Well ghouls and spirits, there’s 94 days until Halloween, and I don’t know about you but I can’t wait. So why wait? Beloved horror book subscription service Night Worms recently twitted that they were calling quits on 2020 and declaring Halloween everyday for the rest of the year:
Sounds like a pretty good plan to me! Let’s kick off “Halloween is Everyday Now Because F*ck You 2020” by highlighting some of the amazing YA horror books that have come out in the last few years. Why YA horror? Because, like the horror genre as a whole, YA horror has been experiencing renaissance of new voices and titles in the last few years, and the number of new releases and forthcoming titles just goes up and up (to the eternal woe of my bank account). I grew up reading MG and YA horror when I was young. I thrived on the scary. So to see whole new generations of readers getting to experience and embrace horror from a plethora of talented authors old and new is definitely something worth celebrating!
Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
This book. I mean anything that references The Blair Witch Project in its synopsis is going to get my attention, because the comparison automatically promises spine tingling, checking-over-your-shoulder terror. Which really is what we’re all here for, right? I mean, clearly if once a year a mysterious path appeared in the forest and a ghost beckoned you into the trees, we are the crowd that would be like “yeah, okay, sign me up.” Or maybe we’re the “not today Satan” crowd. I can never decided if horror makes us more likely to survive a horror scenario or less. On the one hand, survival; on the other, Leroy Jenkins-ing it into the dark woods in pursuit of the unknown.
Sara’s not in pursuit of the unknown, though. She’s looking for her sister Becca, who disappeared a year ago. Since then, life’s pretty much gone back to normal, barring the fact that all her old friends are now terrified of her. When an anonymous text message invites them all to play a dangerous game and find the aforementioned creepy beckoning ghost, Sara knows this is her only chance to find her sister. So she and her estranged friends make their way into the forest in search of what was lost, not knowing if they’ll ever come out again.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Most of the other titles on this list are 2019 or 2020 YA horror books, but I reached way back (tell me it doesn’t feel like 200 years ago—how have two years been so long?) to 2018 for Justina Ireland’s amazing Dread Nation because 1) it’s amazing, and 2) the sequel, Deathless Divide, just published back in February of this year. And I mean, what’s a horror list without at least one zombie book?
Of course Dread Nation isn’t really about zombies anymore than one of George Romero’s films was ever really about zombies. No, Ireland’s book is a tense horror about the very human evil of racism. Jane McKeene, as a young Black woman, is required by the Reeducation Act to attend a combat school and to prepare to put her life on the line defending her country from the zombie horde. But when she runs afoul of a conspiracy her life is upended as she and her friends find themselves facing a danger far greater than that posed by the undead. If you want to read a fantastic analysis of Dread Nation, make sure you check out Alex Brown’s essay for Tor.com.
Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully
This book has been making the rounds on horror Twitter recently, and it sounds amazing. Part prose work, part graphic novel, Jennifer Strange is a new young adult horror from Cat Scully, published by Haverhill House, and it has got people talking! You know me, I’m always a sucker for a mixed media book, so Jennifer Strange is on my must have list of summer reads.
Just recently published on July 20, Sully’s book is about the titular Jennifer Strange, a Sparrow cursed with the ability to physically embody wandering ghosts and demonic spirits. With just a touch of her hand she can give them flesh in the mortal realm. It’s a powerful gift, and one that brings all the supernatural creatures of Savannah around like the proverbial boys to the milkshake. When her father abandons Jennifer to the care of her older sister Liz and splits, the two sisters are left to lean on each other as they race to decipher their delinquent father’s journal and control Jennifer’s power before it’s too late. Described as a “splattery romp”, you definitely don’t want to miss what promises to be a delightful new YA horror.
Fractured Tide by Leslie Lutz
It wouldn’t be a Jessica list if I missed my chance to talk about all that is good and new in the world of YA sea creature horror. If it lives beneath the waves and eats people, I love it. We still have one blisteringly hot month of summer left, and this charming pandemic is standing firmly between me and my beach time. So if I can’t enjoy the beach, I can at least take spiteful joy in reading about people being eaten by monsters at the beach.
Sia, on the other hand, would probably like to be anywhere but the beach. When a routine wreck dive with yet another group of curious tourists goes suddenly awry, and the divers are attacked by an unknown monster, Sia finds herself stranded on the shores of a deserted island. Her boat has been sunk, half her customers are dead, and there’s nowhere to go. The jungle behind them is filled with unpredictable dangers, and the water before them is filled with one large, deadly, very predictable threat. They are trapped on an island where nothing is as it seems. If you like your aquatic horror with a dose of sanity-threatening cosmic horror, you definitely want to add Fractured Tide to your list.
Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich
Oh look, I’m talking about another Dawn Kurtagich book. What a surprise, right? Definitely never rec’d one of her books before on Book Riot…(cough). But listen, my goal is to rec you YA horror books so ghastly and good that you have to sleep with the lights on, stay out of the water, etc. And no other book I’ve read, to date, his given me so many spine tingles as Dawn Kurtagich’s Teeth in the Mist. Maybe it’s because it’s my perfect aesthetic. Maybe it’s the goat!
I don’t know for sure, but as I’ve said before, Teeth in the Mist is the epitome of everything I love: big, isolated Gothic houses located in vast, empty, weather-swept landscapes. Evil that seems to rise out of the land itself. Ominous goats. Witches. The possibility of the devil lurking in the background. The novel uses its multimedia format to simultaneously tell the stories of three girls, separated by centuries yet bound together by the haunting presence of Medwyn Mill House. If you are looking for a book that should not be read in a dark room, you want this one.
Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal
Cardinal’s Five Midnights is one of the 2019 YA horror books that I haven’t read yet, which I feel doubly bad about as the sequel, Category Five, just came out in June. Five Midnights—and its delightfully creepy cover—was a summertime release last year as well, and is a chilling addition to the horror genre.
Lupe Dávila has been sent to Puerto Rico from her home in Vermont to spend the summer with her uncle. He happens to be the Chief of Police, and ends up being in charge of an investigation into the suspicious deaths of two boys. Both boys were killed right before their 18th birthdays, which puts Lupe’s cousin in the sights of a gruesome killer. So she and Javier Utierre—a friend of the deceased boys and on the verge of turning 18 himself—set out to unmask the murderer and put an end to the killings. But their investigation will lead them well past the boundaries of the real world, and leave them chasing not a flesh and blood murderer, but rather the stuff of legends and frightful tales.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Is this perhaps more of a dark fantasy than a horror title? Maybe a little. Does a book about a 17-year-old gravedigger and an apprentice mapmaker setting out on a quest to find the source of a decade old curse that makes the dead attack the living have a place on a list of YA horror books. Yes. Fight me.
Ryn is a gravedigger whose only concern is being able to feed herself and her siblings on the pittance wage she earns burying the dead. Bad enough that in her little village of Colbren the dead sometimes like to get up and have a walkabout. The occurrence of these “bone houses,” as the risen dead are known, only increases when mapmaker’s apprentice Ellis arrives, and the two are left with no choice but to venture deep into a dangerous mountain range that once belonged to the fae in search of the truth about the “bone houses” and the curse that made them.
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (August 25th)
This is one of my most anticipated YA horror books for the year. Harrow Lake is supposed to be super creepy, incorporating some classic horror tropes like the “cursed film” and a positively nightmare worthy monster: Mister Jitters. Did you see the book trailer? Cause it was a lot. Of Mister Jitters. And his smile.
Lola Nox’s father is the celebrated horror filmmaker who created Mister Jitters, in what turned out to be his most famous movie. He filmed it in the creepy little town of Harrow Lake, where Lola’s never been, and where the grandmother she’s never met lives. And when Lola’s father is attacked in their New York home, it’s off to Harrow Lake she is sent. The locals are obsessed with the film that made Harrow Lake famous, people are disappearing, and Lola herself is being stalked by an unknown something. The more she learns about Harrow Lake, the worse things get.
Horrid by Katrina Leno (September 15)
New YA horror book set in Maine, yes please! I’ve yet to read one of Katrina Leno’s books, but the premise of Horrid seems to promise just the sort of creepy house horror that I love best. One thing we have no shortage of is dilapidated old houses to bury dark family secrets in.
When Jane’s father dies, she and her mother move from their home in California back to the big, old, falling down house in Maine that her mother grew up in. The plan is to get a fresh start. But North Manor, like most big old houses, is full of history, and what lingers behind its doors only makes things worse for the grief-stricken pair. When Jane discovers that the locked room her mother’s been keeping secret is in fact a little girl’s bedroom, untouched but not empty, she has no choice but to dig into the house’s past, and her mother’s, to find the truth.
Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite ed. by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker (September 22)
This anthology is going to be so awesome. I have been hyped since it was announced and I won’t be calming down until I’ve got a copy in my greedy little hands. Authors who will be contributing to the 11 story YA vampire anthology include Samira Ahmed, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Julie Murphy, Mark Oshiro, Rebecca Roanhorse, Laura Ruby, Victoria Schwab, and Kayla Whaley, which is quite a line up! Vampires Never Grow Old promises to run the gamut of vampire fiction, from the scary to the dreamy, paying homage to one of literature’s most beloved creatures of darkness.
Vampires are making a comeback just in time for fall!