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Holding Smoke

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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.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published May 3, 2016

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About the author

Elle Cosimano

15 books4,681 followers
USA TODAY and New York Times bestselling author, Edgar® Nominee, Bram Stoker® Nominee, & ITW Thriller Award winner.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 208 reviews
Profile Image for Jasmine.
442 reviews711 followers
August 16, 2017
***Actual rating: 4.5/5 Pink, Smoky Stars***

”All of us are broken, John. I just think that once you’ve lost everything, maybe there’s nothing left to hold you back.”

I kid you not, Holding Smoke is my first mystery novel I’ve read and I love it so friggin’ much. John “Smoke” Conlan was serving time for two murders but he didn’t kill his beloved English teacher, Ms. Cruz; as for the other one, well, he killed him in self-defense. *snorting* Yeah, prisoners always said they were innocent or that they were just at the wrong place, at the wrong time when a crime was committed. After reading this book, you’d probably start thinking differently because sometimes we were blinded by our presumptions before knowing the criminals’ backstories.

So this guy, John, was notorious for his ability to “deal information in and out of the Y (a youth rehabilitation center)”; he was very good at trading useful info with his inmates in exchange for favors.
These tokens—this currency that bought me a life here—are no good where I’m going, and for reasons I can’t put into words, I want to give him (Martin) this one thing. But the rules of unconditional friendship are foreign here. Trades keep us balanced. Favors tip the scales. If I don’t ask for something in return, he’ll doubt my motives.

Of course, they didn’t know how he did it so people talked. People bet. People assumed whoever appeared in the visitation room to be his secret sources outside, which narrowed down to only 2 girls—Pink, the one who knew so much more about him than anyone else…without asking anything in return, and Vivian, the warden’s daughter as well as the second person out there who believed his innocence in the murder of Ms. Cruz—and made it easier for the real killer of Ms. Cruz to get rid of his key to ultimate freedom.

The main reason I loved about this book was because of the intense atmosphere the author created and it only got stronger and stronger as we came close to the end. The mystery was solved, the truth was unveiled and the dead did speak for themselves. I enjoyed looking for more clues with Smoke and helped him put the pieces he gathered into the right spot in the puzzle. Since I’ve never read anything mystery or suspense, this was also the first time I experienced such excitement when more and more traces were found. There were anonymous phone calls, mysterious cellphone numbers, unlisted license plate number & addresses, packages tracking, drug dealings, confiscated weapons trading, hired hit men, innocent witnesses…and the list went on and on. If you thought these elements were enthralling enough then you’d be astonished when I told you there was a touch of romance in a corrupted, hectic world like the Y. See, what’s not to love about this book now?

I wouldn’t finish praising for this book without mentioning how heartfelt and touching Smoke and Pink’s relationship was.
”What are you doing here?” It’s the same question I asked her that night we talked in the break room. I’d only had two questions to trade, and this one had felt like a waste. But somewhere between then and now, I stopped counting.

Technically, they weren’t together like an ordinary couple did but somehow, they managed to hold on to that unbreakable thread between them and successfully sought the justice and freedom they deserved. Their bond was beyond magical to me. *hands down*

Finally, the ending was just…beautiful.
Down the beach, I see her. Pink looks up at the stars and starts spinning.

I’d tell you that the wrong was righted, some good people died and some bad people were still alive but in the end, it was our own belief that mattered. It was all in our heads. Even in such corrupted society like the Y or another juvenile probation center, there were good guys like Ben, Martin, Vivian and Pink. So maybe the world wasn’t completely hopeless at all.

Enough said, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book to everyone! Holding Smoke is a book that’ll capture your attention from the first page until the end. It’s also a book that’ll get you thinking and thinking twice before making decisions. Since I couldn’t say better than the author’s note at the end of the book, I’d just cite a part of it as the end of this review:
”Complexity of character makes a crime drama more compelling and a mystery more difficult to solve. If readers are spoon-fed watered-down versions of heroes and villains, the answers become obvious and they’re left with nothing to chew.

When I sit down and write a mystery, my goal is to make readers think. I want them to question their presuppositions. I want them to doubt themselves until the very last page. Sometimes, that means turning our universal belief systems—right and wrong, good and bad, wicked and just—on their heads.

