An Alternative YA Bram Stoker Award

Jun 5, 2023
An Alternative YA Bram Stoker Award THE YOUNG BLOOOD LIBRARY .png

Below you will find Tony Jones‘ alternative YA Bram Stoker Award listing.

No website in the world provides as much coverage of YA horror/dark fiction as the Ginger Nuts of Horror and for the last number years, we have reviewed all the books featured on the HWA YA Bram Stoker Award preliminary and shortlist. One thing these lists always have in common (irrespective of whether they’re great or mediocre novels) is the fact that they are almost always entirely American. Perhaps it is time the HWA rebranded their prize the ‘American’ Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel as non-American authors being nominated (forget winning) is as rare as hen’s teeth!

This article does not intend to criticise the books on the current list, I have read them all, and it is a decent selection, but YA horror literature quite simply does not begin and end in America. We have already reviewed and ranked the books, including those on the Preliminary Ballot who did not make the cut onto the Final Ballot. You can check it out here:

https://gingernutsofhorror.com/young-blood/the-ginger-nuts-of-horror-dissect-the-novels-on-the-ya-stoker-preliminary-and-final-ballots

Note that this article is referring only to the YA Bram Stoker Award and is not commenting on other categories, we also reached out to the HWA and received a very kind response from one of the Bram Stoker Awards Committee Co-Chairs, which was very much appreciated. 

Last year we were delighted to see RL Boyle’s outstanding The Book of the Baku make the Final Ballot and with this ultra-rare UK nomination had hoped this might have opened the door for a more internationally flavoured Preliminary Ballot. However, we were ultimately disappointed to see ‘the rest of the world’ excluded again. 

I have worked in school libraries and secondary education in the UK since 1994 and the Stoker Award has a non-existent profile in this country, perhaps having a shortlist with a strong international flavour would help change this? On Facebook groups, Twitter, email user groups and education chatrooms librarians and teachers frequently ask questions similar to “where do I get recommendations for YA horror?” and nine out of ten times somebody will answer Ginger Nuts of Horror”, rarely is the HWA or Stoker Award put forward as an alternative suggestion. The HWA should be looking outwardly instead of inwardly when it comes to its book selection processes and what works (the selection process) for the adult categories might not necessarily be the best thing for the YA equivalent. The HWA should be going out of its way to showcase the absolute best the genre has to offer, not just those who are connected to their organisation or are conveniently based in America. 

In the UK there is a new wave of very popular YA horror writers including Kat Ellis (Harrow Lake and Wicked Little Deeds), Amy McCaw (Mina Duology), Kathryn Foxfield (Good Girls Die First, It’s Behind You, and Tag You’re Dead) and Cynthia Murthy (Last One to Die, Win Lose Kill Die and The Midnight Game), none of which have had any Stoker recognition with some of these books being republished in the USA with new titles. It may well be that the publishers of these authors do not engage with the Stoker selection process, or that the authors themselves do not see any value in getting involved, which would be a shame. Also, in the UK we have an incredibly successful series of standalone horror novels written under the RED EYE brand (Alex Bell’s The Lighthouse is the latest and is featured below) and I guarantee every school library in the UK with a budget automatically buys all these books, but once again the YA Stoker list has never ever given this incredible twelve book series any recognition and is the closest brand the UK has had to match the Point Horror heyday. 

Children and teen book awards are usually fairly localised affairs and centred around countries or smaller regions, but big UK national awards such as the Carnegie Medal have in recent years gone from being British prizes to international award, this was mainly to increase diversity and as a result Americans such as Jason Reynolds and Elizabeth Acevedo have won this incredibly prestigious medal. The HWA could look at the blueprint which has made major strides in becoming truly international, but to do this the process in which the books are selected would clearly have to be overhauled. 

For book prizes to succeed (and especially those aimed at kids) those nominated need to be of the highest quality for the award to grow beyond their core base. This has not always been the case with the YA Stoker, with previous shortlists being loaded with turkeys which have clearly been nominated onto the Final Ballot by HWA members. Look no further than the terrible Oware Mosaic, which won a couple of years ago, and if the HWA was looking to build a reputation or bridges with school librarians or those interested in YA horror then voting for this stinker was not the way to achieve it. Thankfully, the committee (who surely have some knowledge of YA horror) select some of the ten books on the Preliminary Ballot, but ultimately it was the members who voted for a book which was a truly pitiful representation for their ‘best’ in YA horror.  

