Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: If I Have to Be Haunted

Author: Miranda Sun

Publisher: Magpie

Release date: 14th September 2023

If I Have to Be Haunted

Reviewed by: Ian Hunter

Other details: Paperback, £9.19

If I Have to Be Haunted by Miranda Sun

Ian Hunter

Your first love will always haunt you… So warns the cover of “If I Have To Be Haunted” by Miranda Sun, which features Cara Tang, a seemingly everyday Chinese-American school pupil trying to keep her head down and get through school and into college. Fair enough, but it is made tricky by her ability to talk to the dead, something she inherited from her grandmother, and to make matters worse, she comes across the dead body of Zacharius Coleson, the most popular guy in school who wants her to resurrect him, and reunite his spirit with his body, but can she do that? Does she really want to do it? Zach is her arch-enemy. The boy she loves…to hate, so much for getting good grades then.

With “If I Have to Be Haunted”, we are firmly in Buffy territory with a strong lead character, a ghost talker, and the clue is in the words. Cara can talk to ghosts. Ghosts seek her out to have someone to talk to. Sometimes, she can be bombarded and overwhelmed by ghosts trying to speak to her all at once. That ability ran in her family; her dead grandmother had it, and she wanted her to embrace this dark gift. Her mother doesn’t. She wants her daughter to reject all those supernatural hijinks and live in the real world, cueing some family tensions.

Those family dynamics are one of the strengths of the novel, and Sun has done a good job in creating some well-rounded and likeable characters in Cara and Zach, even if they don’t like each other very much and get into some scrapes and situations by being hostile to each other and as you would expect there is some sizzling banter between the two of them. It seems that Cara and Zach will survive school and each other and go their separate ways until supernatural forces kill Zach, and his only chance of coming back to life is for Cara to help him on a quest into the liminal world to reunite his spirit with his body. Then we get another strength, as Sun takes her two lead characters into another world bordering on our own, sometimes overlapping our own, and the quest begins.

On the downside, this novel is billed as a young adult paranormal fantasy, so we know what to expect from that well-used trope of high school rivals becoming lovers as the attraction grows between them, if only one of them would actually tell the other how they feel. There are also some plot developments which seem slightly undercooked, such as characters acquiring powers and being able to use them pretty easily. Cara and Zach also get out of some perilous situations with outside assistance perhaps too many times to seem plausible, and while we know what the ultimate outcome of the story is going to be, or think we do, this assistance just lessens the tension even more. We also don’t really get to know why Cara and Zach don’t actually get on. It’s not explained, but they seem to have been enemies since birth, and that’s just one of the things that aren’t explained in the novel, which could be read as a standalone book, but there are so many unanswered questions and a creepy little epilogue that sets up a sequel, so this could well be the start of a series. Certainly, Cara’s ability as a ghost-talker could be mined some more, and her grandmother has hinted at some family secrets that Cara could uncover in future books.

All in all “If I Have To Be Haunted” is a light, fast-paced, uneven, paranormal romance novel that readers of this sub-genre will either love or hate.

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