There’s an element of tension in so much Southern Gothic that stems from America’s fraught history of slavery, violence, injustice, and class inequality. It hangs over the genre like the humidity before a storm. The ingredients are all there—disillusionment, ennui, macabre details—they’re often inherently horrifying, and you really don’t have to tinker with them all that much before you’ve tipped over into full-blown horror.
All of these books dwell in the space where youth and history intersect (there’s that tension again, the full weight of the past pitched against young lives, full of promise), and many grapple with issues of race, slavery, sex, and poverty. And since horror often works best when it’s tempered with realism, that grounding makes these books that much scarier.