One cannot help feeling that the YA section feels slightly tacked onto much more prestigious categories and it is hard to see it getting out of their shadow without serious effort of the HWA to give the award its own unique identity. I would love to see the YA Stoker have its own ‘brand’ which spreads far and wide through school libraries with posters and buzz around the shortlist with proper media interest, shortlisted authors getting excited, and cool tweets. In the UK the YA Book Prize is a great example of a highly successful award which has picked up a lot of interest in schools and support from major bookshop chain Waterstones and has been sponsored by prominent book-trade magazine The Bookseller. Would it not be wonderful if a YA horror award had a fraction of this national attention? (maybe even a complete rebrand to coincide with Halloween time!) The HWA already has the Scares That Care summer booklist recommendations, which I have seen featured on big sites such as Book Riot and seems to pick up more publicity than the YA Stoker. 

In conclusion, the Ginger Nuts of Horror is proud to present a An Alternative British YA Stoker of some of our favourite books published from authors from these fair shores across 2022. Note also that this year there is a brand-new Middle Grade Stoker Award (almost all American also) and although the list looks terrific, I have not read enough of them to comment upon it. 

The books are listed in alphabetical order and are all YA, rather than Middle Grade. Disclaimer: I have also featured at least one American author who resides in the UK and another who comes from neither the USA nor UK. I also highlighted a fantastic multi-award-winning Canadian author who has written a wonderful range of dark fiction. 

The books are presented alphabetically by author. 

An Alternative Young Adult Bram Stoker Award The Best of Britain (and a few other places)

Rebecca Barrow – Bad Things Happen Here

Rebecca Barrow – Bad Things Happen Here YA Bram Stoker Award

Rebecca Barrow’s rich dark thriller/drama Bad Things Happen Here, which is set on an island mainly populated by rich folks, is seen from the point of view of Luca Laine Thomas, who has struggled to get over the death of her best friend Polly Stern several years earlier. Luca believes there is a curse on the island and that there have been too many unsolved deaths of local teenagers. 

Early in the novel Luca’s older sister Whitney dies and Luca begins her own investigation into whether this is connected to the earlier tragedies. Meanwhile, Naomi moves into the house which was once owned by Polly’s family and the two girls become friends. Along the way there is a prominent LGBTQ+ storyline and the fact that Luca is mixed-race also has a part to play. Ultimately the story is about broken friendships, secrets, betrayals and half-truths which blend into a murder mystery, as the story hurtles towards the big reveal of who killed Whitney. Teen readers will have a lot of fun with Bad Things Happen Here, from the boozy parties and sexual tension which permeates the action. AGE RANGE 13/14+ 

Alex Bell – The Lighthouse 

Alex Bell – The Lighthouse YA Bram Stoker Award

If you do not read much kids horror and are unsure what to recommend then the Red Eye brand is the perfect place to start, of which Alex Bell has several books on the twelve-title range. I guarantee that the incredibly well plotted The Lighthouse will have most young teens on the hook and make sure you hang around for a simply brilliant closing two pages which will wrong foot even the most jaded of adult horror readers. 

The action opens with sisters Jess and Rosie being shipped off to Bird Rock, a tiny island in the Outer Hebrides where they will stay with their ornithologist father, their half-brother Charlie and their stepmother. Jess narrates the story and is shocked to be stuck in such a remote location during the summer holidays, on an island dominated by gannets. The family stay in the ancient lighthouse and bird hunters on the island say the building is haunted and has a dark history. The manner in which the supernatural story was developed was perfectly pitched, expertly paced as Jess begins to feel increasingly isolated and things go bump in the night. Things really kick off when Rosie disappears and nobody seems to remember her ever existing except for Jess. Along the way a teenage boy, with a tragic connection to the lighthouse helps out, and it was nice to see a token romance NOT thrown into the mix! I loved it and watch out for that ending!

AGE RANGE 11/12+

Tori Bovalino – The Devil Makes Three

Tori Bovalino – The Devil Makes Three

This deliciously captivating story unfolds through two narratives told eighteen years apart, in the present-day Lou Wickett lives in Boston and is looking forward to the return of her aunt Neela, who is close to her in age and the pair are more like sisters. Lou lives with both her mother and her aunt, who have been keeping secrets from her regarding their joint history in York, where they come from a lengthy line of witches. The second narrative jumps back eighteen years to York where (aunt) May was the same age as Lou and was having a fun time in York, until she falls for another girl. The problem was the girl was not any old girl, she was a goblin and much of the novel concerns the weird relationship between humans and goblins in York.

