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)