It’s October, and there’s no better time to delve into some underrated horror and horror adjacent novels. Let’s get into the Halloween mood with some supernatural beasties, brutal murders, and teens spending entirely too much time around dead bodies.
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2011)
Young adult horror may be in the midst of a revival, but few have reached the blood-soaked heights of this classic. Set in a fictional town in eastern Texas, the story stars two sisters, Kit and Fancy, descendants of an enslaved woman named Cherry who had the uncanny ability to make wishes come true. The girls are outcasts because their father was a serial killer, but they finally give into the stories people whisper about them when they start their own killing spree and target abusers and otherwise violent people. It’s bloody, it’s intense, and it’s a must-read for horror fans.
The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (Tordotcom, 2019)
Johann, our titular monster, was saved from the putrid waters of Elendhaven by Florian Leikenbloom, the last remaining heir to a once prosperous family. For some strange reason, Johann cannot die and most people forget him almost immediately. Florian sends him out into the plague-ruined city to exact revenge on his enemies. When a mage hunter comes to town, the monster and his man make their final wicked plans. With this tale of beautiful brutality, Jennifer Giesbrecht explores a twisted queer relationship. It’s chilling in all the best ways and offers no easy answers to readers.
Anoka: A Collection of Indigenous Horror by Shane Hawk (Black Hills Press, 2020)
The Indigenous short story anthology, Never Whistle at Night, is racking up the accolades, as it should. But I want to talk about the collection of short horror stories written by the anthology’s editor, Shane Hawk. Anoka is set in the eponymous fictional town in Minnesota, known as “The Halloween Capital of the World.” There, the denizens are terrorized by supernatural monsters and waking nightmares. A desperate couple creates a monstrous child, a giant spider torments a writer, and other stories.
Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis (Delacorte Press, 2021)
A teen trapped in poverty finds a way out…by raising the dead. Katrell brings the dead back to a sort of half-life in exchange for cash. Her home life is awful, but in order to get out and on her own she needs money, and fast. But when the undead turn on their maker, Katrell will need to rely on the only friends she has left to put things right. A brilliant young adult novel about the lengths we’ll go to survive. There aren’t a lot of YA contemporary stories about teens of color living in poverty or dealing with abuse, so this horror-adjacent novel offers some much needed representation.
Split Scream Volume 2 by Cynthia Gómez & M. Lopes da Silva (Dread Stone Press, 2022)
M. Lopes da Silva’s story “What Ate the Angels” features a nonbinary Los Angeles-based artist named November who descends into the bowels of the city in a last ditch attempt to save the life of their sick partner. Cynthia Gómez’s “The Shivering World” is about Nayeli, a young woman struggling to get by in Oakland and dealing with several terrible men making bad things worse; she encounters a bloodthirsty being she believes to be La Llorona who offers her freedom at a price. The two horror novelettes in this bloody collection are sure to leave you chilled to the bone as much as they’ll make you think.
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), bluesky (@bookjockeyalex), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).