Tiffany D. Jackson’s next book, White Smoke, is almost here. And just in time for the spookiest time of year. Marigold Anderson is haunted by her past, unable to really run away from it. When she and her newly blended family move from California to the midwestern town of Cedarville, she views it as the fresh start she needs. Despite moving into a newly renovated house, Mari’s neighborhood is unsettling. Every other house is derelict. Her neighbors are less than welcoming. Oh, and her family’s house is full of strange noises, rotten smells, faulty electricity, and a “friend” of her stepsister’s that wants Mari gone. As Mari battles herself and the house, she also discovers Cedarville holds terrifying secrets of its own.
A Head Full of Ghosts
A telltale sign of a good book is a captivating protagonist. That’s what Jackson brings with Mari. Early on, she sets the stage for revealing Mari’s ghosts. She first grasps readers’ attention with Mari’s phobia of bedbugs, leading to vague hints about prior incidents. This in turn sets up Mari to add to the unsettling atmosphere. Whatever she’s running from (which does get revealed) sows the seeds of doubt, almost painting Mari as an unreliable narrator. Mari herself doesn’t trust her own instincts with the house. She often writes off everything she experiences. As such, readers can’t help but read on and learn more. Mari is far from perfect. However, she actively works to improve. Readers will worry about Mari and hope for a positive outcome. Despite the ups and downs, they’ll want to stay the course with her.
The family dynamics add another layer of tension. The Anderson-Greens are a blended family. Along with Mari are her younger brother Sam and their mother Raquel. Then are Alec and Piper, Mari’s stepfather and stepsister. Mari generally seems to tolerate them. But her patience only extends so far. There’s a very “Anderson versus Green” undertone just present enough to leave readers questioning whether Alec and Piper are fully trustworthy. Jackson creates apprehension that moves the story. As activity speeds up within the house, Jackson shoves one major reminder to the front: When children befriend unseen forces in horror, RUN.
The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
More unsettling still is Maple Street and Cedarville. Continuing from above, the unseen forces don’t lie solely in the house. Jackson gradually builds the mystery. As soon as readers learn about the house, they will immediately think, “Hmm, now this seems too good to be true.” Despite every explanation Jackson provides, nothing ever feels quite right. She expounds on that feeling. Everything about the house begins to tie in first with Maple Street. One picturesque house surrounded by dilapidated ones? That’s definitely not shady. What could possibly go wrong?
Jackson continues to pull readers right to the very edge. And she uses Cedarville to do so. Even this nice little town has some not-so-nice little secrets. Jackson creates such a feeling of unrest. She cleverly bides her time drawing it out. Readers won’t know who to trust, even when she makes it clear. Furthermore, the distrust readers encounter also exists within the book’s universe. Jackson paints a vivid picture of residents betrayed by their own town. She examines the profound and disproportional effects the prison system has on the Black community. I was also particularly struck by how she ties in religion. Every facet of this town is deliberate. They seamlessly connect to one another.
Your New Favorite Horror Read
If you’re looking for a thrilling read this spooky season, look no further. White Smoke is it. The way Jackson brings this story to life is astounding. She masterfully brings the creeps and chills. From the first page, readers sense that something is a little off. The suspense Jackson brings holds up to the very last page. She instills classic elements of ghost stories to write something vastly unique. Every major question that arises receives a satisfying answer. Her ending offers a surprising twist, but in a way that fits neatly into the story; it’s not there solely for shock value. White Smoke is a book that demands to be devoured in one sitting (and then devoured again and again). It’s the kind of psychological horror that will altogether terrify and leave readers begging for more.
White Smoke releases on September 14. Pre-order your copy here.