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What Horror–Yes, Horror–Can Do For Kids, a guest post by Josh Allen

A few days before the recent release of my second middle-grade horror book, Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom, I visited my local bookstore to sign the copies they were preparing to shelve.

“We’re going to put them in the children’s horror section,” the cheerful clerk told me. “We didn’t used to have a children’s horror section, but we get asked for so much of it, we had to make one.” She pointed, and there it was. 

A children’s horror section! In my local bookstore! Finally!

But I knew a lot of people would wander past that section and wonder. 

Children’s horror? In 2021? Don’t kids get enough of that already in their everyday lives? 

Those are fair questions. Obviously, it’s a terrifying time to be to be a kid, and that statement is so apparent I’m not even going to spend a few sentences defending it. 

And yet, children’s horror is rising. We see this not only in bookstore shelving practices, but in School Library Journal articles like “Six Late Summer Scares for Tweens” and “17 Books to Get Readers in the Halloween Spirit.” We see it in the success of the recent Fear Street series on Netflix (based on the R. L. Stine books). And we see it in the rising popularity of writers like Christian McKay Heidicker, Katherine Arden, and Jonathan Auxier. And the list goes on. 

But . . . why is horror rising? When kids visit libraries and bookstores, why, in these terrifying times, are so many of them seeking out horror? Why not reach instead for some pleasant escapism? A rollicking adventure? A magical voyage? A bit of modern day humor? Wouldn’t those kinds of stories give today’s kids the all-too-welcome distractions they need?

But . . . horror? Really?

I believe the answer to horror’s appeal can be explained, in part, by the words of Natalie Goldberg. Literature, she tells us in the introduction of her book Writing Down the Bones, is for people who are “unconsciously seeking peace, a coming together, an acknowledgement of our happiness or an examination of what is broken, hoping to embrace and bring our suffering to wholeness.”

An examination of what is broken

Hoping to embrace and bring our suffering to wholeness

When kids ask for scary books, I believe we’re witnessing exactly what Goldberg describes above—human beings unconsciously reaching out for the stories they know will fill their psychological gaps, for the stories that can help them be made whole. 

Let me explain:

In his book The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall likens the act of reading fiction to the act of practicing in a flight simulator. The simulator is safe. It’s where you go to hone your skills before dealing with the real situation. 

See also: fiction. It’s a flight simulator. “Fiction allows our brains,” Gottschall writes, “to practice reacting to the kinds of challenges that are, and always were, most crucial to our success.”

Like the challenges that come when we’re afraid. Like the challenges that too many kids are facing in 2021. 

Sure, escape is nice. Escape from what so many kids have had to endure over the past two years—heartache, confusion, anger, loneliness, crippling loss—would be the sweetest mercy. But sometimes when kids come to the library or to the bookstore, they’re not looking for escape. They’re looking to probe the complex (and sometimes dark) emotions they’ve been carrying around inside them—anxiety, tension, horror.  They’re looking for stories that can help them practice dealing with these emotions. They’re looking for a book that can act as a flight simulator, a book that can help then probe the grainy textures of fear and taste the metallic bitterness of it, a book that can teach them how to navigate what it means to be afraid. 

A kid reading a scary book is in practice mode, like a movie character in a training montage. Think of Rocky Balboa whacking away at sides of beef. Or Mulan climbing a towering mountain again and again. Or Daniel LaRusso waxing on and waxing off. That’s what kids with spooky books are—fighters looking to level up—and when kids reach for horror, they’re entering the psychic gym, gearing up to do mental calisthenics.

This means that when a kid comes asking for a scary book, we shouldn’t smile politely and substitute in a book we think is more appropriate, maybe one with a bit of charming suspense and a companionable ghost or two.

No. When kids come asking for horror, here’s what we should do:

Give. Them. Horror. 

If a kid asks for doom, death, monsters, blood, and worse, we should give that kid doom, death, monsters, blood, and worse. True, there are enough of these things in kids’ day-to-day lives already (sadly), but that is the very point. We can’t shield kids from the blows of this too-terrifying world. All we can do is arm them with the tools they need to navigate it well.

Today’s kids know, deep in their guts, that they need to get good at being afraid. So of course they’re reaching out for stories of darkness and terror. 

