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Young Adult Novels: Scary Books, Scary Monsters

August 28th, 2023

What are these???

(Photo by Rawley; use with permission only, please.)

Once upon a time, the only Young Adult novels that spoke to me, that moved me, were 1) anything by Judy Blume 2) anything by Norma Klein and 3) S.E. Hinton’s classic, “The Outsiders.” It was, and is, a brilliant work. I met Hinton at Powell’s Books in Beaverton a few years ago, and I am not embarrassed to say, yeah, I fan-girled out, just like all the other fankids in line for her autograph.

Times have changed, and there are so many amazing YA books — and graphic novels!! so many graphic novels — on the shelves now. Here is a sampling of recent releases… but just the scary ones.

I’m over summer and ready for autumn, and Halloween. (More titles, not so scary, to follow in next review.) Additionally? I can only read scary, creepy, jump-scare books in the middle of the day. Also? I am not going to be held responsible if you read any of these and they terrify you or your kids so much that you/they have nightmares.

OK, ready?

First up: Kelly Creagh’s “Strange Unearthly Things” (Viking, 2023, ages 12 and up, 355 pages, $19.99). I love the pink/gray/black cover, I completely love it. I know, don’t judge a book and all that, but sometimes the cover and the writing and the topic just all go pow! into a perfect storm. Plus, “Hell is coming for him… but so is she,” is a tagline that gives me the shivers.

And that is this novel.

Our heroine, Jane Reye (the book is a paranormal shout-out to Charlotte Bronte’s classic, “Jane Eyre”) is on a flight. Her own highway to hell. The flight attendant, and the passenger seated next to her, are concerned. The flight attendant approaches:

“Her lilac perfume makes me gasp.

Because Helen.

‘Can I help you with this?’ She hands me one of the sketches among the mix that doesn’t depict a spirit.

‘I’m good,’ is all I can say as I collect from her the surrealist drawing of a girl peeling her skin off like a T-shirt to reveal a skeletal rib cage stuffed to bursting with flowers.”

That’s all you’re getting from me. You like scary-goth novels? Check it out. I would say this one is for bigger kids, but books? They’re personal. I spent most of my childhood having the librarians tell me “no” and my mom saying, “Give them here,” and checking out the “grown-up” books for me. I am no worse for the wear. I liked to read, I still like to read, and I have so many questions. I did then, and I do now. So please trust your kids’ judgment. xoxoxox

“Finch House,” by the talented and amazing Ciera Burch, is a gift of a novel. (Margaret K. McElderry Books, on sale Sept. 5, 2023, ages 8 and up, grades 3-7, 197 pages, $17.99.) Michaela “Micah,” who is eleven, loves living with her Poppop and mom in their comfortable family home. But her mom wants them to start over an hour away. To avoid packing, she leaves the house, and ends up where she’s been warned to never go — the haunted-looking and run down Finch House. She meets a new friend, Theo.

Is he trustworthy? Is the house what it seems to be? And where is Poppop? Great read, gripping story, believable dialogue and characters.

“Ashton Hall” is the new book from Lauren Belfer (“City of Light”). (Ballantine Books, 2022, 410 pages, teens and older, $17.00.) It’s so… vintage. (I mean that as a compliment.) And just creepy and lovely, in that Elizabethan/Goth way. Hannah Larson, our heroine, and her little boy, Nicky, head to Cambridge, England, to care for an ailing relative. Skeletal remains are discovered and then… you’ll have to wait to find out. Fantastic descriptions, and I love the house, which is a character all its own, dating back to the early 1600s.

Next we have two scary titles from author Dan Poblocki, illustrated by Marie Bergeron, ideal from middle grades and up:  “Tales to Keep You Up at Night” (Penguin Workshop, 2022, 262 pages, $8.99) and “More Tales to Keep You Up at Night”  (Penguin Workshop, 2023, 279 pages, $17.99). I love that Poblocki has been dubbed “the middle grade Crypt Keeper.” Perfecto. (I want more art included, though — Bergeron is talented.) If this one is a hit for you, readers, he has a whole slew of other titles, including “Ghost Hunter’s Daughter” and “The Book of Bad Things.”

Speaking of bad things, haha!… our final book this evening is Rob Renzetti’s “The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things” (Penguin Workshop, 2023, 215 pages, $17.99). Zenith Maelstrom (great name) is 11-going-on-12. His first thought when he finds the so-called “horrible bag” on his front porch is, Does he want his sister to know? No. She gives him too much grief. And our story begins.

OK, I have the shivers now, and it just got dark outside. It’s that time of year when it gets darker and darker, earlier and earlier. Maybe I’m not ready for fall? Too late.

Have fun reading, y’all. Talk soon.


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