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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews: Ophelia After All + What’s Coming to Me (ARC review)

I am late with both of these reviews because of my blogging hiatus, but it works out really well because Latinx Heritage Month is just around the corner and both of these would make great reads for that month. Both Racquel Marie and Francesca Padilla make their debuts this year. I was impressed with both books and though they are really different from one another, I think they would both make a tremendous impact on their intended audiences.

Title: Ophelia After All Author: Racquel Marie Series: N/A Pages: 352 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Release Date: February 8th 2022

TW: homophobia, racism

"A teen girl navigates friendship drama, the end of high school, and discovering her queerness in Ophelia After All, a hilarious and heartfelt contemporary YA debut by author Racquel Marie. Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys - way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn't change, even if she wanted to. So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia's firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love--and sexuality--never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she's always imagined or upending everyone's expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all."

Racquel Marie debuts with Ophelia After All, an engaging coming of age YA novel about discovering new parts of yourself and embracing change while entering adulthood. Ophelia thinks she has her life figured out. She has an incredible group of friends, no shortage of boy crushes, and is going off to college to study botany. When she finds herself unexpectedly crushing on Tanya, a new friend, Ophelia must reevaluate what she knows about herself. As she struggles to come to terms with her sexuality, Ophelia’s relationships with her friends and parents also begin to change. Ophelia After All features a wide range of compelling characters beside its lead. Ophelia has a great group of friends whose personalities all leap off the pages. These characters are messy and selfish. They make mistakes and step on each other’s toes. They don’t always make the right decisions and can sometimes be dismissive of each other’s feelings. They are only beginning to understand what emotional maturity means and with growth comes growing pains. Ophelia is used to straddling different worlds with her multicultural heritage, but this also means she understands that being a part of both these worlds can sometimes feel like she doesn’t truly belong to either. Likewise, Ophelia knows that everyone expects her to have yet another crush on a boy. She’s a romantic and doesn’t go long without someone catching her eye. She isn’t sure she’s ready for other people to see her differently if they also learn she is interested in girls. Ophelia After All is perfect for teens questioning their queer identity and anyone who loves great friend groups.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: What's Coming to Me Author: Francesca Padilla Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Soho Teen Release Date: August 2nd 2022 TW: sexual harrassment, death of a parent, drug use, grief

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

"Seventeen-year-old Minerva Gutiérrez plans revenge on her predatory boss in this equally poignant and thrilling contemporary YA about grief, anger, and fighting for what you deserve, perfect for fans of Tiffany D. Jackson and Erika L. Sánchez. In the seaside town of Nautilus, Minerva Gutiérrez absolutely hates her job at the local ice cream stand, where her sexist boss makes each day worse than the last. But she needs the money: kicked out of school and stranded by her mom's most recent hospitalization, she dreams of escaping her dead-end hometown. When an armed robbery at the ice cream stand stirs up rumors about money hidden on the property, Min teams up with her neighbor CeCe, also desperate for cash, to find it. The bonus? Getting revenge on her boss in the process. If Minerva can do things right for once—without dirty cops, suspicious co-workers, and an ill-timed work crush getting in her way—she might have a way out . . . as long as the painful truths she’s been running from don’t catch up to her first."

Francesca Padilla’s YA debut, What’s Coming to Me, examines grief, poverty and retaliation through a poignant and sometimes messy lens. Minerva Gutiérrez is barely keeping afloat. Her mother’s health condition has deteriorated beyond hope, she is skipping school, and working a tedious job in order to build up her “Probable Orphan Fund.” To outsiders, Minerva appears to be an apathetic teen with no motivation, who is just going through the motions. But Minerva is not okay. She is not dealing with her anticipatory grief, but is actively avoiding it. She doesn’t want to talk about her mother because then everything will be real and in order to get up every day, even to a life that is starting to feel more and more hopeless, she has to close herself off from this reality. It is a defense mechanism that often has her retreating into herself and often lashing out at others. She is angry and desperate to get out of her small town. This desperation leads her into dangerous territory when she and a friend decide to rob her shady boss. What’s Coming to Me starts off slow and made me wonder where it was going, but once its plot found its footing, it sunk its claws into me and never let go. Padilla’s debut is quietly mesmerizing, about the lengths people will go to to survive, what justice can look like when conventional avenues aren’t available to you, and how protecting yourself from grief can sometimes leave you drowning anyways.

★ ★ ★ ★