A side note: None of this means that kids can’t have gobs of fun while also getting scared speechless. They can. And the best horror writers don’t just scare kids. They entertain them. They amaze them. They walk that fine line between horror and humor. (This, by the way, is why the amazing people at Holiday House Books made sure both of my books feature covers that glow in the dark. Spooky, yes. But also, we hope, gobs of fun.)

We need to trust kids’ unconscious yearnings. We need to trust that they know what kinds of books they need better than we do. We need to trust the healthy cravings of their own psyches. 

So, children’s horror? In my local bookstore? In 2021? When there’s already so much horror in kids’ lives?

You bet.

Because kids are smart. If they reach for scary books, they’re doing so for a reason.

They’re choosing terror on the page so they can develop resilience.

They’re choosing stress-filled stories so they can learn to navigate their own anxieties. 

They’re choosing fear in fiction so they can cultivate bravery in real life. 

May we help them to do all these things and more.

Meet the author

Josh Allen’s debut book, Out to Get You: 13 Tales ff Weirdness And Woe, received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist and was named a Junior Library Guild selection. When his second book, Only If You Dare: 13 Tales of Darkness and Doom, came out School Library Journal wrote, “Allen has cemented himself as the heir-apparent of Alvin Schwartz.” His writing has received praise from The Horn Book, The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and more. Both Out to Get You and Only If You Dare contain artwork by the award-winning illustrator Sarah J. Coleman, and both of these books feature covers that glow in the dark. Josh lives in Idaho with his family where he teaches English.

About Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom

Thirteen chilling short stories to keep you up at night—but only if you dare.

You never know what’s out to get you. Though you might think you’re safe from monsters and menaces, everyday objects can turn against you, too. A mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. When you stop to listen, each beat sounds more menacing than the last. 

Master storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios to life in this page-turning collection that’s perfect for budding horror junkies. In his wondrous world, danger waits behind every doorway . . . even in the most ordinary places. 

Eerie illustrations by award-winning artist Sarah Coleman accompany the stories, packaged in a stunning hardcover edition complete with glow-in-the-dark jacket. Readers will sleep with one eye open!

ISBN-13: 9780823449064
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/31/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Into the Dark: Why Kids Should Read Horror, a guest post by Ally Malinenko

The scene went like this:

“I would never let my children read that.”

I froze, shame flooding me, coloring my cheeks, tightening my throat. Her words echoed in my head.

 “I would never let my children read that.”

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? One of the things a lot of people might not know about publishing is that it involves secrets. Lots of them. For instance, you’re really not supposed to talk about your book being accepted for publication before the Publisher’s Weekly announcement. It’s fine to tell family and all but you aren’t supposed to go on Twitter and scream about it as much as you’d like to. Back in January 2020 Ghost Girl, my debut novel, had been accepted but we were waiting on contract stuff to finalize before the announcement was made. It had been over a month and to say I was getting antsy would be an understatement. I work in a research library and one day we had an appointment with a well-known biographer. It’s not important who. But let’s just say that this biographer happened to write one of my favorite books about one of my favorite writers.

To say I was excited to meet her was an understatement.

I’m not sure why I said it. It was almost like I couldn’t stop myself.

“My first book is being published.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, congrats. What do you write?”

The eternal question. What do you write? My lizard brain blurted out the same thing I say all the time, not even thinking it would elicit a response.

“I write middle grade horror.”

Her face wrinkled in surprise that then deepened into disgust. “Middle grade? Like…..for children.”

“Yes,” I said, my voice a pitch higher as the tips of my fingers started to tingle. Anxiety was descending.

“I would never let my children read that.”

And once again I was whisked through time back to the halls of my school, clutching my tattered copy of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark, teased by the other kids in the hall. Or in the library, same book in hand, a teacher giving me a cocked eyebrow and a sidelong look.

I handed the famous biographer her materials, muttered the usual reminder about the archive rules and left as quickly as possible wondering how after all these years, are we still of afraid of children who like dark, strange, scary things?

