An A to Z Look at YA Horror: So you want a spooky book for spooky season? A YA horror master list
I love horror, especially during the fall and spooky season. But what kind of horror? That question is different for everyone. So here is a look at some YA horror divided in a variety of categories to help you find the right book for you this haunted reading season. A couple of notes here:
- Some books may occur in more than one category
- If you look on, you may find yourself with spoilers for some books. For example, sometimes a ghost story is supposed to be a surprise. If you want twists and surprises, stop reading now. But if you want help finding more ghost stories, this is the post for you.
- Some of these are more mystery/thrillers then straight up horror, but there’s still like blood and death and spooky, so I think they work.
- This is by no means a complete and comprehensive list, so I am leaving the comments open so you can suggest your favorite titles in the various categories as well.
I love a good alien invasion. Later there is a category heading for horror set in space, which often also features aliens, but these books here are about Earth being invaded by aliens. I know that’s a spoiler, but you were warned that would happen.
The idea that alternate worlds that may exist is fascinating, more so when that alternate world is terrifying.
Classics (Based on Classic Horror Novels and Movies)
Though I say this for a lot of these categories, I do love a creepy town. I don’t want to live in one, but reading about them is delightful in that way that reading terrifying things often is.
Deadly Boarding Schools
Boarding schools is a thing in YA, and my favorite boarding schools are the ones in which someone dies. A lot of them can be more mysteries, but they are all thrilling.
When I was in the 3rd grade, my best friend who lived across the street swore her house was haunted. And one night I spent the night and her parents were out late and things happened. Do I think her house was haunted? I do not know. But haunted houses and ghost stories are a ton of fun. AND THE TREES CREPT IN has some amazingly haunting scenes, and it is probably the book that I think about the most. Also, it has a great title.
Sometimes the monster is a man, but sometimes the monster is also a monster. The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld is an older series with a unique concept and some pretty cool monsters, I recommend it. Although I would hesitate to call the Miss Peregrine series horror, it has one of the most terrifying opening scenes. And THIS SAVAGE SONG by Victoria Schwab has my favorite take on monsters ever.
Mythology is made of monsters: Gods that kill, mermaids that also kill, and horses that kill.
I recently did a list of psychic books for my Stranger Things read alike post and I’m here to tell you, you can’t go wrong with any book by Libba Bray and that includes The Diviners series.
The sweet, sweet taste of revenge. Revenge in real life can be, you know, illegal, so here are some revenge fantasies for that sweet taste of revenge, but in a totally safe way that harms no one.
If you can get your hands on it, be sure and check out the OG YA serial killer novel TENDERNESS by Robert Cormier. Cormier, Lois Duncan, R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike and Joan Lowery Nixon wrote some of the original YA horror and thriller novels back in the 1990s, when horror paperbacks were all the rage, and a lot of them still hold up. Tenderness by Cormier was the first YA I read that asked readers to step into the mind of a serial killer, but it was not the last. Though all serial killer books are about horrifying topics, not all serial killer books are necessarily what you might classify as horror. There is a good list of YA serial killer books at Goodreads.
Now at the age of 13, my kid and all her friends are rediscovering the Scream movies and are all about slasher fiction. These are some great reads for thos teens and teens like them. I recently read HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR MUDER and it’s a lot of fun with a unique take on the genre and it directly references the Scream movies.
I honestly love this genre. Both of these titles are very, very good. I wish there was more just outright horror set in space, because it’s hard to imagine anything scarier than the big nothingness of space and the terror that awaits in the unknown.
I love vampire novels but, it’s important to note, not all vampire novels are horror. Twilight, for example, is more romance. But it’s also true that almost all vampire novels have a lot of death and gore, so by that definition, they would all work. The late 90s and early 2000s were ripe with a lot of glorious vampire fiction, so definitely check those out. If you really and truly want to kick it old school, definitely check out The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause. And you’ll want to reach into titles like The Vampire Academy (now a TV show streaming on Peacock), The Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz, and The Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Cain. Vampire novels are a pretty prolific genre at this point and this list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start.
Werewolf books are also sometimes called shapeshifter books, particularly if the main protoganists shifts into something besides a wolf. If you want to start at the beginning, definitely check out BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause. And if you wanting brooding romance with some poetry, check out the Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Steifvater.
Witches are another category that can or can not technically be horror. Not all witch novels are horror, but some of them are truly terrifying. For your more hauntingly and achingly romantic look at witches, there’s something to be said for the Beautiful Creatures novels by Kami Garcia. Also check out the Half Bad trilogy by Sally Green. Also, definitely check out The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. There’s a really good list of witch books over at Book Riot.
Regular readers know that I love a good zombie book. EAT YOUR HEART OUT by Kelly Devos was a recent read and it has a pretty unique take on the concept of zombies, as does BURN DOWN, RISE UP and THE UNEAD TRUTH OF US. EAT BRAINS LOVE and HOLD ME CLOSER NECROMANCER are more humor than horror, and I maybe should have made humorous horror an entire subheading. Again, there are a ton more YA zombie novels out there for you to read, and there is a more comprehensive list over at Goodreads.
As I have mentioned, none of these lists are exhaustive and I’m always looking for new to read, so please share in the comments your favorites in each of the categories above. Or, suggest a new category and tell me what to read in that category.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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