Book Review: She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran
This house eats and is eaten . . .
“A riveting debut from a remarkable new voice! Trang Thanh Tran weaves an impressive gothic mystery in which Jade’s father is determined to restore a decrepit home to its former glory and Jade is the only person who feels the soul-crushing devastation of colonialism lingering within its walls.” —Angeline Boulley, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Firekeeper’s Daughter
A House with a terrifying appetite haunts a broken family in this atmospheric horror, perfect for fans of Mexican Gothic.
When Jade Nguyen arrives in Vietnam for a visit with her estranged father, she has one goal: survive five weeks pretending to be a happy family in the French colonial house Ba is restoring. She’s always lied to fit in, so if she’s straight enough, Vietnamese enough, American enough, she can get out with the college money he promised.
But the house has other plans. Night after night, Jade wakes up paralyzed. The walls exude a thrumming sound while bugs leave their legs and feelers in places they don’t belong. She finds curious traces of her ancestors in the gardens they once tended. And at night Jade can’t ignore the ghost of the beautiful bride who leaves cryptic warnings: Don’t eat.
Neither Ba nor her sweet sister Lily believe that there is anything strange happening. With help from a delinquent girl, Jade will prove this house—the home they have always wanted—will not rest until it destroys them. Maybe, this time, she can keep her family together. As she roots out the house’s rot, she must also face the truth of who she is and who she must become to save them all.
Look at that cover. How could I not read this book? It’s not a genre I gravitate toward naturally, though I do spend most of my days having little kids ask me where all the scary and creepy books are. And this one is creepy, both in an atmospheric sense and in a very literal sense (beware if you have phobias about bugs).
Jade is begrudging visiting her father in Vietnam. She needs money for college, he has it, so there’s the deal. But not only does she have to deal with her estranged father, there’s this house he’s renovating and they’re staying at. It’s weird. It’s big and still rather decrepit, practically being swallowed by foliage around it. It has bad vibes. And, okay, a creepy weird house with a parent you can’t stand doesn’t sound like an amazing summer, but it could be worse. And don’t worry! It DOES get worse! How about some sleep paralysis? And nightmares! And ghosts! Or something other than ghosts! How about bugs! SO MANY BUGS! How about the fact that the creepy old house is a sentient part of the story, having its own little chapters interspersed between Jade’s?
But, fun fact, her dad totally ignores all of Jade’s concerns about the house being haunted. So she takes over doing some haunting of her own, to try to get her dad and sister to see that the house is haunted. She teams up with Florence, the niece of her dad’s business partner, who she maybe can’t stand or maybe has a crush on. Florence’s attitude about the potentially haunted house? As she repeatedly says, aliens are real, so why not ghosts? Haunting a haunted house—seems like a solid plan. But there’s a big difference between a few pranks and a real haunting, so Jade had better watch out. Who is haunting whom? Who is hunting whom? Who is eating whom? Just normal, regular questions that are not upsetting or weird or creepy at all, right?
The writing in this book is just so amazing. Here is this setting, this house, that has to carry the whole story, and it does. I can picture the rooms, I can feel the stifling heat, I am right there with Jade just wanting to rip open a window so she can breathe a little. It’s a book that at first glance is maybe just about a haunting, but is about so much more: families, colonialism, identity, history, generational trauma, and all of the complexities that come with those issues. It’s also about the rather complex questions of if a ghost should be your only friend and if you should trust ghosts.
Come for the cover, stay for the spooky story full of atmospheric weirdness, ghosts, and bugs. Don’t forget the bugs.
A great read especially if you like things that leave you completely unsettled.
Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/28/2023
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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