I have wondered about this before I started writing Ghost Girl, and while editing Ghost Girl and now that my book is out, I’m still thinking about it. Prior to working in the archive, I was a children’s librarian and I knew all the kids that were like me, the ones that beeline straight for the Goosebumps. Those kids are there, looking for these books. So why are parents, teacher and sometimes even librarians – the gatekeepers – worrying about it? What do adults think they are saving kids from? What do they think is going to happen if kids read scary books?

Because the truth is those books offer more than scares; they offer solace. It’s a thing I call Safe Scary. Kids know the world is a scary place. There is no way to shield that from them. Nor should we. Giving kids scary books gives them a place to navigate those feelings, to be scared in a safe way. If it’s too much they close the covers. But if it’s not they have a chance to be the hero, which is the other important thing that horror does for kids. It gives them agency. It gives them power. A thing that children, by nature and status, do not have. They live in a world where they are told when to get up, when to go to bed, what to eat, when to eat it, what to watch, and sadly what to read. When kids read books, they get to play act the main character. My main character is Zee, a girl who loves scary stories but didn’t expect to live in one. She is stubborn and brave and at times makes terrible decisions. She is, fully, a kid. Reading Zee’s story, kids get to experience it with her. They’ll go into the woods with Zee, into the dark, but they’ll come back out on the other side, where the light is. They’ll survive the night. That is what horror books teach us – survival. Let them defeat the monsters on the page so they’ll recognize the ones that will inevitably appear in their lives.

The other thing horror does is tells kids the truth. Adults often forget that kids have the same emotions as they do but often lack the skills to express them. They are acutely aware when things are not okay. But we are rarely honest with kids about the bad parts of life. We lie when their pets die. We tell them everything is fine when Mom and Dad aren’t speaking at the dinner table. We throw the truth in a dark corner and hope they never see it. Horror, on the other hand, doesn’t deal in platitudes. It doesn’t pretend away reality. It puts you front and center against a monster and then it places in your hand the sword you need to vanquish it. Horror believes in kids and trusts them to go along for this ride. It knows they’ll last the night.

Fear is a natural part of life and adults have learned coping skills for their fear. They have had years of experiences to pull from when the bottom drops out. But kids don’t. Horror books offer very important lessons about fear. The biggest being that you either conquer it for succumb to it. Fear offers no middle ground. It is through story telling that we learn how to navigate our emotions. Stories build empathy. They are a way for humans to say to each other “I felt this. Did you feel this too?” They are ways for us to make connections in a world that often seems devoid of them. Horror by nature builds empathy simply because when the main character is threatened, you root for them. You want them to win. You want them to survive the night. A connection is built.  A lesson is learned. A fear is conquered. A hero emerges, dusty and shaken but still standing.

I recently read an excellent piece about the loneliness of horror fandom for kids, especially for BIPOC kids, by Ally Russel. Ally wondered where her horror family was as a kid. Why she felt so disconnected. I understood that. It can be a lonely fandom. But we have now the opportunity to change that. As Ally says, “If you know a young horror fan, protect them at all costs. Let them explore the boundaries of their fear.”

Protect them at all costs.

Protecting them isn’t shielding them. It isn’t placating them. It is letting them know the dangers our there and putting a book in their hand so they’re ready when it happens. Monsters, eventually, come for all of us. It is best to be prepared.

If I could redo that afternoon with that very Important Biographer, I would have done it different. I would have told her all these things. I would have kept my head up. I would let her know I am proud to write horror for kids, proud to have the privilege to write horror for kids.

To watch them go, head up, shoulders back, right into the dark and know they’re going to be okay.

Meet the author

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.comInstagram

About Ghost Girl

Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Nightbooks, Ally Malinenko’s debut is an empowering and triumphant ghost story——with spooky twists sure to give readers a few good goosebumps!

Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend Elijah believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

ISBN-13: 9780063044609
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/10/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

New Horror to Read This Summer; By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Here’s a look at some horror published in 2021 that you may want to check out. I’m a fan of some good horror and mystery/thriller/suspense, so I thought I would share some things on my TBR list.

The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins

A traditional backwoods horror story set–first page to last–in the woods of the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Two girls go backpacking in the woods. Things go very wrong.

And, then, their paths collide with a serial killer.

