Book Club Nominees

6 Horror Novels That’ll Have You Feeling Like a Kid Again

by @Arboc Rednammoc, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for May’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” category

Editor’s note: This introduction contains a fair amount of inside jokes. Members of Howl Society will understand. Outsiders should join the Discord for something in the family of an explanation.

Could you recite the first rule of HOWL Society without looking? Well, an ingratitude of ingenuous children didn’t look either before they toddled over to the introduction channel and – quite helpfully, for sorting purposes – entered their age to the right of their anime profile picture. Unfortunately (for them, how dare!), fifteen-and-three-quarters is still underage, and there is no deliberation over “to YEET, or not to YEET.” Before they can say “I literally can’t with you boomers,” they are unceremoniously hurled back into r/teenagers, their angst cushioning their fall, their r/neverbrokeabone status safe and sound. So it does not surprise me that our discord created such a yawning distance between itself and YA fiction. But in the words of Bob Ross, “Everybody needs a friend.” And Saturday Night Ghost Club looks categorically lonely. I have selected six YA novels. Only one can be adopted! So please, for the love of Chris O’Halloran (Everybody Loves Chris), pick one that willfully slaps!

Cover of The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones. Cover shows a sepia toned skull made of intricate floral and filigree patterns against a black background.

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family, and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always *stay* dead. (goodreads)

I cannot tell you the last time I read a yarn based on Welsh mythology from the point of view of a young goat. I kid. I kid. The goat is a sidekick. For me, this is already an un-bleat-able combination, maa. But I understand if you discerning ruminants need more to, well, not regurgitate, but to chew on further in digest- in discussion. Concerning chewing, as you may have inferred from the blurb, thar be zombies in this dark medieval fantasy tale. It did not mention, however, that there’s a main character with chronic pain. The author, Emily Lloyd-Jones, also deals with this, and rightly believes it has been underrepresented in literature. And though she’s as jumpy as a jiangshi while watching horror – zero spooky features seen from start to finish – her craving for research is infectious. For a challenging segment, Lloyd-Jones, being a method writer, traveled to Wales, where she shambled around the inside of a copper mine, so as to resurrect onto the page the sensory details she could not draw from the veins of secondary sources. While her work continues to mushroom within the dim boundaries of horror, beyond her reason, she cares for it dreadfully. 

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Cover of Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. Cover shows white silhouettes against a forest backdrop with black trees and a dark teal sky.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself. He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost. He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable. Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present. Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths – that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying. (goodreads)

Stephanie Kuehn is a clinical psychologist and an award-winning author who has penned six novels. She explores the ways in which people come to understand themselves, looking at self-perception and identity through a lens of family history, temperament, relationships, culture, violence, trauma, and resilience. Kuehn asserts there is a damaging idea that mental illness is symptomatic of moral weakness – magnified by people being shamed for their emotions in American culture. In Charm & Strange, winner of the 2014 ALA’s William C. Morris Award for best debut YA novel, since Win can’t verbalize what he needs, he feels, quite literally, as if his humanity is waning. Whether or not he is “likable,” readers will experience resilient Win, empathizing, feeling what he feels, doing his best given the traumatic circumstances of his life. 

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Cover of Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge. Cover shows a black and white photo of a white teenage girl wearing dark eye makeup.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful gray-green glass eyes. Slowly they swiveled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’ When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth, she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late. (goodreads)

No matter how many prestigious prizes Frances Hardinge earns – she cannot outpace her galloping imposter syndrome. Her debut novel, Fly by Night, received the 2006 Branford Boase Award. Cuckoo Song (2014) claimed the Robert Holdstock Award. Most notably, her 2015 novel The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the first children’s book to do so since Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass in 2001. Hardinge may doubt herself while her inner imp implies she’s cleverly infiltrated the writing community, but she dismisses the outside noise denigrating YA fiction. “Apparently YA is too shallow, too deep, too dark, too light, too obsessed with issues, too escapist, read by too many adults and probably a bad influence to boot.” Against stripping down the language, strolling into the dark, eschewing trite answers to complicated real world questions, clarifying instead of simplifying, Frances Hardinge respects her audience.

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Cover of The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gold. Cover shows a red smoke-like drawing of two teenage girls, one dark skinned and one light skinned, faces in profile, each looking away from the other. The smoke is extending from a house in the woods at the bottom of the image.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gold

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing. His ghost is following her, and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan, daughter of TV’s *ParaSpectors*. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness. (goodreads)

In a world where the fierce, unyielding loyalty of a community collides with their deep suspicion of outsiders, two girls must embark on an investigation into its rural, empty spaces. Things are about to get queer. “Girls that sleuth together stay together!” Meet Ashley, she’s the daughter of Snakebite’s most influential family, who always believed her town was perfect. But now her boyfriend is missing, and she’s seeing strange visions. “It’s weird, but it’s like I still feel him here. I have these flashes of him, like he’s right next to me. And then last night…but why? Why would you help me?” Meet Logan, the daughter of two popular paranormal investigators. She’s spending the summer in her adoptive dads’ hometown of Snakebite, Oregon, an insular ranching community. “Because if we find him, he’s not dead. And everyone will know my dads didn’t do anything.” The barometer will fall, and secrets will rise. “After thirteen years, the Dark has finally come home.” Maybe…This May – the real ghosts are the trauma Grumpy and Sunshine process along the way. Courtney Gould, graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, author of queer horror fiction, proudly presents: The Dead and the Dark

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Cover of Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. Cover shows a pink on a jean jacket. The pin says Undead Girl Gang. There is also a pin of two zombie hands pinkie promising.

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft. So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life. Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. (goodreads)

Lily Anderson was a school librarian for ten years. Tracking down books for students was second nature to her, but she became increasingly disquieted by the volume of unsatisfiable requests. If those books did not exist then Lily was resolved to write them. Now, as a full-time author, the children’s experiences, the things they wanted to talk about, the problems they were facing, infuse all she writes. She desires BIPOC main characters in fantasy and science fiction, not just in contemporary YA that can be taught in a classroom. Anderson’s hope is to see more people of color working inside of publishing houses because she believes that having every book pass through the overwhelmingly white lens of editing and marketing means that BIPOC authors are still being asked to temper every cultural experience for white palatability. “My books are about snarky girls and emotional intelligence and – sometimes – monsters. As a woman of Afro-Puerto Rican descent, representing a diverse world isn’t a trend for me – it’s my greatest joy.”

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Cover of White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson. Cover shows a black teenage girl against a backdrop of purple and pink smoke.

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson

Marigold’s mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper. The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its…secrets. Household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone. As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks. (goodreads)

Tiffany D. Jackson has been watching horror movies since she was four. Her senior theses in high school, college, and grad school were all horror films. She grew up on R.L. Stine and Stephen King, books that provided a space outside of her element, learning how to survive alongside the characters. So while critics have called her latest novel a departure from her previous works – thrillers with horrifying components – to Jackson, White Smoke is a return home. She maintains that in today’s political climate kids cannot be sheltered from the world’s harsh realities – violence, drugs, grooming, gentrification – lest they turn into adults who don’t believe these issues are happening. But she also wants to provide young Tiffanys with comforting horrors oblique from the real ones, girls looking for stories they can see themselves in. Where, though racism may breathe within because fully escaping it would be fantasy, there is a space for them to think and talk about the plot of the story first and foremost.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones. Join HOWL Society on Monday, May 16, 2022 to begin discussion!

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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