Help for the Haunted

Help for the Haunted

4.2 94
by John Searles

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John Searles’s Help for the Haunted is an unforgettable story of a most unusual family, their deep secrets, their harrowing tragedy, and ultimately, a daughter’s discovery of a dark and unexpected mystery.

Sylvie Mason’s parents have an unusual occupation—helping “haunted souls” find peace. After receiving a strange

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John Searles’s Help for the Haunted is an unforgettable story of a most unusual family, their deep secrets, their harrowing tragedy, and ultimately, a daughter’s discovery of a dark and unexpected mystery.

Sylvie Mason’s parents have an unusual occupation—helping “haunted souls” find peace. After receiving a strange phone call one winter’s night, they leave the house and are later murdered in an old church in a horrifying act of violence.

A year later, Sylvie is living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened to their parents. Now, the inquisitive teenager pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night—and to the truth about her family’s past and the secrets that have haunted them for years.

Capturing the vivid eeriness of Stephen King’s works with the compelling quirkiness of John Irving’s beloved novels, Help for the Haunted is that rare story that brings to life a richly imagined and wholly original world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers of this unsettling coming-of-age story from Searles (Strange but True) may feel the need to whistle past the graveyard by the end. Nothing has been the same for Sylvie Mason since the cold winter’s night when her parents went to a deserted church, not in their self-proclaimed capacity as the saviors of haunted souls, but to meet their runaway older daughter, Rose. Left asleep in the car, Sylvie is awakened by the sound of the gunshots that ended her parents’ lives. Nearly a year later, her grief is still fresh. Schoolmates taunt her, and though Rose has assumed legal responsibility for Sylvie, the older Mason girl fails to properly feed, clothe, or otherwise nurture her younger sister, all the while behaving erratically. Sylvie continues to lie to the police about Rose’s whereabouts that fatal night, even as the trial of a man arrested for the crimes approaches. Her current existence, her parents’ “gifts” and vagabond lifestyle, and strange goings-on in the Masons’ basement unfold in nonlinear fashion, keeping the reader on edge while Sylvie bravely uncovers her family’s many secrets. Agent: Joanna Pulcini, Joanna Pulcini Literary Management. (Sept.)
“Disturbingly engrossing.”
Kirkus Reviews
Searles (Boy Still Missing, 2001, etc.) turns in another coming-of-age tale, about a young female protaganist and centered around a possibly occult murder mystery. Sylvie Mason's parents are--or were--"demonologists." Devoutly Christian, her dad zealously worked the lecture circuit while her mom had the talent to soothe the haunted humans who came to them for help. When they are both murdered in a church on a snowy night, 14-year-old Sylvie is the sole witness but doesn't fully remember what happened. In the custody of Rose, her spiteful, rebellious older sister, Sylvie struggles to reconcile her bleak new life with her slightly less-bleak former life. Then, she was always the "good daughter" despite being bullied by Rose and kept in the dark about her parents' career. Now, nearly a year later, she is ostracized by her peers, and the fate of the murder suspect rests in her unsure hands. Searles successfully jumps back and forth in time to let these stories unfold, sewing clues and strange details along the way, the creepiest being a doll named Penny that may be possessed. Slowly, Sylvie breaks out of her good-girl mold to uncover greater truths about her sister, herself and what happened the night of the killing. But for all the time spent uncovering their history, her parents remain murky set pieces, their paranormal abilities and activities never wholly understood. Other pieces of the narrative veer toward overexplanation, but some moments are deftly eerie, and Searles has a knack for building tension; the "haunted" of the title refers as much to Sylvie and her circumstances as to things otherworldly. A somber, well-paced journey, wrapped in a mystery, that will keep readers guessing until the revealing conclusion.
Chris Bohjalian
“Wonderful...A coming of age tale that is poignant and touching...and will scare the living hell out of you. I loved every page of this novel: I loved the sisters and the story and the page-turning mystery. I just may never go downstairs into my basement again.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Searles expertly manages his cleverly conceived plotline as he alternately withholds and doles out key information in tantalizing fashion... Superlative storytelling.”
Jodi Picoult
