Horror: It’s for Teens!
Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re diving into the world of Young Adult fiction. We all cut our teeth on Young Adult after graduating from Middle Grade spooks (I’ll never forget you, Goosebumps). We’ll take a look at the differences between Young Adult and Adult fiction, the emerging genre of New Adult fiction, and check out a list of ten Young Adult horrors that I can’t wait to read (or have already read).
What is “Young Adult Fiction”, anyway? Technically, YA is a category of fiction for readers aged 12-18. However, it’s widely enjoyed by readers of all ages, including myself. I have another article about Middle Grade books for readers aged 8-12 (you can check out that article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/10-spooky-middle-grade-books/ ). The age category of fiction above YA would be plain old “Adult”, for readers aged 18+.
What’s the difference between Young Adult and Adult? There are several key factors distinguishing the two, including character ages, general subject matter, and language used. A teen protagonist generally hints at a YA book. YA subject matter can certainly veer far into the dark side (think Ellen Hopkins and Gayle Forman), but for the most part avoids graphic descriptions of heinous crimes and horrors. Young Adult themes tend to center around growing up, friendships and relationships, and the general priorities and characteristics of teenagers (oh, the drama!). Further, Young Adult tends to rely on a fast-moving plot with limited flowery prose and, often times, limited use of profanities.
The line between Young Adult and Adult can get blurry, because sometimes teens face adult challenges, or fit into an Adult fiction storytelling style. Some authors refer to their work that falls between the two categories as “New Adult”. New Adult is for readers between YA and Adult, and includes some of the best of both worlds. Darker stories and themes with characters still figuring life out – but they’re in their early twenties, not their teens. While the NA category isn’t widely recognized – and outright denied existence by some publishers – some of the books on the following list may fall closer to NA than YA. For the record, I am a proponent for New Adult and I think we should expand the category, giving more stories to those who aren’t teens but aren’t really adults. Not yet.
Without further ado, let’s run down the list of some of the best YA horror books on the market.
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (2010)
The first installment of a four book series marketed as H.P. Lovecraft x Rick Riorden, this book follows orphaned Will (remember what I said about dead parents?) who works as an assistant to a monster-hunting doctor. A new monster is discovered – the Anthropophagus, a headless creature that feeds through the gaping mouth in its chest. Unfortunately for Will and the doctor, this discovery means there are more Anthropophagi loose in the world. A mad hunt ensues to stop the creatures from eating the whole world – and to figure out where they’re coming from in the first place.
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (2020)
This Bram Stoker Award winning slasher horror is Cesare’s YA debut, having found success in Adult fiction with Video Night (2013) and The Summer Job (2014). If the title alone doesn’t get you interested, the summary will – there’s a clown in the cornfield! Quinn is the new girl in the small factory town of Kettle Springs, a place divided into two halves; kids and adults, progress and stifled tradition. When a clown mascot goes homicidal and starts killing off the teens, a new tradition threatens to begin – unless the teens can stop him. It sounds very Children of the Corn x It, and I’m buying it on my next trip to my local bookstore (not sponsored, I just love clowns).
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)
A New York Times bestseller that expanded into a 6 book series, this tale follows Jacob Portman on a quest to uncover a mystery that his late grandfather left behind. He discovers the time-bending world of Miss Peregrine and her home of misfits – peculiars – children with powers of all sorts. Some can wield fire, control plants, and levitate, while others have more outlandish abilities, like reanimating the dead or feeding through an extra mouth on the back of their head full of sharp, gnashing teeth. The peculiars are being hunted by invisible monsters called Hollowghasts, and Jacob is the key to defeating them… but no one knows why. There’s a full series review coming to the blog, soon!
The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldovsky (2021)
Here’s a thriller about a horror fan club that might be too into horror… The new girl in town, Rachel Chavez, is an avid horror movie fan with a tumultuous past. When she is inducted into the Mary Shelley Club at her new school, she is subjected to Fear Tests – terrifying pranks inspired by urban legends and -you guessed it- horror movies. When teens start dying, the pranks aren’t so fun anymore, and Rachel realizes that it’s not just a movie trope – it’s real life. It reminds me of an older Are You Afraid of the Dark. Book review coming soon!
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (2016)
This is the first book in a duology by an actual descendant of Cotton Mather (you know, the minister involved in those witch trials back in Salem?). The book follows Samantha Mather, also a descendant of Cotton, which makes her public enemy #1 on her first day at her new school in Salem, Massachusetts. The girls who rule the school are descendants of witches, and they make it their mission to bully Sam out of the school – and out of Salem. But there’s more at stake high school street-cred when a centuries-old curse unfolds, putting all descendants of the Salem Witch Trials in deadly jeopardy. Oh, yeah, and a love triangle between Sam, the boy next door, and a ghost.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (2019)
Marketed toward fans of Holly Black and V.E. Schwab, this historical horror follows the story of Ryn, the seventeen year old gravedigger. She works on her dead parents’ graveyard (there’s always at least one dead parent in Young Adult) but is struggling to keep her siblings happy and fed. Oh, yeah, and sometimes the dead (called “bone houses”) come back to life. Mysterious newcomer Ellis draws the bone houses to attack with a newfound hunger. Together, Ryn and Ellis must get to the bottom of the fae curse that makes the dead alive – and angry.
House of Furies by Madeleine Roux (2017)
The first installment of a trilogy (which I regrettably keep reading as “house of furries”) follows seventeen year old Louisa Ditton, a mad in a mysterious boarding house. Through her accidental investigation, Louisa discovers the house’s master is actually the head of a cruel organization that judges (and subsequently punishes) those who visit the boarding house whom he deems too far gone in their sinning to save. It’s a mysterious thriller about how easily men can become monsters when they think they are greater than other men. Roux also wrote the Asylum series, another YA series worth checking out if you’re into haunted asylums and murder mysteries.
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (2015)
The first book in a duology based on Japanese folklore that we talked about in my article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/japans-vengeful-ghosts-nihon-sandai-kaidan/. Okiku, a young girl who was tragically murdered in a well, now haunts the world, taking the lives of evil killers. When she stumbles across the misunderstood (and demon-possessed) Tark, Okiku knows she must free the malevolent spirit that is using the boy’s body as a host – without killing the only friend Okiku has ever known. Chupeco is now most well known for her Bone Witch series.
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (2015)
Young Ash is following the mysterious disappearance of her mother. Her quest brings her to a small town in Kansas – and the strange commune from which her mother had previously escaped. At the center of the creepy little town is a string of deaths and bizarre traditions revolving around murder, immortality, and alchemy (oh, my!). The tale culminates with a ceremony 500 years in the making which could spell the end for Ash, her mother, and her new love interest (there’s always a new love interest).
Ten by Gretchen McNeil (2013)
A horrific twist on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a group of 10 teens are gathered for what was supposed to be a party weekend on Henry Island. A storm cuts off the power and cuts the teens off from the rest of the world. One by one, the teens are killed in increasingly violent ways, and it’s up to the protagonist Meg to find out who the killer is, even as her friends are dying – and turning on each other.
Well, there you have it. Some of the best YA horrors and thrillers. What’s your favorite YA horror – or favorite YA book in general? Do you think a New Adult Fiction category is a good idea?
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.