By: Elle Cosimano
Published: May 3, 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy
John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time for two murders but he wasn’t the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke’s new home and the only one he believes he deserves.
But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they’re asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn’t care that the “threads” that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name.
Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink’s help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he’s willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.
Holding Smoke is a story about a teen who’s locked up for murder. However, he claims that while he accidentally killed the one kid, he did not kill his teacher. Unfortunately, the evidence proves otherwise. You’d think the story would be just about that but John has a certain ability. He’s able to leave his body and become incorporeal. He’s been able to survive in the juvenile rehabilitation center by secretly using his ability to gain knowledge about his fellow inmates and help give them insight on what’s going on with their family/friends on the outside. However, things quickly change for John and he finds himself on the receiving end of a lot of attacks. Someone doesn’t want him to find out the truth about who really killed his teacher.
Holding Smoke was so much better than what I was expecting. I will be honest and say that I wasn’t sure if the author could pull it off or not. I mean, the boy’s in juvie after all. I was worried that things would get pushed to the wayside and his life in juvie would be overlooked. That was not the case at all. We live in the moment with John through his days at juvie as well as his incorporeal excursions.
John was one of those characters that you immediately liked. Which is strange since you go in knowing he killed a kid. However, you look past that to the kid he is… and he’s not all that bad. He does things for others, sometimes he does it for favors in return but still, he takes this green-eyed kid under his wing and helps him out when he’d surely be attacked by the other inmates, he even cares deeply for other peoples suffering and pain. Like I said, John is not a bad kid. He had a really crappy childhood. One in which his father bashed him over the head with a wrench, causing him to be legally dead for six minuted until the EMT’s could revive him. Which, wound up giving him his ability to leave his body. John was definitely not a one dimensional character. Not at all.
This is a bit like a thriller and mystery with very light romance wrapped within. I mean, you have John who’s on the inside trying to figure out who really killed his teacher, the lady who was going to become his legal guardian. Meanwhile, those he seeks help from on the outside are being attacked and he’s being sought after as well by other inmates. The whole thing has you jumping to conclusions as to who the “hoodie guy” is. I mean, at one point I was wondering if maybe it was just a coping mechanism that John had conjured up to deal with what he’d done. The whole thing had me on the edge of my seat and just when the moment came I realized how horribly wrong I’d been about everything!
By far, my absolute favorite part of the whole dang book was the author’s note. Why, you might be asking? Because she is/was a warden’s daughter! There’s a part in the book where the warden invited John over to his house for Thanksgiving. I kid you not, they release the boy like he’s free, dress him up, and drive him over to the warden’s house for a family meal like it’s all fine and dandy. Meanwhile, in the back of my head I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah right. Like this would ever happen in real life.” I was completely rolling my eyes at it all. Then I realized it DID happen in real life. Her father had an inmate over to their house one Thanksgiving when she was a kid! My jaw just about hit the floor. Then the author goes on to talk about how there was another inmate who she knew for some of the better deeds he did while under her father’s watch, but was in there for killing multiple people. I mean, this dude was a murderer but what she remembers of him is a guy who stopped throwing a tantrum over recess time so that her father could make it to her recital. Just hearing her inside knowledge of it all really brought the whole thing home. I’m pretty sure when she wrote the warden, a lot of her father was reflected in that character.
Seriously, get your hands on this book! It’s got a bit of paranormal with John’s ability, suspense as you try to figure out who really killed the teacher and who has it out for John, and a sprinkling of romance just to make you root for everyone involved.
“All of us are broken, John. I just think that once you’ve lost everything, maybe there’s nothing left to hold you back.”