If you are like me, you’ve been ready for Halloween since August 1st. Not everyone is so Halloween-happy. Maybe you haven’t bought out the grocery store’s stock of canned pumpkin or purchased a new shade of orange nail polish, but, like it or not, October is upon us, which means you may have teens swarming your stacks in search of something to creep them out and give them nightmares. In my experience I get more requests for “scary stories” than horror novels. With that in mind I’m going to highlight some collections of short stories sure to meet various spine-chilling needs as well as give some horror specific readers’ advisory tips.
- “Scary” is subjective. Every reader is going to be comfortable with different levels of the supernatural, violence, gore, etc. A good way to assess what type of horror a reader wants is to ask them what their favorite scary book is. If they are not an avid reader you may need to ask about their favorite scary movie or scary television show. You are probably going to want to recommend a different book to a fan of The Sixth Sense than you would to a fan of Saw.
- If you are not a horror reader yourself or get scared easily, it’s OK for you to tell teens this. Particularly with younger teens this may help them to be more open about how scary they want their stories to be. If you aren’t a horror reader, however, you will want to familiarize yourself with the popular horror titles in your collection. If you can pick the brain of a fellow staff member or teen volunteer who reads a lot of horror, this is a great start.
- Just because teens ask for “scary” doesn’t necessarily mean they are looking for horror. You may find after asking some follow up questions that they are really looking for mystery or fantasy with horror elements.
- Don’t forget about nonfiction and classics! Familiarize yourself with fairy tales and folklore at 398.2. Don’t underestimate the popularity of urban legends and ghost stories that have been whispered at sleepovers for decades or, in some cases, centuries. Sometimes the mere mention of, “well, let’s look in nonfiction” makes the reader’s experience all the creepier.
Fairy Tales and Folklore
My father swallowed me.
My sister buried all my bones
Under the juniper tree.
-“The Juniper Tree” by the Brothers Grimm
See what I mean about folklore being creepy? Many of the lesser known Grimm’s Tales are pretty chilling. This collection by Philip Pullman is one of my favorites and could be a good recommendation for teens wanting something scary but not too scary or teens into fairy tale retellings who want to get acquainted with the original stories.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3 by Alvin Schwartz are, in my opinion, the definitive collection of scary folklore. Though they are usually shelved in the children’s rather than young adult section, I think their appeal reaches to teens, and particularly to reluctant or struggling readers. If you are lucky enough to have the original editions with Stephen Gammell’s terrifying illustrations, even better.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is a collection of short stories in the form of comics. Carroll is masterful in her use of color, and makes great use of what we don’t see to invoke a sense of dread. These open ended stories will haunt readers for hours after finishing this slim collection.
Oh, but you must travel those woods again and again…
And you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…
But the wolf…the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once.
–Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black is chock-full of horrific creatures: vampires, werewolves, the devil, elves, to name just a few. The first story “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” served as the basis of Black’s later novel of the same name. Recommend this one to fans of vampire fiction, horror fantasy, and readers who want more world-building in their scary stories.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a new YA horror anthology released just this past August. It is edited and compiled by April Genevieve Tucholke with an all-star line up of authors including: Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, A.G. Howard, Marie Lu, Jonathan Maberry, Carrie Ryan and Nova Ren Suma. Proceed with caution when recommending this title. These stories pack a punch. There is implied and described dismemberment, implied sexual assault, and all manner of gore. Each story is inspired by a film, song or book and each story is deeply chilling and disturbing. Recommend this one to older teens or teens accustomed to reading adult horror fiction. In my opinion this title is even creepier on audio.
This is just a tiny sampling of the spooky reading that is out there for teens. Please add your favorite scary story collections in the comments.
— Emily Childress-Campbell, currently reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel