Teen

Surefire YA Scares:
13 of the Best Teen Horror Books

by Iva-Marie Palmer

As a kid, I Iong questioned why on earth I would subject myself to scary reads — the slightest glimpse of just the cover of a horror movie VHS tape at my neighborhood video store could give me nightmares for days. But I came of age in the era of Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine (and, yes, VHS tapes too), and I was routinely subjected to the phenomenon of seeing one of my peers devouring these novels and wanting to do the same. (The garishly Day-Glo covers and scrawling font were also draws.) And, in reading those, I realized that the great thing about scary books is that — unlike with films — you can go at your own pace and imagine the scenes yourself. That’s not to say the stories weren’t scary or that I didn’t read plenty of those books in a single sleepless night, but I liked having that little bit of control as a reader.

As other book trends come and go, horror is a trusty genre, and one that — judging from some of the classics listed here — holds up over time. These 13 creepy books (some old, some new) are sure to haunt teen readers in all the right ways.

  • Carrie

    by Stephen King

    Horror-master King’s first novel (published in 1974) is perfect for teen horror fans. A compact work told through fictionalized news stories, articles, and interviews, Carrie tells the tale of a telekinetic teenage girl so bullied at school that she destroys her entire town to get revenge on her cruel classmates. It’s one of the most frequently banned books in the United States and worth the read just for the pull-no-punches way King handles his subject matter.

  • Rot and Ruin

    by Jonathan Maberry

    The first in a series of four zombie novels by bestselling author Maberry, Rot and Ruin is an awesome read, especially for fans of “The Walking Dead” (or anything undead, for that matter). In this first entry, Benny Imura, a resident of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden U.S., must find a job by the time he turns 15 or he’ll put his family’s food supply at risk. He reluctantly learns to hunt zombies under the tutelage of his older brother, and the story that results strikes more emotional chords than just the scary ones.

  • Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus

    by Mary Shelley

    Many are impressed that Shelley wrote this classic when she was just 18, but even more impressive is that she wrote it as part of a friendly contest between her, her husband (Percy Shelley), Lord Byron, and John Polidori. After pondering horror stories, Shelley dreamt of a scientist who creates life and is then terrified by his own creation. The rest is history, along with years of correcting people who think the monster’s name is Frankenstein. Nope, that’s the doctor’s name.

  • A Monster Calls

    by Patrick Ness

    Soon to be released as a film, this novel from Carnegie Medal-winner Ness was inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd and centers on Conor, a boy who has repeatedly had the same nightmare since his mother became sick. But the monster that eventually shows up at his window isn’t the one from his dream. It’s something different, and it demands something of Conor. Filled with darkness, magic, and a haunting message, it’s a fairy tale in the truest Brothers Grimm-sense of the term.

  • Dracula

    by Bram Stoker

    Without Dracula, would the glimmering, crush-worthy vampires of the Twilight series exist? Probably not. Stoker’s seductive, wealthy, and well-bred Dracula comes alive (ahem) via letters, ships’ logs, and diary entries from the novel’s protagonists, including English solicitor Jonathan Harker, who becomes Dracula’s prisoner, and teacher-turned-vampire-hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Some young readers may find Stoker’s pacing a divergence from the fast-plotted books they’re used to, but this classic is worth the read.

  • The Fever

    by Megan Abbott

    This one is recommended for older teens (ages 16 and up), and they won’t be able to put it down. Abbott is masterful at getting inside the heads of teen girls, and has no fear of treading into the darkest territory. This novel, based on a real illness that manifested as uncontrollable tics in a dozen teenage girls in upstate New York, probes the creepy terrain of such an epidemic and a dangerous jealousy among these adolescent girls.

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle

    by Shirley Jackson, illustrated by Thomas Ott

    First published in 1962, Jackson’s extra-creepy novel centers on the kind of family whose house would make trick-or-treating more interesting (if not more terrifying). Thanks to its character development and lack of gore, the now-classic novel is excellent for those reluctant to read horror. The story of the Blackwood sisters, their fear-inducing home, and a long-ago poisoning that killed the entire family before them earns its thrills through Jackson’s brainy, brilliant prose.

  • The Graces

    by Laure Eve

    What is it about cadres of beautiful, mysterious girls that makes us want to read about them? (Oh, looks like that question answers itself.) In this new dark and lyrical novel from English writer Eve, River longs to be welcomed into the lives of the Graces, a group of rumored-to-be-witches who cast a spell over everyone in town. According to Eve herself, there’s more to the book than just are-they-witches; it's an exploration of “the endless pull between the Other — fantasy, imagination, belief, of spirits and gods and ghosts — and the colder everyday of the real, the real that we are very afraid is all there is.”

  • Asylum Series

    by Madeleine Roux

    An excellent, photo-illustrated pick for fans of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the first book in this series from Roux takes place in an inherently scary place: a former psychiatric hospital, where gifted 16-year-old Dan Crawford and other students must spend their summer instead of the cushy college prep housing they’d been expecting. The haunting page-turner takes you into the kind of dark, twisted world teens can be grateful exists only in fiction (one hopes…).

  • The Telling

    by Alexandra Sirowy

    Part murder mystery and part paranormal fairy tale, Sirowy’s new book not only weaves a frightful tale, but also gets under the reader’s skin as it addresses death and dying, and discovering the truth about yourself. Teens will fall hard for Lana, a formerly shy girl who grows fearless after the death of her beloved stepbrother, as she looks into her past and the scary stories her brother told her to figure out a series of murders in her town.

  • Chain Letter

    by Christopher Pike

    No list of scary reads for teens would be complete without one from the master of the genre, Pike. Yes, today’s young masters of group texts and Snapchat may scoff at the very idea of a chain letter, but they won’t be laughing as they fall deeper into the creepy tale, wherein six friends bound together by a crime are the recipients of a scary screed that demands each of them take on dangerous, impossible things.

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    Stevenson’s classic tale exploring, in frightening fashion, the two sides of one self has influenced dozens of authors. Perhaps less well-known is that Stevenson wrote the tale in three days, after he had nightmares about his own double life — and then had to rewrite it in three days again when his wife burned the first manuscript because she thought it was too gruesome. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might not strike young readers off the bat as the stuff to keep them up at night, but it raises questions about the duality of human nature that’ll keep them thinking long after they’ve turned the final page.

  • The Bad Seed

    by William March

    First published in 1954, the focus of this bestselling novel, which also inspired the 1956 film of the same name, is ridiculously compelling: a child who is also a killer. For those among us who find themselves drawn to literary tales of creepy children (you’re not alone!), March’s novel was the forebear to many of those stories and is a case of one of the first also being one of the best.

What are your favorite scary reads? Let us know in the comments section below!

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