A couple years ago when searching for new books to read, I did a Google search for “coming of age horror”. I was a little disappointed to find that in most of the recommendation lists, the same few choices seemed to keep popping up – you probably know the ones! IT, Summer of Night, Boy’s Life, I could go on and on with books that almost every fan feels compelled to bring up every time the words “coming of age” are uttered.
To be clear, I’m not saying they aren’t good books at all, because they hold their popular spots for a reason. I read King’s IT early last year, and gobbled it up in under 2 weeks (which is no small feat at 1100+ pages, let me tell you! That book could be used as a WEAPON!), and I understand why it’s often referenced when talking about this specific sub-genre. Watching groups of kids go through hardships together, and come out on the other side stronger because of them, is a specific niche that many people find popular, and I am definitely one of those people.
That said, I think that while it’s important to mention the classics / stand-outs, it’s equally – no, maybe even moreso important to highlight stuff that isn’t as widely mentioned. I’m very grateful to have found more books in the coming-of-age horror vein in the last couple of years alone through the natural process of reading, reviewing, and connecting with new publishers & authors – and wow, what a change to my reading!! I’ve been enjoying myself moreso now than ever before with my reading, ’cause I’m narrowing down what I really like, and am able to find stories that can simultaneously evoke the same feelings or ideas, but remain completely and independently original.
So here’s my list to showcase some of these standout coming-of-age stories that I’ve loved, with a snazzy, clickable blog title that’ll look good on Pinterest book boards, heyooo!
1) CRICKET HUNTERS by Jeremy Hepler
Cel and her friends, a small group of 15 year olds who call themselves the ‘Cricket Hunters’, are as close as close can be – at least, they’re close until the fall of 1998 when one of them mysteriously disappears, causing an irreparable rift in their tight-knit group. This story switches between the past and the present, where Cel is all grown up, married, and struggling with a new disappearance: that of her husband. I loved the way that the back and forth between time frames were used in this one to uncover what actually happened with each disappearance, and the ending absolutely blew me away. This is one of my all-time favorites for a reason!
2) THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB by Damien Angelica Walters
Another story told in the format of time jumps, this one follows Heather and her small group of girlfriends obsessed with the everything macabre, from monsters to serial killers to ghosts – including the Red Lady, a vengeful spirit that reminded me a little of Bloody Mary. Having been a young girl who was also into things that my parents probably considered “dark and scary”, I loved this group of girls and the friendship they shared – the author was amazing at making these girls jump right off the pages like actual teenagers. Unfortunately for the girls, tragedy strikes the group, and it isn’t until 30 years later that Heather’s past – and the Red Lady – come back to haunt her in a surprising way.
3) SEEING THINGS by Sonora Taylor
Now we’re branching out a little bit! While IT, and a lot of the others on this list, focus on groups of teens or friends going through some tough stuff, SEEING THINGS centers only around Abby Gillman, a young girl who discovers while going through puberty that she can suddenly see ghosts. And these aren’t just your normal, transparent, Casper-type ghosts, either. These are absolutely terrifying renditions of dead people in the places and situations that killed them! The worst part? Despite how badly Abby wants to talk to these ghosts to find out why she can suddenly see them, none of them want anything to do with her! I loved spending my time with Abby while reading, and uncovering the mystery behind her situation kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I read.
4) BENNY ROSE, THE CANNIBAL KING by Hailey Piper
I just reviewed this one on my blog this past week, so I’m going to steal a little snippet from that here: In BENNY ROSE, we’re introduced to a group of teenagers in a small town in Vermont, preparing themselves for their upcoming Halloween festivities. The new girl in town, Gabrielle, thinks she’s being invited to join new friends in a night of fun, but the other girls have a little jealous payback in mind for Gabrielle catching the eye of one of the townie girls’ boyfriends. This all sounds a little YA, but I promise you that it’s handled in a way that’s much less Sweet Valley, and much more teen slasher horror – you’ll have to trust me here! And unfortunately for both Gabrielle and her new “friends”, there’s a darker force at play in their sleepy town on Halloween night, and he’s hungry! Benny Rose is such a terrifying villain, and the way that Piper vividly describes the grisly details throughout the story are stomach turning, but in the best way. I love the way the characters band together when things take a sinister turn for their evening festivities, and the girl power vibes were strong with this one.
5) PUPPET SKIN by Danger Slater
This is slightly different from the others on the list in that it isn’t actually strictly horror, borrowing a bit from the bizarro genre as well to make this one incredibly unique – but definitely don’t let that sway you! Hannah is a middle school aged girl on the cusp of growing up, which means she’ll soon be transformed from a normal, human girl into one of the countless wooden puppets that make up the rest of the adult population. Any person who has dealt with feeling misunderstood or disconnected from the people around them can find something to relate to in Hannah’s plight, regardless of the totally weird nature. Despite its bizarro leanings, if you’re a strictly horror fan, the viscerally disturbing imagery that the author is able to convey with his writing is sure to please folks more used to reading about bloody guts than pulpy, wooden rot – so definitely check this one out if you’re looking to broaden your reading horizons!
What are some of your favorite coming-of-age tales, either in the horror genre or otherwise? I’d love to hear about them, or if you’ve read & loved any of the ones on this list!
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