YA Horror

THE FEAR by Natasha Preston

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

Izzy is the only one in her school who hasn’t reposted the meme. It’s just too morbid, thinking about the worst way to die. But she never thought a creepy Insta post could be the work of a serial killer–not until she stumbles upon the first body. As classmates start turning up murdered in the exact ways they posted as their worst fears, Izzy gets caught up in the investigation. She knows it’s a small town, but it can’t be coincidence the ways that clues–and sometimes bodies–keep showing up in her path. And even though she never posted her worst fear, the idea that the murderer might be someone she knows could be the most terrifying thing of all.

This thriller starts to take on a slasher-horror vibe as bodies pile up and terror takes over. Preston meticulously weaves in clues that could implicate any of her three main suspects, setting up for a series of jaw-dropping twists. Teen fans of twisty thrillers who are up for some gore and horror-like conclusion will not want to miss this title!

GALLANT by Victoria Schwab

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

Olivia Prior has no real memories of her parents–nothing but her mother’s journal. She doesn’t even know their names, just that her father is dead and her mother went mad before leaving her on the doorstep of the dismal boarding school where she has grown up. So when the letter arrives–a summons from the uncle she didn’t know she had, back to the family estate she didn’t know existed–the temptation to finally have a real home and family is too great to resist.

Even though her mother’s journal warns her of unnamed dangers within the halls of Gallant.

But the welcome at the manor is not what she expected. Her uncle is dead–and died too long ago to have sent her the mysterious letter–and the only remaining relative, her cousin Matthew, is determined that she should be sent away. Matthew is tortured by violent dreams, and the halls are haunted by ghouls that only Olivia can see. Yet none of that compares to the darkness on the other side of the stone wall in the garden, where a shadowy master of crumbling reflection of Gallant has been waiting for Olivia to arrive…

Atmospheric and horrifying, Schwab’s latest YA sits solidly in the horror genre and is impossible to put down. As you can expect from Schwab’s prose, every word hits like a gunshot, creating an atmosphere and story so immersive that you are as ensnared as her protagonist. This story is a must-read for teen and adult fans of paranormal horror!

NO BEAUTIES OR MONSTERS by Tara Goedjen

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

Riley is dreading moving back to the desert town of Twentynine Palms to all the traumatic memories they left behind when they left four years ago. She knows her mom doesn’t get to pick where she’s stationed, but it feels like they’re coming back because her estranged grandfather has died. Like now it’s safe.

But there’s nothing safe about Twentynine Palms. Riley’s former best friend has become the latest in a long list of people who have disappeared, and her grandfather for some reason has photographs of all of them in his basement, along with audio tapes that seem to have recorded the memories of local murderers, including a teen named Ethan who is terrorizing the community. And if her grandfather’s possible involvement in this dark mystery weren’t bad enough, Riley has terrifying gaps in her own memories–and a vision of herself covered in blood…

Sitting squarely at the intersection of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and thriller, this suspenseful, chilling novel will delight fans of STRANGER THINGS. The unrelenting pacing and unreliable narrator make it difficult to put down, and although I noticed a few I consistencies in the sci-fi, it didn’t really bother me because of the fantasy/horror vibe. I would definitely recommend this one to fans of the speculative genres and I’d put it on any STRANGER THINGS read-alike list!

ALL THESE BODIES by Kendare Blake

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Michael was there when the found the bodies, his friend Steve and his parents dead in their living room and drained of blood. He was there when his father arrested Marie Catherine Hale, the fifteen-year-old girl, the only thing drenched in blood in the otherwise sterile crime scene. Marie insist she’s innocent of the murders–and the other nine murders that spanned the midwest that summer of 1958. But she has a story to tell, a story that would prove her innocence if only someone would believe her, and Michael is the only one she will talk to. With a eager prosecutor clamoring for her execution, Marie begins a tale that is as horrifying as it is impossible. Is she the liar the prosecutor claims she is? And who will she be when all of the secrets finally float to the surface.

This slow-boil, noir mystery has an excruciatingly pacing and an eerie atmosphere that will keep your spine tingling from page one. It’s not for readers who need fast action but rather for those of us who relish a gradually unfolding, suspenseful mystery with a touch of the otherworldly. This one is for fans of the gothic and the noir, a great book to curl up with on a cold, dark night.

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.