Five of the Best Horror Novels for Young Adults
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For years, the classic teenage reading experience consisted of reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps into the small hours of the morning. Young adult fiction has come a long way since then, but what hasn’t changed is the connection between horror and young adult reading. This tradition might come from the fact that reading horror is such a visceral experience. With stories that leave you feverishly turning pages or throwing the book away in fright, the genre staves off any arguments that reading is a boring pastime. But it’s far from just scares over substance. Some of the best horror stories utilize world building, character development and social commentary to thrilling effect. So whether it’s the complex dynamics of a post-zombie-apocalypse society or the subtle unravelling of someone’s mind, horror is an exhilarating genre to explore. We’ve selected some of the best young adult horror novels to keep you quaking in fear and turning the pages.
April Genevieve Tucholke: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
Short stories are one of the best ways to read horror. The format means the stories can be read together like listening to ghost stories around a campfire, or one at a time for a daily dose of dread.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys takes well-known young adult authors and gets them to write a horror story based on some aspect of pop culture. These stories have a huge range in tone and style, from overtly gruesome to subtly unsettling. Whether it’s Marie Lu’s take on the classic fear of the monster in the closet, or Leigh Bardugo’s innovative look at overbearing stage moms and their performing children, there’s something here to frighten everyone. It is not only a great introduction to horror, but also young adult fiction in general. With such a stellar ensemble of YA authors contributing, there’s plenty to discover between the pages.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Marina
If you’re working your way up to full-fledged horror, gothic horror novels are a great place to start. They do not rely on using violence and gore for shock value. Instead they focus on creating an atmosphere of mystery and supernatural dread.
Marina, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is a fantastic example of this. Set in the eerie streets of Barcelona in 1938, Marina is the story of Oscar Drai, a 15-year-old schoolboy, who has a penchant for exploring deserted streets. These wanderings lead him to find love and friendship, but they also have more sinister consequences. He witnesses a macabre ritual in a cemetery, which draws him in to investigate a dark secret in the city’s history.
Filled with shadowy figures and high stakes, this is thrilling read that will keep you turning the pages. The right blend of mystery and horror, Marina is a gothic novel for all ages.
Jonathan Maberry: Rot & Ruin
The first in an award-winning series, Rot & Ruin is horror on a grand scale. 14 years ago, a freak virus swept America creating a wasteland of undead. Benny Imura has grown up in the midst of this zombie apocalypse, and now he must find a job to keep his food rations. Reluctantly, he follows his brother into the family trade of zombie killing. Out beyond the safety of the fences, he encounters a world of rival bounty hunters and cruel games. Benny soon discovers that zombies are not the only kind of monsters.
Jonathan Maberry, renowned for his horror writing, brings all of his talent to the table for his young adult series. A thrilling read with plenty of action and gore, Rot & Ruin also goes past the surface level, as Maberry situates his horror in a well-crafted world with real ethical dilemmas.
Neil Gaiman: Coraline
Neil Gaiman’s classic for young readers tells the story of a young girl, Coraline. Her parents are too busy to play with her, and so she is left to amuse herself at home. One day she comes across a door that opens only onto a brick wall… until she tries again later. Now she finds it is a portal to a house strangely like her own home, only better. This alternate home comes with ‘other’ parents who are nicer and more attentive than her own. But when Coraline finds out they want to change her so they can keep her forever, she must fight to return to her ordinary life.
This may be aimed at a younger audience but don’t be fooled, Coraline is a chilling and intense story. In his ‘other’ world Gaiman shows his skill at creating that blend of appealing and repellent, akin to the sweet odor of something rotten. Coraline is a classic of the genre, and a must-read for anyone who loves horror.
Rick Yancey: The Monstrumologist
With elements of Lovecraft and Conan Doyle, Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series is a dark and thrilling read.
Yancey captures all the atmosphere of a gothic historical novel, with a gaslight and cobblestone setting of 1888. However, he doesn’t keep his monsters in the shadows. His headless and cannibalistic Anthropophagi are revealed in gory detail. These creatures are hunted by the Monstrumologist, Dr. Warthrope, and his young apprentice, Will Henry. It is Henry who chronicles their adventures in his diary, which, coupled with medical sketches and quotes from medieval bestiaries, creates a sense of historical verisimilitude.
Even across the swathes of time, Yancey’s monsters jump out of the page in all their grisly violence. This is not a book for the faint-hearted. Yancey doesn’t underestimate his young-adult audience, giving them stomach churning scenes which will make even older readers squirm. But this is the making of the novel. The mix of gothic setting and modern horror results in a mesmerizing story.