Horror thrillers will make teens squirm
Scary movies are cool and all, but teens have a bevy of horror-tinged fare to dig into for literary thrills and chills. Here are recommendations for scary new young-adult novels.
“Not Even Bones” By Rebecca Schaeffer
HMH Books for Young Readers, 368 pp. ★★★☆
There’s a definite “Dexter” vibe to this YA series kickoff exploring the fine line between human and monster. Rebecca Schaeffer’s gory landscape is built on the existence of “unnaturals,” groups of creatures – many of whom look like normal folks – that are defined by their horror-ready characteristics. Some eat the souls of virgins, some consume fat, some gorge on pain, and Nita is a part-human, part-unnatural teen girl who dissects any of these things that her ruthless mother puts on her examination table. Black markets exist for unnaturals’ limbs and other parts. While Mom usually brings her dead monsters to carve up, Nita is shocked when Mater delivers a living child. Nita helps him escape, which leads to her ending up on the chopping block and trying to survive this shady business.
“Grim Lovelies” By Megan Shepherd
HMH Books for Young Readers, 384 pp. ★★★g
If you thought the talking mice from “Cinderella” could have used more agency, than you’ll want to say “Oui” to this dark fantasy fable. Anouk is one of several “Beasties” (mangy animals given magical life) under the employ of Mada Vittora, a member of the French magical society the Haute and a lady aiming to be top witch in Paris. Anouk, a maid who can’t venture outside thanks to a spell, finds her boss dead and bloody on the floor and becomes the No. 1 suspect. The good news is she can walk Parisian streets now, but the bad news is she and the other Beasties, with the Haute in pursuit, have to find the real killer in three days or else change back to critters. Megan Shepherd’s saga debut is a pleasant bit of urban-fantasy worldbuilding buoyed by enough intrigue and action to get you excited for the next chapter.
“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” By Kiersten White Delacorte, 304 pp.
Two centuries after Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein,” Kiersten White unleashes a fascinating gothic retelling from the point of view of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein’s love interest. With more than a little modern relevance, “Dark Descent” chronicles in flashbacks how Elizabeth Lavenza was taken in at an early age by the Frankenstein family as a close confidante to their strange little boy, and later, when she’s 17, traveling to Ingolstadt to find Victor after he left Geneva “due to the fear of being unable to fix things.” She does figure out what he has been up to – yes, the infamous monstrous creation plays a big role here – and other characters are embroiled, from Elizabeth’s travel companion Justine to German bookseller Mary. What’s interesting is the portrayal of Elizabeth as a morally dubious heroine who’s fiercely loyal to Victor though definitely a girl whose survival is of the utmost importance.
“Sawkill Girls” By Claire Legrand Katherine Tegen Books, 464 pp. ★★★☆
Female empowerment meets “Stranger Things” in Claire Legrand’s novel about a trio of teenagers who take on the dark force inhabiting the resplendent island of Sawkill Rock. Dozens of girls have vanished over the years in this place, which offers a pastoral setting and an urban legend regarding a nefarious Collector. Brunette newcomer Marion is thrown headfirst into the supernatural drama after moving to the Rock after the death of her father. She meets Zoey, the African-American daughter of the police chief who’s still hurting from the disappearance of a close friend, plus Val, a blond girl from the island’s wealthiest family and one with a connection to the aforementioned darkness. It’s definitely old-school horrorthriller stuff, but for a contemporary audience interested in coming-of-age lesbian romance, relationships between women and a well-developed cast of characters.