My mother tells this story of being so exhausted that she couldn’t get up to rock my older brother, her first child, back to sleep in the middle of the night. But then he stopped crying, and she swears she saw the ghost of her mother rocking his cradle.

I never believed her.


In San Antonio, people believe that if they put baby powder on their bumper, go to a certain set of railroad tracks at midnight, and park their car in the middle of the tracks that the ghosts of the dead teenagers killed on those tracks will push your car off the tracks and you will be able to see their handprints in the baby powder on the bumper.


I don’t believe them either. 


Believing in ghosts and seeing them doesn’t win anybody any popularity contests in school, which is exactly what Jake Livingston experiences in The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass.


But Jake doesn’t just see and believe in ghosts, he’s a teenaged medium, and he has the ghost of a school shooter waiting for the right time to possess his body and continue his bidding.


Thankfully, Jake finds someone who does believe him.


“If I told you something crazy, would you judge me?” I ask.

“Depends how crazy,” he says.

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Absolutely,” he looks at me. “Can you see them?”

I’m silent. That’s his answer. I might have denied it, but I’m taken aback by how fast he got there.

He smiles. “That’s awesome. Wish I could do that.”

“Um . . .it’s not always awesome. It’s usually pretty scary.” (136)


And that’s part of the problem for Jake. The new boy at his private school, one of only a few other Black students at his school, believes him, and Jake likes Allister. But since Jake’s malevolent ghost follows him, Jake knows if he gets too close to Allister, Allister can get hurt. 


And while The Taking of Jake Livingston gave me flashes of Whoopi Goldberg and spinning potter’s wheels from the movie Ghost, it’s a thrilling little supernatural jaunt that will leave you thinking a little differently about the supernatural.


But it’s also much more.


The Taking of Jake Livingstone is also a peek into the ghost of privilege and racism that continue to permeate our systems.


Not only does Jake face the microaggressions that Black people are so accustomed to, but he also must contend with a curriculum that bolsters those aggressions. 


Chad snaps to face her, “Oh, sorry, what was that ma’am?” People laugh—they love his little performances. “Wait, did you ask about Tituba? I think it was her fault.”

More chuckles. Ms. Kingston rolls her eyes, but there’s a smirk on her face too.

“Black people are always the punch line of a joke—it’s maybe why none of the books we read have Black people in them unless they’re slaves.”

Ms. Kingston glances in my direction and then stands up straight, shaking her bangs out a little. “Anyway, no—I don’t think that’s what Arthur Miller actually intended.”

I love how we all just move on. (164–165).


And maybe more important than whether we see ghosts is whether we see our students. Do we see them in the curriculum we teach, in the books and articles we read? And do we see them as more than stereotypes, as more than monoliths expected to speak for all Black students.


And maybe our students will never have to feel like Jake Livingston: “And most days? I can’t figure out what I hate more: seeing the dead or being the one Black eleventh grader at St. Clair Prep.” (3)



Download the lesson below for a lesson on dramatic writing.



Michael Méndez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, and high school and has worked as a district level leader and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel, The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.