"The Haunted" by Danielle Vega
Updated: Jul 15, 2019
" Clean slate. That's what Hendricks Becker- O'Malley's parents said when they moved their family to the tiny town of Drearfield, New York. Hendricks wants to lay low and forget her dark, traumatic past. Forget him. But things don't go as planned. Hendricks learns from new friends at school that Steele House- - - the fixer upper her parents are so excited about- - - is notorious in town. Local legend says it's haunted. But Hendricks isn't sure if it's the demons of her past haunting her... or of the present. Voices whisper in her ear as she lies in bed. Doors lock on their own. And then, one night, things take a violent turn. With help from the mysterious boy next door, Hendricks makes it her mission to take down the ghosts... if they don't take her first."
A murder begins the story of 'The Haunted,' where Vega starts with every parent's nightmare: a little girl named Maribeth is killed in the cellar of the Steele House by an unseen force. We jump to three years later, where our main character, Hendricks, is moving into this house with her parents and baby brother- - - a family that is unaware of the murder that took place in the cellar. Vega does a wonderful job of steering the paranormal aspects away from the usual ones that most readers are used to. But although the story is good, the writing is poorly executed.
Starting with the teenaged girl Hendricks, she tells us that she refuses to be a stereo-type, but her first thoughts on the ride to school are of her ex-boyfriend, Grayson. But this is a young adult book, so a young girl obsessing over her ex is to be expected. Yet, when Hendricks gets to her new high school, she quickly begins to stereo-type everyone she meets by what they are wearing. Unfortunately, every character in this story, including Hendricks parents, are stereo-types. Eddie, who wears nothing but black clothing, is the outcast; Portia, who wears too short of skirts and too tight of shirts, is the makeup obsessed girly-girl; Raven, who tries to be funny, is the sporty best friend, and, Connor, who seems to be the only character that Vega tried to keep away from his stereo-type, is a friendly jock who loves his large family.
Readers learn early on that Hendricks' break-up with her ex, Grayson, was a traumatic event for her- - - as Hendricks releases more and more memories, it's soon easy to see that the relationship was an emotional abusive one; from Grayson telling her how to dress to him influencing the way she acted around other people, including who she was allowed to be around. In the middle of all this, Hendricks begins to learn the history of the Steele House, and we find out that Maribeth may not have been the only one murdered there. When Hendricks isn't trying to drink alcohol in almost every chapter, she begins experiencing strange things in the house, including one very similar to Maribeth's experience, but sadly, the paranormal aspect is the only good part of this book.
'The Haunted' could have been a great story, but there are so many inconsistencies, some even on the very next page. Such as, on page 44, Hendricks sees a singing doll waking up her baby brother inside his room (Vega literally states 'in the middle of his room'), but the very next page, Hendricks is suddenly scooping up the doll outside of her brother's room to put it away. On page 157, Hendricks is being pinned against a wall in the cellar by an unseen force, one of her arms is against her back, but suddenly she is able to use both hands to push off the wall, but it was never stated that her arm became unpinned.
One of Vega's biggest mistakes in 'The Haunted' was using the same handful of descriptions for emotions with every single character throughout the entire book. Such as, if a character was trying to make a decision, they always bit their lip; if a character was confused, they always furrowed their brow; if a character was embarrassed, they always had a reddening face. Vega never took advantage of other body language to convey these emotions, causing the story to come up short.
As I have said, the only good part of this book was the paranormal aspect, and the ghosts happen to be the only interesting characters. If I had to choose my favorite part of this story, I would have to choose when Eddie and Hendricks bring in the occult store owner, Ileana. Following this chapter, the best part of the paranormal aspects happen, but I don't want to spoil that for anyone who may want to read this. Vega is crafty in keeping up the suspense throughout this entire time, this is apparently where her strength in writing occurs. She amazingly describes scenes where readers can easily imagine them happening in reality. Her take on hauntings is one that is rarely seen and I think should be utilized in paranormal fiction more often.
'The Haunting' just didn't add up for me. It seems the story was written too hastily that beginning writer mistakes were made and overlooked, but most young adult readers may be able to look past this. Like Stephen King, Vega has great story-telling power in the horror genre, but in 'The Haunting,' I don't feel she was fully able to display this because the focus on Hendricks' life drama took over most of it. If I were to recommend this to anyone, I would only recommend it to people who like teenaged drama mixed in with a ghost story.