We close out our look at Disney books perfect for this time of year with a YA adaption of The Haunted Mansion.  To be fair, calling this an adaption of the Mansion is rather generous.  Something I’ve noticed throughout the years looking at adaptions of THe Haunted Mansion is that these adaptions don’t always seem to know how to balance the original characters and the large cast of the Mansion. The best to do this so far has been Muppets Haunted Mansion.

 

 

 

Muppets Haunted Mansion is the apex of great Mansion adaptions.  So,  it’s not fair to compare other adaptions to the greatness of that.  If I am to be fair,  I do appreciate that this book continues the trend of having characters dealing with fear while in the Mansion as that is a common occurrence in Mansion adaptions.  However, this book takes it a step further and has the main character Audrey is suffering from anxiety and she sees a therapist to help her cope with her anxiety.  Good Mansion adaptions find a way to make the fear relatable to the audience and make sense for the character.  We will just ignore how the son in the Eddie Murphy was afraid of spiders and that was his only character trait.  Going back to Muppets Haunted Mansion, we see how Gonzo is scared of not being the Great Gonzo and that he’d lose his friends if he wasn’t Great.  The new 2023 movie which was decent and focused on a young mother and son moving into the Mansion deals with how the son copes after his father died and how that grief made him vulnerable to the tricks of The Hatbox Ghost pretending to be his father.

 

 

 

 

I believe that stories focusing on the Mansion work best when showing how the Mansion can be used as a way to I won’t say overcome fears because Audrey’s doctor points out, that isn’t always possible but rather come to terms and learn how to live with our fears.

Author

 

Claudia Gray

 

This is the first book I’ve read by Claudia Gray and apparently, she has dabbled in IP work before as she has written plenty of Star Wars books,  so I can see why she was brought on to write this book.  She strikes a wonderful tone of fun and scary and ups the ante in the last three chapters where the threat becomes all too real.

 

Cover

 

 

I do like the cover and it does a good job of evoking fear seeing Audrey holding a flashlight standing in front of the Mansion. I’ll admit that when I first saw this cover, I thought the character looked like a bit Marcy Wu.

 

 

It is a funny coincidence to be honest though Audrey and Marcy do share at least one trait in that they both easily get anxious around people and don’t always know how to convey how they are feeling. Though Audrey has a therapist to help her work through things while Marcy does not and could have used one before Sasha got her certified.

 

 

Seriously,  if Mar Mar had someone to talk to, things might have gone smoother than what happened.  I know this is a bit of a tangent but it does relate to the theme of the book and what it hopes to convey.

 

 

The Plot

 

The book’s story is where my issue comes in.  I appreciate the stuff with Audrey and her anxiety and how that holds her back.  Right from the jump, you get the sense that she is struggling such as how she fears people are judging her.  There are also major red flags when it comes to her relationship with her boyfriend and how he tries to push her out of her comfort zone before she’s ready and also control who she can hang out with and what she looks like.   This stuff and her therapy session with her doctor are great as it does a lot to humanize the main character and show her growing and becoming better.  I also like how it brings in real-world mythology with the villain being The Shade and it uses New Orleans’s infamous hurricanes during the final battle with the villain which is The Shade which serves as a threat to the ghosts of the Mansion.

 

 

These spiritual manifestations are so dark that they are only detectable in very bright light, the rest of the time they look like ordinary shadows.

 

The idea of light is used to defeat The Shade in this book as the main character Audrey has an interest in photography and uses that to defeat The Shade and work as a way to tether him so that he can not hurt anyone else.  We see this when The Shade takes possession of a fellow classmate of Audrey’s, named Elke who is a goth girl who has an unhealthy obsession with the supernatural and allows The Shade to take over her body thinking The Shade will allow some semblance of power.  I think you can figure out how well that goes.  This is where part of my issue comes in, the Mansion has so many ghosts that inhabit it that you could make them one of the villains, we’ve seen how this works with Constance in Muppets Haunted Mansion and Hatbox Ghost in the 2023 movie showing how big of a threat these two can be.

 

 

 

I can appreciate a ghost being a threat to the Mansion but it could have been one that the audience already knows.   Another example, the Disney Kingdom uses the Pirate Captain as a large threat to that book’s main character and it shows how dangerous he can be.  This isn’t as bad as Ramsley in the 2003 movie as you can feel the threat of The Shade.   as he is fought during a hurricane party but rather it is just a bit disappointing.  The book uses so much real-world lore and mythology to the detriment of the Mansion and its lore and mythology.  This is also felt with the use of  The Axeman of New Orleans.

 

 

The Axeman struck households in New Orleans from 1917 to March 1919. Then the killer crossed the crossed the Mississippi River to the neighboring town of Gretna.

 

I can see what the book is going for and I get the idea of combining stuff like this with that of The Mansion but it seems to overshadow The Mansion.  (No pun intended) .   I think another big issue is that focusing on New Orleans which makes sense considering the original Mansion is located in New Orleans Square at Disneyland cuts down on how much time is spent at the Mansion and with it’s characters.

 

 

 

Again, this is something I can see what it’s going for but The Mansion is so big and vast that it could make for a perfect setting as there are so many rooms to explore that are so distinct such as the ballroom and the attic.  But the book feels as though it spends so little time in the Mansion because the characters can leave the Mansion at any time.  This is something the new movie gets right in my opinion in that if you visit the Mansion and leave, a ghost will follow you home until you return forcing you to stay there to deal with the spirits.  Yes, the characters in that film can leave but it comes at a price.  There’s no such price here for daring to leave.

 

 

 

It’s just a bit disappointing that a book that is supposed to be about The Haunted Mansion feels tacked on and actually stops the story cold.  Taking this further, none of the ghosts seem to get a lot of page time, the only Mansion character that gets significant page time is the dog, Bones aka The Caretaker’s Dog.

 

 

Perhaps because I’m not a dog person but I didn’t care for the interactions between the ghost dog and Audrey that she ended up adopting as her own for a while.  It honestly felt as though Gray seemingly forgot at times this was supposed to be a Mansion story and worked the ghosts in even when they didn’t work and never felt fleshed out but just like cameos for fans to get excited about.  The only ghost that gets any real development is a new character named Sterling with whom Audrey develops a friendship that blooms into something more the more time they spend together.  I thought perhaps he might’ve been named for Sterling Holloway but from what I could find Holloway never did anything with The Mansion.  There is a beautiful moment at the end where Audrey destroys his tether to let him move onto the afterlife as he had been in the Mansion for centuries as that is where he died.   It’s a beautiful goodbye and it reminded me of the last dance between Casper and Kat at the end of that movie.

 

 

This book frustrates me as I can see what it’s going for and how good it could’ve been but it never gets there.

 

 

 

My Final Thoughts

 

 

This book is almost there, the stuff dealing with Audrey’s anxiety is great, and watching her develop is wonderful to explore but this story could be told with any haunted house setting and it’d be the same.  That’s a problem, there’s an expectation when you set a book at The Haunted Mansion, and saying that a story set at The Mansion can be told without The Mansion is a major hindrance to the story.  The Haunted Mansion should be used to enhance the story, not feel like it deters from the story that is being told and that is how I felt reading this book, it just never reached it’s greatness that it could have as the idea of using the Mansion to explore anxiety and how that is something that doesn’t go away is a wonderful concept as it shows there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.  Instead, though,  this book makes The Haunted Mansion feel tacked on and that disappoints me as it could’ve been good instead of just okay.

 

 

 

 

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