WHITE SMOKE was such a mixed bag for me, which was a little disappointing because I honestly expected to completely love it. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I had fun reading it! But I expected to FULLY LOVE it, and then had some issues.
It went to places I definitely wasn’t expecting – places I love seeing explored and discussed in books, ESPECIALLY horror, ESPECIALLY YA horror – and those parts of it were my favorite. The bits focusing on the realistic horrors of racism, gentrification, and the unfair criminalization of marijuana users in society are all really great topics to get young people thinking about, and I loved that these were woven throughout the more traditionally “scary” stuff. There’s a lot of talk about mental health and anxiety specifically that’s important for people to read – a line between main character Mari and her love interest about anxiety not needing a reason to exist was a big highlight in my copy of the book, and I love the author’s approach to a lot of these real-life topics.
That said, the creepiness felt a bit underdeveloped here, and the ending left me absolutely upset – I turned the page thinking there’d be an epilogue only to come face to face with an ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS page? Honestly, I will normally say that “wanting more” is a great sign when you finish a book, but this is a bit too drastic.
NOTHING was wrapped up in the end, beyond an explanation of what was going on – no way of dealing with it, no future plan, no checking back in with several off-screen characters who were integral to the story & needed follow-up. (MAYBE SPOILER?) I’m not sure if this is supposed to have a sequel in which these asshole white people are dealt with and punished, but I was not here for this ending – I wanted much more, and that was disappointing enough to make me lower the rating pretty dramatically. I also absolutely HATED Mari’s mother’s husband, and the mom (and Mari’s) reluctance to be vocal about a lot of the shit going on was frustrating. There were so many times that really WEIRD or spooky stuff happened, but Mari just went on like, “nah, that’s fine, let’s just ignore that” – it wasn’t believable to how anyone, teen or otherwise, would react to this stuff. I get that she’s dealing with some stuff in her past that makes her look unreliable, etc, etc but that just didn’t explain it enough for me, especially in the instances where she was in actual physical danger but just decided to gaslight herself into thinking everything was normal. Didn’t like that. I’m absolutely fine with the explanation of what is happening – I just want SOME kind of resolution, any kind. This felt like Part One of a thicker book & I’m upset that there’s no formal announcement that I can find that there’s going to be a follow up? Rude as heck, haha.
Still, the build up and creepiness were a lot of fun – I especially loved the little sister character, because I wasn’t sure what to make of her throughout & really loved seeing where her story went. Overall, I’d recommend this for horror fans – especially YA horror fans – but with the caveat that it doesn’t wrap up with any solid ending, so if that bothers you, don’t be caught unaware! And also a content warning for bug stuff especially – I don’t have an issue with bugs but HOLY HECK, Jackson made me check my bed 3 times with this dang book, haha. So creepy!
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