Five Coming-of-Age Horror Novels That Explore the Perils of Adolescence

Sometimes being a teenager can feel like a real-life horror story. Growing up comes with the excitement of newfound freedom and first love, but it also brings hard-learned lessons and painful conflict. The magic of childhood innocence is lost, replaced by the crushing realities of adulthood. The horrors of puberty slot perfectly into horror fiction, and coming-of-age horror forms its own subgenre—but that label doesn’t just mean that the protagonists happen to be adolescent. These books are specifically about the tense transitional period between childhood and adulthood, but laced with the added peril of supernatural thrills and chills.

Stephen King’s It (1986) and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), which happens to be my favorite book, are the go-to examples of this subgenre and while those books are fantastic, there are many others which deserve love too. So here are five additional coming-of-age horror novel recommendations—and as things turned out, each book features a different type of supernatural being (I hadn’t planned it that way, but why not include all the classics?). Read on for werewolves, ghosts, demons, witches, and vampires, oh my!

 

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Physical transformation is a core part of werewolf lore, and as such, werewolves provide a fitting metaphor for puberty—see Teen Wolf (1985) and Ginger Snaps (2000), for example. Stephen Graham Jones’s Mongrels (2016) follows this same path but it tells its own unique story—and it’s one that has bite.

The unnamed teenage narrator lives a transient lifestyle with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren, who are secretly werewolves. The narrator is on the precipice of discovering whether or not the lycanthrope blood that runs in his veins will manifest itself. He’s desperate to be part of the pack and much of the novel is dedicated to him figuring out his place, not only within his family, but also in the world at large.

As well as the werewolf-as-teenager angle, the narrative also delves into the werewolf-as-outsider angle. In Mongrels the werewolves lead normal human lives—aside from when they turn and go looking for dinner—but they have been shunned by mainstream society. The novel is as much a commentary on those scraping by on the fringes of society as it is on the pains of growing up. Of course, being a werewolf novel, there is also blood and gore splashed across all of these larger themes. Jones expertly balances the serious exploration of real-life topics with the fun of exploring the wilder aspects of being a werewolf.

 

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

You might know Craig Davidson better as Nick Cutter, the pen name under which he released the body horror extravaganza The Troop (2014). The Saturday Night Ghost Club (2018) is a far more wholesome kind of horror, swapping stomach-churning terror for lightly-chilling ghost stories. Set in the ’80s, it follows Jake during the summer he turns twelve. He’s a bit of an outcast, so he hangs out with his eccentric Uncle Calvin in his occult shop. Jake eventually befriends siblings Billy and Dove, and throughout the summer Calvin leads their Saturday Night Ghost Club, taking them all over town to recount local legends and ghost stories.

Like Stephen King’s novella The Body (1982), which was adapted into Stand by Me (1986), Davidson’s novel is told from the point of view of the grown-up main character. Both stories poignantly reflect on the innocence of being a kid, but with the rose-tinted glasses torn off. Many of the lyrical, beautifully written passages about the difficulties of being on the cusp between childhood and adulthood will have you wanting to break out the highlighter—even if you don’t usually annotate your books.

The ghost stories themselves are unlikely to scare a seasoned horror reader but they brilliantly capture the thrill of being told such stories as a child. The Saturday Night Ghost Club won’t keep you up at night, but its spooky atmosphere is delightful and the story will alternately warm and break your heart as it unfolds.

 

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Half demonic horror story and half teen comedy, My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016) takes the standard ‘possessed by a demon’ storyline and makes it fun. Hendrix spends the first third of the novel establishing the close relationship between best friends Abby and Gretchen—their bond rings incredibly true and provides the emotional center for the novel. We enter horror territory when Gretchen goes missing in the woods one night and then reappears looking like hell and acting erratically, as if she’s now a different person. Anyone who has seen Jennifer’s Body (2009) knows that this is a massive red flag for demonic possession.

Even once the storyline veers into the supernatural, Hendrix’s writing style adds humor and light-heartedness to the narrative. That’s not to say he doesn’t go all the way in on the horror sometimes—the last act is a testament to that—but the well-timed injections of comedy lend the novel a lighter tone. This is complemented by the setting and all the references to late ’80s pop culture and style, which are expertly blended into the story and never feel gimmicky. You might come for the exorcism and fun sense of nostalgia, but you’ll stay for Abby and Gretchen.

For anyone who wants to spend even more time in this world, or do a book-to-movie comparison, the film adaptation is available on Amazon Prime.

 

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Blood. Blight. Darkness. Slaughter. In The Year of the Witching (2020), these are the four plagues which ravage Bethel, a puritanical and patriarchal community—think M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004)—ruled by the Prophet. Caught in the middle of everything is teenager Immanuelle, born of a scandalous union between her white mother and black father, both of whom are now dead. Immanuelle is as close to being an outcast as she can be without actually being physically cast out. Though she does her best to fit in, she begins to uncover the secrets of Bethel and soon realizes that everything is not as it seems with regard to the Church’s history and sinister tales of witches.

Alexis Henderson furnishes her novel with plenty of traditional horror elements. There are eerie descriptions of the Darkwood, a creepy forbidden forest that surrounds Bethel and is linked to witchcraft, as well as the horrific plagues which sweep the land. But she also explores many horrors which are present in the real world; from the racism and sexism experienced by Immanuelle and others to the Prophet’s horrendous abuse of power.

The potion prepared in the cauldron that is The Year of the Witching features a copious dose of self-discovery, a generous helping of historical and dark fantasy atmosphere, and a dash of romance.

 

Until Summer Comes Around by Glenn Rolfe

Until Summer Comes Around (2020) is the perfect book for fans of The Lost Boys (1987). A summer beach town setting? Check. Cool but creepy ’80s vampires? Check. Buckets of teen drama? Check, check, check! Don’t worry though, Glenn Rolfe’s novel is its own beast, cleverly using these familiar elements to craft a new story.

Set during 1986 (yes, another book that takes place in the 1980s) in Old Orchard Beach, a seaside resort town in Maine, Until Summer Comes Around is about fifteen-year-old Rocky and his budding romance with November, a mysterious girl who has just moved to town. The problem is that November is from a family of vampires, and her controlling and blood-thirsty brother, Gabriel, wants to keep them apart. Dating a girl with an overly-protective older brother is bad; the fact that said brother is a sadistic vampire is a whole lot worse.

Rolfe plays with and twists some of the conventional traits of vampires but he retains the blood that is part and parcel of any vampire story. The descriptions of Gabriel picking off the townspeople are gory, visceral, and bloody, balanced alongside Rocky’s coming-of-age arc, which is realistically and sympathetically awkward. Pepper in the bittersweetness of summer love and some nostalgic ’80s references and you’ve got an atmospheric and blood-drenched vampire tale with both fangs and heart.

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Those are some of my personal favorites but this list is far from exhaustive, so please leave your coming-of-age horror novel recommendations in the comments below!

Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and is a lover of all things science fiction and horror. She lives in Scotland with her rescue greyhound, Misty.

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