Cover of If I Have to Be Haunted, featuring an asian girl standing next to the ghost of a white boy surrounded by blue butterflies

About the Book

Title: If I Have to Be Haunted
Published: 2023
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Force Ghost
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Talky Talk: Voyage of Discovery
Bonus Factor: Liminal Spaces
Factor: Cliffhanger?
Relationship Status: Ready for a Second Date

Content Warning: If I Have to Be Haunted features depictions of ghosts and mention of the way they died, including a woman who clearly died in childbirth, children who were abused or died young, and other gruesome situations. Some of these depictions might be triggering for readers.

Cover Story: Force Ghost

Because I am who I am, I see a ghostly apparition with blue butterflies around it, and I think Ben Solo. The fact that this book wasn’t about a Star Wars-style Romeo and Juliet relationship was a little disappointing.

(I kid.)

The Deal: 

Cara Tang seems like a normal high schooler—she runs cross country, she gets in fights with her mom, she has a delightfully antagonistic relationship with the captain of the boys’s swim team—except for the fact that she’s a ghost speaker. She can see, and talk to, ghosts. But no one except her mom and her grandmother know this … and her grandmother’s dead.

Until, that is, the day when her nemesis Zach Coleson is bitten by a snake and dies on his way to work with her on a class project. Cara can’t hide her annoyance at him, even when he’s a ghost. And there’s something strange about the circumstances surrounding his death, something Cara discovers is up to her as a ghost speaker to fix.

If she can manage to not kill him again, that is.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face

Cara’s great. I commiserated with her struggles with her mom and rooted for her as she came into her powers and a newfound confidence as the book progressed. I can’t imagine it’s easy carrying such a huge secret around, especially when the only two people who know are at total odds with how she should feel about them. (High School’s hard enough as it is!) She’s tenacious and witty, and would benefit from someone else in her family being wholly on her side, rather than asking her to choose theirs.

I did get a bit frustrated with her insistence that Zach was only helping her, putting his afterlife on the line more than once, giving her The LookTM, etc. out of animosity and/or the fact that she was literally the only person who could help him. I know it’s easier to see people’s feelings when you’re not one of the people in the relationship, but c’mon Cara.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

I waffled between ranking this a 7 or an 8, but ultimately decided to go with 8. This book isn’t spicy in the sexy sense, but the enemistry between Cara and Zach is delectable and—this is a spoiler, but I’m sure you could have guessed where this book was leading the two of them—once they give in to their (super obvious ) feelings for each other, the smooching is hot.

Talky Talk: Voyage of Discovery

Sun’s writing is lovely and filled with poignant passages and imaginative depictions. 

The hard part was, she knew her mother loved her. It was the little things, the ones you kept in a jar like fireflies and would take out to see that they were still glowing. But they also got caught under your nails like dried blood, built up in your throat until they became a choked sob that you didn’t know how or when to let go.

The dialogue is true to teenage form, and although the time spent in Cara’s head agonizing over her discovery that she has feelings other than hate toward Zach was a bit Roger Murtaugh-y, I really enjoyed adventuring alongside her.

(Ed. note: I pulled this quote from an early review copy of the book. The published text might be different.)

Bonus Factor: Liminal Spaces

A long mostly white hallway with doors on either side

Cara knows about as much about the magical world she’s a part of as readers do at the start of If I Have to Be Haunted—that is, not a whole lot—and Sun reveals and expands upon it as Cara’s quest progresses. It’s a fascinating world that I would like to see more of, even the more dangerous (i.e., cannibalistic old men, nightmare fog, hungry monsters, etc.) parts. Also, what’s up with Cara’s ability to [REDACTED]? I really need to know more about where that came from.

Factor: Cliffhanger?

A man dressed all in black (Sylvester Stallone) clings to a cliff face

Although If I Have to Be Haunted resolves satisfactorily, there’s an epilogue that has me thinking Sun wants to tell more of Cara’s story. I’m all for it!

Relationship Status: Ready for a Second Date

I feel like we were just getting started when our date ended, Book. I don’t want to come across as too eager, but I’m free this weekend if you are!

Literary Matchmaking

Cemetery Boys

Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys is another “how are they going to fix this” ghost love story.

The Dead Romantics

If you’re looking for even more romance from a ghost story, check out Ashley Poston’s The Dead Romantics.

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1)

Cara’s quest through the liminal spaces reminded me a lot of Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperTeen, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. If I Have to Be Haunted will be available Sept. 26.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.