It does not matter the time of year, the temperature outside, nor where I am physically located. I love horror books and horror movies. I’ve been reading and writing about YA horror books for a long time, and I suspect as we continue to see such excellent and creative horror publishing for young adults, none of these facts will change. But what has come up lately—for great reason!—has been the request specifically for diverse YA horror books. These include #OwnVoices YA horror books, wherein the main character and the author share marginalizations.
While many of these diverse YA horror books have popped up on numerous YA horror books compilations in the past, I thought it worthwhile to break them out and expand upon them.
As always: horror is a mood and not a genre. It can be part of any genre, allowing it deep flexibility and definition—some of these books might not seem like what you’d anticipate for horror, but if it’s a book that in some capacity brings about fear, chills, disgust, or anguish to the reader, then it’s horror.
Many of these authors have published numerous horror books, so poke around in their catalogs to discover even more great thrilling reads.
Diverse YA Horror Books
Amity by Micol Ostow
Haunted house stories are, objectively, the best stories because they’re also ghost stories. Ostow’s novel is inspired by The Amityville Horror and follows two teens ten years apart, both of whom find themselves experiencing horrible nightmares once their families take up residence at Amity. It’s not necessarily nightmares of their own, though. Amity is a beast unto itself.
Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake (series)
Cas is in the family business of killing the dead. His father did it too, until he was killed by a ghost. Armed with his mother and cat, Cas sets off on further hunts, following local lore and hauntings, but when he meets Anna Dressed In Blood, whose murderess reputation precedes her, Cas prepares for battle…only to discover she elects to spare him.
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine
Steeped in Chinese mythology, this collection of short stories follows who haunt the living, dubbed “hungry ghosts” because they died hungry or unjustly. Not only is this book feature an array of scary stories, though; it also features a number of recipes for Chinese cuisine.
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Many readers overlook Kuehn’s incredibly dark YA books as the perfect horror reads, especially her award-winning debut.
Told over the course of one night, this is the story of Win, sent to a remote boarding school after family tragedy, where he finds himself shunned by his peers. Win also happens to be Drew, an angry, violent teen with a monstrous secret.
What happens when he can no longer control the monster inside?
Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal
A rash of deadly murders sweep Puerto Rico and it’s up to Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre, who can’t seem to put aside their bickering, to get figure out who committed the crimes. But as they begin working together, they discover there’s something much bigger going on, something outside of their reality. They’ll have to travel through these myths and legends—into another world entirely—to find the answer and solve the crimes.
The Girl From The Well by Rin Chupeco (series)
If you like J-horror’s vengeful spirits and old legends, you’ll eat this up. It plays with the Okiku story and does so in a way that is eerie and haunting and also a lot of fun. The spirit here seeks revenge on those who have harmed children, but when she meets a child she can’t help, she wonders what his story is and why it is she’s unable to do her duty. What makes this boy different? It is his own experience with spirits, as well as a family history of secrets, of possession, and dolls.
Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults Edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Kenneth Yu
What does “horror” really look like for young adults? This collection of short stories—some of which fall more into the middle grade realm than YA—is far less about demons, spirits, and werewolves, but rather about the human capacity for and understanding of horror.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Series)
Alex is a bruja, but she hates having the power. She performs a spell to rid herself of her magic, but it goes horribly wrong. Her entire family disappears, and the only way she can get them back is to travel with a boy who she doesn’t like to Los Lagos, an in-between land. Along the way, we experience magic, witchcraft, a fiercely loving family, and a bisexual main character.
Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan (series)
Inspired by the classic sleepover horror tale of “Bloody Mary,” this book explores what happens when after being summoned, Bloody Mary slips through the glass and enters the real world of her summoners. She’s out for revenge—and Shauna, one of the main characters, is out to discover the truth behind the lore of Bloody Mary and save her best friends from Bloody Mary’s wrath.
Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones
Though this isn’t published as a YA novel, it’s included here because it has tremendous YA crossover appeal. Poor but resilient, a boy was born as an outsider, living with his aunt and uncle in the shadows who are attempting to live as part of a society who doesn’t want people like them. They’re mongrels—mixed blood—and the boy has to make a decision on whether or not he belongs with his aunt and uncle on the road or if he belongs with the others, in a different world completely. This one is grisly, bold, bloody, and full of heart, too.
The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
This First Nations horror is also available as a graphic novel, which would be super fascinating to pick up after reading the original story. This gothic thriller begins when Tiffany’s father begins renting out her room at their home on the Otter Lake Reservation. The renter is polite, nice enough, but also kind of weird.
Turns out that renter is a vampire and he’s returning to his tribal home after a jaunt in Europe that spanned many centuries.
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
If bloody horror is what you seek, you can do no better than this book. Kit and Fancy are sisters who are very close to one another, as well as familiar with being loners. That happens when your father happens to be a famous serial killer.
But before long, the girls can no longer suppress their own desire to kill. They’re only going after their enemies, though, and they’ve learned from the mistakes made by their father.
Then, Fancy discovers a portal to a whole new world and reality.
Shutter by Courtney Alameda
Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of the legendary Van Helsing lineage. She’s spent her entire life learning the art of destroying monsters, those which are corporal and those which are spiritual. But when a routine hunt goes terribly wrong, Micheline and her team are infected with a curse and have to save themselves quickly—or risk being killed themselves.
The Stuff of Nightmares by Malorie Blackman
By one of the UK’s most beloved writers for young readers, this story follows Kyle, who struggles with anxiety. On a school trip he’s been looking forward to, he becomes the only survivor of a horrific crash and when he comes-to, Kyle realizes that he can slip into the minds of the corpses around him.
Death and blood are horrifying, but perhaps what Kyle finds scariest is isolation and loneliness.
The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
This mystery is laden with ghosts and makes for the perfect horror read for those who really want to see what it means for horror to be a mood, as opposed to a genre.
Beth has died, and her father, who is grieving deeply, is the only person who is able to see and hear her. There is one another person, though, who seems to be able to communicate with Beth, and now Beth needs to set her detective father on the case to figure out who she is and what role she may have in a mysterious and gruesome fire at a troubled youth home.
A story of dark secrets, small towns, and innocent lives that don’t get to rest.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Horror can also be funny, as evidenced by Anderson’s story of how a teen girl investigating the death of three classmates accidentally brings them back to life and creates a badass girl gang out for vigilante justice. The pitch of “Veronica Mars meets The Craft” should make this an instant reader sell.
White Fox by Sara Faring (September 22, 2020)
Manon and Thais were sent away from their home by their father after their world-famous mother disappears mysteriously. They were never close sisters, but grief drives an even bigger wedge between them. That is, until they realize they’re haunted by the disappearance of their mother and that there’s a possibility she’s still alive.
Together, they return to their home and discover White Fox, the last screenplay by their mother, thought long lost. Once they open it, suddenly the sisters find themselves amid a dark fairy tale with clues that might help solve the mystery of what happened to their mother. Dark, twisty, and eerie, this one is another excellent example of horror overlaying genres like thriller and mystery.
Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac
Shapeshifter time! This is for the readers who fall on the younger side of YA.
Luke and his family have moved a lot, thanks to his father’s job as a black ops infiltrator, but now they’re settling into a new home and Luke’s hopeful to be able to have a “normal” experience.
Then his father goes missing and Luke must avoid being captured by kidnappers who are out for him (leverage for his father, of course), must avoid a weird clique of kids at school, and, well, understand what it means to have a whole paranormal identity to boot.