Explore a different kind of haunted house in Đà Lạt, Vietnam, known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” in this Trang Thanh Tran’s debut novel. She is a Haunting is a ghost story that centers around Jade, a Vietnamese American girl who travels to Đà Lạt, Vietnam to stay with her estranged father in a house he purchased that was originally established during the French Colonial period. As a summer deal, Jade helps her father renovate the house into a bed and breakfast establishment in exchange for his help to pay for her first year of college. Everything about Vietnam is unfamiliar to Jade, as she grew up in America and considers herself a tourist in her ancestral country. She even points out how her clothes feel more from Vietnam than she does, and she isn’t all that interested in learning more about her roots. However, her summer doesn’t sound too bad; she just needs to work on a website for her dad and she gets to stay in this gorgeous French Art Deco mansion. But like a lot of the buildings in this city, there’s history, and it likes to linger.
Jade notices there are many things wrong with the house her father bought. Mold and insects keep appearing everywhere, and the food is spoiling every day despite the electricity lines working fine. She also notices her father’s strange obsession with the house, despite it being the house where her great grandmother served as a slave. Jade also experiences multiple nightmares including some nightly visits with some ghostly and insectoid inhabitants of the house that don’t want to leave.
She is Haunting is also a coming-of-age story, despite Jade’s own insistence she isn’t on a “finding yourself” trip. It is by the end of the story that she overcomes her own ghosts and fears. Jade is bisexual but has yet to come out to her parents due to their old-fashioned views and expectations placed on her to live their American dream. Not only that, but her parents are also estranged; Her mother works tirelessly to provide for Jade and her younger siblings for a life in America, and a deadbeat father who ran away to Vietnam, instead of caring for his family. Family dynamics is a huge theme throughout the book and Jade’s experiences in her haunted house also has her confronting her reality as to whether the house or her broken family is the true horror.
Fans of young adult horror and those who have read Haunting of Hill House and Mexican Gothic will enjoy Tran’s young adult debut novel. Tran beautifully weaves horror into the history of the city, food, architecture of the French Art Deco houses, as well as Jade and her family. The only unfortunate aspect that bogged the book down were the typical tropes found in young adult novels, such as the instant love interest that served no other purpose than to show the heroine display some childish antics, and Jade’s role as the translator, withholding information about her father’s abusive behavior from her own mother. In the end, the teenage angst did provide character growth for Jade, but more of the novel could have been focused on fleshing out the actual ghosts that appear.
She is a Haunting is at its core a creepy horror novel with disturbing moments. Expect some body horror, lots of crawling insects, living houses, very detailed descriptions of rot, and ghosts! Read it at night for the atmosphere, but just don’t read this while eating.