Click here to see all of the current Quick Picks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis
Dial Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Lola Nox, daughter of famed horror film director Nolan Nox, is shipped off to stay with a grandmother she’s never met after her father is stabbed in their Manhattan apartment. She arrives in Harrow Lake, Indiana, the small town that was the setting of her father’s cult classic film Nightjar—a film that her mother starred in as a young woman before disappearing years later. The town is eerily timeless and rife with superstition around a local cannibalistic monster called Mr. Jitters. As Lola learns more about her mother’s childhood, she seeks to unravel the mystery of her disappearance before the town’s darkness can engulf her.
Short, creepy, and rich in atmosphere, Harrow Lake is perfect for reluctant readers seeking darker fare without gore. The novel opens with an interview transcript with Nolan Nox that drops tantalizing hints about the town’s dark history and reveals that Lola herself has gone missing in Harrow Lake. Jumping back a year earlier, Lola arrives home to discover that her father has been brutally stabbed in their apartment, kicking off the plot with a bang. Harrow Lake is a unique, richly-imagined setting with a Prohibition-era aesthetic, labyrinthine underground caves, and an unsettling enthusiasm for reenacting Nightjar. While Mr. Jitters is suitably frightening, unsettling details and long-held secrets in Lola’s family relationships ultimately prove more disturbing than any monsters.
Full of clever references to cult horror films, hand this to film buffs who enjoy movies like The Wicker Man or Annabelle, or for readers who gravitate to atmospheric, spooky titles like Gillian French’s The Missing Season.
I Hope You’re Listening by Tom Ryan
AW Teen/Albert Whitman & Co.
Publication Date: October 6, 2020
When they were seven years old, Dee’s best friend Sibby was abducted from their treehouse in the woods and Dee was the only witness. Ten years later, Sibby’s abduction remains unsolved and Dee is the anonymous host of a true-crime podcast, Radio Silent, that investigates missing-persons cases. When another little girl, Layla, disappears from the same street that Dee grew up on, Dee worries that getting involved in a case so close to home on behalf of Radio Silent will expose her true identity—but in the course of investigating Layla’s disappearance, she begins to believe that Sibby is still alive.
I Hope You’re Listening is a well-plotted mystery with strong pacing and plenty of appeal to fans of true-crime podcasts, with podcast transcripts woven into the narrative. Both disappearances are engaging and readers will be eager to hunt for connections between them. Dee is an interesting and complex protagonist, simultaneously traumatized and empowered as she struggles with guilt and of helplessness related to Sibby’s disappearance years earlier while also taking meaningful action in the present to help others in similar situations. She struggles to trust and connect, making the romance she develops with her new neighbor Sarah especially satisfying amidst the action and sleuthing.
Perfect for fans of YA mysteries that incorporate true-crime podcasts, such as Courtney Summers’ Sadie or Tara Altebrando’s The Possible.
These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Finally, after years of scheming, Ember Williams is invited to be a member of the powerful and exclusive favor-trading secret society at Heller High, the Red Court. In exchange for a favor to be cashed in any time, for any reason, the Red Court will make anything happen for anyone. But, if “the favored” do not settle their debts, they are publicly ruined. Ember’s goal? Exact vengeance for the accident that left her sister paralyzed, and end the Red Court’s reign for good.
To accomplish this, Ember must first uncover the carefully-guarded identities of the Red Court, including the Queen of Hearts, their leader. Therefore, readers who enjoy social drama and suspense will be captivated. Ember is a likeable teen with a need for righteous vengeance underscoring her actions, but a cast of well-drawn supporting characters, including Ember’s sister, her best friend, and her target-turned-love interest help her stay focused. Yet, as she becomes swept up in the power and influence of her role in the Red Court, differentiating between right and wrong becomes more difficult and Ember has to make serious decisions about just how far she is willing to go.
There is a definite setup for a sequel, so readers drawn in by the beautiful cover and entranced by the fast-paced plot and relatable characters can look forward to the next book.
Those who enjoyed Mean Girls, Pretty Little Liars, and Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen McManus will find These Vengeful Hearts a satisfying next read.
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
Harper Teen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
After the death of her mother, Quinn Maybrook and her father move to Kettle Springs, hoping for a new start. The small town, however, has other plans as the creepy clown mascot of the old corn syrup factory seemingly comes to life and starts attacking teens. When the clown multiplies into several and the group goes on a homicidal rampage, it becomes a matter of survival for Quinn, her father, and her new friends.
This debut horror novel has all the trappings of a good, popcorn-scented slasher flick. It begins with a walloping first chapter. The tension rises and the blood begins to flow. Reluctant readers will find this a quick and fun read. They will definitely appreciate the stress-relieving escapism.
Teens who liked There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins will enjoy this title. Suggest it to readers looking for Stephen King read-alikes and fans of the Friday the 13th franchise.