“One step forward, two steps back. You think this house is going to be a real windfall and then – boom – it’s haunted,” (Hendrix 153).
When Louise Joyner learns her parents have died in a car accident, she’s understandably heartbroken, but she doesn’t want to go back home. She doesn’t want to leave her five-year-old daughter Poppy with her ex and fly to Charleston, to deal with her childhood home and the hoarder level of puppets now live inside of it. Most of all she doesn’t want to deal with her estranged, immature, slacker brother Mark who resents her success and who her parents adored. But the house needs to be sold, the money would help her daughter when she’s older. But there are strange sounds coming from the attic, and her mother’s favourite puppet Pupkin keeps showing up in the strangest of places, probably put there by her brother to scare her. But Mark keeps saying the vibes in the house are off, will they be able to sell it or does something more sinister lurk in its foundations?
How to Sell a Haunted House wasn’t the book I thought it would be, and it wasn’t particularly scary. I went into this book expecting a haunted house, not creepy puppets, and while I’m not fond of either I do enjoy haunted house stories more than creepy puppets.
That being said, the one comparison to The Velveteen Rabbit as a way to explain Pupkin’s consciousness sent shivers down my spine. It was moot in the end, but it would have been cool if this idea had been explored more. Considering how much I greatly dislike puppets, I expected to be much more thoroughly creeped out than I was. I’m a big fan of Hendrix’s work, I fell in love with The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying, but this one just didn’t hit as much. One of the things I love about Hendrix is how his horror isn’t just about scaring people, it’s to make a point, and while I understood the point Hendrix was making in this one it just didn’t hit as deeply as his other works. How to Sell a Haunted House felt like an adult Goosebumps book, less scary and more silly, and maybe that was the point. Who doesn’t immediately think of Slappy when they think of Goosebumps?
Hendrix’s new novel focuses chiefly on grief, moving it’s characters and the reader’s through the five stages throughout the book. It was a clever way of formatting it, and I think Hendrix did an excellent job showing the tension between Louise and Mark. The siblings are total opposites and the death of their parents brings out the worse in them at the start. I found the will scene especially upsetting and triggering since I’ve witnessed how money and estates can change families and truly bring out the worst in people. Sadly accurate though, so credit where credit is due to Hendrix, but I found Louise to be a fairly dull protagonist, not being as detailed as some of Hendrix’s other protagonists. And Mark became a bit more interesting when we got into his past but even that didn’t do anything to make me like him any better. I will say that the ending absolutely WRECKED me. Screw you, Grady Hendrix!
Also, I thought I was going crazy when I read this book because I have the strongest memory of reading the summary for How to Sell a Haunted House and discovering it referenced the pandemic in some way. I was so excited when I found this out because even though pandemic books are going to be hard and triggering to read, they’re being written whether we’re ready for them or not. And a haunted house book set during the pandemic? I can’t even begin to imagine a more perfect pairing. But then I got the book from the library, and no mention of the pandemic, none even though timeline wise it should have been 2020/2021, and there was no reference.
Again, I thought I was going crazy, but Google comes through again and I found numerous reviews with the original summary confirming that while the pandemic may not have been the setting (though let’s be honest, we’re still in a pandemic even if most of us want to pretend things are back to normal) it was referenced. Here’s the original synopsis for reference, the current one is available at the end of this review:
“Every childhood home is haunted, and each of us are possessed by our parents.
When their parents die at the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, Louise and Mark Joyner are devastated but nothing can prepare them for how bad things are about to get. The two siblings are almost totally estranged, and couldn’t be more different. Now, however, they don’t have a choice but to get along. The virus has passed, and both of them are facing bank accounts ravaged by the economic meltdown. Their one asset? Their childhood home. They need to get it on the market as soon as possible because they need the money. Yet before her parents died they taped newspaper over the mirrors and nailed shut the attic door.
Sometimes we feel like puppets, controlled by our upbringing and our genes. Sometimes we feel like our parents treat us like toys, or playthings, or even dolls. The past can ground us, teach us, and keep us safe. It can also trap us, and bind us, and suffocate the life out of us. As disturbing events stack up in the house, Louise and Mark have to learn that sometimes the only way to break away from the past, sometimes the only way to sell a haunted house, is to burn it all down.”
I don’t know why this change was made. I think it would have made a better story if it was more pandemic heavy, but this is Hendrix’s story, not mine. There was a brief mention of someone wearing a mask at the hospital and another about a video appointment, but otherwise this book could have been set at any old modern time.
Overall, How to Sell a Haunted House is a moving, tough read at times, but for me it didn’t hit as hard as Hendrix’s other books. Still, I look forward to what else Hendrix has in store because they’re always unique and I never know what to expect from them!
Publication: January 17 2023
Pages: 419 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤.75
When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.
Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.
But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…