Vampires, Aliens, and Killer Clowns: A Golden Age of YA Horror |

Vampires, Aliens, and Killer Clowns: A Golden Age of YA Horror

We have entered a new golden age of young adult horror, and I am one hundred percent here for it. While there has long been plenty of horror-adjacent fiction, real horror has been hard to come by. That is until the last year or so. I keep a spreadsheet of all the traditionally published young adult speculative fiction for each year, and in 2022 we had 17 (!!!) books come out that were specifically marketed as horror, plus many others that were delightfully bloody and bite-y. I’ve put together a short list of some great YA horror for fans new and old to check out.


Direwood by Catherine Yu

Set in the 1990s, this dark vampire horror story is grotesque in the best way. Aja and Fiona’s small town is beset by a pair of vampires and their creepy crawly caterpillar hellspawn. When Fiona goes missing, Aja and her ex friend Mary sneak into the abandoned church where the vamps are holed up to get her back. Blood and terror ensue. This novel is not for the faint of heart, but Catherine Yu knows just how much scare to dish out to her teen readers.


Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

“Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.” That tagline has me hooked! Lupe leaves Vermont for Puerto Rico to visit her dad’s side of the family, but as soon as she arrives the bodies begin to pile up. Someone or something is killing people on the island in terrible ways, including Lupe’s cousin. She teams up with a local boy named Javier to solve the whodunit and stop them from killing again.


Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda

This is the oldest book on this spotlight, from back in the Before Times (i.e. 2018), as well as the only science fiction horror novel. YA horror is uncommon enough, but YA science fiction horror? I can count the ones from the last few years on one hand. Four hundred years in the future, teens Laura and Tuck are the only things standing between the continued existence of human civilization and annihilation. But first they’ll have to defeat aliens who use sound to kill.


The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

Rachel Chavez is new to the elite Manhattan school Manchester Prep, one of the few kids attending on a scholarship instead of coasting on parental wealth. When she’s initiated into the Mary Shelley Club, at first she thinks they’re just going to watch horror movies, which is fine by her. She started watching them as a way to cope with her past trauma and now counts herself an expert. But soon the risk escalates as school pranks turn violent, and Rachel will need to find out who’s behind it all before they come for her.


Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Alright, I’ll admit even I’m too chicken for this one—I don’t like clowns! No ma’am!—but no way I could do a horror booklist without it. If you’re looking for that classic 1980s/1990s teen slasher movie feel, this book is perfect for you. Missouri teens attend a party in the middle of nowhere that is besieged by murderers.


The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl

Okay, so this isn’t technically horror, but it does have queer vampires in it and we’re all currently obsessed with queer vampires. Poor Holly has been stuck at a teenage vampire since 1987, and even though her maker, a jerkwad named Elton, ditched her years ago, she’s forever forced to tag along in his wake. When he selects his latest victim—er, girlfriend—Holly and his other exes join forces to save a human instead of eating them. Holly also happens to have a raging crush on the girl, Parker. Suddenly living for eternity doesn’t seem so bad.


The Gathering Dark: An Anthology of Folk Horror edited by Tori Bovalino and Our Shadows Have Claws: 15 Latin American Monster Stories edited by Yamile Saied Méndez & Amparo Ortiz

2022 blessed readers with not just one but two YA horror anthologies, so I’m going to give you a double whammy here. The Gathering Dark is all urban legends and haunted houses while Our Shadows Have Claws features creatures from across Latin American folkloric traditions. Both will get your blood racing. These anthologies are a fantastic way to try new authors without committing to a full-length novel. And lucky for you, the list of authors in these anthologies is a veritable who’s who of some of the best writers in the field.


Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (


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