Best of 2023: Young Adult (YA) Horror and Dark Fiction

Dec 5, 2023
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Best of 2023: Young Adult (YA) Horror and Dark Fiction

Merry Christmas everybody and thank you for checking out Young Blood throughout the year, we hope you have discovered lots of great YA for yourselves or teenagers you may know. Also stay tuned for our Middle Grade ‘Best of’ which will be published in the next few days. I have read a lot of great YA horror novels over the course of this particular year, so whittling it down to ten was a very tough ask. So difficult in fact I had to settle for eleven! 

All but three of the eleven featured below have already been reviewed, so let’s start with the first-timers, Mark Wheaton’s Who Haunts You, Darcy Coates’s Where He Can’t Find You and The Wicked Unseen by Gigi Griffis. Darcy is a well-established adult horror writer and this boogieman story set in a brilliantly described seriously creepy town with malfunctioning technology is a superb YA debut. Mark is a very well-known film script writer and adult author whose Who Haunts You drops an autistic teenage girl into a gripping supernatural mystery with his portrayal of a neurodivergent character being both incredibly convincing and compelling. Gigi Griffis has great fun with a nineties set horror thriller The Wicked Unseen with a strong Satanic Panic vibe surrounding the disappearance of a popular teenage girl which will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Linda Cheng’s Gorgeous Gruesome Faces and Lisa Richardson’s Channel Fear were both eye-catching debuts from authors to look out for. Lisa’s use of social media and the desperate need for ‘likes’ is beautifully pitched with the hosts of a failing YouTube channel making the big mistake of visiting a genuinely haunted house. Linda takes us into the cutthroat world of K-Pop auditions at a talent factory where there is baggage, bitchiness and the supernatural lurking beyond the edges of the stage. 

Kristy Acevedo’s The Warning is a stunning apocalyptic science fiction novel from a few years back which has been given a welcome rerelease and slick rebranding. The second part has already been released; this is a welcome relief as part one of this riveting read ends with a monumental cliffhanger. Katya De Becerra’s When Ghosts Call Us Home was another outstanding haunted house novel which factors in a dodgy cult film and a website interconnected to the film providing a cryptic guide to what lurks on the dark side. After the young director of the film disappears her sister returns to the house where it was shot seeking answers and confronts the ghosts of her past. 

The final four authors have all previously been reviewed on Ginger Nuts, Teri Terry makes an impressive change of direction from her usual dystopian landscapes into supernatural fiction with Scare Me, a dual narrative exploring life after death and a girl who converses with her twin, who died at birth. Jessica Lewis’s Monstrous was great fun, an unlucky teenage girl is the intended sacrifice for a giant snake monster, instead she makes a dastardly deal with the snake and seeks bloody revenge on the townsfolk responsible for ruining her opportunity for a university track scholarship.

Rebecca Schaeffer’s City of Nightmares is unmissable, those who dream can turn into the creatures of their nightmares and never return to their human form. The sequel Cage of Dreams, which completes the duology, is already out and we will review it in the New Year. Finally, we have Deirdre Sullivan’s Wise Creatures a thoughtful study of hauntings, trauma and abuse, set-in modern-day Ireland where a former child medium believes the ghosts of her past have returned to haunt her and her cousin. 

The books are listed A-Z by author and were all published in 2023. Do contact us if you have something we might like to feature on the site in 2024.

Kristy Acevedo – The Warning

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Sourcebooks Fire 

Kristy Acevedo – The Warning

Best of 2023: Young Adult (YA) Horror and Dark Fiction

Just when you think all the great ‘hooks’ to suck teens into a cool book have been used up, Kristy Acevedo delivers an absolute beauty in the outstanding The Warning, which is the first part of a duology. The hook: weird portals start appearing all over the world and a hologram of a humanoid appears, claiming that a giant comet is going to hit and destroy the Earth in 4393 hours.

However, the portal provides a way to escape to another dimension (several hundred years in the future) where humankind can survive and prosper. Do we trust the hologram’s advice? That is part of the fun of the book, all of what lies behind the hologram/portal is kept completely shrouded for book two. And when NASA later confirm that the comet is real, it looks like the world really will end in six months and people (by the million) begin to voluntary walk through the portals. 

This absolutely outstanding thriller beautifully blends end-of-the-world apocalyptic fiction, teen dystopia and science fiction into a riveting page-turner. I was absolutely certain I could predict how the book was going to end, but Kirsty Acevedo sends a massive curveball in the concluding chapter which puts a new complexion on the continuation.

The story is seen from the point of view of high school senior Alexandra Lucas, who suffers from severe anxiety attacks, and the arrival of the portals is convincingly seen through her eyes. This is balanced with family issues, boyfriend trouble and the slow escalation of world problems caused by the portals and comet. Along the way, the start of the chapters has very clever Q&A sessions with the hologram representative and realistic discussions on a whole manner of issues, such as whether convicts should have the opportunity to go through the portals and start new lives. There was so much going on in this very clever book I found it totally riveting and amongst the finest of the year.

AGE RANGE 13+ 

Linda Cheng – Gorgeous Gruesome Faces


Publisher ‏ : ‎ 
Quercus Children’s Books

Linda Cheng - Gorgeous Gruesome Faces

Linda Cheng’s debut Gorgeous Gruesome Faces initially caught my eye because of its connections with the South Korean brand of music, K-Pop (which I know about via my teenage daughter who regularly goes to gigs) wondering how this could be spun into a YA horror novel. However, in reality it does not have much to do with K-Pop itself, as the entire novel is set in America and centres around teenage girls auditioning through boot-camp talent and dance routines in the hope of getting chosen for future TV shows (all are manufactured, so anything will do).

