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Saturday, November 26, 2022

7 Terrifying Horror Novels Perfect for Young Adult Readers

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Life as a teenager is like walking around with your skin peeled away: Every experience is magnified against exposed nerve endings and desperate hearts. That’s why horror is the perfect genre for young readers. The form is filled with heightened emotions, pulse-pounding terrors and the exquisite agonies of firsts — and lasts, because this is horror, after all.

Y.A. horror has something for everyone, no matter what kind of reader you are. If you’re like me, you probably only need to go as far as your high school journals and yearbooks for true teen terror, but for more fun with horror, you can’t go wrong with any of these scarily good books.

First on our tour of teen terror, a classic 1872 vampire novella: “Carmilla,” by Sheridan Le Fanu. What “Carmilla” lacks in sophistication — the last act is rushed and cliché, with a reveal so laughably obvious it’s actually charming — it makes up for with its surprisingly gentle, nonjudgmental depiction of Sapphic longing. Does Carmilla want to drain her tender new young friend? Yes! But she feels bad about it, and it’s that exploration of obsessive first love being both exciting and monstrous that makes this story perfect for Y.A. readers, even if it predates the young adult category by many decades.

If vampires don’t get your blood racing, maybe zombies will. Though she’s better known for her razor-sharp contemporary Y.A., Courtney Summers is also the author of a zombie novel, “This Is Not a Test,” that has stuck with me for years because of its beautiful, bleak narration. In the middle of a zombie onslaught, the novel’s main character, Sloane, doesn’t know if she wants to survive, much less how. This novel turns the concept of the walking dead into a haunting and thoughtful metaphor for teens struggling to see their way to a brighter future.

Brighter futures are promised but not delivered in Lamar Giles’s dystopian horror novel, “The Getaway.” The story takes place at a theme park bunker at the end of the world, and because I love twisted amusement parks, the setting was all I needed for this book to hook me. There are no easy answers (but loads of tension and dread) as the four teens at the center of this novel navigate the violence and oppression lurking in the Funnest Place Around. “The Getaway” ultimately asks what price is too high to pay for the veneer of safety — and what happens when that veneer cracks?

Readers looking for something deliciously chilling should take a winter stroll in Emily Carroll’s graphic collection, “Through the Woods.” The stories focus on young people facing the world for the first time, whether in hope or desperation, only to find it full of claws. The art, which is in gorgeous, evocative full color, sprawls and skitters unnervingly across the pages. The impression it leaves on my mind is a bold, three-color nightmare: the black of night and trees, the white of snow and teeth, and the red of — well, you’ll see.

Though this title also predates the Y.A. label, Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a perfect little wonder for teen readers. In this novel, 18-year-old Merricat introduces us to her castle (her family home, which is now emptier than it once was), her sister Constance and the bizarre magical thinking Merricat employs to protect them from the jealous world. The snippets of her tragic family history and the sinister details sprinkled throughout the story all wriggle beneath your skin as you try to figure out what, exactly, Constance did, and what — or whom — she needs to be protected from.

Failure to protect a beloved sister is also the tragedy at the heart of “The Honeys,” by Ryan La Sala. The main character, Mars, is gender-fluid, and they have developed a keen awareness of threats and subtle aggressions, and a longing to have somewhere they can be accepted. This desire takes Mars to the very group of girls they suspect were the cause of their twin sister’s descent into madness, violence and death. This bizarrely inventive novel luxuriates in sunshine-soaked fear, showcased in that most terrifying of all teen settings: summer camp.

And finally, if a different kind of camp appeals, Sara Farizan’s “Dead Flip” might be your cup of tea. Or can of Tab, in this case, as the book is positively bursting with ’80s and ‘90s nostalgia. It features a demonic pinball machine, childhood friends broken up by trauma only to be reunited by necessity years later, and young people navigating their identities in surprisingly honest and poignant ways, all of which come together with Farizan’s signature flair and humor, making for a terrifyingly fun read.

Kiersten White is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of more than 20 novels, including “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein,” “Hide,” the Sinister Summer series and “Star Wars: Padawan.”

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