Editor’s note: The following piece was contributed by Beth Dunston: Librarian, book critic and begrudging sister to Camerman Daniel. She might not know sports but she knows literature. Enjoy!
Full disclosure: I am a horror weenie. My first real nightmare following the appearance of a monster on television happened because of Ghost Writer, a PBS show that tried to make teens think reading was cool. I freak out at the mention of ghosts in cheesy Halloween podcast episodes. I’ve not yet made it all the way through any actual horror flick, not even Scary Movie. Yet, I steel myself every year to brave YA horror books for the kids who want more of the undead on their bookshelves. Here are five spine-tingling novels to fill the slasher-shaped hole in your life.
Asylum by Madeleine Roux: Everyone at my college knew which dorm was haunted, and even knew the exact room number in which you’d be most likely to find a Civil War soldier in your closet. Every college has a haunted dorm, but the one in Asylum takes the soul cake. When Dan finds himself in the super-creepy Brookline Dorm in New Hampshire, he discovers that the residence hall used to be a psychiatric hospital, and some of the patients haven’t yet checked out. As Dan and his friends explore the sinister secrets of Brookline, they find themselves in a fight for their lives. (A note to my college: Don’t put students in that dorm. You know the one.)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: Johnson usually writes the kind of romance novels that remind you of sunshine and summer jobs, but her Shades of London trilogy shows that she has no problem diving into the world of foggy, blood-soaked streets. Louisiana teen Rory Deveaux can see ghosts and moved to a boarding school in London to get away from them in perhaps the most ill-advised decision a haunted teen could possibly make. It turns out British ghosts are nothing if not punctual, and Jack-the-Ripper-style killings begin plaguing the city as soon as Rory arrives. Rory is the only one who can see the ghoulish murderer – or so she believes. If you like reading about students being stalked through dark alleys by a vengeful ghost, or you just like an excuse to sleep with the lights on, this one’s for you.
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey: Will Henry’s diaries tell the story of his boyhood as an apprentice to Dr. Warthrop, a monster-hunter who barely qualifies as human himself. Will and Dr. Warthrop newest prey is a colony of anthropophagi, a man-shaped beast with giant, toothy jaws and a seemingly bloodthirsty appetite. The creature is difficult to kill, as its only true weak spot is its brain, located in its crotch (I’m not making this up.). If the stomach-churning gore and jump scares aren’t enough for you, prepare to plunge into Will’s horrible childhood, as the once-innocent boy discovers the true depths of human evil. Yancey used to work for the IRS as a tax collector, and if that doesn’t convince you the book is terrifying, I’m not sure what will.
Took by Mary Downing Hahn: Moving from Connecticut to West Virginia was hard enough without the locals telling Daniel creepy stories about the with who lives up the hill. Daniel dismisses the stories as attempts to freak the new kid out, but when his sister Erica becomes obsessed with her (disturbingly lifelike) doll and then wanders off into the woods, Daniel becomes convinced Old Auntie has taken her. Being a responsible brother, Daniel decides to rescue his sister from fifty years of terror. Mary Downing Hahn is one of the OGs of YA horror, and a perfect fit for Goosebumps graduates looking for a good scare.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova: Alex is a bruja, a witch with terrifying powers she’s tried to suppress for years. Alex despises her abilities, since they have resulted in, in order, the death of her cat, the disappearance of her father, and the summoning of a snake from her classmate’s mouth. Visions of her dead aunt don’t help either. When Alex attempts to banish her gifts, she accidentally sends her entire family to the underworld (like you do). Now she must journey to the wonderful and frightening world of the dead in an action-packed adventure. This is the Latinx Alice in Wonderland you’ve always wanted, and highly recommended by surly middle schoolers who claimed they hated to read.
Who’s your favorite YA horror writer? Darren Shan? Ransom Riggs? R.L. Stine? Stephenie Meyer? Send me your spooky reading recommendations @DunsLibrarian!