As a child, Sophia Galich starred in her sister Layla’s viral horror film, Vermillion, about a demonic entity supposedly haunting the seaside mansion their parents were renovating. In the years following the film’s release, Sophia has grappled with the scars—both psychological and physical—that it left behind, while Layla has spent her time avoiding press and obsessive fans, known as V-heads. Then, Layla suddenly vanishes without a trace.
Now, five years after the film’s release, Sophia has returned to Cashore House under the guise of starring in a documentary about Layla But Sophia knows that Cashore has something to do with Layla’s continued absence, and she has spent the past two years searching for clues and doggedly monitoring the V-heads’ posts on CrimsonDread.net, an online forum dedicated to Vermillion. Whatever happened five years ago was more than just a movie, and the truth behind Layla’s disappearance lies somewhere within the house’s walls.
Katya de Becerra’s third young adult novel, When Ghosts Call Us Home, is a gothic, spiraling ghost story that draws inspiration from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. But unlike many authors who have attempted to adapt the 1959 masterpiece, de Becerra sidesteps typical retelling structures and allows her book’s modern context to be bolstered by the original rather than restrictively tied to it.
As Sophia reenacts key scenes from Vermillion and is pulled deeper into the shrouded lore of Cashore, her memories begin to blur and reform. Sophia’s first-person perspective provides the intimacy of diaristic narration while holding true to the hallmarks of the unreliable narrator. As girl and ghost become more closely intertwined, Sophia becomes less trustworthy—both to herself and to the reader. This is unfortunately where the book suffers: de Becerra’s prose is at times overworked and redundant, which leaves little to the imagination and undercuts moments of fear.
Regardless, When Ghosts Call Us Home is a satisfying and imaginative haunted house story that uses its influences to great effect. Fans of books like Marisha Pessl’s Night Film and horror movies like The Ring will undoubtedly make themselves right at home in Cashore House.