book club guide – How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

Here we go! If your horror book club is awesome enough to choose How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix for your next read, then y’all are my kind of people. Well chosen, friends. You can likely find this one anywhere fine books are sold, or find it at your local library if you are so inclined. The discussion guide is divided into five sections that correspond to the sections in the novel, in case you get all chatty and need to reconvene the club over several meetings.

Title: How to Sell a Haunted House

Author: Grady Hendrix

Date first published: 17 January 2023

ISBN harmed in the making of this Book Club offering: 9780593201268 (it doesn’t matter if you use a different version, this just makes it clearer if/when pages/sections don’t perfectly align from whatever version you may be using) Published by Berkley.

Book jacket blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Grady Hendrix takes on the haunted house in a thrilling new novel that explores the way your past – and your family – can haunt you like nothing else.

When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.

Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.

But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…

WHO are the main characters? The main protagonist is Louise Joyner, the 39-year-old single mother of 5-year-old Poppy.

WHAT happens (no spoilers)? Louise travels to her parents’ funeral. Family drama ensues. That’s about it. Kidding! Although Louise does travel to attend the funeral for her parents who died tragically in a car accident, and family drama does ensue, there are secrets piled on top of secrets that inevitably unravel. Louise and her brother, Mark, have to figure out how to carry out their parents’ wishes, and dispose of their belongings and house. Unfortunately, the minor matter of a few haunted or demonic family heirlooms keeps throwing a wrench into plans, leading to some hair-raising situations. Confessions take place, truths are told, limb(s) are severed… just the usual family sort of stuff.

WHEN does the story take place? Although the story doesn’t specify the date for present-time, it references recent events having happened in the 2017-18 time period, so it should be safe to assume that it is more or less today-ish (today being firmly in 2023). There are flashbacks to earlier times, when Louise and Mark were children in the early 1990s, and there are indications in Chapter 3 that the story starts sometime around the Christmas holiday season.

WHERE is the story set? Louise and her daughter, Poppy, live in San Francisco. The meat of the story is set where Louise grew up, and where she returns to face reality, in Charleston.

WHY SHOULD YOU READ THIS BOOK? 413 pages that swing wildly between blocks of intensely frightening occurrences, heartfelt family dynamics, moments of blind panic, and – because this is Grady Hendrix telling us a story – absurdly funny stuff. Have you ever considered joining a radical puppet collective? No? Because apparently that is a thing. Taxidermy squirrels in your craft nativity diorama? Why not? There is nothing to complain about in How to Sell a Haunted House, only good things.

FOOD AND WINE PAIRINGS for this book club selection:

  • Pizza Chinese. That’s right. Order your favourite pizza, then before you put that phone down, order a few of your favourite Chinese dishes. You might regret it, but not until much, much later.
  • Ghost Block Estate Cabernet Sauvignon


  • Funeral sandwiches
  • Decaffeinated coffee

Watch your step, this house has a personality and I don’t have insurance if you trip and break all your teeth on the front steps (definitely spoilers below)… it is strongly recommended that you read the book before you read the questions!

Part 1: DENIAL (pages 1-84, including Chapter 1)

  • Louise has memories of being way too scared by the story in The Velveteen Rabbit. Is it a kid’s fairy tale, or what? Is her fear of that old story foreshadowing something we should be prepared for? (hint: yes. it is.)
  • The challenges of motherhood form a theme that emerges throughout the book. In the first few chapters, there is the idea of how “no one holds moms”, and a bit later, how “nothing happens on a mom’s schedule”. Is that true? Do mothers have to live as martyrs?
  • There are several mentions in a short period of things all feeling “wrong” from pages 27 to 29. Four mentions, actually. Any thoughts among the club about what seems off?
  • Unusual occupations often come up in books. Louise’s mom, Nancy, had a career running a “puppet ministry”. Have you ever wanted to try to make a living doing something ridiculous? Does anyone in the book club actually make a living doing something ridiculous? I mean, being a cubicle farmer is ridiculous depending on your perspective…
  • By the end of Chapter 4, I decided that I did not like Louise’s brother Mark. Not one bit. By the end of Chapter 8, it was confirmed that Mark is a top-level douche-canoe and I wanted to drop an F-Bomb squarely on his head. Am I overreacting here? Can we discuss what we think about Mark at the end of DENIAL, please?

Part 2: ANGER (pages 85-214)

