In another life, I used to be a Youth Services librarian which means I have read more than my fair share of books aimed at 12-17 year olds. One of the criticisms against young adult books (YA) is that they are too formulaic to ever have any real stakes. And for horror, those stakes are vital. But a recent groundswell of YA titles exploring generational fears, both real and imagined, highlight the complexity and the subversive value of the genre. From carefully constructed character studies to goretastic forays into dystopian universes, YA books offer cinematic horror fans an opportunity to enjoy the genre in a new way.
Here’s my list for the crème de la crème of YA tackling all things macabre!
Rotters by Daniel Kraus
With gruesome imagery that advances the complexity of the story, Rotters is an exceptionally well crafted tale of family loyalty and those things we keep hidden for fear of judgment. Upon the death of his mother, sixteen-year-old Joey is thrust into the life of his oddball father, a gruff man he barely knows. When he discovers his father’s predilection for grave robbing, Joey assumes the role of apprentice as he works to uncover the secrets of his mother’s former life. Fans of suspense will find much to enjoy in this 450 page opus.
Related Reads: The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Easily one of the most harrowing books I’ve ever read, Living Dead Girl is not for the faint of heart. As the story of Alice, a teenager abducted when she was ten and turned into a sexual slave by her captor, the book’s horror is unrelenting and is made all the more chilling because of its basis in reality. This is a difficult read but with carefully constructed language and an unflinchingly accurate look at the impact of sexual abuse, it is essential reading for fans of realistic horror.
Related Reads: 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp, The Cellar by Natasha Preston, After the First Death by Robert Cormier
No horror booklist would be complete without a nod toward the undead. A wholly original take on zombies, Grant’s story fuses together the popularity of dystopian fiction with horror and science fiction tropes to create a thoroughly engrossing story about what happens when a miracle virus that cures everything from the common cold to cancer has an unfortunate side-effect: it raises the dead.
Related Reads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
If you’re looking for something more gothic and less gore, look no further than Priestley’s divinely creepy tale. Upon the death of his parents, Michael is sent to live with his mysterious guardian, a man whose life Michael’s father saved earlier. Fusing traditional gothic elements with a modern sensibility, fans of Shelley and Poe will be hooked on this page tuning-foray into ghosts and murder.
Related Reads: The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Amity by Micol Ostow
Readers enamored with a good old-fashioned mystery will enjoy the dark and twisty Ten. When a group of teens travel to a remote beach house for a weekend-long party, secrets are exposed as the body count starts to rise. Campy and evocative of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this is a surprisingly taut tale that will leave readers guessing until the final pages. Horror fans will especially appreciate the red herrings and deliberate misdirection featured prominently in the book.
Related Reads: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen, The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes
Set in the summer of 1969, this story weaves in the time period (the Manson murders, communes, hands-off parenting) to create a devastating tale of innocence lost. As the story’s titular character, Bliss is abandoned by her hippie parents and left in the care of her wealthy grandmother. Foisted into an elite prep school where blood rituals and suicide pacts reign, Bliss finds her existence threatened by an array of demonic forces, both living and dead.
Related Reads: Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf, Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas, Rat Life by Tedd Arnold, Prep School Confidential by KaraTaylor