Horrific, deformed monsters are imitating friends and family. Souls are being devoured and trapped in the eternal unrest of the afterlife. Women with rusty sewing needles for fingers and sentient doppelgänger dolls are working to replace eyes with plastic buttons. When Neil Gaiman decided to pitch his horrifying idea to his agent, Merrilee Heifetz, they chose a litmus test. If her daughters Emily and Morgan could make it through the book without being traumatized, it would be approved for the younger audience. There was just one problem: Emily and Morgan were more than willing to lie to finish the book. Young readers willing to lie to their parents about how they aren’t scared might enjoy the following books:
- Spell & Spindle by Michelle Schusterman
Penny is a child-size marionette on display at the Museum of Peculiar Arts. She’s alive but not in the traditional sense; she has a few memories of her life before the museum but cannot move or communicate. When the museum owner Fortunato is forced to sell the museum, he gifts the marionette to Chance, a young boy who has been helping out. Chance and Penny discover that they can communicate through her strings. What starts as a small connection warps into a body switch that leaves Penny in a human body and Chance trapped in a wooden body. Penny knows she needs to find a way to switch back with Chance but she doesn’t want to. Readers disturbed by the idea of Coraline’s mini-me doll should torture themselves with Spell & Spindle.
- Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
If the Goosebumps series has taught us anything, it’s that children are weirdly calm in supernatural situations and hunger for terrifying tales. Eleven-year-old Ollie is an insatiable bookworm after suffering a tragic loss. When she sees an elderly woman getting ready to throw a book into a river, she doesn’t think; she acts. The book tells the story of Beth Webster, a woman whose husband strikes a deal with a sinister entity called The Smiling Man. The Smiling Man can grant the wildest dreams but only at the ultimate price. Ollie can’t stop thinking about the story, especially after her school bus breaks down on the way home from a field trip. Before setting out to find help, the driver turns and gives her a warning: “At nightfall, they’ll come for the rest of you.” Avoid large places. Keep to small.” And, most terrifying of all, “RUN.”
- The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth
Devin shares a lot of emotions with Coraline. They’re both looking for a home full of good food, loving attention, and endless fun. One big difference, however, is that Coraline has the ability to leave her parents to explore the Other World. After his grandfather dies, Devin finds himself alone and unable to survive in a world where the earth has been scorched. His only path forward is to follow rumors of a home for abandoned children full of unlimited food, toys, and adoption prospects. But much like the button-for-eyes trade-off in Coralina, not everything is as it seems. There’s a horrible zombie-like sickness afflicting the children who are driven mad before his eyes. When he tries to escape, he finds the home locked down like a fortress which no amount of games with The Director will release him from.
Teens and adults feeling brave might try some of these titles:
- NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Did you know that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King? The Stephen King, respective Supreme Overlord of Popular Horror and Supernatural Fiction? With a long track record of his own horror stories, Joe Hill creates a Coraline for adults with NOS4A2 (pronounced “Nosferatu”). Charles Talent Manx and his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith are to children what Other Mother and her beautiful cakes are; they can’t resist his voice, his charm, and the car. Once they’re buckled in, he has the power to slip in between worlds to a magical playground he calls “Christmasland.” Children are never seen again. Except for Victoria McQueen. She escaped his evil a lifetime ago, but will her only son be as lucky?
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
This book holds several stories within its own. Every night at seven minutes past midnight, a voice calls to thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley from the darkness outside. He thinks it must be a nightmare until a towering humanoid creature appears, insisting that Conor has summoned it. It offers to tell Conor three true stories in exchange for a true story of his own. A Monster Calls is an incredible exploration of the complexities of humanity and the layers that overlap and conflict between what we selfishly want and what we’re willing to admit. The first five reviews on Goodreads start with some version of “I’m sobbing as I write this review.”
- The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling
Jane Shoringfield doesn’t have any illusions that someone else will rescue her. She’s practical and has done the calculations: a marriage of convenience is the best path towards a future of security and pseudo-independence. To that end, Dr. Augustine Lawrence seems too good to be true. He’s dashing, accepting of her terms of marriage, and only has one condition. Landing such a husband is readily worth agreeing to never visit Lindridge Hall, his decaying family manor outside of town. She intends to keep that promise until she finds herself stranded there one night and finds her husband a changed man. What’s happening at Lindridge Hall that’s enough to turn her regularly level-headed, logical new husband into a ranting, paranoid lunatic?
Looking for more horrific recommendations? Check in on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #PGCMLSBookChat to get more titles for your To Be Read list.
This blog is created by Hannah and Ella in conjunction with the These Books Made Me podcast, a Prince George’s County Memorial Library System production. Check out the corresponding episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you normally listen to podcasts.