Title: The Forest Demands Its Due
Author: Kosoko Jackson
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Review Copy: ARC by publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: Regent Academy has a long and storied history in Winslow, Vermont, as does the forest that surrounds it. The school is known for molding teens into leaders, but its history is far more nefarious.
Seventeen-year-old Douglas Jones wants nothing to do with Regent’s king-making; he’s just trying to survive. But then a student is murdered and, for some reason, by the next day no one remembers him having ever existed, except for Douglas and the groundskeeper’s son, Everett Everley. In his determination to uncover the truth, Douglas awakens a horror hidden within the forest, unearthing secrets that have been buried for centuries. A vengeful creature wants blood as payment for a debt more than 300 years in the making—or it will swallow all of Winslow in darkness.
And for the first time in his life, Douglas might have a chance to grasp the one thing he’s always felt was power. But if he’s not careful, he will find out that power has a tendency to corrupt absolutely everything.
Review: There has been a fun trend of Black YA horror being published and I am here for it. Kosoko Jackson’s newest novel, “The Forest Demands Its Due” is another book to add to the list of fantastic horror being written by Black authors for Black teens. This twisty story is not so much scary (at least to me) but feels more like a funky thriller with ghosts, a creepy forest, a curse that needs to be broken, and a mystery that needs to be solved. There is so much going on in this novel but not once does it feel overwhelming. Jackson did such a wonderful job with the world building that all the different elements work together to create a seamless narrative. I was definitely into Douglas’s journey as he discovers his power.
Douglas’s story starts out as a classic fish out of water where he is a relatively new student at an ultra exclusive private high school. After experiencing a tragedy, he is “recruited”, in a way, to the school and his mother given a job as the school nurse. As a Black Queer he doesn’t fit in and experiences bullying, but is trying to make the best of it because he knows “this is a great opportunity and he’s special.” (Yes, the racist undertones are there and are explicitly implied throughout the story.) Douglas does have a sweet heart and when he witnesses a student death that no one seems to remember the next day, he becomes determined to find out why. Douglas ends up at the Headmaster’s office who tells Douglas how special he really is and that Douglas is the key to ending the town’s curse. Douglas is clearly skeptical but goes along anyways and thus is brought into this world where nothing is as it seems. Douglas talks to ghosts, monster things, a god, and is able to wield earthen magic. Through it all though, and this is what I really liked about the novel, is Douglas’s good nature as he is exposed to all the weirdness. He has such a good heart and is always thinking of helping and protecting others. It was never to his detriment, but allowed him to fully tap into his power. I like that he was true to himself throughout the entire story and that is what made him so strong.
Another aspect of this novel that I greatly enjoyed was its social commentary. The racist micro-aggressions that Douglas experiences is not shied away from, nor is the implied racism. Douglas makes note of it as well as the bigotry that he experiences. Even the reason for the curse is a statement on society and also propels Douglas as he tries to end the curse. I would say more but that would be giving away spoilers and this review has been hard to write without giving away spoilers as there are a number of twist and turns that makes “The Forest Demands Its Due” so interesting.