her husband, her best friend, and her daughter, all of whom are Black, in danger.
  • You can’t outrun your past – One of the main themes in Jackal is the protagonist’s inability to outrun her past. She got as far away as she could from Johnstown, but it always seemed to have this pull on her. She’s spent so many years trying to forget the night her classmate Keisha disappeared, but in the end must confront these memories that she’s kept hidden from herself. She often does not want to self-reflect because acknowledging the monster in the room makes it so much more real.
  • History and urban legend meet – I really loved how Adams intertwines history and legend in her debut. A monster in the woods isn’t necessarily a unique premise but once Liz begins to research other disappearances and town history, everything begins to fall into place and begins to make a disturbing kind of sense. Adams is very deliberate with how she utilizes flashbacks as well, missing girls become more than names and the people they left behind.
  • Examination of racism in small towns – Caroline’s disappearance and Liz’s discovery of the other Black girls who have gone missing has her reflecting on her childhood in this very white and suburban part of town. As one of the only Black kids at her school, Liz never felt like she belonged. She was never fully embraced even by her best friend’s family, but this friendship and her mother’s class status shielded her from what was truly happening to the Black community in her town. Jackal examines Johnstown’s history of segregation and discrimination; often juxtaposing how and why its white community was allowed to flourish while its Black community was not.
  • Nothing to note.

Erin E. Adams’s Jackal is a riveting horror novel from start to finish about how the monsters that lurk in the dark are not as dangerous as the ones that move about in the light.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

Title: The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School
Author: Sonora Reyes
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Release Date: May 17th 2022

TW: homophobia, racism, deportation, suicide ideation, institutionalization of a character

      “Sixteen-year-old Yamilet Flores prefers to be known for her killer eyeliner, not for being one of the only Mexican kids at her new, mostly white, very rich Catholic school. But at least here no one knows she’s gay, and Yami intends to keep it that way.
      After being outed by her crush and ex-best friend before transferring to Slayton Catholic, Yami has new priorities: keep her brother out of trouble, make her mom proud, and, most importantly, don’t fall in love. Granted, she’s never been great at any of those things, but that’s a problem for Future Yami.
      The thing is, it’s hard to fake being straight when Bo, the only openly queer girl at school, is so annoyingly perfect. And smart. And talented. And cute. So cute. Either way, Yami isn’t going to make the same mistake again. If word got back to her mom, she could face a lot worse than rejection. So she’ll have to start asking, WWSGD: What would a straight girl do?
      Told in a captivating voice that is by turns hilarious, vulnerable, and searingly honest, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School explores the joys and heartaches of living your full truth out loud.”

Sonora Reyes’s The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School chronicles the conflict Yami, a Mexican-American queer teen, feels when she is forced to keep an important part of herself hidden in order to protect herself from a bigoted world. Yamilet Flores is determined to reinvent herself at Slayton Catholic School. After being rejected and outed by her ex-bestfriend, Yami is looking for a fresh start. Her life is already complicated enough with her father stuck in Mexico and her mother always on her case about looking after her younger brother, who is prone to getting into trouble. Pretending to be straight is just something else she has to put on her shoulders. But then she meets Bo, who is the only gay girl out at her new school. Independent, unapologetic, and outspoken, Bo is magnetizing. The closer Yami grows to Bo, the harder it becomes to stay in the closet, especially when she starts catching feelings for her.

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School explores queerness, religion, and the guilt that often follows those raised in a conservative church setting. Yami isn’t ashamed of who she is, but that doesn’t mean she is immune to the barrage of voices telling her she’s sinful and that God made her a lesbian just to send her to hell as a result. It doesn’t help that these views are often echoed by her mother. Like many queer teens, Yami has to factor in the potential negative reaction of her parents to her coming out. She has to prepare herself for the worst, both emotionally and financially. The book also addresses the toll this decision takes on teens’ mental health, whose options are limited when they are so reliant on the adults in their lives. Reyes captures emotion so well in this debut and as a reader, you feel every heartbreak, every moment of disappointment, and every moment of longing the characters have for the simple privilege of being themselves.

Yami is angry and frustrated with her life, but she doesn’t have the luxury of sharing these feelings openly. She knows she can’t be her full self, no matter how much she might want to. She’s weighed down by this and the knowledge that if she were to come out, her mother is likely to kick her out. Slayton Catholic turns out to be an exhausting experience. Between the microaggressions from her peers and the homophobia from school staff, Yami feels like she is barely hanging on. But Bo and her friends offer her refuge that isn’t used to. They make her feel like she could be herself, that it’s possible for her to come out and not be rejected by everyone around her. Yami is particularly drawn to Bo, her fierce independence, and how she is unapologetically herself. I really appreciated that Bo wasn’t just a love interest, but had her own issues she had to deal with herself.

Yami loves her family, but they are a constant point of frustration for her. As the older sister, she is expected to keep a close eye on her brother, Cesar, who is incredibly intelligent but who hasn’t learned how to keep himself out of trouble. Sometimes it feels like the only thing her and her mother talk about is her brother. Yami’s wants and needs are constantly taking a backseat. Yami is much closer to her father, but his deportation has made it impossible for them to ever be together again as a family. Having a parent-shaped hole in her life isn’t easy, especially when it feels like he is the only one who hears and sees her. I loved Yami’s relationship with her brother. Despite their differing dynamics with both of their parents, it’s easy to see how much they love each other. The moments they get to be honest with one another without fear of judgement were some of my favorite scenes in the novel.

Sonora Reyes’s The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School is at times heartbreaking, but also hopeful and healing; a stellar debut that celebrated queerness and acceptance.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★