The 5 Creepiest YA Horror Novels, According To Someone Who Writes Them

by Gretchen McNeil

One of the questions I get asked most often by readers always seems to catch me off guard: “Why do you write YA horror?” I wish I had some fantastic answer involving my dedication to crafting scares and dark tension, or a fabulous story about working through life’s traumas through my writing, but the reality is, I write YA horror because as a teen, that’s what I loved to read.

Of course, that was eons ago, and horror in YA was slim pickings. I devoured Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike, but then I had to move on to adult authors. Shirley Jackson was an early favorite of mine, and I also adored Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories from authors like Sheridan LeFanu, M. R. James, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James, and Charlotte Riddell. Nothing like gothic creepiness to make you sleep with the lights on.

Whether it’s the campy, over-the-top horror of #MurderTrending, or the slow, tense burn of Ten, you can definitely see the influences of my teen horror reading in my own writing. And so, in order to promote the genre I love so dearly, I’ve put together a list of my top five YA horror reads for summer… because who better to recommend creepy reads than someone who writes them?

#MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil, $18, Amazon

#5: 'Heart of Ash' by Kim Liggett

It might be uncouth to start this countdown with a sequel, but really, it just gives me the opportunity to plug Kim Liggett’s 2015 debut Blood and Salt. I loved this Children of the Corn meets Romeo and Juliet mash-up so much I blurbed it, and the sequel, which picks up a year after the events of the first book, is imbued with the same eerie atmosphere and twisted characters that made book one so amazing.

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#4: 'Pitch Dark' by Courtney Alameda

When people ask “What are your favorite horror movies?” Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien always rises to the top of my list. “But isn’t that science fiction?” is the frequent reply. To which I answer: “Why can’t it be both?” In Pitch Dark, Alameda proves that sci-fi and horror go together like peanut butter and jelly, packed with monsters and villains and the most dangerous killer of all: outer space.

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#3: 'Neverwake' by Amy Plum

Uh-oh, did I just plug another sequel? Okay, YES you’ll have to read last year’s Dreamfall first but you will thank me because the “killer” cliffhanger which ends that book won’t be nearly as devastating for you as it was for me because the sequel is out Aug. 7th! The series is like an amped up, horror-ified Inception full of living nightmares you can’t wake up from. You’re welcome.

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#2: 'The Ravenous' by Amy Lukavics

It’s difficult to scare me. First off, I’ve read a lot of horror. Second, I craft scares for a living. So while I can appreciate the skill involved in creating the terrifying moments in most horror novels, it’s not often that I’m actually terrified. But The Ravenous got me. This book evoked the tense build-up of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (a book I love so much I included a little Easter egg nod to it in #MurderTrending) with a zombie twist, and the gore-splattered climax will shake you.

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#1: 'When I Am Through with You' by Stephanie Kuehn

Although her books aren’t usually categorized as horror, Stephanie Kuehn never fails to scare the living crap out of me, and When I Am Through with You is by far the sharpest psychological gut punch of a novel I have ever read. Bleak, despairing, and utterly fascinating, the oppressive setting only enhances the darkness of the characters. Horror doesn’t always need monsters, gore, and jump scares to terrify, and When I Am Through with You is the perfect example.

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