YA Horror

THE WOODS ARE ALWAYS WATCHING by Stephanie Perkins

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Camping may not have been the best idea for Neena and Josie’s last adventure before college separates them. Neither of them has ever been camping before, and it isn’t long before they’re exhausted and lost on a lonely mountain trail. With Josie watching fearfully for bears, and Neena trying to stifle her fear of running into a dangerous criminal in the isolation of the forest, their nerves quickly fray, and it isn’t long before they begin to fight. But the fight ends abruptly when a horrible accident leaves Josie trapped in a pit, Neena racing down the mountain alone for help. Unfortunately, their fears weren’t just in their imagination, and the worst kind of predator is on the prowl…

After a slow start, blood-chilling, violent terror drives an unputdownable second half of this psycho/serial killer horror novel. The psychological suspense in the first half wasn’t enough to keep me from skimming, but for the second half, I couldn’t look away. I’d recommend this to horror fans who love books with high stakes and physical violence.

DARK AND SHALLOW LIES by Ginny Myers Sain

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Elora can’t be dead. Grey won’t accept it. When she steps off the boat back into her small bayou hometown, she’s immediately surrounded by the missing posters with her best friend’s face. She’s not the first of the Summer Children to be lost. Two of the ten children who were born in the same year died almost a decade ago, a double murder shrouded in secrets. But Elora is missing, not dead, and Grey is going to find her.

But as soon as Grey is back home, visions begin to plague her–visions of Elora fleeing from a shadowy madman who’s determined to kill her. Grey is the only one of the Summer Children who never developed supernatural abilities. There are times she wished she was a psychic like her mother, or an empath like her crush, Hart, but now she hopes that the visions only dreams, not a true window into a deadly past. That hope dies, however, when a stranger shows up in town–another Summer Child that no one knew about–and the dark undercurrents of the bayou rise to the surface. The only way this many secrets can exist in a town of psychics is if everyone only tells part of the truth…

World-tilting twists and an eerie, immersive atmosphere guarantee a gut-plummeting ride in this YA Mystery-Horror hybrid. Though it takes a few chapters to acclimate to the number of important players and their various superhuman abilities, the volume of characters and secrets makes the mystery that much more difficult to unravel. Suspense junkies won’t want to miss this stellar debut!

THE GIRLS ARE NEVER GONE by Sarah Glenn Marsh

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Dare is looking forward to spending a summer at a haunted mansion She knows she won’t see any ghosts (after years of ghost hunting with her ex, she’d have seen a ghost by now if they were real) but the internship will give her a great opportunity to launch her podcast, establish herself as a ghost hunter independent of her ex. And besides, even without ghosts, the history of the mansion and the suspicious drowning of a teenage girl who lived there is fascinating.

But when Dare arrives, her expectations for the summer are immediately upended. First, there’s Quinn, the daughter of the estate’s owner, who is not only adorable (and possibly into Dare, too) but also 100% convinced that she’s being haunted. Then, there are the mysterious occurrences: the warnings scrawled on the wall in what looks like blood, the shadow of a face in the mirror, the murky lake water pouring into the bathtub. And as Dare delves deeper into the history of the estate, she begins to suspect that more than one girl drowned in that lake, and if she doesn’t accept the possibility of a ghostly threat soon, she–or someone she cares about–might be next.

Deliciously chilling, THE GIRLS ARE NEVER GONE has the perfect blend of eerie atmosphere and ancient mystery, blood-curdling scares and false alarms–not something you’ll want to bring on your vacation to a remote lake! Its queer romance and Type-1 Diabetes representation set it apart from other YA horror while the thoughtful character development is just as engrossing as the mystery. Pick this one up if you want a ghost story that will have you jumping every time someone turns on a faucet!

BURDEN FALLS by Kat Ellis

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As if surviving the car crash that claimed her parents’ lives wasn’t devastating enough, now Ava has to say goodbye to her family’s ancestral, and see it sold to the man responsible for her parents’ deaths. There has been bad blood between the Thorn and Miller families since a centuries-old feud, but now there is literal Thorn blood on Miller hands and Ava can’t bear to think of either one of the Miller kids sleeping in her old bedroom–especially not Freya, her artistic rival.

But death hasn’t abandoned Burden Falls. Not long after Ava and her aunt and uncle move to a cottage near the old mill, the body of a girl is found at the bottom of the waterfall. Most sinister of all, her eyes have been gouged out, like the legend of Sadie, the ghost of an accused witch who supposedly still haunts Thorn Manor. The same ghost Ava’s father claimed to see moments before his death. Ava begins to catch glimpses of Sadie everywhere. At first she thinks it’s just her imagination, but when Freya Miller turns up dead, mutilated in the same way, she has to admit that the danger is very real. With the police suspecting her, her aunt and uncle pressuring her to get her head checked, and her best friend keeping secrets, Ava doesn’t know who to trust–except Dominic Miller, the only person who seems to agree that she is both sane and innocent. But as they launch their own investigation into Freya’s death, Ava can’t help but wonder: how can she prove her innocence when the most likely alternative suspect is a vengeful spirit?

