Horror, science fiction, fantasy, suspense—all these categories came from Gothic literature. I devour 18th and 19th-century Gothic literature, from Shelley and Bronte to Poe, Dickens to Lovecraft, and all the neo-Gothic works today like Susanna Clarke and Michael Cox and Diane Setterfield. Several YA authors are embracing neo-Gothic literature and sharing retellings of famous Gothic works or incorporating elements of Gothic literature—like terror, horror, transgression, and Byronic heroes—into their stories.
I could go on for ages, but then I’d just recap my graduate thesis.
This Halloween (this autumn and winter, really—let’s be honest, the dark months are the best months for horror!), curl up in your biggest, comfiest chair, turn out all the lights save for one, and immerse yourself in these chilling reads.
UNKNOWN OBJECTS (STAY AWAY FROM THESE GHOSTS)
Say Her Name by James Dawson: A rare gem—I’ll be surprised if you can find it in a bookstore—that has such a creepy twist on the Bloody Mary legend. This can easily be visualized into a movie. Never mess around with ghost stories and legends, folks. You don’t really want to find out if it’s legit.
Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell: Mitchell’s short southern ghost story is perfect for fireside reading and chilly camping trips. It has all the elements you could ever want—Ouija boards, unexplainable messages written on mirrors, and things that go bump in the night. If you don’t believe in ghosts now, just wait!
The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco: When I first saw this book, I thought, “Oh! Scary title, cool cover, what’s this about?” A girl from the well—ohgod The Ring!—who is dead and murders murderers—sounds like Dexter, only as a ghost!—and involves a thrilling, mysterious race into Japan—ohgodohgod The Grudge! No! Oh GOD. By the end of the blurb it promises to be exactly that. And let me tell you…you don’t want to go near any wells after this.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: Jack the Ripper, 1888. Scary enough, right? Now imagine that happening all over again today. Same locations, same style, same dates and times. You’d think law enforcement would be able to catch the murderer now, what with the advancement in forensics and CCTV cameras nailed to every building in London. But that’s not possible. The stakes are higher, and ghosts soon begin to feel all too real, too close for comfort.
NEVER VISIT THESE HOMES
The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestly: Think Woman in Black meets YA. Creepy Victorian setting—heck, it even opens in a graveyard scene!—mixed with a child who can see poltergeists, an elderly man haunted by his past, and his sister out for revenge and family wealth. Superbly creepy, and a perfect stepping-stone to Dickens and Collins.
Amity by Micol Ostow: Are you thinking Amityville? Good. It’s inspired by that. Throw in some Stephen King horror, parallel voices, and approval from the Bram Stoker jury and you’re set for one thrill of a ride.
Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough: I am of the opinion the book jacket for this needs to be rewritten. In fact, no summary can be written that fully explains just how eerie, creepy, frightening, and deep this book is. Though the characters are around 10 years old, this is most certainly not a book I would give a 10-year-old. Throw in post-WWII English lifestyles, family curses dating back centuries, priest holes and abandoned graveyards, and an unsettling folklore song, and you’ve got yourself a story that will keep you far from manor houses for months. (And possibly pianos. And singing “Three Blind Mice.” Just no. No no no.)
Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff: This contains some fantastic supernatural elements and magic—a distancing for the reader that both works to amplify the creepiness as well as bring the chilling mystery and suspense closer to home. It harkens back to those classic Gothic books—Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk—so prepare yourself for some strange occurrences!
FEAR THE UNKNOWN
The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd: This YA retelling of H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is frightening not for its location—though a remote island filled with half-human half-animal beasts running around the jungle certainly brings about a LOST-like intense desire to escape—but for its commentary on humans versus animals, humans versus God. What scared Wells’s readers then can still scare us today.
The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle: The best, most underrated vampire book ever. Ohmigosh. It’s like Dracula meets the Black Plague. The only ones safe from this contagion are those within holy ground. Every second Katie steps out of her Amish community will fill you with dread—the suspense is endless and your stomach will be in knots.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: Fantastic! A collection of stories by one author—check! Written entirely in a graphic novel format—check! And, bonus, the words and the colors evoke such chilling descriptions all on their own, that sometimes they provide enough of a thrill without a story. Need to heighten the tension? Stretch the words you want emphasized, give them the proper color. Words never looked so frightening.
Reading books that frighten us can tell us so much about our culture, our definition of fear, and what scares us most in ourselves. We find pleasure in fear, and such juxtaposition is beyond comprehension; we ignore the paradox, enjoy the stories and the emotions they evoke, and share these stories with friends. Pick your way through the YA section during these darker months and discover those Gothic books you know your heart calls out to. They’re everywhere.