I love a good book that transports me to an atmospheric setting, especially when that atmosphere is distinct and maybe a little bit foreboding. While many people may have different definitions of what an atmospheric read looks like for them, I picked out ten atmospheric YA novels that each have unique settings that stand out, make the reader a little uneasy, and have a compelling air that makes you want to devour them in one sitting.
Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
This is an unsettling book set in a small town in Iowa, where Liv Fleming’s dad went missing two years earlier—but not before seeming to have a mental breakdown and claiming that aliens abducted him. He spent his final months making traps to place in the woods behind their house before disappearing, and now Liv and her friend Doug check the traps each Sunday morning. But with senior year starting, Liv just wants to be done with all of this—so she decides to destroy the traps. Only just as she’s about to do so, she discovers something in one of the traps that proves her dad was telling the truth all along. This is straight up Midwest horror, and I loved it.
The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
When I think about what October feels like, it feels like reading this book. Cara’s family has always gone through what they call an accident season each October. The month starts out with small accidents, and then they escalate into larger mishaps, sometimes fatal, as the end of the month approaches. This year, Cara is determined to get to the bottom of why the accident season occurs so that her family is never put in harm’s way again—but she doesn’t anticipate an unexpected romance and dark secrets from the past.
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
All of Malinda Lo’s novels have a delicious atmosphere about them, but her murder mystery especially looks at the darker side of privilege in New England. Jess and Angie are best friends, but Jess secretly wishes they were more. She keeps her feelings to herself, but she’s devastated when Angie begins dating one of the rich prep school girls. Jess bides her time, waiting for it to all fall apart so she can be there for Angie…but instead, something goes very wrong at a party, and someone ends up dead. And Jess decides she’ll protect Angie, no matter the cost.
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
Set on the mysterious Anathema Island, this book is about Nor Blackburn, who is “blessed” with one magical ability, as is every woman in her family line. Her ability is fairly unremarkable, as is her life on the sleepy island, until a book appears. It’s called The Price Guide to the Occult and it’s written by her mother, who claims that she can cast any spell for a price. It’s not long before her mother is back on the island, dredging up old memories and dark secrets that will force mother and daughter into a deadly magical confrontation.
Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
This ghost story is set on a farm on the coast in rural Northern California. Mila has just aged out of the foster care system, so she heads to a farm full of lost souls and foster kids to work as an intern while she figures out her next steps. What no one tells her before she arrives is that the farm is haunted by ghosts who dance in the fields at night, emitting an unearthly light. While they seem harmless, they also dredge up Mila’s more metaphorical ghosts as she’s forced to face the darkness of the past and her own shame.
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
In this dark and glamorous historical fantasy novel, Ada and Corrine are beast friends and hemopaths—people blessed with magic blood who can create illusions. They perform by night, but by day they work as con artists. When a job goes very wrong, they’re forced to go on the run, searching for answers about who betrayed them, all the while discovering where they belong in a world that would exclude them for being different.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
In this retelling of Snow White, a fantasy land is cursed to exist in an eternal winter. Mina is from the south, where sunshine melts away ice, and she can’t get used to the coldness of her new home—but as the new queen, she should be pleased with her position. Lynette is Mina’s new stepdaughter, a girl born of snow, and she looks up to no one more than Mina. But when the king suffers from a hunting accident, the two are pitted against each other in a struggle for power that will send Lynette fleeing the castle into the unknown.
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Set on the island of Sawkill Rock, three young women come together to take on a legendary monster. Marion, Zoey, and Val are very different, but their paths cross when something must be done about the monster that has been stealing girls away for decades unchecked. This has been called a feminist YA version of It, and it’s got plenty of atmosphere!
The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring
Mavi is fleeing political persecution in Buenos Aires when she takes a job as a teacher at an infamous school on the tip of Patagonia. When she first arrives, she’s told that she must not wander the halls at night, and that the only safety to be found is in numbers. So when one of her students goes missing, Mavi finds that she’ll have to confront the school’s dark secrets once and for all.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
When a strange illness breaks out, the students at Raxter School for Girls find that quarantine is easy enough in their secluded location. But when they lose communication with the outside world and some of their own begin to get sick, life becomes harder and more terrifying. Finally, when one girl goes missing, Hetty ventures out into the unknown to find the truth about what happened to her, and what is happening beyond their walls.
Enjoy the spooky and unsettling atmosphere of these ten books, and don’t forget to leave a light on!