Jan 10, 2023

Review--Holding Smoke by 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 finally picked up Elle Cosimano’s Holding Smoke, another of her early YA thrillers/mystery reads and it was rather intriguing and mysterious. While I wouldn’t say it was my favorite of hers—that still belongs to her Nearly books—it was still an enjoyable read.

John “Smoke” Conlan is in a juvenile detention center for killing his teacher and another teenage boy. He doesn’t remember that night very well, the fact that his father tried to kill him and he came back some minutes later might have something to so with it. It was after the “incident” with his father that John learned he has a new ability, one that allows him to leave his body and travel about. He uses his talent in jail to help him earn favors and get information and other things that might be useful in the joint.

It’s when he’s on one of these missions that he meets Pink, a girl his age who works at a shady joint as a waitress trying to make ends meet to help out with her family. She’s familiar to him, but he ca’t quite place how. We get the answers over time, of course. But that’s not where the true mystery lies. 

Almost every time John goes out of his body to gather information for someone, usually another boy in prison with him, he forms a connection to whoever that is. Not on a deep level, but by getting the information the other boy wants, he ends up forming some sort of bond with said boy. Almost friendly, but not quite as making friends in prison isn’t really something one does.

John’s own case comes back to play in this one. It’s been a little over a year since he’s been locked up and is a pretty good prisoner according to the warden and his usual guard. He doesn’t get into a lot of fights and even lets the warden in on what prisoners may have contraband—details he learns when he is out of body traveling. But what happened to John and how he landed in prison was a bit of mystery, but over time with the help of new friends, John slowly recalls what really happened that night and reveal who the real killer was along!

I’ll admit, I thought I had this one down so easily! The clues added up and everything just fit right together but Cosimano managed to surprise me at the very end and just whoa! 

I will also admit that the book moved a bit slower than I anticipated. It wasn’t so slow that I ever felt compelled to DNF, but it was a bit close. There was always enjoy of a draw to keep me hanging in there and n the last 1/3 or so of the book things really did pick up that I had no intention of quitting!

The end was very satisfactory. It was a nice ending, yet not completely happily ever after either. Sometimes those endings just work no matter how much you want the happy ending after all. Holding Smoke was an intriguing story overall and had a good mystery built in, but perhaps I needed the mystery to start sooner and last longer overall than have the drawn out moments of downtime to make it a 5 star read.

Overall Rating 4/5 stars



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