Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Help for the Haunted by John Searles

If you only know John Searles as a book reviewer on the Today Show, or as an editor of Cosmopolitan,you might be surprised at his skill as a writer. And even if you know him as a writer, Help for the Haunted will surprise you. It's a riveting story of a teenage girl finding the truth about her family, and searching for answers to their murder. It's moody, thoughtful, a pageturner. Help for the Haunted won't easily be forgotten.

Sylvie Mason was thirteen in February 1989 when her parents received a phone call late at night. It was nothing unusual for her parents. Some called them demonologists, but they called themselves good Catholics who were helping people. They confirmed the presence of unwanted spirits in people, and drove them out. Many of those calls for help came at night.. But, that night, Sylvie accompanied her parents to a church, staying in the car while first her father, and then her mother, went in. And, when she heard shots, she went in to find her parents murdered.

Sylvie is a bright girl, still wondering months later what she had actually seen that night. Her older sister, Rose, is now her guardian, but she's an angry, inappropriate one. The two live on popsicles, and Sylvie goes to school in flipflops. And, Rose taunts Sylvie that her memories of her parents are not the ones that Rose shares. Sylvie and Rose share a secret about the night of their parents' murder, but that doesn't mean Sylvie is satisfied with Rose's account. As she writes in her journal, Sylvie seeks answers. Who killed her parents, but, most of all, why were they killed?

Help for the Haunted is a beautifully written, complex novel. With Sylvie as narrator, it goes back and forth in time from the present as Sylvie tries to understand her complicated family life, to the past, and the events and secrets that led up to the murders. And, the title has so many meanings. The Masons set out to help the haunted. Both parents were haunted by their childhoods. Their daughters were haunted by their upbringing. And, once her parents were murdered, Sylvie was haunted by the determination to find out the truth, and by the memories of her parents. The truth, and the discoveries of the secrets in their house and their family would haunt Sylvie forever.

John Searles' novel isn't the type of book I normally read. I agreed to read it for a TLC book tour. Sometimes, there's a surprising treasure where you don't expect it. Help for the Haunted is one of this season's treasures. Anyone who appreciates a haunting coming-of-age story will appreciate this discovery.

If I can't tempt you to read Help for the Haunted, perhaps the book trailer and John Searles can tempt you.

John Searles can be found on Twitter at

Help for the Haunted by John Searles. William Morrow. 2013. ISBN 9780060779634 (hardcover), 368p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent the book so I could participate in the TLC Tour.


Kristopher said...

I completely agree Lesa. Help for the Haunted is a gem and I hope that readers who don't typically gravitate to "paranormal" will still find the book, as there is much to be appreciated in there.

John's conversation with Laura Lippman at the Baltimore Book Festival was also excellent.

Beth Hoffman said...

Wow, Lesa ... this one comment alone really grabbed me: "Help for the Haunted is one of this season's treasures."

Excellent review, my friend!

Lesa said...

And, it isn't really a paranormal novel, Kristopher, but you know that. I don't want to say to much more, and give anything away. It is a gem.

Lesa said...

Very unusual book, Beth. Not really a paranormal. You don't really know where this book is going. I'm keeping my copy. It just shows it's special.

Karen C said...

If you are calling it a 'treasure', then I must add it to my reading list. And it sounds like the type of book I enjoy reading.

Lesa said...

You should add it to your list, Karen. The narrator's voice reminds me of someone. I just can't put my finger on it. If I could, I would have mentioned it in my review. Darn.

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for being on the tour.