YA Lit Symposium: Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age: Horror Tackles the Real Issues

I don’t read as much horror as I probably should, since it’s very popular with a lot of teen readers.  So, I was very happy YALSA_LitSymposium2014to attend this YA Literature Symposium session presented by the two Paulas (Paula Willey and Paula Gallagher) both from Baltimore (MD) County Public Library. Not only did I hear about some horror books I wasn’t familiar with, I also won a scary shark t-shirt! Thanks to their generosity, lots of us in the audience got prizes of galleys of YA books, and everyone got creepy body part shaped candy and packets of Old Bay Seasoning (Why? Because it’s made in Baltimore).

I can’t describe their presentation any better than they did:

“Teens of all types gravitate to horror fiction – perfectly nice kids with perfectly comfortable lives (as well as perfectly nice kids with difficult lives) seek out books by Darren Shan, Alexander Gordon Smith, Jeyn Roberts and the like. In our presentation, we will make the link between the psychological developments that characterize coming of age and the metaphors of horror, and argue that just because it’s all in your head, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Photo Nov 19, 12 11 17 PM
Paula Gallagher (standing) and Paula Willey (sitting)

They mentioned that teens who like horror are nostalgic for series they read as kids like the Goosebumps series, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories, or David Lubar’s Weenies series. Teens today are cutting their teeth on new horror TV shows, and films, even foreign ones like Let the Right One In and are big consumers of media, especially horror series like The Vampire Diaries.

Paula Willey explained why it’s important that we understand why teens like horror:
1. We may need to overcome our own revulsion; people who don’t like it don’t understand the appeal.
2. Horror is unusually good at shining a light on concerns of adolescents in ways other types of fiction do not. Horror is a window into their worries.

They also said that issues of morality can be explored in horror. Alexander Gordon Smith can talk abut good vs. evil in his Escape the Furnace series and get away with it. I had to laugh when they showed a slide from their PowerPoint stating that adolescent development is characterized by poor decision making; risk-taking; and a changing sense of identity and the image on screen was a photo of Bella and Edward from the Twilight movie.

They focused on “teen touchstone” books. Books that address specific fears and desires of adolescence. These are both YA and adult titles. The issues the teens are dealing with include physical changes, inner changes, finding one’s peer group – or fearing it, separation from parents or finding one’s place in the world.

Teens in horror books are dealing with:
1. Peers (as opposed to parents whom they are usually fighting against as in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series; Scowler Photo Nov 19, 9 29 13 PMby Dan Kraus; The Infects by Sean Beaudoin or The Troop by Nick Cutter (adult). I’d never heard of The Troop before but it’s sounds very scary read and full of graphic scenes of horror that aren’t for the squeamish (but as a Walking Dead fan, it can’t be worse than some of those episodes, can it?).

Photo Nov 19, 9 43 02 PM2. Love in horror books is complicated, and an epic, all consuming love such as in Holly Black’s Tithe; The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause or Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (2011 Morris Award finalist).

3. Physical changes that teens undergo are highlighted in Cutter’s The Troop, Alexander Gordon Smith’s Escape From Furnace series or Chase Novak’s adult book Brood (sequel to Breed) that Photo Nov 19, 9 47 30 PMinvolves feral children, cannibalism, genetic mutation and rats.

4. Inner changes like possession (Amity by Micol Ostow) or being implanted with parasites (the adult book Parasite by Mia Grant). Adults exploit teenagers’ powers in many horror books such as BZRK by Michael Grant, or Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Possession (AKA being used by parents) is also a theme in horror such as The Girl from the Well byPhoto Nov 19, 10 11 13 PM Rin Chupeco.

5. Independence is characterized by the absence of parents in Michael Grant’s Gone series, The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith or Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series.

I was frantically trying to write down all the things they said but luckily, I didn’t have to. They have their own Tumblr site on the topic called  Something Wicked Comes of Age. Not only do they have over a hundred book suggestions on their Tumblr site, they also include display ideas, eye-catching covers, program ideas (whiteboard villain cage match; bad date with a book). All the books are tagged on their Tumblr site. One of the tags is “dread” which rates whether the book is minor, medium or major on the scary scale. Another tag is “gore” which indicates whether the book has minor, medium or major gore.

I can’t wait to check out all the great information on their Tumblr site. Where else would you find out that, according to the Wall Street Journal, zombies are most relevant now because they are most popular during recessions, epidemics, and general unhappiness!

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers


2 thoughts on “YA Lit Symposium: Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age: Horror Tackles the Real Issues”

  1. “The Troop” is really graphic. I liked it, but I am a huge Stephen King fan and felt prepared for what happened to the poor test chimp. There are honestly parts of that book when I had to put it down and just think of something happy. The ending was amazing!

    Quite a few books you mentioned (“The Girl From the Well” and “Amity”) are on my ever-expanding “to be read” shelf. I had not heard of “Breed” or “Brood” though. I just ordered them now on Amazon; thanks for bringing them up. I am always looking for great horror fiction aimed at teens.

    If you want some “realistic” horror, I recommend April Henry’s “The Night She Disappeared.” That book was pretty horrifying as was “Living Dead Girl” by Elizabeth Scott. As a reader of true crime, both of these books were right on point with what I find scary.

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