When a house appears one day at the end of Juniper Drive, Jacqueline “Jac” Price-Dupree’s reaction isn’t what you’d expect from most 12-year-olds, but Jac isn’t like most 12-year-olds. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with a cancer that should have killed her—but didn’t. Ever since, Jac has been haunted by the fear that it might return, so when she sees the house, she wonders if it’s a hallucination. If it’s a symptom.
Jac confirms that the house is definitely real when she, her friend Hazel and two neighborhood bullies become trapped inside it. As they search for a way out, the house conjures surreal terrors that all seem connected to Jac’s deepest fears, from a library filled with typewriters clacking out sickening missives, to a horrifying creature called the Mourner that stalks them through the house, to a message scrawled on the kitchen wall: “The House You’ve Been Entering Always. Welcome Home, Jac.”
Author Ally Malinenko’s second middle grade horror novel, This Appearing House, contains plenty of imaginative frights to creep out even the most fearless young connoisseur of scary stories. But by creating a house that’s haunted by Jac’s fears of her cancer’s recurrence, Malinenko brilliantly transforms her novel into a survival tale of the truest kind. In order to escape the house, Jac must find the answer to a question that every person who has lived through—or continues to live with—the trauma of serious illness must eventually confront: How do you keep living when you have come so close to death?
Through Jac, Malinenko also offers a vital corrective to narratives of disease and disability still commonplace in children’s literature. “Warriors. That’s what they called kids like her. But Jac didn’t feel like a warrior,” Malinenko writes. As she sensitively evokes Jac’s experience of diagnosis and treatment, Malinenko expertly captures the way stories that encourage people to “be brave” and “never stop fighting,” can become traps, prisons in which no admissions of fear or vulnerability can be admitted. Early in the novel, when Jac breaks a ceramic bowl she’d been working on in art class, her teacher offers a moving new perspective: “Everything breaks. . . . But everything can be remade. There is beauty in the breaking and remaking of a thing.”
At once an inventive and satisfying haunted house story and a powerful exploration of coming to terms with and beginning to heal from trauma, This Appearing House is a triumph.