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She Is a Haunting

By Trang Thanh Tran 

24 May, 2024

Doing the WFC's Homework


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Trang Thanh Tran’s 2024 She Is a Haunting is a stand-alone modern horror novel.

Jade Nguyen was accepted by UPenn, but failed to get a full scholarship. Jade is painfully aware that, were her mother to learn of Jade’s financial shortfall, Jade’s mother would take out loans and work even more hours at her nail salon. This is unacceptable to Jade. She adds her financial situation to the list of secrets Jade keeps from her mother.

The alternative is almost as unacceptable. To spare her mother, Jade embraces it: appeal to her estranged father, the man who abandoned Jade’s mother, Jade, and Jade’s siblings. Her father agrees to fund Jade’s education… at a price.

The cost of her father’s support is for Jade (and ideally her siblings Lily and Bren as well) to travel to Vietnam and stay with Jade’s father at the rambling mansion he and his business partners are restoring. Bren declines, claiming to barely remember his father. Their father must make do with Jade and Lily.

The mansion dates from the French colonial era. While the building isn’t visibly different from the similar abandoned buildings surrounding it, this particular building is where Jade’s great-grandmother lived amongst the servants. To Jade’s father’s mind, the building has familial associations, even though it was owned by French people.

Jade soon discovers this will be a working vacation. Her father cannot create the website necessary to attract tourists to the mansion. This is where Jade and another visitor, Florence (kin to an investor) come in. Both are young people and therefore can be expected to be adept with computers.

The web design project goes well. What doesn’t go well is Jade’s interaction with the mansion. The mansion has a long and colorful history. If Jade is not very, very careful she and Lily will become part of that history.

Jade finds her sleep plagued with visions of the past. The mansion appears to be haunted. The ghosts are less than forthcoming about their concerns. This is in part because they fear what might notice insufficiently subtle conversation and in part because some ghosts malevolently desire to entangle the living. Jade and every living person the ghosts think might be vulnerable are under siege.

Jade is a bright woman. Despite distractions ranging from her calamitous personal life to supernatural prodding, she does her best to figure out who is inhabiting the building and what it is they want. To her credit, Jade is very nearly correct… but she’s overlooked the most important player, one so obvious as to be invisible.


Among the secrets Jade keeps is that she isn’t straight. Or at least it is not something she discusses with her parents, Her father knows; he read her diary. But he doesn’t discuss this with her. Whether or not her mother is actually in the dark is addressed in the novel.

A major challenge facing horror writers is answering the question why don’t the characters just leave when things start to go wrong?” Authors can choose from a number of popular answers. Sufficiently oblivious characters fail to understand the danger until it is too late. Other characters understand what’s going on and remain out of a misplaced confidence. Still others discover they cannot leave.

In Hauntings case, the (or at least one) issue is the sunk cost fallacy. Jade’s father has invested time, money, and sentiment in the mansion. He won’t leave. Jade has invested time and effort placating her father. Her education depends on keeping him happy.

Of course, it’s a foolish malevolent entity that relies on ignorance, overconfidence, and the sunk cost fallacy to keep its food on the plate. This is where Lily comes in; Jade might be able to flee, but Lily would find it harder. There’s nothing like hostages to sway one’s target.

Some authors might make their lead a bright and shining exemplar of nobility, endangered by the flawed humans around them. That’s not the direction Trang Thanh Tran goes. Jade is no moral paragon; she’s someone as prone to error and short-sightedness as any human. In fact, she burns her personal life to the waterline before the novel begins. Thus, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that she will fatally mishandle the haunting.

I’ve not encountered Trang Thanh Tran’s fiction before. Egregious oversight on my part. In my defense this is Tran’s debut novel and I don’t immediately see shorter works listed at ISFDB. Haunting is a skillfully told Gothic, one that invites further interest in the author’s future work.

She Is a Haunting is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books). I did not find She Is a Haunting at Apple Books.