I enjoyed both narratives, which both have great LGBTQ+ representation with Lou being asexual as well as her aunt being gay. Considering Lou has no idea she comes from a family of (former) witches she adapts very quickly when she realises to rescue her aunt she has to visit the Goblin Market herself. The story was a fine balance of clever characterisation and well-developed fantasy setting where to survive following the rules is vital and it was made even more believable that there is no indication that Lou will become a witch overnight. The romance in the historical setting had an authentic vibe and the idea that covens of witches might operate in plain sight was nicely portrayed. AGE RANGE 13/14+

Jamie Costello – Monochrome

Jamie Costello - Monochrome

I was highly impressed by Jamie Costello’s YA debut Monochrome, set in a version of our world where colour gradually disappears from the world’s population and everybody only sees in black and white. The world Costello paints was very convincing, how might things be if there is no colour? Many animals die, there are car crashes everywhere and the speed limits are reduced, depression is rampant, eating disorders increase as food becomes strangely unappetising and slowly but surely public services begin to grind to a halt. Monochrome was a thoughtful book which was cleverly restrained and does not go full out into the stereotypes popular in teen dystopian fiction. 

Monochrome starts with Grace waking up to seeing the world in black and white, with her family realise this is happening everywhere. The manner in which the shades of grey were described and the impact upon moods was vividly portrayed as the Greyout’ or the ‘Monochrome Effect’ continued to spread. With failing harvests and stay-at-home orders in a world on the brink of a major ecological disaster, there appears to be no cure – until one day Grace sees a single flash of red. This leads us to the main part of the novel, teens who see flashes of colour become lab rats because of these ‘colour episodes’. The novel has a cool message without ever getting patronising or worthy. This was a great blend of science fiction, dystopia and political intrigue. AGE RANGE 12/13+  

Sarah Daniels – The Stranded

Sarah Daniels - The Stranded

The debut of Sarah Daniels The Stranded is an engaging dystopian thriller which is in the same ballpark as The Hunger Games. The Stranded mixes a few of the tried and tested story lines in teen dystopias and puts them in a George Orwell blender, setting her action on an ocean liner which has been at sea for years and due to a supposed virus cannot go ashore. However, how do those who exist on the boat know this is the truth? Those who control the ship do so with an iron fist. 

The Arcadia has been at sea for forty years and many have lived and died on the water, following the rules of the regime as it tightens down on freedom whenever there is any sign of rebellion, such as reading in public! The two main characters are real contrasts, Esther is a loyal citizen, working flat-out for a rare chance to live a life on land as she trains as a medic, but is pulled into the dangerous world of the underground. The other is Nik, who is a rebel, intent on liberating the Arcadia once and for all and soon things begin to kick off when an illegal leaflet drop suggests the passengers are being lied to. An enjoyable dark adventure set on a cruise ship which is a million miles away from being a holiday.

AGE RANGE 12/13+ 

Kate Dylan – Mindwalker

Kate Dylan – Mindwalker

Kate Dylan’s debut Mindwalker was a mind-bending science fiction thriller (with a slice of dystopia)  aimed at older teens who enjoy stories with advanced technology and cyberpunk overtones. ‘Mindwalkers’ are employees of Syntex who commandeer or highjack/piggyback into the minds of secret operatives and help them out of sticky war, spy or espionage situations. The novel is seen from the point of view of Sil Sarrah, who has a 100% success rate in guiding operatives to safety. She was recruited when she was eight and ten years later has been rebuilt with all the latest technology, this is until an operation goes wrong and the all-powerful corporation Syntex turns against her. Is she a scapegoat or is there a deeper conspiracy going on?

Early in the tale we find out that Mindwalkers have an expiration date and few are still in operation beyond the age of nineteen and Sarrah’s technology begins to malfunction. Once Sil goes on the run we see the story from the other side, the Analog Army (the equivalent of the Anonymous hacker group) and she is caught in the middle, whilst both trying to clear her name and survive. There is a lot to enjoy here from vividly drawn and scary technology, espionage action sequences, funny banter and convincing worldbuilding which was a not-too distant dystopian version of where we are today. A terrific book to distract teens who are addicted to their devices!