From an eerie start to a dramatic, pulse-pounding conclusion, this thriller does not disappoint. There are great twists, an emotional hook, and even a touch of forbidden romance. Fans of YA thrillers and psychological horror will not want to miss this one!

Featured Book List: YA Chills and Thrills for 2021

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It’s October–time for ghosts, zombies, and serial killers (in our books, of course)! This month’s featured book list includes this year’s most heart-pounding releases for teen readers.

I will continue to curate this list throughout the month, but titles include:

WHITE SMOKE by Tiffany D. Jackson, a chilling horror about a house full of ghosts and the even scarier reality of racial injustice.

HOUSE OF HOLLOW by Krystal Sutherland, a dark fantasy that sends three sisters back into the land of the dead, searching for the truth about their past and an escape from the man who is hunting them.

EAT YOUR HEART OUT by Kelly Devos, an action-packed zombie satire set at a sinister fat camp.

BAD WITCH BURNING by Jessica Lewis, the story of a teen witch who discovers her ability to raise the restless dead while searching for an escape from abuse.

Check out the full list on Bookshop.org. (Don’t worry if you’re not looking to buy; just see what titles look good to you, then find them at your local or school library!)

THE VIOLENT SEASON by Sara Walters

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Every November in Wyatt’s hometown, someone becomes a murderer. One year it was a teacher who drowned her two children in a bathtub. One year, it was a classmate who drove her own car off a cliff. No one knows who last year’s murderer was. But the victim was Wyatt’s mother.

This November, Wyatt is noticing bloodlust around her, especially in Cash (the boy she’s been hooking up with) and herself. Maybe it’s not so much a desire for blood as a memory of her mother’s blood pooling on the stairs when Wyatt returned home and found her. The police claim they have another suspect–an out-of-towner–but Wyatt knows they have the wrong man. After all, the November curse only affects the people of her town, and her mother’s murder must be part of the curse. When a class project pairs Wyatt up with the object of Cash’s hatred, Porter Dawes, Wyatt finally finds a willing ally in her own investigation into the November curse and her mother’s death. As Wyatt’s association with Porter sparks Cash’s anger and her investigations uncover secrets she wishes had stayed buried, Wyatt begins to realize that whether or not the November curse is real, the violence in her life is far from over.

YA readers who like horrifying thrillers (or thrilling horror?) won’t be able to stop turning these pages. Themes of abuse run underneath the suspenseful thriller plot adding depth to this high-concept story. Though the premise might sound like a mystery, it is really more on the thriller/horror border and will most satisfy readers of those genres.

VIOLET GHOSTS by Leah Thomas

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The house where Dani lives is just one in a long line of crappy living spaces. That’s what happens when you and your mom have to flee an abusive father/husband. You move frequently, stay wherever you can. But the houses don’t usually come with a ghost. Dani immediately connects with Sarah, the adolescent ghost, in part because they both know what it’s like to be hurt by a man. But Dani can’t tell Sarah that despite the name “Daniela,” Dani feels like a boy. He’s sure that if Sarah knew the truth about his identity, she’d never speak to him again.

When Dani and Sarah stumble on another ghost in the woods, Dani learns that abuse isn’t unique to the world of the living. When abusers die, they go right on abusing–sometimes the same people they abused in life. Dani is determined to find a way to protect the ghosts who are quickly becoming his closest friends. But will finding peace for others stop him from finding peace for himself?

Although there is a thrilling dose of speculative fiction in this ghost story, at its core, VIOLET GHOSTS is a story of surviving and healing after abuse and fighting to be true to one’s identity. It is set in the recent past, and until late in the book, Dani doesn’t know that there are other transgender people in the world (or even the term “transgender”). His struggle to figure out how to identify and even describe himself parallels the struggle of the ghosts to find a new way to fit into the world where they’ve existed merely as invisible victims, lying in the places where they died for years or even decades. The story is beautifully, emotionally told (I keep wanting to use the word haunting, but it will sound like a bad pun … but it is haunting…), and ultimately full of hope. I highly recommend it to fans of YA speculative fiction AND fans of YA contemporary.

Amazon.com: Violet Ghosts: 9781547604630: Thomas, Leah: Books

WHITE SMOKE by Tiffany D. Jackson

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Mari’s mom insists that the move from California to Cleveland was her choice, an opportunity to enjoy an author’s fellowship, to revitalize a decaying neighborhood, and to bond as a newly-blended family. But Mari knows it’s really all because of her. If it hadn’t been for her drug habit, their old town wouldn’t have shunned them. If they hadn’t needed to pay for rehab, they wouldn’t need a rent-free place to live. And if her stepfather could see her as anything other than an addict, maybe he wouldn’t always take his own daughter’s side instead of hers. Maybe.