When we all strip down to what makes us universally human, telling the good guys from the bad guys isn’t always so clean-cut.”
Profile Image for TL .
1,876 reviews53 followers
May 21, 2016
3.5 stars

"I have no connections. Not inside. Not outside. Hell, half the time I can't stay connected to my self. But reputation is everything, and if people think I've got eyes and ears outside, and they're willing to trade for it, so be it. Ever since I got here, people've been speculating. Wondering how I'm able to know all these things I know. They cling to the most logical explanations, even if they can't prove them."

I think about what the warden said, about how we all have scars. How as long as we're breathing, we all have choices left to make.

The cover and summary for this immediately caught my eye, and on a whim I added it to my wishlist... thanks Shaun for getting this for my birthday :).

Anyway, for most of this book I was in love. The writing is great. and the atmosphere and characters are done well. You could feel the underlying tension and danger in the air as John went about his daily routine and traded in the information that kept life tolerable, if not comfortable, inside the Y.

The idea of John being able to leave his body but not leave the prison was fascinating to me... the idea of more of his threads holding himself to his body snapping each time he leaves it was as well, imbuing (right word) his time with a sense of a ticking clock... him never knowing (and not really caring) when the last thread will snap and he won't come back at all.

Things start to change when he meets Pink, the only one who can see and talk to him.

LOVED Pink, she was tough, kind, honest, and resourceful... I liked that she kept fighting and didn't give up on, on John or herself. I felt for the girl and her circumstances, but proud that she was doing the best she could with what she had to work with.

The plot itself is slow in places but I wasn't bored.. this is a steady paced novel for most of it and the mystery unfolds bit by bit. How everything was connected at the end was clever I thought, but also a bit rushed as everything came together at the end.

How? Well, the "villain" of story, while making sense, it felt very sudden how fast it revealed who who he was. On one hand, there was no obvious hint (for me) beforehand and I give the author points for that but it also felt... not contrived or unbelievable but... just not a smooth transition maybe? Still doesn't sound right to me but it's close.

Smoke's plan to get out was clever (and his "friendship" with Ben had me smiling) but parts of it felt too easy, ya know?

The ending, while exciting, was sort of anti-climatic for me. Breathing a sigh of relief on one hand, while with the other kind of scratching my head. Points to a certain character though, good one after all.

That epilogue: Bleh, not horrible and while a certain part of it I did like... it felt unnecessary for the most part.

Romance?: a little, it's in the background for the most part you hardly notice it.

Despite my quibbles with it, this was a very enjoyable book.. would recommend.

Re-read worthy? Hmm... perhaps, we shall see.

Writing: 4 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Plot - 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Carrie.
3,221 reviews1,560 followers
April 30, 2016
John "Smoke" Conlan is serving time at a juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y. He was convicted of two murders, that of his English teacher and another boy but he wasn't the one that had actually killed his teacher and hadn't meant to kill the boy either.

Smoke has one thing different about himself that the others in the center don't have. He is not always locked up, he has the ability to do what is known as astral projection or have an out of body experience and move around freely outside of his cell and outside of the Y.

Smoke has spent his time traveling outside of his body doing favors and tasks for other inmates to ease his own time in lock up. One day though he meets Pink who can actually see him and who wants to help Smoke clear his name.

Reading the synopsis of Holding Smoke I was really quite intrigued but a little hesitant on whether I'd enjoy this story or not. I'm not a big fan of the character being locked up type of story but with the use of astral projection being thrown into the mix I was wondering how the story would turn out if he wasn't quite locked up the whole read. In the end I'm glad I picked this one up as it's certainly different from your normal type of fantasy/paranormal read but also easily falls into the mystery/thriller genre.

Smoke's ability to be able to travel despite his incarceration led so much life into the story of someone being innocent but convicted and behind bars. Smoke's able to get outside and investigate what had happened to himself but also his prison life adds in a lot of twists and turns and things mixed into the plot that a reader should find themselves completely engaged.

