My sisters and I used to have an ongoing competition to see who could scare the other two the most by jumping out at them. I never begrudged them whenever they would win, because it meant that I had been scared. That game was how I got my original horror kicks.
Nowadays, I’m a little less spastic (not really, I keep the legacy alive with my husband and daughters) and far more cultured about my love of horror. I love horror in art, horror movies, and of course reading horror. While movies spoon feed it all to you, seeing and reading it involve a little more on the part of the viewer/reader. Art requires you to create a story in your head, consciously or subconsciously, that makes it horror to you. You fill in the blanks the artist left behind. Whereas when reading it, you’re given the story and you make up the rest with the images dancing in your brain. It depends so heavily on the writer’s skill, their understanding of fear and fearlessness in employing that understanding.
Below, you will find a little reading list of horror in surprising places. Because what better time is there to scare yourself as we approach Halloween? None, I say.
Horror in Middle Grade (MG) Fiction
It’s not that I think it isn’t possible for a children’s book to be scary. I started my avid reading career in Goosebumps, okay? But I became physically uncomfortable when reading this book, squirming throughout most of it. On the surface the premise might seem innocuous: A boy worries about his sick newborn brother and develops a complicated relationship with the wasps building the nest outside his bedroom window; I assure you, the novel is anything but. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Extremely original and skin-crawlingly creepy.
Horror in Young Adult (YA) Fiction
My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Yes, it’s shelved as horror. But I have read plenty of horror novels I enjoyed but that didn’t scare me. You know what I mean? It’s hard to do.
In this post last Halloween, I recommended this book as quirky horror. And it was. But I have to be honest, there were a couple scenes in this 80s-centered novel that terrified me more than any Stephen King scenes.
Horror in YA fantasy
The Raven Boys
If you’ve been following me on Twitter or have read my most recent post, you know I’m obsessed with this series. On the real though? My body broke out in chills while reading The Raven Boys, and I had to stand up away from the book to pace while my husband politely listened to my hysterical string of curses. The horror was intense, and it’s not even marketed as horror! This author does atmosphere so well, so when she wants to scare the shit out of you, she’s pretty damn successful. Also, it doesn’t stop with this book. It’s strung throughout the series.
A note about horror in YA and MG: I would never recommend these books to anyone looking for “lite horror”. When I say unexpected horror, that’s exactly what I mean. These novels scared me, and I didn’t expect it. When reading this novel, I experienced utter physical discomfort and psychological…interruption.
Do not let that cover fool you. This novel was stunning, but it has an inky darkness made all the blacker beside the life and love it struggles to consume.
Horror in Poetry
There were some lines, shit, entire poems in this collection that grabbed me by the throat and still haven’t let go (I reread the first poem in this collection for this blog, and it was even scarier because I unlocked a little more of its meaning). I’ve also talked about Sharon Olds here. Poetry is a perfect way to inject your Halloween with atmosphere. This article on Lit Reactor has more fantastic suggestions.
Horror in the Classics
Now I knew going in that this novel is horror. I guess I just wasn’t expecting…well, horror. I feel like Hollywood has desensitized me with jump scares and Frankenstein creations of mismanaged lore and urban legend. But Dracula reminded me vampires can be scary, that they actually ARE monsters. Which makes sense, since Dracula is the OG of the vampire myhthos–as original as we’re getting in this post anyway, and most everything after are watered down reinterpretations.
Parts of this novel lured a visceral reaction from me. The narrative structure definitely makes it a work of psychological horror, which always sticks fast with me (House of Leaves, Bird Box, A Head Full of Ghosts). The narrators’ heads, as they face down the monster, are our landscape and it’s just as rich as the physical landscape.
Have you read any of these novels, and were you at all surprised by the horror? Feel free to leave additional suggestions for books or poems that gave you unexpected chills.
I hope everyone has a safe, horror-filled Halloween, and at least one evening curled up with a blanket and a scary read in hand.