Friday, April 04, 2008

YA Horror Novels

One of the projects for my Young Adult (YA) literature class was to develop an annotated bibliography highlighting titles within one specific area or genre of YA lit. I picked supernatural horror; I picked it for a variety of reasons, but mostly because one of the more common requests I get from teens is for a "scary book".

Surprisingly, there's not a lot out there. There are lots of thrillers featuring serial killers or drug dealers gone mad. And there are a good number of books using tropes of supernatural horror to tell a different kind of story, like the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers that uses Vampires to tell a gothic-style romance. But there aren't that many books that have elements of the supernatural and are also scary. Here are some of the better ones I came across in pulling my list together.

Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked This Way Comes.

This classic by award-winning author Ray Bradbury tells the tale of two Midwestern teenaged boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, who battle against the dark carnival that comes to their small town one fall night. Carnival owner Mr. Dark is a horrifying villain as he twists and corrupts the adults of the town to his dark ways. Nightshade and Halloway are the only ones who realize his intent to steal the souls of everyone in the town, making the story a powerful parable of standing up to evil in all its forms. This literary-minded tale is creepy without being overly violent or gory.

Carmody, Isobelle. The Gathering.

This one was probably my favorite, partly because I've never heard of Carmody before. Nathaniel and his mother move to Cheshunt expecting a peaceful community and instead find a town twisted by a dark evil. While crime rates are low, Nathaniel quickly discovers they are kept down through fear and manipulation. Mr. Karle, the P.E. teacher at Nathaniel’s school, is running the town from behind the scenes through intimidation and psychological warfare. Even worse, Karle uses the Gathering, the school’s youth club, as his own personal Gestapo to stamp down any who might resist his will. Most of the town is willing to hand over control to the devil-tongued Karle, but Nathaniel befriends a group of fellow teens who want to fight against the tyranny. They learn Karle’s power comes from an old curse that fell on Cheshunt generations ago; to stop Karle they must face their own personal fears and purge the evil before Karle can spread his power beyond Cheshunt. In a style that meshes Robert Cormier with Ray Bradbury, this is a literary-minded tale of horror that can be read on many levels.

Chandler, Elizabeth. Dark Secrets: Legacy of Lies.

Sixteen year old Megan visits the grandmother she never met with the hopes of rebuilding the torn ties between her mother and grandmother. Megan finds it a bigger job than she first thought when she finds her grandmother to be a spiteful old woman filled with little but hatred and anger for the world around her. It doesn’t take long for Megan to hear the rumors and ghost stories about the generations-old estate her grandmother lives on. At the core of both her grandmother’s anger and the ghost story is Avril, sister to Megan’s grandmother who died as a teenager. To heal both the spirits and her grandmother Megan must learn the horrifying truth behind it all.

Partridge, Norman. Dark Harvest.

It’s Halloween 1963, and every teenaged boy in the unnamed, small Midwestern town is hunting for the October Boy, an evil spirit with a Jack-o-lantern for a head and twisted vines for a body that appears every year. Whoever kills the October Boy wins money and freedom from the hard life offered by the small farming town. Pete McCormack swears to wins this year’s hunt so he can escape the life he’s grown to hate. What starts as a fairly predictable shock-horror tale takes a sharp turn when we learn the real evil runs through the sheriff and mayor, who use the October Boy to control the town. This fast paced thrill ride develops into a meaningful metaphor on escaping the ills of the previous generation.

Shan, Darren. Demonata Number 1: Lord Loss.

Sly teen Grubbs Grady’s life is transformed when he sees his mother, father and older sister fall victim to the power of Lord Loss, a maniacal demon whose only love greater than dishing out pain is the game of chess. With everyone thinking he’s crazy, Grubbs is shuttled off from relative to relative until he finally finds one who believes him: his crazy, reclusive uncle Dervish. His uncle teaches him about the generations-old curse on his family and Grubbs decides he will be the one to end the curse by challenging Lord Loss to a dramatic game of multi-board chess. Winning will free his family from the curse; losing will give his body and soul over to the demon for eternity. Although it owes many of its bloodier ideas to H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, this is a fast read that works as a nice transition for fans of younger series like Goosebumps who want something a little more grown up.

Westerfield, Scott. Midnighters #1: The Secret Hour.

Fifteen year old Jessica Day thinks life will be boring when she moves from the big city of Chicago to the small town of Bixby, Oklahoma. But odd things begin to happen at midnight. Everyone except her freezes, seemingly stuck in time, and the town is plagued by ancient monsters that look like flying snakes and giant panthers. Jessica finds some others who aren’t affected and learns the story of a secret hour the monsters use to hide themselves from the human world. The monsters, though, are gearing up for a great offensive against the real world and Jessica alone my hold the power to fight back. This smartly written horror mixes elements of the Twilight Zone and superhero comics, making it a powerfully addictive read.



Anonymous said...

You know, when I was a teenager, I simply graduated to adult horror. But, while Stephen King novels are ok, they aren't and weren't my favourites. However, I had no idea what else to read. This is a great list - I'll have to look out for some of these.

Hebdomeros said...

I skipped over YA books when I was a kid, too. I went straight from John Bellairs to Clive Barker and never really looked back. I'm having lots of fun reading them now, though :)

Holly said...

What a fantastic list! There are lots here like Carmody's The Gathering that I hadn't realised were actually horror since she's predominantly a fantasy writer, and I've often passed over the Midnighters series, but thanks to your list I'll definitely give it a go now!

Matthew Gary Milam said...

I read a few YA novels when i was a kid--didn't think about them being YA--just books from my school library.