The name Emily Carroll might conjure up images from her well-received story collection Through the Woods. Critics have praised Carroll not only for her storytelling, but for her artistic style that plays around with composition and colors on the printed page. Carroll brings this unique brand of storytelling to create a profoundly disturbing haunted house story. A Guest in the House showcases Carroll’s signature style of telling a spooky story through a visual medium.
Carroll’s story is told through the eyes of Abby, a woman who’s recently married into a new family, seemingly kind dentist David and his daughter Crystal. They have come to a new town for a fresh start, but the specter of Sheila, David’s first wife and Crystal’s mother looms heavily over the family, particularly Crystal and Abby. Crystal is missing her mother, even claiming that she still sees her. Abby, who has never really met Sheila, starts to see her too, leading Abby to question everything she knows about her family and about love.
Carroll has created a very compelling protagonist in Abby, a woman who seems unsure about being a new wife and stepmother. She also seems unsure about being in a relationship, spending a great deal of time in her head. Meanwhile, David seems to be a caring if absent male figure in the household, which naturally makes him a suspect in Sheila’s disappearance. Coupled with Crystal’s grieving, along with her own odd behavior, Abby very much seems like a woman who is completely unprepared for the fractures she starts to notice in her perfect family’s facade.
Letting readers inside Abby’s head allows Carroll’s artwork to shine. Abby’s world is one where her thoughts wander beyond the borders of panels, where vibrant colors invade the typically drab world she occupies with David and her family. The presence in the house is more than just a pale apparition; it often appears as something full of ethereal beauty, of colors that show up like blood on the printed page, and it also can also look anything but beautiful.
Carroll’s full-length story is a slow burn of a tale that finishes with a brutal gutpunch, meaning it fits into any adult graphic novel collection that needs some scary stories, but it is also an example for graphic novel creators of how colors and layout, how lights and darks, can create a story’s setting and tone.
A Guest in the House Vol.
By Emily Carroll
Macmillan First Second, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Lesbian,