  • Finding himself in the middle of some family drama, Roland Agutter (the clutter removal guy) says “money shows up and the family tears itself apart”. Is that what’s happening here?
  • In Chapter 12, Louise decides to stick around and help Mark get the house ready for sale, despite her desperate desire to return home to San Francisco and her daughter. Maybe a refusal to stay would have made for a short book with no resolution, but, like, is the prospect of maybe coming in to some money worth devastating your kid(s)? Why wouldn’t Louise just go and get Poppy so they could at least be together?
  • Can we talk for a minute about the hand-in-the-garburator trope in horror? Is it a worn out cliché, or is it top level cringe horror?
  • Louise’s cousin Mercy believes that the house is haunted and can’t be sold, and tells Louise that her mom (Aunt Gail) can do a cleansing. Mark wonders if the haunting is actually their recently deceased parents. Do all Christian people really believe so readily in hauntings? Is this possibly a Charleston thing?
  • Louise tells herself that everyone around her is being selfish, and that it is up to her to be the adult. Then she decides that nothing matters except selling the house. Is there anything problematic about those thoughts? Do we think just maybe there is more wrong about Louise than just tunnel vision about money?
  • At one point, Mark supposes that Louise must be sexually repressed. At the same time, Louise is clearly denying things happening right in front of her eyes, and even denying her own thoughts. Is she repressed?
  • Poppy regressing and using baby-talk upsets Louise but… her own childhood toy from when she was Poppy’s age was called “Hedgie Hoggie”. So WTF?
  • Attempted murder aside, the description of the night when Louise received a Spirograph for Christmas hit hard on the old nostalgia bone. What were the toys or gifts you remember cherishing that much as a kid? (P.S. Louise was kind of a terrible child.)
  • Continuing the theme of Louise being not-really-a-great-person, she accuses Mark of remembering the pond incident incorrectly. She’s scared, and that makes her angry. She thinks to herself about how her brother “doesn’t even know the worst part”, so she’s clearly covering something up. Why do you suppose Louise is scared?
  • If you managed to catch your breath after the madness of Chapter 19 and read on through Chapter 20, congratulations! Shit has gone wild up in here. Mark and Louise retreat to a safe place – the Waffle House, obvs – and it’s time for some real talk. Mark calls the Bible a children’s story that people make laws and kill each other over every day. Is your book club tight enough to talk about why religion drives people to do such horrible things to each other? Forever and ever, amen?
  • What would Louise be giving up by allowing herself to say what she knows to be true, instead of what makes sense?

Part 3: BARGAINING (pages 215-294)

  • Mark relates the story of his university experience to Louise, and talks about the radical puppet collective he joins. They performed a political and controversial pageant for an elementary school that resulted in children crying, their pay being withheld, and the police being called in. What was “the thing” that happened at your school that everyone remembers?
  • Louise and Mark agree that Pupkin had been shot up real good. Does shooting a presumably demonic puppet ever actually end the madness?
  • Up in the attic, Pupkin – who is all shredded up and not looking his best – is apparently urging Mark to put him on. How messed up is this whole scene, with the retreat up the ducts to the wee puppet bedroom, etc.?
  • At the end of Chapter 25, I believed Louise must be dead and gone. How many blows to the head with a hammer do you suppose it takes for a human to actually expire?
  • Straight up: would you cut off someone’s limb to save them? Would you cut your own limb off to save yourself?
  • At the end of BARGAINING, the haunting seems to have left the building along with Elvis. With over 100 pages left to go, what do we think about that?

Part 4: DEPRESSION (pages 295-399)

  • After the extremely challenging events at the house, Louise tells Mark that she burned Pupkin with fire. Mark is angry about his arm, and wants Louise to apologize. Is Mark justified in his anger here, or is he back on his bullshit again?
  • Louise goes home to find that Pupkin now resides on her little girl’s arm. Oh. Hell. No. What does this mean? Do you think Louise will cut Poppy’s arm off next?
  • In the midst of the insanity, Louise thinks about websites and newspaper stories about situations where other mothers have been called “crazy”, and she wonders if they were just women like her, protecting their children like she was trying to do. Do the news and the internet tell the full story? Can we ever really know what’s going on based on posts and articles?
  • Sometimes you have to be creative to get a kid to do what needs to be done. AmIright? Are mothering and manipulating two words to describe the same thing?
  • It turns out that the auntie in the insane church sweaters is a badass. Can you think of any other unlikely badasses either in real life or from fiction?
  • Aunt Gail’s friend Barb, of the Dorchester Village Mobile Home Park, may not be the hero Louise asked for, but is she the hero Louise deserves? Do you think Grady Hendrix bases the more outrageous characters like Barb on people he sees in real life?
  • “Be strong, trust in the Lord, and stay hydrated” is quite the pep talk. What would your rallying cry be, when attempting to get some demons to shove off?
  • Why are families so weird about their pasts? Is it human nature to be cagey about the past, and is that why recorded history tends to omit so many ugly truths?
  • Louise wonders if she inherited a hardness from the women in her family. How far back do the roots of who we are actually go? Are we ourselves, or are we everyone who came before us?
  • Is it just me, or is it super creepy to hear a killer puppet play Hot and Cold? Wait… I just said “HEAR” but I swear I only read the book… is Pupkin talking to me?? 
  • Louise’s thought process about Mark’s gut feelings took her from an attitude of skepticism to one of trust. Have you ever had to explain something you’d blurted out of your mouth after making multiple connections in your head that only would have made sense to you?
  • The image of scared little Freddie wandering off to look for his missing family is kind of heart-breaking. After all the family had done to block out his death, all he wanted was to be with them. What’s the lesson here?

Part 5: ACCEPTANCE (pages 401-413)

  • Some people equate weddings and funerals with family reunions. In this case, for Mark and Louise, it was true. What do you think – are funerals family reunions?

I’d love to hear what you think about the noises above book club guide to How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix. If you have a request for a guide that your book club can use for a horror book not found here, send a request via the contact page. Cheers, weirdos!

go ahead, whistle past the graveyard

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