THE GHOST TREE by Christina Henry

THE GHOST TREE by Christina Henry

A Paranormal Thriller with No True Identity to Call its Own

Note: Our “First 100 Pages” reviews take a brief look at books that, for a variety of reasons, we didn’t spend a lot of time with. This feature explains why we think they’re worth returning to — or permanently exiling to the DNF pile.

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

THE GHOST TREE Publisher Description

When people go missing in the sleepy town of Smith’s Hollow, the only clue to their fate comes when a teenager starts having terrifying visions, in a chilling horror novel from national bestselling author Christina Henry.

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.

The First 100 Pages…

I was excited for a good, distracting supernatural horror read. Unfortunately, Christina Henry’s THE GHOST TREE too frequently ejected me from its story world with clunky writing and too familiar characters.

The author belabors every point in a way I find frustrating. Every page seemed to have a “hey, did you catch that? Lemme say it again…” section. I want to work a little while reading a story. There’s no subtlety here, though—it’s mostly just “telling”.

The atmosphere doesn’t build in a way that feels natural. Again, it feels like I’m being told it’s creepy, but the author calls attention to those moments rather than letting them happen and layer up tension for the reader. Also, the bare-bones “creepy small town” trope is carrying a LOT of atmospheric weight here. But the setting doesn’t feel lived in or contain a real sense of time and place.

The POV head-hops in a way that makes me think the author creates scenes like you would in a movie or TV show. It gives more angles to view the world/events, but it makes the characters feel like sketches with a few primary traits. They seem familiar, but flat. Speaking of familiar…

When the town’s mayor was introduced, I immediately thought of two screen characters: the mayors from JAWS and season 3 of STRANGER THINGS. Different settings, similar motivations.

And then, just one page later, we get the THE GHOST TREE’s mayor’s reflection on seeing JAWS at the drive-in, and how they identified with the film’s mayor as sympathetic, with their attempt to keep the town’s economy alive. (!!!)

It felt like a shortcut, piggybacking on an established pop culture character rather than making this one a person on their own. And it’s so on-the-nose. I was surprised it made it past an editor.

In general, what I read of GHOST TREE lacks its own identity. The mash-up of other stories and creators—however accidental or unintentional—is too apparent. Stephen King and Stranger Things, certainly. Perhaps some of the 90s work of John Saul? The teenage characterizations and drama remind me of Megan Abbott (though more reminiscent of the lackluster DARE ME, rather than her brilliant THE END OF EVERYTHING).

The author has some strong turns of phrase here-and-there. Beyond the issues above, Henry is clearly a competent writer. The character of Lauren is easy to identify and sympathize with.

Final Thoughts

THE GHOST TREE isn’t marketed as Young Adult, but it absolutely feels like YA. I expect some readers will find this quick-and-easy supernatural scare-fest appealing. For me, though, it’s too clunky and obvious, missing a true hook to keep me invested.

File under: DNF, will not return to.

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

The Ghost Tree

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Adron Buske

Adron Buske

Adron Buske (he/him) is the founder of FICTIONS & FANDOMS, and hosts FICTITIOUS, a podcast about the storytelling craft of science fiction and fantasy. An avid cross-genre reader, he prefers thought-provoking, character driven stories with complex moralities, well-developed worlds, diverse characters, and big adventures. Some favorite books: American Gods (Neil Gaiman), The Wolf in the Whale (Jordanna Max Brodsky), The Murderbot Diaries (Martha Wells), and The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern).
Adron Buske

Adron Buske

Adron Buske (he/him) is the founder of FICTIONS & FANDOMS, and hosts FICTITIOUS, a podcast about the storytelling craft of science fiction and fantasy. An avid cross-genre reader, he prefers thought-provoking, character driven stories with complex moralities, well-developed worlds, diverse characters, and big adventures. Some favorite books: American Gods (Neil Gaiman), The Wolf in the Whale (Jordanna Max Brodsky), The Murderbot Diaries (Martha Wells), and The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern).

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