Overall, certainly a bit different and interesting read that mixes genres which I usually quite enjoy.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.wordpress....
Profile Image for Maria Angelica.
365 reviews342 followers
May 4, 2016
Thank you NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for providing me with and eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book was a lovely surprise. I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. Maybe because I haven't read a YA mystery novel before that was as well done as this one was. Usually the answers come so easily to the main characters, but in this one they did not. At least I didn't think they did. I enjoyed how everything was connected and how it all came together in the end. The only thing that bothered me about the whole book was that some pieces of the mystery seemed a little convenient to the plot. Fortunately it wasn't bad enough to bring me out of the story. It wasn't super hard to figure out the truth about what happened to John, but that was because I expected to be the way it was, not because the book lead me there. I thought the author did a really good job of hiding the clues and foreshadowing how the book was going to end. More inexperienced readers will probably be surprised by it.
The book being set in a rehabilitation center for youth offenders was very interesting. The Y scenes were the best of the book in my opinion. I like seeing the intricacies of inmate relationships and how it works inside. I don't really know if it was a real portrayal, but I thought the way it was written complemented the story overall.
John was an amazing main character. Although I didn't feel he had a significant personal development throughout the book, I really liked him. He made me cheer for his story and its outcome. I also liked that Elle Cosimano wasn't afraid to show real consequences for his actions. I didn't exactly agree with his final decision and thought it was very "teenagy", but I understand why he made it considering all he's been through in the past.
Pink was also pretty cool, but she didn't have an enough significant role in the story as I wanted her to have. Mostly she just guided John through the supernatural part of the story and in the end she was just a girl who needed rescuing and that doesn't sit really well with me. I hope in the second book (because the book does end in a sort of a cliffhanger and I hope there is more) she will have a more significant impact in the story than she did this time around.
The boys at the Y were all really interesting too. I liked that both sides were shown, the "bad" seeds and the one time offenders. I loved that it was also shown that deep down they were all scared and damaged kids trying to show the world that were tough. Of course Ben was my favorite.
Ultimately this book was about the mystery of what happened to John and why he ended up in the Y. That left little space to actually develop the characters more than I would have liked, but Elle Cosimano did a very good job of establishing them that I cared about them enough to keep rooting for them until the end. There are a few problems overall, but nothing that I couldn't get passed because of the amazing pacing and excitement of the story.
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,721 reviews260 followers
October 2, 2021
I'm so glad I just happened to stumble upon Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano second hand. I hadn't heard of it at all before, but its description really caught my eye. Luckily, I can say that it's well worth your time. The writing style and the characters are the real standouts. The author's note at the end is also a must read. Now I need to read everything else by this author as soon as possible.
Profile Image for T.J. Burns.
Author 83 books44 followers
May 8, 2019
Gripping, exciting, well-written, Holding Smoke pulled me right in and wouldn't let me go. I had a stake in not only the main character's, but also in all the quirky side characters' lives. I wanted to know more, I needed to know more. What an unusual and creative premise!

The writing is excellent! I felt like I can really get a grasp of the people and the places.

I could really identify with John Conlan, the main character. He is a very "real," identifiable character, with all his strengths and flaws. On the inside he's a good guy. His protective shell that he has built around him is not the real him, but an artificial shell built for the purpose of self-preservation.

I was fully invested in John's story -- I wanted to know his back story, I wanted to know what happened to get him where he is. I liked Candy too -- tough, yet vulnerable. Brooks, Haggett, Somerville, Simpson, Rickers -- all interesting characters -- I wanted to know more about all of them.

So suspenseful! I grabbed on to every clue as it was dropped, right up until the creative and exciting climax!

TJ's Time Travel Tips:

I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

BUDDY READ:Paranormal/Fantasy > Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano - Starting June 11th 2016
Profile Image for ᒪᗴᗩᕼ .
1,557 reviews152 followers
January 25, 2020
A ghost and a medium walk into a bar...

Book Title: Holding Smoke
Author: Elle Cosimano
Series: Stand Alone
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Source: ARC received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
☆My Pick for Book Theme Song: The Light by Disturbed --For Smoke…

Ratings Breakdown

Plot: 5/5
Characters: 4.8/5
The Feels: 4.5/5
Theme: 5/5
Flow: 4.3/5
Backdrop (World Building): 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Book Cover: 5/5
Ending: 5/5 Cliffhanger: No

Will I read more from this Author? Yes I will.

4.7/5 STARS

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this because it wasn't bogged down with a silly romance (not that I don't like romance, it's just not what this is about) and overly descriptive prose, it just told a unique story of a kid who died for several minutes. While dead he experienced an "out of body" ghostlike existence. Once he was revived he eventually discovered when he was sleeping he could still be his ghostlike self. From there the story ensues…with definite paranormal "I See Dead People" elements to it, and a healthy dose of mystery, this story is eerily satisfying.

