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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Mini-Reviews (ARC Edition): The Last Cuentista + Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Today I have a couple of mini-reviews for ARCs I recently finished. It feels kind of odd to pair these two together as they could not be more different. One is a middle-grade sci-fi and the other is an adult horror novella. But both were amazing reads and if either of these are your genre, I highly recommend them.

Title: The Last Cuentista Author: Donna Barba Higuera Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Levine Querido Release Date: October 12th 2021

TW: death of a parent, eugenics

**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

"Había una vez . . . There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita. But Petra's world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children – among them Petra and her family – have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race. Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet – and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity's past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard – or purged them altogether. Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again? Pura Belpré Honor-winning author Donna Barba Higuera presents us with a brilliant journey through the stars, to the very heart of what makes us human."

Donna Barba Higuera’s second middle grade novel, The Last Cuentista, is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Petra Peña and her family are part of the few who have been selected to board a space ship bound for the distant planet of Sagan. With Halley’s Comet on a collision course with Earth, humanity’s only hope is to find a new home. While Petra and those like are incubated for the 380-year journey, the Monitors are tasked with watching over them. When Petra eventually wakes, she quickly discovers that something has gone terribly awry. The Collective, descendants of the Monitors, is now in control and are bent on eradicating conflict by any means necessary. In their quest to save humanity, they have become inhumane. Differences in appearance or opinion have been eliminated. Every person must serve the Collective. Petra is a strong girl with strong opinions. Molded by her grandmother’s stories, all she’s ever wanted is to be a great storyteller. It is these stories that provide her comfort as she faces off against a foe far more powerful than herself. And it is ultimately the tales she shapes herself that help lead her and others toward a better future. The Last Cuentista is a unique sci-fi, spellbinding and unforgettable. A must read for any middle grade fan.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Nothing But Blackened Teeth Author: Cassandra Khaw Series: N/A Pages: 128 Publisher: Nightfire Release Date: October 19th 2021

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

"Cassandra Khaw's Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists. A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company. It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends. But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart. And she gets lonely down there in the dirt."

Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth simmers with tension on multiple levels beginning with its cast of characters. Cat and her friends have known each other since they were teens and have made a game out of chasing ghosts. As years have passed, however, and relationships have evolved, there is both spoken and unspoken tension between them. The ghost of relationships past is always there, along with resentment and hate, boiling just below the surface. When things begin to go awry, all bets are off and polite facades disappear, giving way to anger and chaos. The mansion the characters find themselves in is steeped in horrid tales of women buried alive year after year. Their bones have become a different kind of foundation for this mansion. The residence sits empty, waiting and wanting. As trepidation builds, the mansion feels almost sentient. It relishes the animosity building between these friends. Khaw’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, raw and haunting. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a deliciously unnerving novella infused with Japanese folklore, in which its characters and house slowly begin to unravel, revealing the enmity underneath.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)