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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?

A Response: The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Literature

The Background
Here’s a secret: Christie, Heather, Robin and I have become really good friends as we have traveled this co-blogging journey together.  We often email each other throughout the day, bouncing ideas off of each other, talking about books, complaining about patrons (and sometimes our children).  So yesterday Christie sent me a link to an article that got us all talking.  Rather than writing out a response to it, we thought we would just share our behind the scenes conversation.

Here a link to the original article: The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books

Heather’s Take
Just like in every other aspect of life and culture, there are options that are roundly understood to be exceptional, classic works, shining examples of virtue and grace, and options that serve other purposes.  They’re easy to access.  They’re entertaining.  They reflect contemporary situations.  They are escapist, providing contrasts to everyday life.  Books, even books for young people, are no different.  As a parent, I’m urged to make all of the “right” choices for my children all of the time, and berated by certain factions when I don’t.   (For these folks, there is only ever one right option.) From food to bedtimes to medical care to educational opportunities, someone always knows better, and parents never win.  I’ll take this article with the same grain of salt I use for others in a similar vein.  

I stand by my longstanding assertion that teens read for escape, connection, and information. Sometimes what they get from reading those “horrible” books with bad things is an appreciation for what they DO have. Sometimes they get the reassurance that they are not alone in their nightmares.  Sometimes they are gaining an understanding, in a fictional context, of the horrors that surround them daily in the news. 

She asserts that parents should steer their children toward more edifying work.  Fine.  Parents are welcome to do that.  But what’s even more powerful, potentially life changing, and affirming than reading that virtuous book is deliberately choosing to do so.
Robin’s Take
Exactly. My Mom chose to shelter us from violence, but not from sexual content. That definitely shaped who I am, and that was her prerogative. She didn’t see any need to restrict what other people’s children were exposed to. It’s quite interesting living in the heart of the Bible belt, where most of my friends were sheltered from sexual content but not from violence. 
This is the part of the article that disturbs me the most:
Young Adult book author Sherman Alexie wrote a rebuttal to my article entitled, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” In it, he asks how I could honestly believe that a sexually explicit Young Adult novel might traumatize a teenaged mother. “Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?”
Well of course I don’t. But I also don’t believe that the vast majority of 12-to-18-year-olds are living in hell. And as for those who are, does it really serve them to give them more torment and sulphur in the stories they read?”

I don’t think she’s in touch with the average teenager today. She sounds like she’s cut off from the realities of daily existence for so much of our population. I understand how that can happen, but perhaps that makes a case for those of us who are ‘in the trenches’ to be better judges of what is appropriate in Young Adult literature. It is often this same mentality that causes people to believe that those who aren’t making it financially are ‘just lazy.’ And that it will ruin our economy for everyone to have access to adequate healthcare and nutrition.
Does it serve children living in devastating circumstances to offer them stories of people in hard situations that they can relate to and maybe learn coping skills, or see hope that they can survive their current difficulties? I think so. Does it serve them to offer them stories so engaging that they can momentarily escape from their current troubles? Yes, we all need that. Does it serve them to only offer them stories of realities that are so unlike their own that they can’t even begin to relate to the characters? No. We need to meet the readers where they are. We need to feed their diverse interests. We need to empower them to tell their own stories. Limiting their exposure to only things that a part of society finds beautiful and ‘redemptive’ will silence these voices. It is another way of telling them that their experiences don’t matter. That they don’t count. That they are worthless.
There is great beauty in the midst of every tragedy. Friends sacrifice for those they love. Societies come together to protect the weak and disadvantaged. Can you really understand the enormity of what Denmark did for its Jewish citizens in smuggling them to Sweden without first comprehending the horror of the Nazi regime? Can you understand the importance of the idea that you are not defined by the evil that others enact upon you and your body without discussing those evils and the havoc they wreak in lives on a daily basis?
Karen’s Take
I guess it depends on where you live as to whether or not you believe a vast majority of teens are living in hell.  I have spent way too much time with far too many teens that were starving, both for food and love.  Statistics indicate that 1 out of 3 girls will be the victim of some type of sexual violence by the time they reach age 18.  For boys it is 1 out of 5.  I’ve watched grandparents raise teenagers as parents were off somewhere dying in gutters from drug abuse or in jail.  I just feel like there is a segment of the population that is happy and living gleefully sheltered lives and they don’t understand that not all lives are like theirs.  But when we write books that open doors onto these different lives, when we recognize that they exist – only then can we begin to acknowledge them and work to make the world a different place.  It’s easy to put blinders on and believe that teens aren’t living in poverty, because once you recognize that poverty exists and what it is like I think the moral response is to work to change that.  And teens that are living these lives, sometimes of course they want escapist books – don’t we all? – but they also want authentic books, books that don’t talk down to them or sugarcoat things.  The greatest turn off for teens when they open a book is to feel that they are being intellectually demeaned; you must speak truth to teens and be authentic.

