Book Club Nominees

7 Horror Books to Read in the Aftermath of the Roe v. Wade Decision

by @MrsReads, @L., and @Cheese Dance, curators of HOWLS Book Club nominees for August’s “We Could be Reading Other Stuff But…” category

So many small choices that got us here. And now we need to sit with this feeling a little while. So enjoy, or shake with rage at, these selections that explore bodily autonomy and reproduction through the lens of the characters’ lived experiences.

Cover of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead.

In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it..

A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence.

After all, if humanity is to be reborn, someone must be its guide. (Goodreads)

After Roe fell, Meg Elison described this book on Twitter as “my super queer post-apocalyptic tale of what happens when everyone loses their reproductive rights (heh)” and I was reminded that I own this and have really wanted to read it. It’s the first book of a series, but reviews on Goodreads note that it works well as a standalone too. I’ve been intrigued since I heard about this series, and the Goodreads rating is stellar.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle

All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The day after the funeral all our mourning clothes hung out on the line like sleeping bats. ‘This will be really embarrassing,’ I kept saying to my family, ‘when she shows up at the door in a week or two.’

When Deena’s wild and mysterious sister Mandy disappears – presumed dead – her family are heartbroken. But Mandy has always been troubled. It’s just another bad thing to happen to Deena’s family. Only Deena refuses to believe it’s true.

And then the letters start arriving. Letters from Mandy, claiming that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions – but a curse, handed down through the generations. Mandy has gone in search of the curse’s roots, and now Deena must find her. What they find will heal their family’s rotten past – or rip it apart forever. (Goodreads)

This novel is set in Ireland, where abortion was illegal until 2018, when a referendum legalized abortion by a two-thirds vote. The book has heavy themes of reproductive freedom and violence against women, but also examines oppressions of LGBTQ folks and people of color. This novel is a glimpse into a country heavily influenced by a lack of separation between church and state, and governed from a place of religious ideology.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event in this dystopian novel. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. – Goodreads 

Because attacks on bodily autonomy, abortion access, and reproductive health care have the biggest negative impacts on Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. Not only is this novel timely due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but also due to the recent and ongoing discoveries of the remains of thousands of Indigenous children, stolen from their families and their people, at residential schools in the U.S. and Canada.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon 

Cover of Just Like Mother by Anne Hetzel

Just Like Mother by Anne Hetzel

A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…  – Goodreads

Too often there is a conflation between “womanhood” and “motherhood,” discounting the people who can be pregnant who don’t want children as selfish and less-than somehow. This is especially true if they decide to terminate an unwanted pregnancy to remain childless. This book examines the cult of motherhood and what it can mean to question or push back against society’s definition of what it means to be a “woman.” 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon 

Cover of The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body. – Goodreads

Why do adults, especially adult men, feel the need to control the bodies of young women and young people who can be pregnant?  To control Mother Earth?  Why do they feel they have this right?  This environmental feminist horror is a haunting and beautiful tale set in a Rust Belt city that explores what happens when Mother Earth and a group of young women have different ideas.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon 

Cover of Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt. – Goodreads

So many novels with themes of illegal abortion and reproductive control take place in apocalyptic settings, or, like The Handmaid’s Tale, seem incredibly removed from our day to day lives. This novel features a setting that is much more similar to our world, with a few tweaks. As we have recently learned, freedoms and rights are precarious even when they have seemingly been secured, and we are always closer than most of us realize to losing our autonomy. And depending who you are in America, you may never have had true bodily autonomy or reproductive rights to begin with, seeing as communities of color have been subjected to forced sterilization, or denied the rights to keep and raise their children, among other atrocities. Roe was always precarious, and the recent SCOTUS decision showed those who weren’t paying attention just how much. Here is a novel that examines just how much closer we are to things getting even worse. Mona Eltahawy’s essay on this topic, which mentions this book, sold me on this novel in particular.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon 

Cover of Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Honorable Mention: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it. (Goodreads)

We were originally going to include this book on the list, but when we learned it showed up on another list for this month, we pulled it. We wanted to showcase writing by a wider diversity of writers. Rivers Solomon (fae/faer, they/them) describes themselves as “half woman, half boy, part beast, and a refugee of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.” I was so moved when I read The Deep by Rivers Solomon, a book in which the analysis of race is so on point it’s gutting. I have no doubt this book is as powerful. Even if this book won’t be included in our poll, take this as your nudge to read it anyway.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon 

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste.

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

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