Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Help for the Haunted

Summary: It begins with a call one snowy February night. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation: helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet something in Sylvie senses that this call is different from the others, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire. 

As the story weaves back and forth through the years leading up to that night and the months following, the ever-inquisitive Sylvie searches for answers and uncovers secrets that have haunted her family for years. 

Capturing the vivid eeriness of Stephen King's works and the quirky tenderness of John Irving's novels, Help for the Haunted is told in the captivating voice of a young heroine who is determined to discover the truth about what happened on that winter night. -- William Morrow

At this year's BEA, I was fortunate enough to meet John Searles. Not only is he an author, but he's also the Editor-at-Large at Cosmo and the book critic for The Today Show and CBS's The Early Show. Just last week, his latest novel HELP FOR THE HAUNTED was released, and I could hardly wait to read it. This book is getting some major buzz... and after reading it, I can totally see why!

HELP FOR THE HAUNTED tells the story of the Mason family. The parents help those who are (for lack of a better word) possessed by evil spirits with prayer, and they travel all over the country working to excise the demons. Sometimes, they even bring these troubled individuals into the home. Sadly, their choice of occupation eventually leads to their deaths.

Needless to say, their teenage daughters, Rose and Sylvie, are traumatized by the murder of their parents and struggle to stay afloat. Rose, the older daughter, was headstrong and constantly challenged her parents, while Sylvie always tried to be the "good" daughter. Sylvie was actually there the night her parents were murdered, but her memories of that evening begin to blur. She starts to question what she thought she saw, and she decides to uncover the truth -- even if that truth is painful.

To be honest, I was a little afraid to pick up HELP FOR THE HAUNTED because I'm not one who usually appreciates scary books. The word "haunted" in the title wasn't calling out to me! And since I'm being honest here, I have to say that I did think this book was a little creepy and it made me uncomfortable -- but in a very good way. I ended up absolutely loving this novel and I even accepted all of the supernatural stuff (which is really saying something). This book might be one of my favorite reads of 2013!

HELP FOR THE HAUNTED was so good for so many reasons. I loved the uniqueness of the story and I appreciated that the story was part ghost story, part mystery, and part coming-of-age tale. In addition, I loved how the story was presented. The story was told in Sylvie's voice and it also went back and forth between the present and the past. I can hardly express how well the story (and the secrets) unfolded, and I think I was on the edge of my seat for almost the entire novel.

One of my absolute favorite things about HELP FOR THE HAUNTED was the character of Sylvie. She is the narrator of this story and I grew to love her so much. She's very bright and curious, but she also feels the pressure of being a good daughter. Even though my heart just broke for her (how much can one kid take?), I appreciated her inner strength and how much she matured throughout the story. The family secrets that were revealed to her were just horrible, and yet she still managed to persevere.

I also thought Mr. Searles' writing was fantastic! Naturally, I was impressed with his storytelling abilities, but I also was blown away by how well he captured the essence of a teenage girl. Furthermore, his transitions between the present and the past were extremely smooth, and he did a marvelous job of keeping suspense (and the mystery of the murder) alive for the entire story.

I could talk (or in this case, write) for hours about how special HELP FOR THE HAUNTED was to me, but I think it's best to experience it on your own. I have a feeling that each reader will get something a little different from Sylvie's story. That should be a sign that this novel would make a wonderful book club selection. Fortunately, there is a reading guide available with nine thought-provoking questions, although I'm sure you can come up with a few more topics to discuss on your own. Some of the themes your group might want to explore include faith, religion, the possibility of spirits, parent/child relationships, trust, betrayal, and secrets. I also think it would be interesting to discuss what might happen to Rose and Sylvie after the end of the novel.

HELP FOR THE HAUNTED is a beautifully written novel that also just happens to be a little bit scary! Highly recommended.

I received a review copy at this year's BEA.


Sandy Nawrot said...

OK another scary one to add to my list!!!

Beth Hoffman said...

I usually don't read scary books, because, well ... they scare me! Ha! But the way you've described this one really has me curious. Terrific review, Julie.

bermudaonion said...

This is a little out of my comfort zone too but, after meeting Searles, I'm anxious to read it.

Beth F said...

I too have been afraid to read this because I don't like being scared. But I loved Searles -- what a nice, nice man! I plan to read this very soon.

Unknown said...

I can't wait to read this book and your review made me even more excited about it! Maybe this weekend!

Unknown said...

I've been seeing this book around the book blogging community a lot but yours is the first review I've read. You have convinced me that this is definitely a book I want to read. I enjoy mysteries & thrillers and this one sounds like a really good one.
It's awesome that you met the author, too. I always feel that adds a little something extra to the book when reading it.