How to Sell a Haunted House Summary, Characters and Themes

How to Sell a Haunted House is a 2023 horror novel by American author Grady Hendrix.

The story follows Louise, a woman who returns to her childhood home in Charleston after the death of her parents. She must work with her estranged brother, Mark, to prepare the house for sale, but they soon discover that the house has other plans. Filled with the remnants of their mother’s puppet collection and their father’s academic career, the house seems to have a life of its own, and it’s not going to let go of its inhabitants easily.


Louise Joyner, a single mother in San Francisco, is drawn back to her childhood home in Charleston after her parents tragically die in a car accident. Tensions flare immediately as Louise and her brother, Mark, clash over the house’s fate. 

Mark, inheriting everything, plans a swift sale, while Louise, receiving only her mother’s puppet collection, seeks to delay the sale and preserve their memories.

Amidst the sibling conflict, eerie events unfold. Pupkin, a cherished puppet, mysteriously reappears after being discarded, and Louise endures unsettling encounters with taxidermied creatures. 

Determined to maintain normalcy, she hides these incidents from Mark.

However, the paranormal activity intensifies. Pupkin viciously attacks Louise, forcing Mark to intervene and reveal his past trauma: Pupkin had manipulated him and his friends during college.

In turn, Louise confesses Pupkin’s role in her childhood attempt to drown Mark.

Another harrowing attack by Pupkin leads Louise to sever Mark’s possessed hand, a desperate act of salvation. 

With Mark hospitalized, she destroys Pupkin, believing the nightmare has ended. But upon returning to San Francisco, she discovers Pupkin has possessed her daughter, Poppy.

Louise and Poppy rush back to Charleston, seeking help from their Aunt Gail, who has experience with cleansing spirits from objects. 

They uncover a chilling truth: Pupkin is animated by the ghost of their mother’s brother, Freddie, who drowned at age five.

Louise confronts their Aunt Honey, learning the hidden truth of Freddie’s death—he drowned while under their mother’s care, and his body was buried in the backyard.

In a final confrontation, Louise and Mark face a horde of possessed puppets, narrowly escaping to the backyard. 

There, Louise unearths Freddie’s remains and, through Pupkin, urges his spirit to move on. Freddie finally finds peace, freeing the family from his haunting.

Months later, Louise and Poppy return for Freddie’s proper funeral. Mark has revitalized the house and secured a buyer. 

In their final farewell, the siblings experience a comforting scent of stollen, their father’s traditional holiday bread, a poignant sign of their parents’ love and final goodbye. 

With this closure, Louise and Mark can finally heal and move forward.

How To Sell a Haunted House Summary


Louise Joyner

The protagonist of the novel, Louise is a complex woman grappling with grief, strained family ties, and her own identity. She’s fiercely independent, having distanced herself from her family in Charleston to build a life as a single mother in San Francisco. 

Louise is practical and rational, yet the haunting events challenge her worldview. She struggles to reconcile her logical nature with the escalating paranormal occurrences, leading to a gradual unraveling of her controlled facade. 

Deep down, Louise yearns for connection and resolution, seeking to mend the fractured relationships with her brother and confront the emotional scars from their shared past.

Mark Joyner

Louise’s estranged brother, Mark, initially appears self-centered and impulsive. He’s quick to dismiss his sister’s concerns and prioritize financial gain over familial bonds. 

However, Mark carries deep-seated guilt and trauma from his own past encounters with Pupkin, the malevolent puppet. 

As the story unfolds, his vulnerability and desire for redemption emerge. 

Mark proves capable of compassion and selflessness, ultimately risking his well-being to protect Louise and confront the haunting head-on.


The central antagonist, Pupkin, is a sinister puppet imbued with a malicious spirit. 

He serves as a catalyst for conflict and terror, manipulating and tormenting the Joyner siblings. Pupkin embodies the unresolved trauma of their family history, exploiting their vulnerabilities and amplifying their fears. 

His presence is a constant reminder of the dark secrets lurking beneath the surface of their lives, pushing them towards a reckoning with the past.

Aunt Honey and Aunt Gail

These maternal figures represent contrasting approaches to tradition and spirituality

Aunt Honey, the elder matriarch, clings to Southern customs and familial secrets, hindering the siblings’ progress toward healing. 

Aunt Gail, on the other hand, possesses a more open-minded and pragmatic approach to the supernatural, offering guidance and support in their battle against Pupkin.

Poppy Joyner

Louise’s young daughter, Poppy, becomes an unwitting target of Pupkin’s malevolence. 

Her innocence and vulnerability heighten the stakes of the haunting, fueling Louise’s determination to protect her. 

Poppy also serves as a symbol of hope and resilience, reminding Louise of the importance of family and the enduring power of love.


The Haunting Power of the Past

The book delves deep into the haunting power of the past, both literally and figuratively. 

The physical house itself becomes a repository of memories, filled with the remnants of the Joyner family’s history. 

The puppets, dolls, and other artifacts represent not just childhood toys but also the unresolved emotions and traumas that have accumulated over time. 

The haunting presence of Pupkin, the malevolent puppet, embodies the lingering influence of past misdeeds and the destructive power of secrets. 

As Louise and Mark confront the supernatural manifestations within the house, they are forced to grapple with their own painful memories and the buried truths of their family history. 

The haunting serves as a catalyst for self-reflection and ultimately leads to a reckoning with the past, enabling the characters to find closure and move forward.

The Complexities of Family Relationships

The novel also explores the complexities of family relationships, particularly the strained bond between siblings Louise and Mark. 

Their initial animosity and differing perspectives on their parents’ legacy create a significant rift between them. However, as the haunting intensifies, they are forced to rely on each other for survival. 

Through shared experiences and the revelation of long-held secrets, they begin to understand and empathize with each other’s pain and trauma. The novel highlights the importance of communication and forgiveness in healing familial wounds. 

While the Joyner family’s past is marked by dysfunction and unresolved conflicts, the shared ordeal of the haunting ultimately brings Louise and Mark closer together, allowing them to forge a stronger bond based on understanding and acceptance.

The Unseen Trauma of Childhood

Louise and Mark’s shared experience with Pupkin during their formative years left deep scars on their psyches. 

The manipulative puppet preyed on their vulnerabilities, leading to destructive behaviors and a lasting sense of unease. 

The novel illustrates how childhood trauma can manifest in adulthood in various ways, from strained relationships to self-destructive tendencies. 

Louise’s fear and Mark’s guilt stem from their traumatic encounters with Pupkin, shaping their choices and interactions. 

The haunting of the house serves as a metaphor for the resurfacing of buried childhood wounds, forcing the siblings to confront and process their trauma in order to heal and move forward.

The Power of Acceptance and Forgiveness

While the novel explores dark themes of trauma and grief, it also offers a message of hope through acceptance and forgiveness. 

Louise and Mark’s journey involves not only confronting the haunting of the house but also coming to terms with their own flaws and mistakes. As they uncover the truth about their past and the events surrounding Freddie’s death, they learn to accept the complexities of their family history and the imperfections of their loved ones. 

The act of forgiving their mother for her negligence and each other for their past transgressions is essential for their own healing and for breaking the cycle of trauma that has haunted their family for generations. 

Through acceptance and forgiveness, the characters find a path toward redemption and the possibility of a brighter future.