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Take 5: Creepy(ish) Teen Reads for the Month of October (and always)

It’s spooky season, one of my favorites. So I’ve been trying to read more spooky, creepy, thrilling, murdery books. Though one could I argue that’s what I normally read. Here’s a look at 5 books I’ve recently read, some old and some new and one not yet published, that are great reads for those looking for a little creep factor in their life.

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Publisher’s Book Description:

A hitched ride home in a snow storm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster.

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Here’s a totally true story. Years ago, The Mr. and I were trying to fly from Ohio to Mississippi to spend Christmas with my mom and we were being chased by a wicked storm. After being rerouted for the 5th time, we met up with two total strangers in the airport and rented a car together and drove from Atlanta to Mississippi. We were in our early twenties and didn’t even have cell phones yet, so this was not a great idea. We did call before leaving the airport and gave my mom everyone’s driver’s license information in case we never made it there alive. So when I saw the premise of this book, I was excited. Just the prospect of being in a car with strangers in a snow storm is terrifying, and here was an entire novel about it. And Natalie D. Richards is one of my go to authors for creepy reads. She does not disappoint here. Everyone’s hiding secrets, no one is really who they appear to be, and the storm itself is an interminable foe. Teens will enjoy this wild ride.

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Publisher’s Book Description:

Stay tonight. Stay forever.

When Audrey Casella arrives for an unplanned stay at the grand Hotel Ruby, she’s grateful for the detour. Just months after their mother’s death, Audrey and her brother, Daniel, are on their way to live with their grandmother, dumped on the doorstep of a DNA-matched stranger because their father is drowning in his grief.

Audrey and her family only plan to stay the night, but life in the Ruby can be intoxicating, extending their stay as it provides endless distractions—including handsome guest Elias Lange, who sends Audrey’s pulse racing. However, the hotel proves to be as strange as it is beautiful. Nightly fancy affairs in the ballroom are invitation only, and Audrey seems to be the one guest who doesn’t have an invite. Instead, she joins the hotel staff on the rooftop, catching whispers about the hotel’s dark past.

The more Audrey learns about the new people she’s met, the more her curiosity grows. She’s torn in different directions—the pull of her past with its overwhelming loss, the promise of a future that holds little joy, and an in-between life in a place that is so much more than it seems…

Welcome to the Ruby.

Karen’s Thoughts: I’ve wanted to read this one for a while now so when I went searching for something October scary, I knew it was finally time. Who doesn’t love a creepy hotel? I thought this was a really creepy read that slowly builds and then when things are revealed, I was not let down. I was mesmerized by the world of the Ruby and the characters that inhabit it. This is the perfect October read.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description:

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that’s what she’s been told. She can’t remember anything from that day, and her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down.

But then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

Karen’s Thoughts: Small towns, big secrets. A variation on the word creepy is right there in the title, so it makes the list. This is a pretty twisted psychological thriller with small town secrets, bullies, stalkers, serial kills and siblings trying to survive childhood trauma. There are some twists and turns and red herrings along the way. It is a satisfying read.

Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts: I debated adding this book to this list because it’s actually a pretty heavy book with serious discussions and doesn’t fall very well onto a list of creepy books for the sake of being creepy and fun. BUT if you have teens looking for a good psychological feminist thriller that is dark, this IS the book for that teen. I reviewed it earlier on TLT and said, “This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.”

The Cousins by Karen McManus

Publishers Book Description:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes your next obsession. You’ll never feel the same about family again.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

Karen’s Thoughts: When I was a teen, one of my favorite movies was Evil Under the Sun based on the book by Agatha Christie. What can I say, I was a weird teen. The Cousins immediately brought the works of Agatha Christie to mind, more so even then her earlier books One of Us is Lying and Two Can Keep a Secret did. This book is about family secrets and it’s strength is the character development. Again, it’s not so much a creepy book as it is a really good mystery, which I always love. This book doesn’t come out until the end of 2020, so you’ll have to wait a bit to find out more about these family secrets. But you can read about more family secrets in a small town that actually involves a haunted house in Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus, so that’s the perfect October read while you wait to satisfy your Agatha Christie-like cravings with The Cousins later this year.

I’m on the hunt for more creepy reads, so what have you been reading?

Book Review: What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards

whatyouhidePublisher’s Book Description

A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later 

Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.

Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.

Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…

Karen’s Thoughts

It’s interesting in the blurb above that this book is described as a “pulse-pounding romantic thriller” because as I read this, I was moved repeatedly by the way this book talks about a variety of current and pressing issues, including the opioid crisis, domestic violence and teen homelessness. Make no mistake, What You Hide is a thrilling read and there definitely is some budding romance, but I thought this book also did a sublime job of talking about real issues in meaningful ways in the context of this “pulse-pounding romantic thriller”.

As I was reading this book, I was actually working at a public library in the state of Ohio and we had a teen coming in daily that we knew was homeless. So this book was very real and pressing to me; it had a palpable urgency to me as I went home at night to read this book and then returned to work each day and talked to a teen that I knew had slept outside the library, tucked away in a corner trying to stay safe and unnoticed. I actually reached out to Richards and asked her some concrete ways to help this teen as I knew she must have learned things researching this novel and she was gracious enough to give me some leads. We did end up connecting this teen with several resources and I am thankful to be able to share with you that he also got a job. Working with homeless teens is always a horrific reminder of the various ways in which our society fails our children.

What You Hide also does a really good job of presenting some solid examples of domestic violence that is more psychologically than it is physically abusive, and I appreciated this important revelation. Tucked in here is also some hardcore truths about addiction and the current opioid crisis, which is hitting Ohio pretty hard so it seems fitting that the author included this in the context of this particular story as well. All of these issues are brought to light and revealed in authentic ways that don’t hit the reader over the head but also show the ways issues become tangled up in other issues and they feed upon and work with each other to bring a teen to the place where fear, desperation and a lack of options leads them to a life lived on the streets, or tucked inside a closed library.

One of the other things that I think that Richards does so well is present us with a variety of teens who are trying to figure out who they are and balance that with parental expectations and the stress that comes with trying, and often failing, to meet those expectations. This is made most clear in the story of Spencer, who is literally standing (well, lying) still because he can’t figure out how to move forward in healthy ways as who wants to be does not align with what he feels his parents want him to be. I loved the character of Spencer and felt that his dilemma was both poignant and all too real. This was the most spot on representation of one of the primary challenges of adolescence and I felt that every teen reading this book would be able to relate to and identify the conversations that these teens are having about growing up and trying to figure out what next steps to take.

What You Hide is a love letter to libraries and the feelings of acceptance and belonging they bring to a community, which is not surprising because Richards herself works in a library. Every nook and cranny of this library felt authentic, affirming, and inspiring. There are hidden places, local history, and the possibility of ghosts – and who doesn’t love the idea of a haunted library? I mean, I don’t want to work in a haunted library, but the setting makes for a great story.

Then there is Mallory, a strong, fierce, determined but lost young lady trying to convince her mom to leave a man that she sees as abusive who finds herself alone on the streets. She takes refuge in the library, hiding until it closes and hoping to find a few moments of warmth and safety. Even as Mallory reaches out and tries to find help in her situation, we see all the obstacles that minors trying to find a respite from a storm at home experience. There are rules and regulations that make finding help so very hard to do, and they leave Mallory in some of the most vulnerable situations. As her hunger grows and her desperation builds, we learn more and more about what life is like for a homeless teen and the desperation they feel. Mallory’s story will break your heart.

This is an interesting book because it presents itself as a thriller, but it asks you to think deeply by revealing harsh truths in the midst of this mystery. Unlike the problem novels of the 90s (yes, I’m that old) that hit you over the head with their after school special like messages, Richards peels back the layers on issues while entertaining with a thrilling mystery that may or may not be a ghost story set in a library that may or may not be haunted, and it is a satisfying read that leaves you thinking of the many challenges teens today are facing. It’s a bold move, a trusting one that respects teen readers and understands that a book can be many things at once. It also reminds us that teens are indeed facing a variety of hard pressing issues, almost always at the same time, and they are often ill equipped and unprepared to deal with them and the very systems that are there to support them are ham-stringed by rules and regulations that put the most vulnerable of them at further risk. Don’t let the cover or the marketing fool you, this is a deep, thoughtful novel that genuinely explores teen life.

I highly recommend this novel for teens and anyone who cares about teens. It’s more than an entertaining thriller, its a deeply contemplative exploration of teen life today that moves the reader.

Themes and topics covered: Homelessness, domestic violence, coming of age, addiction, poverty and socio-economic challenges, the U.S. opioid crisis

Published December 4 by Sourcefire Books