*As a side note: I've never received an arc that was so full of typos with odd paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences. I hope the version that they sell is better than mine, because it really made it difficult to read at times.

Sex Factor: Not even a factor.
Profile Image for AnarchyReads.
124 reviews23 followers
October 26, 2020
Cool concept, the suggestion that we are tethered to our physical self is interesting. I enjoyed it enough... save for one of the characters names being 'Pink', that triggered me for some reason, haha.. but in all a good, easy read.
Profile Image for Kahea.
2,067 reviews111 followers
May 4, 2016
The cover was the lure and the description was the hook, because who wouldn’t be interested to find out more about a person who could travel outside of their body at will? Add that on to the fact that I’d never read anything by Elle Cosimano and I was more than happy to bite and see what came of it and am very happy that I did. Holding Smoke is an entertaining mystery/suspense story with just a dash of fantasy mixed into it with a cast of interesting characters that kept me turning the page until the very end.

My heart broke for Jon and what he’d been through in his short life. The saying ‘Life isn’t fair.” definitely applies here. He’s that kid that has the potential to become so much more, but just never seems to catch a break, whether it’s by his own making or those stumbling into his life. But what I liked about Jon was that though he knows he is innocent he doesn’t rage at the world for the unfairness of it all. This isn’t to say that he isn’t angry to some degree, but he doesn’t let himself become bitter. He adjusts, resigns himself to the world he lives in and uses his newly acquired skill of ‘traveling’ to make his life a little easier on the inside. Everything is going along as it should be until he stumbles across Pink and his world goes sideways.

Jon’s story, from start to finish, was very well done. I enjoyed the writing style and liked being in Jon’s head, the story is done in solo 1st person POV, as he navigated his way through the Y and beyond. The twists and turns in this book seriously kept me on toes. At one point I thought I had it all figured out, but no I didn’t and had a total WTF moment when Ms. Cosimano pulled the rug out from under me and can do nothing but applaud her for it. I felt that she did a great job at keeping the world she’s created honest and realistic. The cast of characters gave the story a lot of depth and I actually found myself wishing there was an epilogue, or a companion novella of shorts where we find out the fates of the kids, and even the adults, that were with Jon in the Y.

~ ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review ~
Profile Image for Roxanne.
1,052 reviews54 followers
November 3, 2016
I loved every minute of this book. Totally didn't see the twists at all. Kind of sad it's a standalone.
Profile Image for Danielle Fox.
47 reviews17 followers
March 29, 2016
2.5 stars.

This is a tough one to review. I loved the premise of the book as well as the setting but it just did not quite hit the mark for me.

Smoke is an inmate at the Y, a juvenile rehabilitation center, for murdering two people. And herein lies my biggest problem with book. This kid murders two people, one he openly admits to, and he isn't bound over to district court? What judge decided that this kid should not be tried as an adult for murder? The author does kind of write a reason as to why they were lenient but I just did not buy it. I should note that I am a Criminal Justice college student so I probably thought about this book a little differently than most.

The aim of this book is to show that people are not what they seem. Bad guys can be good and good guys can be bad. So while I enjoyed the storytelling the author used to make the point, I kind of found the book to be dragged out. The middle chapters were just uninteresting and I really had to force myself to keep reading through it. The end got mildly better but then the epilogue just was terrible. It was so bad I actually wish there had not been anything there at all.

So while I probably wouldn't recommend this book it isn't terrible and I can see how many would enjoy it, just not me.

~ARC provided by Net Galley and Disney Book Group for an honest review.
Profile Image for Eden Grey.
295 reviews65 followers
May 23, 2016
Elle Cosimano once again blows it out of the water with her latest paranormal mystery, HOLDING SMOKE. John "Smoke" Conlan was accused of two murders - one of which he didn't commit. Still a criminal doing time at a juvenile detention center known as the "Y", Smoke is trying to recover from being murdered by his father.

That's right, John Smoke Conlan was murdered. Six minutes later, he came back to life. Ever since then, Smoke has been able to travel outside his body, and he uses this new ability to gather information on his prison-mates to trade for favors. This leads Smoke to meet "Pink", a tough girl working night shift at a bar, the only person who can see his ghostly form. When new evidence comes to light that might help clear Smoke's name, he enlists Pink's help, and they become entwined in a web of secrets and danger.

