What would you do if you spend all your money on a house that turns out to be haunted? With not one but two ghosts, a malevolent male one constantly trying to kill you and a feminine one who smells like lilies and is keen on fighting off the evil other evil one.

Author Cherie Priest takes the good old ‘haunted house’ trope and gives it a refreshingly contemporary young-adult fiction touch in her book ‘The Agony House’, that’s interspersed with comic-book pages deftly drawn by Tara O’Connor. The protagonist is teen Denise Farber, who moves to a big-crumbling house with her mother & step-dad. The plan is to fix the place up and turn it into a bed and breakfast, but some sinister presence in the house keeps disrupting the repair-work. Strange sounds, smells, sharp nails popping up at places they shouldn’t be and mini-catastrophes causing physical harm to the Farber family makes Denise suspect there might be a sinister phantom at work, someone who doesn’t want them there.

I loved the ‘story within story’ plot device the Cherie Priest uses in this book. Denise finds an old unpublished comic-book in a chimney of her house and is positive that the manuscript holds clues to unravel the mystery of who’s bothering her family. So comic-book pages about a woman-detective who constantly rescues her boyfriend are inserted throughout the novel. The artwork is fun, I would have liked to see more of them and was quite disappointed that there were so few of them.

Apart from the positive girl-power theme, Cherie Priest also explores racial-differences in her story – Denise’s new neighborhood is dominated by modest African-American families who don’t take too kindly to white families buying homes in their area. Some of the characters are well-spun, even though they don’t get a lot of space. My favorite is the too eager ‘ghost-buster’ teen Terry, who just annoying and pushy, but his incorrigible spirit to spot spirits and communicate with them is hilarious.

As far as the horror element is concerned, ‘The Agony House’ isn’t nearly as scary or tormenting as the title suggests. Instead, it’s more about a bunch of teens turning into rookie investigators to find out secrets of the haunted house. They do a pretty great job, thanks to some free wi-fi and lots of google-searching. The climax could have been better, it’s too weak against the rest of the story I think a younger audience (12-16 year olds) would love the book.

It’s a 4/5 from me.

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