YA Horror

RUST IN THE ROOT by Justina Ireland

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As a Floramancer and young woman of Afrikan ancestry, Laura has always known the Prohibition targeted her people specifically. When the Great Rust set in in the 1930s, the small-time Negro mages bore the brunt of the blame, even though white Mechomancers were the ones who’d taken the purity of the power imbued in in nature (the Possibilities) and exploited it for financial gain in their Industrial Revolution. But the Blights are getting worse, and the U.S. government has put the dangerous burden of fixing it on the Bureau of the Archane’s Colored Auxiliary.

With few options for gaining a license to practice Floramancy–or even earn enough money to live–Laura takes a new name (the Peregrine) and an apprenticeship with the Floramancer known as the Skylark who is tasked with finding the source of a particularly rotten Blight in Ohio. But when the Colored Auxiliary arrives, the Peregrine and her mentor realize something is wrong. The Blight bears an alarming resemblance to the Klan’s Necromancy–a horrific evil that touched the Skylark’s life once before. And as they travel toward the heart of the dark magic, the Peregrine realizes that there were secrets within her power she was keeping even from herself.

Justina Ireland once again proves herself the queen of historical fantasy, crafting a richly grounded world with a detailed, inventive magic system that both accentuates past evils and demands that readers recognize and analyze alarming trends in the modern world. She perfectly balances her voice with historical colloquialisms and modern sensibility and weaves a cast of nuanced secondary characters to support her heroine. This novel is a must-read for YA and NA fantasy fans! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by Tiffany D. Jackson

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Maddy did it.

Those were the only words uttered by one of two survivors of the Springfield, Georgia Prom Night Massacre. As the makers of a podcast delve into the history of Springfield and the unsolved mysteries surrounding the massacre that took place a decade ago, they keep returning to the same questions: who was the real Maddy Washington and could rumors of her horrific telekinetic powers be true?

The graduating class of 2014 thought the knew the real Maddy Washington: a quiet girl who wore long skirts and only came to school on sunny days. But when getting caught in the rain causes her straightened hair to return to its natural texture, Maddy’s classmates suddenly realize that she is biracial. After years of passing as white at the insistence of her fanatical, abusive father, Maddy’s life is thrown into chaos, now facing racist microaggressions, all too common in a small town that still holds segregated proms. When an incident filmed by a fellow Black student goes viral, one of the bullies fears that she will be labeled as “a racist” and in order to help clear her name, suggests finally integrating prom. But the media firestorm has turned an uncomfortable spotlight on racism and prejudice in Springfield, sparking conflict in the school and town and leading to Maddy’s discovery of another secret inheritance–one that might send them all up in flames.

Deliberately parallel to Stephen King’s Carrie, including the journalistic excerpts in each chapter, The Weight of Blood both springs from and revolutionizes classic horror tropes, using Carrie’s plot as a vehicle for exploring microaggressions and the weight of a town’s racist history on the shoulders of its younger generations, both Black and white. The narrative follows multiple viewpoints, including Maddy, a white teacher who wants to be a better ally, a white student who doesn’t want to be racist, an unapologetic white racist bully, and the Black football star struggling to find his place among white friends, fellow Black students, and a family split between philosophies of “keep your head down” and BLM-equivalent activism. The result is a nuanced, challenging, story that will stick with readers long after they close the book. Add Jackson’s masterful suspense plotting and gripping character development, and you have an unputdownable masterpiece that will have kids clamoring for more. An essential addition to any YA collection and must-read for horror fans or fans of Jackson’s work in general.

THE UNDEAD TRUTH OF US by Britney S. Lewis

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Since Zharie’s mother died, her world has changed drastically. There are the practical changes: the fact that she now has to live with her aloof aunt and has had to quit dancing at the expensive studio where her mom used to work.

And then there are the zombies.

Zharie sees them everywhere, kids she used to know with the flesh peeling off of them, but no one else seems to notice anything wrong. She knows it has something to do with her mother, who seemed to be decaying in the few days leading up to her unexpected death. When Zharie meets Bo, a boy who for some reason morphs in and out of a zombie state in her eyes, she hopes that forging a friendship with him will provide some answers about her undead visions. But getting close to Bo just raises more questions–about friendship, love, and how people can be killed but keep on living.

Grief and heartbreak shimmer through Lewis’s poetic prose and symbolic fantasy as she explores the pain that comes with deep love. Within the story, Lewis shares the origins of zombies in Kongo, Haiti, and the Vodou religion. Fans of Amber McBrides’s inimitable Me (Moth) may enjoy this novel due to its lyrical style, heavily allegorical fantasy/horror, and grounding in African diasporic religion (although that last is more prominent in McBride’s work). A great addition to YA literary fiction collections.

VIOLET MADE OF THORNS by Gina Chen

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Since saving Prince Cyrus’ life as a child, Violet has lived a charmed yet precarious life as the king’s official Seer, tasked with relaying prophecies to the entire kingdom, whether they are real prophecies from her dreams or the harmless ones she invents at the king’s behest. A previous Seer predicted the kingdom’s destruction unless it is averted by Prince Cyrus’ as yet hypothetical bride, but Violet is determined that nothing will threaten her hard-won security and comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, Cyrus is the one person who never listens to Violet.

Tortured by dark dreams of the Fates and frustrated with “Princey’s” obstinacy, Violet fakes a prophecy about Cyrus’ “true love,” hoping his bride–any bride–will be able to break the curse. But the woman the king selected is wrapped in her own curse, spun by a witch of nightmares. As beasts swarm the land and fairy glamours flicker, Violet and Cyrus search for the truth behind the veil of deceit, and their mutual hatred sparks into something passionate, thrilling, and infinitely more dangerous. With her life hanging in the balance, Violet will have to decide on which side of the fairytale she belongs–the dream or the nightmare–and whether she can claim either of them without being someone else’s pawn.

Deep, dark, and immersive, VIOLET MADE OF THORNS had me devouring its pages as ravenously as the characters fed on one another. Although tastes of well-known fairytales call attention to the storytelling theme, Chen creates a wholly new fairytale, not directly a twist of any individual story. Her characters are addictive, her steamy romance writing as compelling as any master of that genre, and her world-building a perfect blend of well-worn high fantasy tropes and a new, exciting magic system. I cannot praise this book highly enough. If you read high fantasy (whether you are a young adult or not) don’t miss this exceptional debut!

THE FEAR by Natasha Preston

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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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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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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!