Review: She is a Haunting

A collage of the book SHE IS A HAUNTING. There is a young woman in the center of the cover. Her dark hair has a few leaves in it. There are colorful flowers in each side of her mouth. A tear is running down one side of her face. Her eyes are wide and eyebrows are drawn down.

There is a young woman in the center of the cover. Her dark hair has a few leaves in it. There are colorful flowers in each side of her mouth. A tear is running down one side of her face. Her eyes are wide and eyebrows are drawn down.Title: She is a Haunting
Author: Trang Thanh Tran
Genres: Horror, Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Pages: 352
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Review Copy: Received eARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available 28 February 2022

Summary: 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 believe 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.

Review: [SHE IS A HAUNTING is a horror novel that involves a lot of body horror, insects, and colonialism. Please check the author’s website for a full list of content warnings.]

SHE IS A HAUNTING, Trang Thanh Tran’s debut, has so many of the elements I love in a horror book: family secrets, past wrongs, compelling descriptions, and a desperation to protect people you love. Trang does a fantastic job of allowing the dread to collect around Jade in an uneasy slow burn that kept me turning pages, worried all the while that Jade wouldn’t realize how much everything was escalating until it was far too late. (The body part interludes were delightfully creepy and incredibly worrisome.) There were so many complicated and intertwined layers of what was happening (and had happened) inside the house, Nhà Hoa, that the reveals felt earned even if I had guessed some of them ahead of time.

I really liked Jade as the main character. She had nearly as many secrets as Nhà Hoa did, and having Jade uncover the house’s secrets while her own escaped her grasp was a great way for the story to unfold. Jade’s first-person narration was very well done, and I appreciated how much character Trang could pack into Jade’s internal thoughts and observations. There were some very lovely (and sometimes also horrifying) bits of prose in SHE IS A HAUNTING that helped establish Jade’s character in fantastic ways.

Sometimes romance can undercut the narrative in a horror story, but I very much enjoyed Trang’s development of Jade and Florence’s relationship. Jade and Florence served as foils for one another in many ways, and I looked forward to them falling for each other just as much as I looked forward to uncovering more about Jade’s family secrets and learning about what had happened in Nhà Hoa. Where Ba’s character had to be kept more mysterious to preserve tension and Lily’s served more as the person Jade had to protect, Florence was the one Jade could be messy and honest with—and be believed when things started going very wrong.

There’s so much going on in SHE IS A HAUNTING regarding colonialism in Vietnam, diaspora feelings, and identity, but a lot of it I can’t talk about without going deep into spoilers. I’ll just say that this book grapples with big, important ideas, and the author used horror to better explore them. That kind of complicated exploration is one of the strengths of good horror, and Trang did a great job of it.

Recommendation: Get it now, especially if you are a horror fan. Trang Thanh Tran’s debut novel is filled with secrets, past wrongs, and the repercussions of colonialism. Jade’s struggles to sort out her present while she tries to unravel the secrets of Nhà Hoa make for a tense, compelling read. SHE IS A HAUNTING (and its haunting prose) is going to stick with me for a long time.

Extras: Revealing She Is a Haunting, the Atmospheric Horror Debut From Trang Thanh Tran

Four Questions for Trang Thanh Tran