It isn’t long after they arrive in their new home that Mari realizes something is off. Their immediate neighborhood is entirely deserted, boarded up except for the house where they’ll be living. And the houses aren’t the only things that are falling apart. The people in the surrounding town seem both hostile and beaten down. Everyone has at least one family member in prison for a marijuana offense, most claiming that their loved ones were set up by the cops. And perhaps even more sinister is the way Mari’s stepsister has been acting, and her claim that she has a friend living in the boarded-up house next door, a friend who hates Mari and is plotting her revenge. The slick white man who set up the author’s fellowship dismisses all of Mari’s concerns as nonsense, and her stepfather clearly agrees with him. Even Mari’s mother thinks she’s lying and picking on her stepsister.

But then the ghosts wake up…

Jackson makes her pivot from psychological thrillers to horror look easy in this ghostly, unputdownable novel about a girl overcoming fears and prejudices to take on both supernatural and human threats to her family and community. As in all of Jackson’s work, the characters are multifaceted, the family and community dynamics complex, and the social justice themes prominent, accessible, and timely. Fans of YA horror and/or psychological thrillers will not want to miss WHITE SMOKE! If depictions of marijuana use won’t turn off your gatekeepers, this title could work well in teen book clubs, too.

Featured Booklist: Book Club Titles for Kids and Teens

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The school year is underway, and whether you’re a teacher or librarian running a book club or a parent stockpiling good reading material for those inevitable Covid-exposure quarantines, I have a book list for you!

This list includes titles for upper elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers. All of the books were released within the last year, and they have a blend of unputdownable storytelling and though-provoking thematic content. As always, you will need to evaluate the individual titles to be sure they fit within the specific parameters and needs of your students/children, but think of this list as your launchpad.

I will continue to curate this list throughout the year, but titles include:

FAST PITCH by Nic Stone, a middle grade sports story about a girl combatting racial injustice while vying for a softball championship.

NIGHTINGALE by Deva Fagan, a middle-grade fantasy about an orphan thief, a reluctant prince, a magic sword, and worker’s rights in a racially diverse, Victorian-London-esque fantasy world.

GENERATION MISFITS by Akemi Dawn Bowman, a middle grade contemporary novel about four social outcasts and one popular girl who find friendship and the courage to express themselves through their mutual love of J-Pop.

ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE by Sabina Khan, a YA contemporary novel about a Pakistani Muslim immigrant wrestling questions of home, identity, and belonging after a bigot targets her family with hateful vandalism.

VIOLET GHOSTS by Leah Thomas, a YA historical fantasy about a transgender boy in the ’90s coming to terms with his identity as he helps restless ghosts find justice and a safe haven in the afterlife.

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer, a YA sci-fi about two young men from rival countries on a mission to rescue a fellow spacefarer aboard a ship that may or may not be trying to kill them.

Check out the full list on Bookshop.org. (Don’t worry if you’re not looking to buy; just see what titles look good to you, then find them at your local or school library!)

BAD WITCH BURNING by Jessica Lewis

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in order to write this review.

Katrell has been communicated with the dead (for paying clients) for years. It’s the only way she can pay for rent and utilities and food with her mother unemployed and her mom’s deadbeat boyfriend living at their place. But the money Katrell brings home never seems to be enough for her mom or her boyfriend, who can’t seem to help himself from beating on Katrell whenever he’s in a bad mood. When the boyfriend threatens Katrell with a gun–and ends up murdering Katrell’s beloved dog–she doesn’t know how she’ll survive her miserable life without her best friend.

Until she brings him back.

Katrell didn’t know she had the power to raise the dead, at least not until she accidentally raised her dog. But she immediately realizes the money-making potential. Who wouldn’t pay a fortune to have a loved one back, even if there’s something a little off about the revenants? And Katrell won’t have to worry about the rent (or her mom’s boyfriend) ever again. But raising the dead has costs Katrell didn’t anticipate, and as the revenants begin to slip out of her control, Katrell remembers a ghostly forewarning: is she really about to burn herself–and everything else–down?

The most brilliant (and most disturbing) aspect of this quasi-horror novel is the fact that the darkness doesn’t come from the revenants. It comes from the humans. With all of the fantasy elements removed, this story would still be a torturous story of the physical and emotional abuse of a child and the strength she finds to endure and ultimately accept help. It is truly a battle for Katrell to cling to her own self-worth and recognize the found-family of supportive adults and friends that has grown up around her. And it is her righteous anger at the way her mother and her mother’s boyfriend treat her that manifests as the ghosts and revenants and Katrell’s own need to burn things down. Despite its often disturbing content, the book has a cathartic feel that I believe the author intended. Although I would advise readers to consider their own life experiences and whether this content is likely to be triggering or unduly disturbing before picking it up, I think some readers with difficult or even cruel family backgrounds will find solidarity and hope in Katrell’s experiences.

Amazon.com: Bad Witch Burning (9780593177402): Lewis, Jessica: Books