AGE RANGE 13/14+

Kathryn Foxfield – Tag You’re Dead

Kathryn Foxfield – Tag You’re Dead

Tag You’re Dead is the third dark thriller from Kathryn Foxfield (Good Girls Die First and It’s Behind You are also recommended) and makes great use of our obsession with social media. Whether you love or hate them social media influencers and wannabe celebrities are everywhere and tech-savvy teens are sure to get a kick out of this page-turner which puts them front and centre. 

Influencer superstar Anton Fraser is making his comeback by running a competition in which one hundred contestants play a game of ‘tag’ across London. However, this game is slightly different as even though it happens in real time, the participants have virtual reality headsets in which everything is streamed and at various points in the game they might be ‘Chasers’ or ‘Runners.’ The plot twists here and there as the various agendas are uncovered, with Tag You’re Dead being a fun easy read with nice use of technology and obsessive fame seeking teens.

AGE RANGE 12+

Frances Hardinge – Unraveller

Frances Hardinge – Unraveller

Frances Hardinge is an absolute master in crafting highly original dark fantastic fiction and Unraveller is another outstanding example of fantasy blended with superb characterisation and unique worldbuilding skills. The ability to curse others lies at the heart of Unraveller and one of the main characters has the ability to ‘unravel’ curses which have been inflicted upon other people. It is tricky to convey in words how this strange ability works so here is an example; siblings are cursed and are turned into two distinct types of birds, one bird without realising it kills and eats their human sibling without realising they were a much smaller bird. The surviving bird is later turned back into a person and then fully understands they have consumed their family member. How do they cope with the guilt? Tricky.

Early in the novel we realise that Kellen can ‘unravel’ curses and travels with his best friend Nettle, who was previously cursed, turned into a bird and still communicates with her brother who has chosen to remain in bird form. Together they are recruited to investigate an organisation which is collecting life-destroying curses which takes them on a very odd journey across ‘The Wilds,’ the most dangerous and unmapped part of the country. The land of Raddith is a brilliantly described setting; beautiful, menacing, populated by strange creatures and the fear of potential curses. It is so vividly described that children will truly be able to let their imaginations run wild in this fantastic land as they get wrapped up in the crazy exploits of Nettle and Kellen.

AGE RANGE 11/12+

Finbar Hawkins – Stone

Finbar Hawkins – Stone

Grief lies at the beating heart of Stone, the very moving story of teenager Sam trying to get over the recent death of his father, who was killed by a landmine in Afghanistan. Some teens may well find the subject matter of death and loss to be too morbid, but is built around a convincing rural setting, friendships, young love and an unsettling supernatural element, which is connected to the rural landscapes and mythology of the local area.

Sam was realistically portrayed and was not the most likable of characters, being very self-absorbed and frequently finding himself in trouble and distances himself from his mother and slightly younger sister. After Sam finds a scrying stone, begins to have visions and blackouts whilst his personal life becomes complex the magical story becomes more pronounced and the stories that his father told him as a child become very real. Even though Sam brings a lot of the trouble upon himself, it was hard not to sympathise with him, but he is backup up great support characters, including his sister and best friend. The story also takes in bullying and makes the most of the local landscape and the power which comes from a chalk white horse drawn into the side of a hill.

AGE RANGE 12+

Vanessa Len – Only a Monster

Vanessa Len – Only a Monster

Vanessa Len’s debut Only a Monster has a nice spin on time-travelling and a fun leap back to London in the early 1990s. The plot turns the old ‘hero killing the monster’ story by having the leading character discovering she was a monster in the opening few pages and the boy that she was about to go on a first date with was the ‘hero’ out to kill her. The story uses the well-worn ‘hide in plain sight’ idea and that only monsters (which all belong to a collection of powerful families) have the ability to recognise each other as non-human. 

The different monster families have slightly different abilities and in the opening pages Joan helps a man who almost falls over, by touching him she flips several hours into the future. When she returns home it is revealed that her family has the ability to suck life from people (and use it like fuel) to move through time. And as there is a ‘hero’ (her almost boyfriend Nick) hunting her she has to go on the run through time, whilst trying to understand her newly discovered powers which will be explored in the highly anticipated sequel.