A masterfully crafted thriller that will keep you guessing until literally the very last page, Smoke's story is thrilling, raw, and gritty. The paranormal twist gives HOLDING SMOKE a unique edge all its own, and Cosimano's superb writing will keep readers turning the pages long into the night. I highly recommend it for fans of mysteries and thrillers
Profile Image for Jessica (a GREAT read).
1,687 reviews101 followers
January 9, 2023
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
Profile Image for Tanvi.
135 reviews24 followers
June 14, 2017
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 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.

Oh my god. This story was so sweet and mysterious and dark with touches of romance and fear mixed in. I loved the entire story and especially, I loved Elle Cosimano's Author's Note. The afterword and her note shed light on how there is a very fine line between good and evil and those who seem good may be evil and vice versa. This thrilling adventure left me with goosebumps and I could not put this down till the very end.
January 18, 2018
Have you ever been accused of something that wasn’t your fault? Well I’m going to tell you about someone that may have been too, in the book Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano. The genre of the book is paranormal fiction.
The book Holding Smoke is about someone named John “Smoke” Conlan and his journey through his different way of living. In the book John is in jail for being suspected of killing two people. He says that he isn’t responsible for killing people and didn’t mean to kill the only witness. John isn’t like every other prisoner in the rehabilitation center he’s placed in. John can leave his physical body whenever he feels like it and go outside of the rehabilitation center. He goes outside of the center to explore and find information about himself and information other inmates want to know. John goes through life in the center not really caring or seeing a future until a girl named “Pink” comes along. Pink views John like nobody else does. She views him for who and what he is. John then goes on a journey to find out who the true killer is. But on his journey he uncovers a web of lies and corruption that put him in jail. John has to decide for himself and for Pink if he should continue forward and risk his life or back down. John and Pink were brave and determined people.
I would give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would rate it this because there were times throughout the book that I got uninterested. The book overall was pretty good I just like the constant drama of something happening to keep me entertained. I loved the format of the story and how it was wrote.
Profile Image for Vedika.
69 reviews1 follower
October 8, 2017
A bit hard to follow at times, but really good nonetheless.
Profile Image for Emily Oleniczak.
124 reviews9 followers
June 19, 2018
What an awesome book about self-worth and that sometimes, especially if you have people in your life that care about you, you can escape and rise above your circumstances. The passages about the abuse "Smoke" goes through and his deep belief his life isn't worth anything, much less saving, are hard to read but necessary. Well-written story line and atmosphere. The scenes where he's traveling as "smoke" separated from his body are perfectly eerie.
Male narrator, mystery, a baby bit of romance, and the importance of friendship = a good recommendation to any teen!
Profile Image for Ryley (Ryley Reads).
971 reviews76 followers
August 11, 2017
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a eARC of this book for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.

Going into this book, I wasn't really too sure what to expect. I knew that it was about a boy who was living out his sentence in a juvenile detention centre, called the Y, for the murder of his English teacher, and the boy who witnessed the murder. However, the main character John "Smoke" tries desperately to prove he didn't kill his teacher, and the other murder was in self defence.

John has the ability to leave his body, temporarily, and ghost around. It's how he gets his intel at the Y without a source, and how he got sent there in the first place. Now, before you start thinking this is a little nutty, you need to understand the backstory. A few years ago, John was killed by his father. He was an abusive alcoholic and was demanding money that John didn't have, so he hit John in the head with a plumbers wrench. John was declared dead for 6 minutes. During this time, his soul/spirit left his body, but there were too many threads. Threads pulling him up and away, mostly, but also some threads pulling him back to his body. In the end, he went back to his body and lived. So basically, because of this experience, he learned how to step out of his body, temporarily.

On one of his nights collecting info, John stumbles across a girl from his days in school, Candace, or as she's known because if her wig, Pink. Except, instead of just passing through him like everyone else, Pink can see him.

Soon, they start working together to try and find the hooded man who actually killed the teacher, because John be a lot of things, but one of them isn't crazy. He didn't make up the hooded figure to relieve himself of the guilt, like his psychologist says, he's real and he's running free.

