Cara Tang has been able to see ghosts her entire life, but she made a promise to her mother that she would never let anyone (living or dead) know. It’s for the best really - the dead have issues. But when she stumbles across the body of her school nemesis Zacharias Coleson one day, she doesn’t realize until it’s too late that he’s a ghost - and now he knows she can see him. Cara begrudgingly agrees to help resurrect him in exchange for a hefty sum of money, putting her squarely at odds with her mother and into the path of dangerous monsters and magic. But as the two are forced to rely on each other to survive, they grow closer and Cara realizes that the most frightening thing she’s up against may not be the monsters, but her very not-hatred-like feelings for Zach.
I’m a sucker for enemies-to-lovers, but when one of the main characters is a ghost, I’m always hesitant to get attached. Despite my initial hesitation though, this story drew me in immediately and never let go.
The banter between Cara and Zach is absolutely top notch. It sets the tone for their relationship to develop as the story goes on, allowing tension to permeate every aspect of their interactions. The story is told strictly from Cara’s POV so there are moments where I found myself yelling at her because it’s clear as day she is interpreting Zach’s actions and motivations wrong, which was frustrating in such a deliciously torturous way. The slow burn does its thing and the payoff is beyond satisfying.
Speaking of relationships, the one between Cara and her mother was so incredibly relatable. Reading their interactions and the internal monologue that Cara had when thinking about what she has to do to keep the peace felt so much like my own experiences with my mother when I was Cara’s age. I related so much to Cara that I found myself wanting to reach into the pages and give her a hug and tell her that everything would be okay and their relationship could grow into something less stressful. We don't see much of her mom on the page so we don't get to see the changes to their relationship happen, but Sun is able to do a lot with the little bit we do see with her.
Sun’s attention to detail brings the fantasy elements of this story to life, from the simple things like Cara seeing ghosts to all the things that Cara and Zach encounter on their journey. The incorporation of the myth of the red thread of fate worked to foreshadow future events while also shining a spotlight on Chinese mythology. Though the beginning feels like a slow start with the humdrum nature of regular life, it picks up fairly quickly as Cara and Zach start their journey. The stakes are high, but my anxiety levels never rose too far because the ample amounts of snark and banter provided much needed levity throughout.
And that ending! I don’t know if there is going to be a sequel, but that ending definitely left the door open. While it’s not the kind of cliffhanger that makes you want to hunt down the author so you can shake out the rest of the story right now, it does leave you aching for more - from these characters and from the world.
IF I HAVE TO BE HAUNTED is Miranda Sun’s debut novel and it’s available now. I’m begging you to pick up a copy here so that we can get more stories in this world from Miranda!
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2023 Book Recommendations."