AGE RANGE 13/14+

Amy McCaw – Mina and the Slayers

Amy McCaw – Mina and the Slayers

Mina and the Slayers is the sequel to Mina and the Undead which we reviewed back in 2021, I would recommend reading book one first, as they complement each other beautifully. In the original we head back to 1995 New Orleans with a British teenager staying there for the summer, who discovers that vampires and real and gets sucked into a murder mystery. Many of the same characters return in Mina and the Slayers which continues with its fun Buffy vibe, countless nineties references (including one of my favourite ever films Pump Up The Volume) and a new mystery which also involves vampires and something else which is trying to cull the vampire population. I enjoyed this sequel more than the original and it was great to see the main character Mina being fleshed out and the balance between the authentic nineties scene, teenage problems and the rogue bunch of slayers ruining the vibe was a cool mix. 

The action picks up three months after the events of book one with Mina settling into her new life and dating Jared. Mina ends up doing work experience with the police force, being mentored by the detective from the previous book. The police who are investigating a weird series of animal attacks, not realising the culprits are a mysterious group of slayers, who are battling to control the rogue vampires. The threats circle closer as Mina spends her days with the police and nights with the slayers. All of a sudden Halloween is no longer a long party and morphs into a battle of survival, trying to avoid being staked, stabbed or bitten. McCaw vividly brings New Orleans to life with kick-ass action sequences and a very cool ending which promises a third book.

AGE RANGE 12/13+

Cynthia Murphy – Win Lose Kill Die

Cynthia Murphy - Win Lose Kill Die

Win Lose Die Kill is set in the exclusive boarding school Morton Academy, with the action beginning at the start of the new school year and the memorial of a pupil who lost her life in a boating tragedy over the summer holidays. Within a few chapters another girl is also dead and so we realise someone is targeting pupils in high office. 

The story is told in the first person by Liz, who by some of her classmates standards, is a quiet member of the year group, a hard worker, who is happy to fade into the background. At various points the narrative switches to the point of view of the gloating murderer and you will have fun trying to guess the killer. This was great escapism for a few hours, it was fast-moving fun, none-too-deep and unless you were on the killer’s hit list might find yourself wanting to attend Morton Academy yourself. An excellent read for both thriller and horror fans which I have seen gracing the bestselling shelves in local bookshops. If you have a reluctant teen reader on your radar this novel might help them turn the corner. 

AGE RANGE 12+    

Jim Ody – The Brood (Eerie Things Series, book 2)

Jim Ody – The Brood (Eerie Things Series, book 2)

Although the Eerie Things Series has had zero publicity I was very happy to stumble upon it and was a fan of both books. They are not connected so you can dive straight into the second having not tried the first. However, I much preferred Camp Death, so I would definitely suggest picking up both books and make your own comparisons. The Brood’s predecessor was set in a Devon summer camp, refreshingly in the UK rather than the USA, with this second book set in the small boring English town of Thornhill. It was also refreshing that both Jim Ody books featured male narratives which have sadly all but disappeared from current horror/dark fiction. They have been compared to classic Point Horror, other RL Stine fiction or Christopher Pike but have more than enough fresh ideas to turn into a solid page-turner for any young teen looking for a fast paced supernatural story with believable teen characters.

Camp Death featured a monster stalking the holidaymakers and The Brood witches the supernatural action after teenagers begin to disappear in the small town. For teenagers Tom, Lucy, Hannah, and Ben, their lives revolve around school, who is dating who, and hanging out in the local coffeeshop. The narrative splits and covers both before and after Lucy’s disappearance and I thought the teenage dynamics was very convincing, as Lucy and Tom had become a couple not long before the vanishing. The supernatural aspect of the story lacked the suspense and mystery elements which made Camp Death such a good read and although it was relatively predictable it was a solid, fun, and fast paced read with teenagers which were easy to connect with. These types of novels are almost always American, so it was great to have one set in the UK.

