Much to the dismay of my high school best friend, I’ve never been one for horror anything. She dragged me along to bad slasher movies at the discount theater or rented Stephen King movies for sleepovers. I was always terrified even if the movie was cheesy and terrible. House of Wax starring Paris Hilton, anyone? Yup, saw it in the theater and yes, I was still scared. There’s an Achilles tendon plus scissors scene that still gives me the shudders to this day. As a child I had night terrors and I still have extremely vivid nightmares on occasion. Plus an experience with a Goosebumps book — you were right, Mom, it was too scary for my fragile soul! — made me skittish about horror. I never understood that being scared could be fun until I discovered Young Adult horror novels.
YA horror is perfect because it’s not too scary or gory. As I’ve established, I’m a wuss, but YA horror isn’t so bad! These books can be the good kind of scary, the kind that makes you look twice when you come home to a dark house but not so scary that you have to sleep with the lights on. The other thing that I appreciate about YA horror is that, in my experience, it’s mostly paranormal horror or murderer horror. There is not as much built upon graphic depictions of sexual violence. The realities of rape and sexual violence are scary enough in the real world that I don’t need them invading my fun, manageable horror.
So if you like the thrill of being just a little bit scared check out my top eleven — because ten just wasn’t enough — YA horror novels. I’ve ranked them from the least scary to the most on a scale of 1 to 10 calming cat videos that I needed to watch so I could fall asleep.
The Awesome by Eva Darrows: This book barely qualifies as scary but serves as a good opener for this list. If you ever wanted a YA novel that was a like gender-swapped Supernatural without the sibling angst and with an extremely sex-positive mother and teenaged protagonist, than this book is for you. In fact, one of the main plot points of the book is that monster hunter Maggie has to lose her virginity before she can kill vampires! Her mom’s encouragement to get it done in a workmanlike manner provides much humor throughout. Let’s start small with one cat video needed just because cats are cute and the vampires’ obsession with virgins is creepy.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: Rory is just a regular Louisiana girl spending a year at a boarding girl in London when she has a brush with death – choking on a lump of meat in the dining hall to be precise – that grants her the ability to see ghosts. Soon her boarding school is the epicenter of a series of murders that mimic Jack the Ripper’s. Could he be back? Rory sees that it’s not Jack himself, but it is a ghost. If only someone would believe her! Try two cat videos for the thought that Jack the Ripper might come back in ghost form.
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry: This series has a special place in my heart for starting my love of zombie books and YA horror in general. It’s 15 years after the zombie apocalypse knocked out civilization as we currently know it and Benny Imura and his friends live their lives in a fenced-in town. Benny’s brother is a zombie hunter who “quiets” zombies who used to be loved ones and Benny decides to pursue this as a career. This series kickoff has fun action sequences, enough gore to keep you interested, and sets up the rest of the books nicely. You’ll need a total of three cat videos to get you to believe that the zombie apocalypse won’t really happen.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: Tana’s world is one where vampires are real and relegated to “coldtowns” where they can live in an uneasy isolation. When she wakes up the sole, uninfected survivor of a vampire massacre at a party, she has no choice but to drive her bitten boyfriend and another boy to the nearest coldtown. There she finds the scary culture of vampires, the people who want to feed them, and the people who want to be them. If you think you don’t like vampires or that they aren’t scary, I challenge you not to be creeped out by this book. I recommend four cat videos to get you through the many descriptions of cut veins and spurting blood.
The Diviners by Libba Bray: When Evie is sent off to New York after being caught drinking at a party, she’s ready for a boring time at the “Museum of Creepy Crawlies” run by her uncle. But with her hidden ability to learn people’s secrets by touching an object belonging to them she soon finds herself mixed up in a paranormal murder investigation. This book is full of awesome 1920s slang, bathtub gin, and speakeasies but also has a murderous ghost, a secret government project, and a cult, so basically it’s a really great read. Take five cat videos and step away from the Ouija board lest you bring someone else back from beyond the grave.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: Cas is a ghost hunter with a special knife that kills the already dead, and Anna is a murdered girl who has returned as an enraged ghost. She regularly rips people in half when they enter her house. Again: she rips people in half. Yikes. Yet, the two manage to fall in love. This book delivers on the scary as well as a sweet romance, funny side characters, and a protective house cat who can see ghosts. Six cat videos will reassure you that if there are any ghosts in your house, your kitty will warn you about them.
The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith: Okay, we’re starting to turn a corner to true creepiness with this one. This is a hard book to recommend because it deals with sexual abuse, the aftermath of that, and it has some seriously graphic violence. When Jack is kidnapped and assaulted, he and his friend take it out on the kidnapper violently. Then they find a strange pair of glasses that seems to transport Jack to the apocalyptic, uber-violent world of Marbury. But is it real or is it an result of his trauma? Seven cat videos could help get you through the difficult descriptions of attempted rape but if rape is triggering for you, I’d give this one a pass.
The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman: One normal day in the regular town of Oleander Kansas, five people wake up and go on separate killing sprees. Then they all kill themselves, except for Cass, who killed one of her babysitting charges but has no memory of the incident. A year later the town is still trying to recover but then an insane storm starts to rage and everything goes back to hell. Despite the violence — I mean I baby is killed which is pretty horrible — it’s a book that you can’t put down. You really root for the characters to be okay and it has a pretty great twist at the end. Watch eight cat videos and then go give your friends and family big hugs.
Through the Woods By Emily Carroll: I genuinely thought I could read this before bed one night. I have no idea what I was thinking! It probably doesn’t help that I live alone in an old, creaky apartment. This collection of short story comics has beautiful and chilling illustrations. The stories of wives in the wall, dead brothers returning from the wood, and other dark fairy tales makes the book best suited for the daytime. Unless you’re a braver soul than me, nine cat videos will be needed calm your nerves.
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad: Playing on the old idea of the doppelgänger, this novel imagines a final Apollo space mission with teenaged contestant winners rather than professional astronauts. When the winners get to the moon to spend their few days they find that NASA and the government has been covering up a horrible secret. A few hours later, the lights go out, the doubles start showing up, and the book cranks up the creep factor. While stories of abandoned space stations with secrets has been done before, I think this is a really effective and scary take on that trope. Watch ten cat videos to convince yourself you won’t wake up to your doppelgänger standing over your bed.
Scowler by Daniel Kraus: This book is disturbing because it’s about physical and psychological abuse as much as horror. It’s the story of Ry and his family who are just barely making it on their farm until his father gets out of jail and a meteorite falls onto their yard. Violence, an unforgettable incident with a sewing needle, and a reappearance of Ry’s imaginary friends follows. While one of Kraus’ other works, Rotters, is almost as terrifying but rather in a gorey way, Scowler’s scares come from it’s chilling plausibility. 10 out of 10 cat videos needed for recovery, plus one more for good measure; rewatch as often as you remember that one scene with the sewing needle.
What else did I miss, fellow ‘fraidy cats? In honor of Halloween this month I’m hoping to get over my childhood Goosebumps incident and read one of R.L. Stine’s — the king of YA horror — Fear Street reboots. Happy reading and keep those cuddly cat videos close at hand!