It’s getting closer and closer to one of the best times of year: fall. Technically, fall doesn’t kick off until September 23, but at least here in Wisconsin, the weather is already starting to make a little bit of a turn. Don’t get me wrong, I love summer fiercely. But there’s something about fall that really sits well with me, and I love how I feel like I’m allowed to stay in and ready scary books just because it’s the “right time” to do that.
I’ve written extensively about YA horror before, here and at School Library Journal, but I haven’t talked about what’s been hitting shelves in horror lately. It’s a big season of solid horror reads, too — I’ve been tearing through them and think that even though horror is and always has been a staple of YA, it’s getting a little more of the spotlight now. This isn’t a bad thing.
Here’s a big round-up of recent and upcoming YA horror novels. All descriptions come from WorldCat, and for the books I’ve read, I’ve added a bit of my thoughts about the title. Consider this your fall reading list.
The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle: Every October Cara and her family become mysteriously and dangerously accident-prone, but this year, the year Cara, her ex-stepbrother, and her best friend are 17, is when Cara will begin to unravel the accident season’s dark origins.
The Bargaining by Carly Anne West: Grieving and guilty over a friend’s death, Penny is not surprised when her mother sends her to live with her father and stepmother, April, but when April takes her to help restore an old house in a dense forest, weird occurences connected to missing children threaten Penny’s safety and fragile mental health.
Bits & Pieces by Jonathan Maberry: Twenty-two short stories, eleven of which were previously published, based on the Rot & Ruin series in which fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his friends fight a zombie plague in a post-apocalyptic America. Includes a related comic book script.
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett: Seventeen-year-old Ash Larkin finds out her family is involved in a centuries-old saga of love and murder, alchemy and immortality when she follows her mother to an isolated settlement in the cornfields of Kansas.
The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy: Seventeen-year-old Stella has no recollection of the day her best friend disappeared while the two, then six, were picking strawberries, until the corpse of a similar girl turns up and Stella not only begins to remember, she learns that something dark has been at work in their little town for generations.
The Crimson Gate by Whitney A. Miller: Harlow Wintergreen, now the new Matriarch of VisionCrest, the powerful religious organization previously led by her father, is trapped inside a Cambodian temple, but she must escape and thwart her double, the evil Isiris, who is masquerading as Harlow in order to bring disease and destruction to the world.
The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Kate Alender: Sixteen-year-old Cordelia and her family move into the house they just inherited in Pennsylvania, a former insane asylum the locals call Hysteria Hall–unfortunately the house does not want defiant girls like Delia, so it kills her, and as she wanders the house, meeting the other ghosts and learning the dark secrets of the Hall, she realizes that she has to find a way to save her sister, parents, and perhaps herself.
Verdict: I loved this, and it’s hands-down one of the best books I read this year. It’s a fast-paced, extremely intelligent, and feminist horror story with a lead character who is smart. I find myself getting frustrated with leads in horror frequently, but Delia doesn’t disappoint. Alender writes suspense so well — this was my first book by her and it won’t be my last. I’m eager to dive into her backlist. This one is more gothic than gore.
The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich: Told through journal entries, a psychotherapist’s notes, court records, and more, relates the tale of Carly, a teen who was institutionalized after her parents’ death but released to Elmbrige High School, where she is believed to have a second personality or soul named Kaitlyn, and/or be possessed by a demon.
Dead Investigation by Charlie Price: Since the affair of the murdered cheerleader, seventeen-year-old Murray has moved into the lawnmower shed at the town cemetery, where he is close to the dead that he talks to and considers friends–but the caretaker’s daughter, Pearl, wants him to use his gift to find a homeless man who seems to have disappeared, and may have been murdered by someone who is hunting the homeless.
Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics: When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly Ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.
When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn’t right on the prairie. She’s heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.
Verdict: I read a review calling this “Children of the Corn” meets “Little House on the Prairie” and that’s perfect. This is classic horror set in the 1800s — but that’s not actually stated in text. It’s inferred by the way the story is written, which is old time-y. But readers who see this as current times could be believed too, as Lukavics builds a story that isn’t about setting but about voice, about tension, and about delivering real deal chills. Horror fans who are genre fiends will dig this, and it could be a solid introduction to those who want to be horror readers and are ready for an all-out horror fest. More gore than gothic. Remember, it’s the prairie.
The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow: While working as a production assistant on her aunt’s television show about the paranormal, a seventeen-year-old girl discovers a psychic ability of her own, which may provide clues to her mother’s death.
Verdict: I called this my favorite book of June for a reason. This is a fun read that plays on tropes through the lens of reality television. It toys with so many of the things I love — format is unique, it explores the “other side” of “reality” TV, and it digs into the urban legend of the Jersey Devil. This one is light on scares and more about exploring the backside of horror, so it’s one you could hand to your more easily scared readers. Diehard genre fans, though, will find a lot to enjoy here BECAUSE they’ll pick up on the tropes. It’s smart.