AGE RANGE 12-14

Kenneth Oppel – Ghostlight

Kenneth Oppel – Ghostlight

I have always had a soft spot for Kenneth Oppel who I first reviewed for Ginger Nuts way back in 2015, with The Nest. Since then this supremely talented Canadian has continued to entertain with an incredible creative range of fiction, including the trilogy of monster plants Bloom which we reviewed a couple of years ago. For non-horror fans I also highly recommend the comedy fantasy Inkling. Oppel’s latest, Ghostlight, is an absolute beauty and is set in and around the haunted Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in Canada. Gabe’s summer job scaring tourists as the lighthouse tour guide with ghost stories takes a terrifying turn when he accidentally summons the spirit of a dead girl who was murdered in the lighthouse back in 1839. This was a quality blend of the supernatural, historical detail, and a group of very engaging teens battling against a powerful ghost which has the power to absorb the life essence of other ghosts, making itself more powerful.

The developing friendship between Gabe and the ghost Rebecca Strand was terrific and the manner in which the rare material glass ‘ghostlight’ could be used to weaken ghosts, particularly using the lighthouse was very clever. The support characters, including a teen horror blogger, were great company as they searched for the lost ghostlight required to destroy the most powerful malevolent spirits, a long since dead sailor called Viker who killed Rebecca and her father all those years ago. If you were a fan of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Company series this is in the same ballpark and is every bit as good. I hope Kenneth Oppel has a sequel in the works as the great ending left plenty of scope for a return to the lighthouse and the rebirth of the Order, a secret society devoted to protecting the world from “the wakeful and wicked dead”. Terrific stuff.

AGE RANGE 11-14

JP Rose – The Haunting of Tyrese Walker

YA Bram Stoker Award JP Rose – The Haunting of Tyrese Walker

I was greatly impressed by JP Rose’s The Haunting of Tyrese Walker which uses grief, loss and mental health as a convincing basis to build an excellent horror story. This was a compelling read which I sped through it in a few sittings, I also adored the use of the Jamaican folklore, which had me reaching for Google to find out what the supernatural references of ‘Duppy’ and ‘Soucouyant’ meant. The story was also beautifully paced, had a clever way of eliminating adults from the adventure and had three terrific main characters. It was also refreshing to read a novel with a boy as the main character, as these days most books of this type are dominated by female narratives. 

The story opens with Tyrese arriving in Jamaica with his mother to stay with his grandmother and cousin Marvin for the summer. The boy has struggled to recover from the death of his father some months earlier and is overcome with grief with his mother hoping the change of scenery will do some good. However, from the first night, strange things start happening: impossible visions, blackouts, swarms of insects, and the discovery of a grave hidden deep in the forest. Tyrese can’t explain what’s going on and he’s scared that he’s losing his grip on reality. This leads to a mystery which takes in Jamaican folklore and the possibility that a boogieman type character is hunting him called the ‘Shadow Man’. The book carefully shows the reader how loss can change you, but that the power of friendship can trump than. This was a terrific read and is highly recommended.

AGE RANGE 11-14

Melinda Salisbury – Her Dark Wings

YA Bram Stoker Award Melinda Salisbury – Her Dark Wings

Her Dark Wings is an engaging spin on a popular tale from Greek mythology which opens a year after Corey (who narrates the novel in the first person) fell out with her long-term best friend after she got together with her boyfriend Ali. The betrayal ran very deep and Corey has found the loss of her best friend to be significantly more painful than the boy. 

The island setting is the focus of the first half of the book, with the second taking in the Underworld. It had a Scottish island feel to it and even the shops (Spar) had British names, but there was something about the place which was obviously Pagan or had some other belief system based around the old gods of mythology. This was kept enticingly vague and it worked beautifully until Corey kisses the wrong boy at a festival and Bree is found dead, drowned. Corey is shocked as in her weaker moments she had wished her former friend dead and is overwhelmed by her loss and lack of closure. A combination of circumstances leads Corey to the Underworld where she learns more about herself, Bree and feels power stirring within herself. Her Dark Wings was centred around the power of friendship and should attract strong readers who enjoy fantasy and mythology.

AGE RANGE 13/14+

Laura Steven – The Society for Soulless Girls

YA Bram Stoker Award Laura Steven – The Society for Soulless Girls

The split first-person narrative of ‘Lottie’ and ‘Alice’ was one of my favourite features of The Society Soulless Girls which is set in the elite Carvell College of the arts, with the supernatural aspect kept simmering nicely on the backburner for the first half of the book. The story starts not long after the college has reopened after a ten-year closure due to a series of murders for which nobody was ever caught. 