I really enjoyed this story, it was fast paced and very unique to what I usually read. I don't know if I've read many books that take place in a detention centre, and it was really interesting to see the inner workings of the inmates minds, and how the social hierarchy was constructed. Everyone was constantly worrying about favours and who owed someone something. Nothing was free in their world.

I did really like the portrayal of the inmates, however. They were convicted of anything from breaking and entering, assault, arson all the way up to murder. But you could see that while they were considered criminals, most of them were just boys who were stuck in a bad spot. Stealing to help pay to get their mom away from the alcoholic boyfriend, finally snapping one night and setting their house on fire with their abusive stepdad inside. While some were cold-blooded killers, many were just decent human beings who just made a mistake. I really appreciated the authors portrayal, in the author's note, she mentions that she herself was the daughter of a warden, and was able to see people like the boys in this book in a different light.

I was trying to figure out who the hooded man was for most of the novel. There were points, at the beginning, where there wasn't really any suspects to go on. But as things progressed, you could narrow it down a bit more. I did think though, once we got the suspect, that was him. He was such a perfect suspect, I definitely thought it was him. I was shocked at first, but then everything started clicking. Next thing we know, it's someone completely different!

The ending definitely kept me on the edge of my seat, I had no clue what was going on, and how things would turn out. Was John going to go to a retrial? Would his final threads snap, leaving him stuck in the in-between? So many questions.

A couple things I didn't like in the story, Vivian trying help John, I just felt like that was a weird thing to add in, Pink was already helping him so we didn't really need Vivian, and the epilogue. Most times, I'm all for the epilogue, even asking for it at the end of a book, and maybe I would have with this one too, but I just felt like it was a little unnecessary. John made his decision at the end of the book, I didn't think we needed to see how that was playing out a few months later.

Overall, however, I did really enjoy this book. It offered some insight into the world of places like the Y and the minds of those who are in them.
Profile Image for Ishita.
143 reviews5 followers
November 2, 2016
(Review first posted on bookmyopia/wordpress)

I havent read too many YA books which just have that slight touch of paranormal. The few I have read recently have been disappointing especially a couple of them which are about mind-body-soul because the book somehow ends up reading like religious fiction instead of what was promised in the synopsis. Thankfully, Holding Smoke not just lives up to what is promised in the cover blurb, but also exceeds it by miles.

No aspect of the book threatens to eclipse the other – the murder mystery complements beautifully with the human stories of the inmates. That’s a rarity in mystery books with a sizeable secondary cast – where sub-plots often tend to test your patience and make you question their need. But here, you actually do enjoy and empathize with everyone – with all their background stories that have been added cleverly into the book through Conlan’s paranormal power. I loved all the prison scenes, there was no unnecessary amped up melodrama but yet it is so effective – whether it is the counseling sessions or the power play in the yard. I feel like this is probably one of the biggest strengths of the book – to never lose sight of the fact that this is a juvenile rehab and NOT an adult prison. No matter how “hardened” they might be because of the circumstances, their vulnerabilities as teens are always bubbling beneath the surface.

I loved how we got the background story of how Conlan ended up in the detention center. The author takes her time to build it up gradually – whether it is the details of the fateful day or nuggets from his earlier difficult years with his abusive father. Conlan’s life is a template of childhood degraded, a present devalued and a future lost – A future that had a college degree and a well-paying job. This is also the story shared by a lot of characters at the center. Of course, if you are lucky you might have an empathetic warden or a counselor taking an interest in you and reinforcing the belief that you can finish your education and making something of your life once you get out. But no inmate seriously believes it.

There is no romance in this book. What Conlan and Pink have between them is more of a strained-friendship-with-romantic potential and that’s a good thing because both have a lot of things going on in their individual lives. Pink is practical and gosh – just so gutsy! Not some wannabe badass. Conlan initially seeks her out because he needs her help but later does start valuing her and respecting the life she leads. He also feels like he is losing out on someone important to him when turns her away at one point in the story. Despite his feelings for her, I liked how Conlan never turns reckless in using his paranormal ability just to meet her.

