I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Trang Tranh Tran’s YA debut She is a Haunting. Read on for my review!
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 her cryptic warnings: Don’t eat.
Neither Ba nor her sweet sister Lily believes that there is anything strange happening. With help from a delinquent girl, Jade will prove this house—the home her family has 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.
Trang Thanh Tran’s She is a Haunting is an atmospheric, gothic novel that goes beyond just its haunted house setting to explore themes of colonialism, family, and identity.
First of all, this book is well-written horror, with a unique setting in an old, colonial house where Jade’s family used to be servants that her estranged father is now fixing up. With infectious plants and insects and a potential ghost bride, there’s plenty here for horror lovers and the poetic and vivid writing adds to the feeling of unease as we explore the house through Jade’s eyes.
Trang Thanh Tran does a great job of connecting the body horror tropes they include in the story with the bigger themes of colonialism and self-determination in the novel. The picture painted of the sweltering summer heat in Vietnam only adds to the feeling that something is closing in on Jade the longer she spends there.
But beyond creating a creepy atmosphere and plot, this book also does what the best horror stories do: force the reader to reflect on their own beliefs and fears through scary imagery. When Jade travels to visit her father in Vietnam, she is struggling to reconcile her Vietnamese and American identities, as well as hiding her bisexuality from her family. The feelings of paralysis and claustrophobia in this book mirror Jade’s internal struggles as she feels trapped by family dynamics and the history of the house. The infestations of plants and insects mirror the history of colonial control in the house and show the difficulty of Jade to feel comfortable there.
As a school librarian, I would love to read and discuss this book with my students since it’s both a well-written story and a good starter for discussions about literary themes and tropes and the purpose of horror writing. If you’re looking for an unsettling read, I highly recommend She is a Haunting.