The Dogs by Alan Stratton: Set in a remote part of the Canadian countryside, THE DOGS is a first person narration by 15 year old Cameron. He and his mother have just moved yet again to keep out of the way of Cameron’s violent father. This time their new ‘home’ is a deserted old farmhouse with a disturbing history.
The Diary of a Haunting by M. Verano: After her parents’ high-profile divorce, sixteen-year-old Paige is forced to leave Los Angeles for a rambling Victorian mansion in small-town Idaho where she soon notices strange occurrences that seem to be building toward some unspeakable horror.
Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinsa: On a distant island where day and night exist on fourteen-year cycles, and the islanders migrate south each sunset, three children get left behind and must find a way off the island before the Night finds them.
Return to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz: Ivy Jensen escaped the Dark House–but the haunting memories of the friends she left behind remain. As the trail for the killer grows cold, it’s up to Ivy to end the nightmare. Forever.
Sanctuary by Jennifer McKissack: After the sudden death of her aunt, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to the old mansion on a remote island off the coast of Maine, ironically named Sanctuary, the place where her father and sister died, and from which her mother was committed to an insane asylum soon after–and it is also a place of dark secrets, haunted by the ghosts of its original owners, and inhabited by her vicious uncle.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke: Inspired by classic tales and films, a collection of fourteen short stories ranging from bloody horror, to psychological thrillers, to supernatural creatures, to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, by acclaimed YA authors of every genre.
Verdict: I’m about half-way through this collection as I write this, and I’ve been really impressed with the stories so far. There is something for every kind of horror fan and it’s a good anthology of stories, as they all feel different and lend themselves to reading in one big gulp or in small spurts (like I prefer).
The Suffering by Rin Chupeco: When an old friend disappears in Aokigahara, Japan’s infamous ‘suicide forest,’ Tark and the ghostly Okiku must resolve their differences and return to find her. In a strange village inside Aokigahara, old ghosts and an ancient evil lie waiting.
Thirteen Chairs by David Shelton: When Jack enters the deserted house in his neighborhood, he finds a group of people who invite him to take the thirteenth chair in the room and share a story–in the house where the ghosts meet.
Took by Mary Downing Hahn: A witch called Old Auntie is lurking near Dan’s family’s new home. He doesn’t believe in her at first, but is forced to accept that she is real and take action when his little sister, Erica, is ‘took’ to become Auntie’s slave for the next fifty years.
The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong: Tess has always been tormented by waking visions that make her question her sanity. When the orphanage she lives in burns down, she decides to face her fears and find out once and for all what is wrong with her. She believes the truth must lie with her parents, and so, armed with only an address and phone number, Tess travels to a crumbling mansion in rural Quebec, where she discovers evidence of mistreatment of mental patients. She also makes an unlikely ally and gradually unearths her family’s sad history—and finally accepts the truth about her paranormal powers.
What We Knew by Barbara Stewart: When Tracy and her best friend, Lisa, were kids, stories about a man — a creep who exposes himself to little girls — kept them out of the woods and in their own backyards. But Tracy and Lisa aren’t so little anymore, and the man in the woods is nothing but a stupid legend. Right? But someone is in the woods. Someone is watching. And he knows all their secrets, secrets they can’t tell anyone — not even each other. Lisa’s just being paranoid. At least that’s what Tracy thinks. But when a disturbing “gift” confirms her worst fears, it sets the girls on a dangerous journey that takes them beyond the edge of the woods. But reality is more terrifying than the most chilling myth, and what they find will test the bonds of friendship, loyalty, and love. Tracy and Lisa can’t destroy the evil they’ll face, but can they stop it from destroying each other?
We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jane: Haunted by memories of the fire that killed her boyfriend, seventeen-year-old Alice Monroe is in a mental ward when, with support from fellow patient Chase, she begins to confront hidden truths in a journal, including that the only person she trusts may be telling her only half of the story.
Verdict: Well, I’ll be honest — I guessed this one from about page 5. I could have figured it out by the description alone what was going to happen. But I’m also fairly comfortable with horror tropes, and this didn’t stray from a familiar one. That’s not a bad thing for those who aren’t so well versed, but the downfall is that with horror, as opposed to some other genres, I find reading the story becomes less about enjoying the story as it’s written and more about guessing whether or not my hunch is correct. This isn’t a bad book, and it’s certainly worth reading. It’s much more on the psychological side of horror than on the gore or gothic side. I believe, but am not 100% certain, that the author may be a woman of color, which is absolutely worth noting because diversity in horror (in YA and in adult) is sorely lacking. I sound wishy-washy on this title because I can’t fairly evaluate the horror element of it, but I can say the writing was solid and I would absolutely pick up another book by Jean.