I really liked the murder mystery though I guessed the “who” halfway through the book. But I think it is more due to the fact that I have gotten pretty good at guesswork than anything else. I couldn’t guess the “why” though. I also liked all the red herrings the author used and explained in the final pages. The only issue I had is probably the presence of another girl – Vivian – in the story. I felt like the book didn’t really need her. I think any other existing character(s) could have contributed whatever she did to the story. But it is a pretty minor gripe and well, I understood why she was there once I read the Author’s Note in the end. (Do read that once you finish the book!!! You will find some great personal insights there.)

There is an epilogue that I felt was not required. I got my closure even without that. Well, with or without the epilogue, it was such a bittersweet conclusion and an immensely satisfying one.
May 24, 2022
this is my second time reading this book and its still amazing, i picked up some details i missed the first time and it made me like it even more, i love the concept and the ending isn't disappointing. great book 10/10
Profile Image for Suzanne (Under the Covers Book blog).
1,732 reviews543 followers
September 26, 2016

I am not normally a fan of Young Adult, it isn’t that I avoid it, it’s just that when I read the blurb it doesn’t tend to capture my attention. However, the combination of the intriguing blurb and fantastic cover of Elle Cosimano’s Holding Smoke had me eagerly waiting its arrival on my kindle. It tells the tale of John “Smoke” Conlan who has been wrongly jailed for murder. But, he has the unusual ability that allows his spirit to leave his body and roam the world. Which, is a talent he uses to his advantage to get an advantage whilst locked up.

It can sometimes be the case that a good cover and a well written blurb can mislead you about the contents, I am pleased to say I found this wasn’t the case with Holding Smoke. It managed to grip me from beginning to end and had me immediately looking up Elle Cosimano for more of her books.

What I really liked about Holding Smoke was John’s character from whom’s POV the story was told from. He hasn’t had an easy life, in fact life has pretty much beat the shit out of him and landed him behind bars. And yet, unlike other heroes, of which there are many, he doesn’t turn in to angsty, broody mess, or atleast he does it just enough to be attractive and not slap-worthy. This book was centred around the mystery of the murder that John had supposedly committed and with the aid of Pink, a girl John used to go to school with, they manage to uncover the truth.

Admittedly, the truth wasn’t that hard to figure out once you got a few of the facts, which is pretty much the only reason why this book hasn’t got 5 stars. The interesting parts of the book was John’s interactions in the Y (the facility he was kept in) and the friendships, as well as enemies, that he had there. I would also have liked to have seen more of Pink and John, I would liked her to have been a stronger presence in the book, although admittedly that may have been hard to achieve given their physical locations.

If you’re looking for a YA mystery with a hint of paranormal and a romance then you need to pick this up. Actually scratch that, I recommend you give this book a try no matter what genre you are looking for, it’s a fantastic read that will keep you interested until the end.
Profile Image for Melliott.
1,447 reviews81 followers
August 22, 2022
This was a great book! I picked it up because of the setting--juvenile hall. While I was in library school, a group of us started book-talking groups at the local juvenile detention center, and my friend Lisa and I ran a group in one of the four maximum security units for more than two years. Cosimano really had the setting, the interpersonal relations and interactions, and the rhythms of the place down in this book. I felt like I was back there, but with a new group of kids.

This is a paranormal mystery, but it's also gritty realistic fiction in some ways, so it will either appeal to a broad group or a narrow group, depending on what they're looking for. Hopefully it will be broad. The readers who want romantic characters with special powers won't necessarily go for this--but they could, they might, they should! Those who want gritty fiction may scoff at the paranormal element, but I think it adds to, rather than taking away from, the story. And mystery readers may appreciate a radically different setting and group of characters behind their conundrum.

The main character, John "Smoke" Conlan, has the ability to "travel" out of his body through astral projection--he can leave his body behind in the prison and go out into the world, tethered to his body by ever-thinning "threads" that help him snap back when his adventure is over. There's sort of a romance, but it's not sappy--he meets a girl who can see him (and who can see the lingering dead as well) because she's a medium, and he feels fond of and protective of her, but it doesn't go much beyond that. There's a mystery--who actually killed Smoke's beloved teacher, since it wasn't him, even though he was convicted of the murder? And there are the day-to-day interactions of young men in prison, which create additional tension and suspense.

