Holding Smoke

Holding Smoke – Elle Cosimano – Hyperion-Disney – Published 3 May 2016



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.

My thoughts

I’ve not enough words to covey the supreme brilliance of this book. Superbly written, I was hooked from the very first line – which is about yard brawls, I might add. This book is dark and edgy and so very readable. It’s harsh and eye opening, heartbreaking and just a touch hopeful. I couldn’t put it down, intrigued by the thrilling and fast-moving plot, and addicted to the complex characters.

I haven’t read a book by Elle Cosimano before (I’m going to rectify that right away) so was initially drawn to Holding Smoke by that very intriguing summary. Is it a paranormal tale or a mystery suspense? Or better yet, both? It’s definitely both, and it is truly stunning.

John Conlan is serving a double murder sentence in a youth rehabilitation centre. No one believes him when he tells them he never killed the first victim and was acting in self-defence when he killed the only witness to the first murder. It’s complicated. But John’s life has never been easy, so he stays quiet, using his skills in gathering and trading information to stay alive inside. No one is quite sure how he gets his intel, earning him the name Smoke. But the name is more correct than they realise, as John has the ability to leave his body behind and ghost outside the centre’s walls. It’s not until he meets a spunky and determined girl who can actually see him when he is ghosting that John realises he might have a chance to change things, get answers or at least find out who is trying to kill him.     
I was blown away by Holding Smoke. I never saw any of the twists coming and they come from everywhere, when you least expect them. It’s not until you read the author’s note at the end that you realise her experiences are why this book is so authentic, why it speaks so strongly through the setting and characters. While each of the characters are vibrant and detailed, it is John, Smoke, that stole my heart. His strength, tough veneer, intelligence and hidden vulnerably are so … endearing seems too soft a word, but he is one hell of a main character. Pink, too, adds a charm to the story, and the other characters, from the warden and guards to the other inmates, certainly help convey the message that it’s not so easy to separate the good guys from the bad guys. Loved every one of them.

And while I didn’t want this book to end, I’m very happy with how the ending worked out. Holding Smoke, while based in paranormal fiction easily holds its own with great young adult mystery and contemporary novels, such as the books written by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (The Naturals) and Katie McGarry – and there is no higher compliment I could bestow.

The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction.

Genre: Contemporary, paranormal, mystery-thriller.

Themes: Crime, juvenile detention, imprisonment, social issues, romance.

Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.

Advisory: Strong violence. Sexual references. Coarse language, f***, s***. Mature themes surrounding crime, murder and suicide.

Published: 3 May 2016 by Hyperion-Disney.

Format: Hardcover,  ebook. 336 pages.

ISBN: 9781484725979

Find it on Goodreads