But honestly, I don’t think it is fair for someone to say look how bad teen literature is and give only 3 examples.  I can turn right around and give her 3 positive examples of YA lit: Guitar Lessons by Mary Amato is a beautiful story of friendship and being true to yourself, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater is a beautiful fantasy series that has that literary feel to it she discusses, and Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt is a fun, flirty book with positive family and multigenerational interactions.  The thing is, 3 books proves nothing.  It isn’t a representative sampling. There are hundreds of YA books published every year, and they cover such a vast array of lives.  I think YA lit has its shortcomings, we definitely need more diversity for example, but I think it is so rich and bountiful and flourishing.

Further, she uses Scars by Cheryl Rainfield as an example, which really negates her point I think:

“This is why I am skeptical of the social utility of so-called “problem novels”—books that have a troubled main character, such as a girl with a father who started raping her when she was a toddler and anonymously provides her with knives when she is a teenager hoping that she will cut herself to death. (This scenario is from Cheryl Rainfield’s 2010 Young Adult novel, Scars, which School Library Journal hailed as “one heck of a good book.”) The argument in favor of such books is that they validate the real and terrible experiences of teenagers who have been abused, addicted, or raped—among other things. The problem is that the very act of detailing these pathologies, not just in one book but in many, normalizes them. And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.”

Here’s the problem with using this example to make her argument: This is Cheryl’s life.  She was suicidal, she was a cutter, she was raped.  She is very open about it.  She writes about it to validate the experiences of those who have – who ARE – living lives exactly like this.  It’s not about framing or building a culture, it is about reflecting the very real lives of teenagers.  Not all teenagers, but some of them.  Yes, their stories make us uncomfortable – they should make us uncomfortable – but we don’t get to say you don’t get to tell your story because it makes me uncomfortable.  And I don’t think these stories normalize them at all, but by exposing them, by drawing back the curtain, we help teens that need it give voice to what is happening, to seek help, to find hope, to stop the crimes that are being committed against them in the dark by bringing them to light. 

But let’s go back all the way to the title of the article: The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books.  Once again, the title gets to the heart of what the problem is.  What, exactly, is good taste?  Who gets to define that?  It’s interesting to note that in her closing argument she quotes the Bible: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things (Phil 4:8).  The Bible happens to be one of the MOST CHALLENGED books of all time, in part because it is in fact very violent and sometimes sexual.  But also, the very books she is decrying do in fact reflect a light on truth; there are parts of our world that are in truth very ugly.  And just as Jesus spent his time with tax collectors, Pharisees, adulterers, thieves and murderers so he could save them, I believe He calls us to expose the truth in our world so that we, too, can work to change it.  I often find the characters in YA lit to be very inspiring because they are, in fact, surviving the life situations that they are living.  I feel that the “edgy” YA books that I am reading are thoughtful, reflective, uncomfortable, challenging, inspiring,
I think the answer is that there needs to be balance, a balance that I argue does in fact exist in YA literature.  But then again, I find To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that talks about rape and racism, to be one of the most inspiring books ever written. So what do I know?