Certain elements of the story were a bit convenient, yes, straining belief; but everything is satisfactorily explained in the end, and I was willing to go with it, because it was in such an attractive package--evocative writing, good character development, lots of action but also some life philosophy. It's not surprising (as I discovered in the author notes) that Ellen Hopkins was the author's mentor.
Completely held up on second read.
Review: https://bookadept.com/2022/08/19/veri...
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
April 21, 2016
Copy received courtesy of NetGalley

There are several subjects I don’t like to read fiction about, and prison life is right up near the top of the list. But the description of this book intrigued me, and it was also billed as YA, which meant (I hoped) it wouldn’t be a long string of rapes and torture-deaths.

Well, I’m so glad I went for it—what a gripping read.

The first person narrator is John “Smoke” Conlen, called Smoke in the juvenile detention center he’s incarcerated in because he seems to be able to get info from the outside, but no one can find his contacts. All his fellow inmates know is that his father killed him, he was brought back to life, and after he got out of the hospital he killed the teacher who’d been helping him, and another boy.

Except he didn’t kill the teacher. And no one believes him, until on his out-of-body trips brings him to Pink, a girl working at a grundjy bar. Pink, his age, can see him—her grandmother was better at dealing with ghosts. She’s exasperated by them, and at first wants nothing to do with Smoke.

But after a rough start they form a tentative friendship, and as she begins to believe him, she tries to help him discover the read murderer—thereby putting them both in a world of dangers.

The characters were complex, the storyline evoking the anger that physical and emotional abuse raises, without ever getting preachy. This fast-paced, unflinching story resonates with questions about justice, truth, perceptions . . . and redemption.

I might come back and discuss this book more after it comes out, but spoiler territory is right off the table now until it has been published. A terrific read.
Profile Image for Annette.
900 reviews14 followers
June 28, 2016
HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano is a heart-pounding, young adult fantasy thriller.

After a near death experience, Smoke finds that he’s able to leave his body as a ghost and move among people without their knowledge. Behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Smoke uses this special ability to gather information that can keep him alive in the youth detention facility while also seeking clues that could set him free.

Librarians will find that complex character development, compelling plot twists, and interesting use of Smoke’s abilities will drawn in lovers of suspense as well as those who simply enjoy a good story. While the detention facility is portrayed more as a maximum security prison than a youth rehabilitation center, young adult readers will enjoy this fast-paced suspense. This selection will be very popular among teen boys, but will also appeal to young women who enjoy the hint of romance.

To learn more about the author, go to http://ellecosimano.com/.

Published by Disney-Hyperion on May 3, 2016. ARC courtesy of the publisher.
36 reviews
November 7, 2016
When I first started reading Holding Smoke, I thought I wouldn't like it--another story about a kid in prison, wrongly accused or not, here he is. But each night as I read a little more, I became fascinated with John Conlon's life, his mystical adventures, his relationship with others. I also appreciated Elle Cosimano's writing style. Each word seemed to fit perfectly. Each thread of the story was connected to other threads until there was a tapestry of a philosophy of life and love, with which I totally agree. We are complicated beings and one act does not define us.
I am going to buy enough copies of this book to have a book club group with my eighth graders. I am going to give it for Christmas presents to my daughter and son-in-law who are part of a prison ministry. I am telling everyone I know to read it.
And I'm getting my hands on all of Cosimano's books. I can hardly wait to read them all.
3,916 reviews111 followers
October 11, 2016
John "Smoke" Conlan is serving time in a dangerous juvenile rehabilitation, as he was convicted of two murders. A near death experience has left Smoke with a particular skill, one that has helped him to curry favor with those in power at the facility. When his involvement in the lives of others results in danger, will Smoke's luck run out?

Having not read the author's note until after reading Holding Smoke, I was struck by how much that she has taken from her own life. The details in the book that I thought were the most fictionalized were, in fact, a reflection of her experiences as the daughter of a warden. I really like Smoke and would love to see him return in another book. The paranormal touches make Holding Smoke unique and I would recommend it to readers who like YA paranormal suspense.
55 reviews5 followers
March 22, 2016
Holding smoke had the coolest premise to a YA novel. A boy who "died" can turn into smoke.
He is in a rehab centre known as the Y.
I loved the connection between Pink and Smoke. I felt that their interactions were realistic as well as the others who are in the centre.
I didn't like her use of swear words, I found them out of place and they didn't flow with the story that well. I know it sounds silly but they weren't natural they were very placed.
The story didn't flow too well there were some clunky bits to it, but a very interesting story!
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