Sporty Lottie will be studying English and also hopes to investigate the decade old murders due to an old family connection. She is roommates with Alice who is studying Philosophy and although Lottie tries to be friends Alice rebuffs her, seeing her as an airhead. The split narrative highlights how different the two girls are and the dynamics between the pair is the highlight of the novel. Alice dabbles in something dodgy which eventually leads to ‘The Society for Soulless Girls’ and things spike when there is a fresh murder. Along the way there is a major LGBTQ+ story fitted naturally into proceedings which is hinted at early on and becomes more prominent as the story moves on.

AGE RANGE 13/14+

Rosie Talbot – Sixteen Souls

Rosie Talbot – Sixteen Souls

Sixteen Souls is the engaging debut of Rosie Talbot about a teen who sees ghosts and deals with a serious disability. Sixteen Souls main character has not yet come out as gay to his family and although his sexuality is a key part of the story it does not dominate it. Sixteen-year-old Charlie Firth lives in York, which is known to be the most haunted city in the world. This is made worse by the fact that Charlie is a ‘Seer’ meaning he can see dead people and they can see him, they can also hurt him. The way the supernatural story was a nice blend of horror and urban fantasy with Charlie trying to live his life as normally as possible, seeing his gift as more of a curse.

The story is built around the fact that Charlie realises ghosts are vanishing from the places he usually sees them lurking. Soon Charlie meets Sam Harrow, who is new to the area and also both a Seer and gay. What follows is a gentle, cute, romantic story which is nicely blended with the supernatural search for the missing ghosts and the dark purpose behind these disappearances. Lurking in the background is vivid worldbuilding and the spooky version of York created by the author is top notch and helps develop the mystery element of the story. Sixteen Souls was a highly entertaining queer take on the story of a sensitive young man, who is pushed far out of his comfort zone, who also happens to see dead people and the bizarre challenges that brings.

AGE RANGE 13+

Julia Tuffs – Twice Hexed (Hexed book 2)

Julia Tuffs - Twice Hexed (Hexed book 2) YA Bram Stoker Award

I thoroughly enjoyed Hexed, the debut by Julia Tuffs which was billed as ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Sex Education’ and was a very funny account of a fifteen-year-old girl discovering her family are witches. Sequel Twice Hexed was also good fun, with both books having serious messages mixed along with the teen humour. They blend a powerful anti-sexism message with friendship elements as Jessie gets herself in a series of scrapes as she prepares for her GCSEs and improve her skills as a witch. 

After being friendless for most of Hexed Jessie now has a solid group of girls around her and even has a boyfriend with the story revolves around what happens when a new girl (Sloane) joins the school and muscles into the friendship group with cracks appearing. This was a light and easy read with a fair share of funny moments as Jessie’s life descends into chaos when the influence of the wild and rogue witch Sloan really kicks in. Twice Hexed was good fun and if you are after a light, not too serious read, this ticks the young teen box.

AGE RANGE 12+

Josh Winning – The Shadow Glass

Josh Winning – The Shadow Glass
YA Bram Stoker Award

I loved Josh Winning’s stylish debut The Shadow Glass and although it has been marketed as an adult novel is accessible to confident teen readers, featuring nothing more objectionable than a few f-bombs and is a lovely homage to the eighties. In a roundabout sort of way, it explores what makes a ‘cult’ film? Why does a film which is a flop upon release pick up a new audience as the years go by? ‘The Shadow Glass’ directed by the recently deceased film director Bob Corman is such a flick, which used pioneering puppetry and introduced the fantasy world of ‘Iri’ which was populated with warring creatures, magical objects and quests. 

Events opens with the son of Bob, Jack Corman returning to his deceased father’s house after being estranged for many years. After discovering a huge collection of film memorabilia soon Jack is on his very own quest, accompanied by a geeky fan Toby and his grabbing cousin Amelia, after the puppets in the attic come alive. It would be quite easy for such a novel to become twee but it sidesteps these pitfalls and I loved the way the Toby used his geek knowledge of the series spinoffs to their advantage. At the heart of the novel is Jack’s disintegrated relationship with his father and how the nostalgia fans feel for the film is vastly different to his own personal memories which have been soured by his drunken father. This was a quirky, flamboyant, and highly enjoyable read.

AGE RANGE 13/14+  

Tony Jones

The Heart and Soul of YA and MG Horror Book Reviews

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