“I was completely consumed by Help for the Haunted; I read it in one sitting. I just can’t decide what I loved the most: its perfectly pitched teenage narrator; the ghost story that kept me riveted; the thriller that made me say, Oh, just one more chapter.”
Gillian Flynn
“A dazzling, dark portrait of a troubled family beset by the supernatural. Searles ratchets up the tension with every passing chapter, and delivers authentic and well-earned scares—all written through the lens of a lonely teenager searching for answers. The result is a novel both frightening and beautiful.”
Sara Gruen
“A quickly paced and boldly rendered ghost story, Searles’s dark novel about a young girl haunted by the murder of her parents had me up reading all night. And checking the doors. I found it impossible to put down.”
Robert Goolrick
“This is edge-of-your-seat reading of a very high quality, and, be warned, it is seriously spine-tingling.”
Khaled Hosseini
“A rich and tense suspense story that serves up plenty of genuine thrills but also moves the reader with elegant insights into the enigma that is Family.”
Miami Herald
“A poignant story of a family, of parents navigating an odd and dangerous career, of daughters shaken by doubt and loss and grief — and the gulf that widens between them all...A compelling mystery.”
New York Newsday
“Involves both classic horror elements (a malevolent rag doll, a stolen diary, a hatchet, a scary basement) and contemporary ones (a prescription for Vicodin). Searles controls the plot with a sure hand and wraps up the situation on Butter Lane in a satisfying and believable way.”
Washington Post
“[Searles] has crafted a strange, spooky world that is absolutely believable. Sweet, precocious, desperate Sylvie is a memorable young striver in the tradition of Scout Finch, and HELP FOR THE HAUNTED is an exceptional piece of storytelling.”
Columbus Dispatch
“Moving and elegantly constructed...both a suspenseful page turner and a provocative look at what it means to be haunted.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“John Searles wrapped a ghost story inside a mystery, and the result is a worthy thriller...HELP FOR THE HAUNTED’s alternating chapters are cleverly split in time to reveal what came before and after a deadly tragedy at the heart of this captivating story.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A masterful genre mash-up that’s part paranormal thriller, part coming-of-age story, part crime fiction, Searles’ eerie novel about a young girl uncovering the mystery of her parents’ murders builds to a stunning and poignant conclusion.”
USA Today
“The family demons are more troubling than the supernatural ones in John Searles’ new novel...Sylvie’s flashbacks and exploration of her mom and dad’s relationship will haunt readers’ hearts after they turn the final page.”
New York Daily News
“[Searles] has a distinct talent for fashioning chilling, thrilling novels.”
Charlotte Observer
“Searles is a top-notch storyteller. He sets a mood of unease that builds up to a sense of dread... It’s hard to stop reading.”
Boston Globe
“The perfect Halloween read for those with a taste for haunted basements, creepy always-smiling dolls, and weirdly dysfunctional families...Searles brings the torture of adolescence, the scourge of notoriety, and the pain of being young and different vividly to the page.”
“Full of terror, totally compelling, believable, and ghostly chilling...The horror that stocks this page-turner is so adroitly grounded in things ordinary and real that the reader almost suspends disbelief and comes to think that maybe there are malevolent spirits out there.”
Statesman Journal (Oregon)
“Creepy, disturbing and compelling, with well-drawn characters, this is gothic suspense at its finest.”
Chicago Magazine
“[HELP FOR THE HAUNTED] is no simple ghost story...As the story zips back and forth through time, it’s rarely clear what’s real and what’s not, though one thing is for sure: The “literal” bedevilment the Masons cast from other houses is nothing compared to what’s in their own.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Heart-thumping...nearly impossible to put down.”
Library Journal
"No one makes eye contact or talks to me unless it is to taunt me about my parents and the things that happened to them—the thing that almost happened to me too…." Sylvie Mason and her sister, Rose, are left to fend for themselves after a fateful night that claims their parents' lives. A mysterious phone call is all it took to send her parents out in a blizzard, to a church from which they never returned. All that remains are questions, and Sylvie is determined to find out the truth even if it means going down to the scariest, darkest place in her house: the basement. VERDICT Searles (Boy Still Missing; Strange But True), has written a truly creepy, smart psychological thriller that will keep readers turning pages until the very end. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

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