This one comes out on August 3, 2021

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

This title also comes out on August 3, 2021

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This one came out in April 2021 and it’s a dark fantasy

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

Editor’s Note: I just listened to this on audio and it’s really good. Lots of discussion of horror movies and horror tropes. Please note, it does deal with sexual assault for those who need to know.

This one came out in April 2021

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

This one cam out in April 2021

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: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher’s description

ra6Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

There’s Someone Inside Your House is a heart-pounding page-turner with an outstanding cast of characters, a deliciously creepy setting, and an absolutely merciless body count. Best read at night with big bowl of popcorn, this is a killer addition to the slasher genre written by one of the best contemporary YA writers around.” —Courtney Summers, author of All the Rage and Cracked Up to Be

It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she’s still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii.

Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.

Stephanie Perkins, bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss, returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

theres someoneI wouldn’t have picked this up if it weren’t written by Stephanie Perkins. Life is brutal and gruesome and horrific enough—I don’t gravitate toward fiction that is categorized as thriller/horror or stories that feature lots of blood and death. It’s just not my thing. BUT. I have adored every other book Perkins has written, so I gave this a whirl.

 

The little summary up there really does give you everything you need to know about the plot: there’s a killer on the loose, it seems likely it’s someone from their town/high school, and main character Makani is in the middle of everything. Is her potential love interest the killer? Is the killer coming for her? Can she figure out their motive and stop them? Does her past somehow mark her? It’s a race against time, though, really, the killer is given lots of time and opportunities to strike over and over because what good would the story be if they were found right away? The killer is savvy enough to get away with these actions and grotesque enough to do some very stylized killing (yuck) as well as patient enough to play some long games in setting up their victims. Set aside any logic you may want to bring to this story, because lots of choices and scenarios seem unbelievable and unlikely.

 

What I wanted were more twists and turns. More reveals. More uncertainty. I wanted to be scared/anxious more than just deeply (DEEPLY) grossed out. Or maybe I wanted Makani and Ollie to get inside of another Perkins book, one that can just be about their romance and their pasts and let us explore them as characters more. I like Perkins’s writing. I like her characters. I like the idea of this book. I think this book will appeal to readers who may want a romance (or… it’s not even really a romance—Makani and Ollie hook up a lot but their connection lacks any real substance or appeal) with some edge to it, but aren’t looking for a real scary horror story. If readers don’t mind gore and bits of story lines that end up going nowhere, but do want a undemanding story where the killer is revealed just over halfway through, then they may enjoy this. I had really high hopes for this book. Anna, Lola, and Isla are hands down three of my favorite YA titles of the past many years. I look forward to Perkins’s return, someday, to more books in the genre she excels in. I don’t think this book will have trouble finding an audience, and an audience who will enjoy it, but Perkins superfans may find this one a far cry from what they were expecting.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525426011
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/26/2017

Book Review: As I Descended by Robin Talley

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

as i descendedTALLEY, Robin. As I Descended. 384p. ebook available. HarperCollins Publishers. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062409232.

Gr 10 Up—Something wicked comes to Virginia’s elite Acheron Academy in this modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest works. Overachiever and second-most-popular girl Maria, who is bisexual, and her scheming girlfriend, Lily, who is disabled and a lesbian, are determined to have Maria win the coveted Kingsley Prize, which guarantees entrance into any college and will enable the couple to stay together after high school. A séance reveals cryptic prophecies and opens the door to a plethora of spirits, leaving the girls unable to control their own action. Their cruel and manipulative plans to unseat the most popular girl are just the first of many schemes that go horribly wrong. Before long, Maria and Lily are not the only ones admitting to interacting with spirits. Students are having bad dreams, hearing phantom noises, and seeing ghosts. The couple’s desire for power grows, and what looked like ruthlessness now seems like madness. As the tragedy unfolds, no one at Acheron is safe—least of all Maria and Lily. Talley’s novel is ambitious but successfully so. The work address racism, classism, and homophobia, all couched in a horror retelling of Macbeth. Notably, all four of the main characters—Maria, Lily, Mateo, and Brandon—are not straight. Those familiar with the source material will not be surprised at how the story plays out, but knowing the eventual outcomes does not diminish Talley’s dark tale about fate and ambition. VERDICT A highly recommended, absorbing read with wide appeal.—Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN