Most of us have a reading comfort zone -- and for me, the horror genre is definitely at the margins. I simply do not thrill to the sensation of being scared. I do not dwell on death; I do not desire a good haunting. It was a challenge, then, to read a long list of horror novels in October; hopefully, like any decent ghost, I've risen to it.
Lots of readers DO like to be frightened -- whether by real monsters, or imaginary ones -- and the horror genre has enduring appeal for many teenagers. Stephen King has been widely quoted as saying that horror "allows us to safely vent our uncivilized emotions." Since King stands as one of the best-selling authors of all time, he has clearly tapped into something quite potent. I tried to read King's famous novel Pet Sematary, partly because he considers it to be his most frightening novel, but I couldn't bring myself to read the ending. I could guess where he was going, and I really didn't want to go there. Of the many horror novels I did manage to read, and that list ranges from the contemporary to the classic, the following two managed to convince me that I did rather like horror after all.
Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver, is a horrifically effective ghost story because it plays on such very common fears: the fear of being outcast, and the fear of being alone. The author takes a character who has been orphaned, and then marginalized in a number of ways, and then she really ramps up the psychological suffering. Fear of the dark? Fear of being left out in the cold? Imagine being stranded on a remote island in Arctic Norway with only a tortured ghost for company. If you like a dark-night-of-the-soul kind of story, this one is highly recommended. It is sophisticated, subtle and suitable for both young adults and the 18+ crowd.
The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey, is another scary story that has really stuck with me. Definitely not for the squeamish, but if you have a strong stomach, then have I got the perfect book for you. I've read some of Darren Shan's most popular books, and in my opinion, Yancey takes gory and gruesome to a new level. I particularly enjoyed the voice of the 12-year-old orphan who narrates this book. Apprenticed to an OCD scientist-cum-monstrumologist, young Will Henry is strangely matter-of-fact about the challenges of his unusual job. Another pleasure is the 19th century New England setting. It simply oozes Gothic atmosphere, whilst putting the novel's rather extreme horror elements at a comfortable remove.
Visit the TRAC website for more recommended reads.
Check out the complete Halloween Horror list.