When his parents decide they need private time to “talk,” 11-year-old Simon and his sisters, Talia and Rose, end up at their grandmother’s century-old house for the week. Nanaleen’s house used to be a comforting place, but now it feels wrong: It smells like wet towels, there’s a scritch-scritch-scritching sound in the walls, and the water stain above Simon’s bed keeps getting bigger. Worst of all, Simon could swear there’s a ghost. He sees it in the shadows of photographs and the dark corners of rooms, and he knows it’s coming for them.
In order to save his family, Simon convinces his sisters to hunt for ghosts, the way they did when they were younger. But sleuthing feels impossible amid Simon’s anxieties about his family, Talia’s abandonment of him to spend time with a cute new friend and Nanaleen’s worsening forgetfulness. Then Simon finds an old photograph of Nanaleen’s sister Brie, who went missing during her senior year of high school. Maybe she’s the ghost that’s haunting Simon—or maybe it’s all that’s gone unspoken in this stressed-out family.
“Too often, when adults talk about ‘protecting’ kids from certain things, it really feels like they’re just trying to protect themselves from having a slightly uncomfortable conversation.” Read our Q&A with Lin Thompson about The House That Whispers.
There are no real ghosts in Lin Thompson’s The House That Whispers. Instead, the novel is a thoughtful, satisfying exploration of how secrets can weigh on the soul. Many concealments weave in and out of the narrative: Simon’s gender identity and new name, which he has yet to share with his family; Talia’s Sapphic feelings for her friend; Nanaleen’s declining health; and the underlying threat of a potential divorce between Simon’s uncommunicative parents.
Initially, the metaphorical haunting gives Simon a distraction from addressing all the problems around him, but eventually it leads to the discovery of his queer family legacy. His great-aunt Brie’s spiritual presence becomes a comfort for Simon (and Talia), proving the power of queer history to strengthen and encourage. Though not the spooky tale that some kids may wish for, The House That Whispers will still please readers of emotional middle grade fiction.