I grew up as a really sheltered kid – well, as far as books and movies went. I didn’t even see The Terminator until I was in college.
So when I was exposed to horror movies for the first time as an older teen (to classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), I was overcome. Mostly just because I was so unused to it, but still – I could not wrap my head around the idea that people willingly exposed themselves to such terrible concepts.
Honestly, I think a lot of what really bothered me about horror – as a genre – was the amount of terrible things that the main characters could not control. As a person who wrestles with always wanting to be in control (of, like, everything), it was difficult to watch people of my age (at the time) grappling with things that were that horrific. How, I can remember wondering, can we be expected to do this? How can we possibly deal with stuff like this? If you look at the broader picture, I think that as a teen, I was overwhelmed by the world and all the terrible things it contained. How could I face it?
Keep in mind, I also grew up as a post-9/11 kid. I was 14 when I they announced over the intercom that there had been a terrorist attack. As a ninth grader, I didn’t even know what a “terrorist” was. I had no idea that terror – horror’s real-world counterpart – would become such a staple of my adult news exposure.
Maybe that’s what upset me so much about horror movies – the way terrible, incomprehensible things just happened to regular people – people (especially in teen slasher flicks) that were just like me. They didn’t deserve it, they didn’t want it, and they couldn’t control it. All they could do was deal with it. In those first years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, those concepts were all too real.
I got older. I still didn’t like horror very much – until, that is, I began to deal with clinical depression. Much like (the heroic, fantastic, beloved) Allie Brosch in her now-famous comic on the topic, depression was my turning point. Dealing with something that was so real and overpowering was the scariest thing I’d ever done. And then one day I watched a scary movie (well, not that scary – it was Ghost Ship, after all) alone, and I actually enjoyed myself.
What attracts me to horror now – in movies and books – is what I learned on that day: horror isn’t about the Horrific Event. Horror is about surviving the Horrific Event.
As adults, we know that terrible, tragic things happen all too often. It’s a hard thing to accept at any age, but especially as a teenager. You emerge from a (hopefully) happy childhood into a world where awful things happen all too frequently.
YA horror showcases two very important concepts: first, that the terror is real; and second, that there can be survivors. We the readers (or viewers) watch, as the Teen Who Is Sort of Like Us is faced with a monster. We watch, with bated breath, as she deals with it to the best of her ability. It’s messy and it’s scary and it’s terrifying. And we watch as she survives. We watch, and are reassured: if they can do it, so can we.
Yes, YA horror is dark – and no, not everyone survives in every book. But YA horror is always the story of someone attempting to deal with a scary world. I can think of no better age group that needs this kind of story than teens, as they leave childhood to enter a crazy, messed up world. Give your teens a horror book as a way of telling them: yes, the world is scary. Here’s a story of someone who made it through anyway.
If you’re looking for some great YA horror books to recommend, check out two of my favorites:
Survive the Night, by Danielle Vega
The Boy Meets Girl Massacre (Annotated) by Ainslie Hogarth
– Savannah Kitchens, currently reading I am Princess X, by Cherie Priest