Holding Smoke - Elle Cosimano

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.


I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book. A colleague handed me a copy and just said, "You need to read this!" So, I did. And I'm very glad I did! Straddling the line between contemporary realism and magical realism, this is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you guessing. Cosimano builds readers a strong sense of place within the juvenile detention facility, and builds up John Smoke's abilities without attempting to rationally explain everything.

The present and past are interwoven gradually, allowing readers to slowly piece together what happened to John, how he ended up in prison, and who is actually responsible. Everyone seems to have a motive and a vendetta, but Smoke has the advantage with his ability to travel beyond himself while asleep. His relationship with Pink avoids becoming melodramatic and cliched, and his relationships with various prison staff and other inmates are similarly well developed.

Savvy mystery fans will likely figure out certain twists before they occur, but I don't think this is any detriment overall, and the book still works, even if the ending is perhaps tied up a bit more neatly than some would like. In the end, I feel that Holding Smoke is a strong novel with a lot to enjoy.

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