This is certainly the manner in which TV and music bigwigs use to select the members of manufactured K-Pop bands or for related TV shows and the book beautifully portrays the manner in which youngsters are brutally dropped when they do not make the cut. Interestingly, the main character Sunny Lee has already had an earlier shot at fame on a reality TV show and squandered it after a scandal with dodgy photos and making a move on a singer who already had a girlfriend (this sort of thing is a big ‘no-no’ in the world of K-Pop). The story jumps between ‘now’ when eighteen-year-old Sunny is in bootcamp for a new show and ‘then’ which jumps back three or four years when her TV show and three-piece girl band were on the cusp of stardom before their downfall, also told in flashback. 

There is a lot going on in Gorgeous Gruesome Faces and I thought this was a very clever novel in which takes its delicious time in revealing its supernatural colours. Although brief, it does feature some very gory and shocking sequences. Although South Korea is not featured in the story directly, the supernatural angle most definitely does have a Chinese or East Asian flavour. I enjoyed the way this novel was not rushed, which also features a LGBTQIA+ story which delicately slowly develops.

Even before the supernatural narrative arrived this was an unnerving book, main character Sunny Lee was very much alone when the audition bootcamp begins with all the girls desperate for success in a cutthroat industry, which really shone through. The backstory on how everything unravelled in the ‘then’ story was convincing and I loved the manner in which it circled around to the ‘now’ narrative. Sunny Lee was American Taiwanese and the novel also investigated these subcultures of pushy mothers trying to turn their daughters into the next star. Gorgeous Gruesome Faces is guaranteed to get under your skin, even if you do not read much horror, the idea of being on the scrapheap at seventeen or eighteen was incredibly sad, but sensitively explored.

AGE RANGE 13+ 

Darcy Coates – Where He Can’t Find You

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Black Owl Books

Darcy Coates – Where He Can’t Find You

Bestselling adult horror author Darcy Coates enters the cut-throat world of YA with an absolute 5/5 banger! I’ve read a few of Darcy’s adult titles (would highly recommend both From Below and Dead of Winter) but Where He Can’t Find You was probably scarier than both those adult novels. Actually, do not be put off by the YA tag, there is more than enough horror and creepiness in this tale to keep most adult readers happily, mainly because the boogieman creature ‘The Stitcher’ who dominates the novel from the shadows has such a clever mythology built around him.

I loved the fact that Coates pretty much tells us who The Stitcher is early in the narrative, you might think that would ruin suspense, far from it, instead it adds to the intensity and nothing is quite as straight forward as it seems. Rarely have I seen ‘smalltown horror’ done as effectively as it is in Where He Can’t Find You, where the activities of the Stitcher serial killer dominate every waking moments of the inhabitants of the town Doubtful. When a murder is anticipated technology begins to fail and red thread is often discovered close to the victims, who have often been dissected and sewn back together with the pieces of other bodies. Ritualistically, it is seen as bad luck to move the belongings of those who have been killed, so cars can sit abandoned with the wallet of the dead untouched on the car seat for months or even years. 

Instead of trying to solve these horrible crimes the police force takes bets on who the next victim might be! I already said, the probable identity of the Stitcher is made early and that just makes this clever page-turner even more gripping. Abby and Hope Ward live with their ill mother and have a solid group of friends (the Jackrabbits) around them, they follow a mantra to keep themselves safe from the Stitcher and remain in regular text contact, including do not walk alone and do not stay out late.

The friendship dynamics was outstanding, particularly including Rhys who lost his parents to the Stitcher some years earlier and still suffers. The story revolves around the arrival of a new police officer who has a daughter the same age as the Jackrabbits who joins their friendship group but does not believe in the monster. This novel had outstanding pace and when it morphed into a creature feature in the second half was hard to put down as the group (these kids were brave!) came face to face with the beast. Darcy Coates has delivered an outstanding YA horror novel and I hope this finds the audience it deserves and that there are many more to come.

AGE RANGE 13+

Katya De Becerra – When Ghosts Call Us Home

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Macmillan

Katya De Becerra – When Ghosts Call Us Home

When Ghosts Call Us Home was an immersive, atmospheric head scratcher with an engaging but very unreliable and troubled narrator. I loved getting my teeth into this one! Perhaps it was my interpretation of it, but not quite everything made sense (it was intentionally disorientating), but don’t let that put you off and most definitely hang around for the wild ending. Although it contained little graphic material, sex or swearing this was a mature read aimed at older YA readers, indeed, adults could just as easily find themselves lost on ‘the path’ (one of the more perplexing aspects of the novel). Like Kat Ellis’s Harrow Lake the narrative is very cleverly built around a cult film made five years before the action starts.

‘Vermillion’ was an amateur found footage film shot in Cashmore House by seventeen-year-old Layla Galich, starring her twelve-year-old sister Sophia. In much of the film Sophia is scared out of her wits (she is not acting) and is told by her sister the eerie and strange things she sees are special effects. Over the years experts and movie nerds examine the film and are dumbfounded by the quality of the special effects, which look incredibly real and enhance the mythology around the flick. Sophia, who narrates When Ghosts Call Us Home, has very patchy recollection of making the film and due to personal circumstances finds herself returning to Cashmore as a seventeen-year-old to participate in a documentary about the film, where very troubling snatches begin to return. 

This is much more than a simple haunted house or possession novel as the aura built around ‘Vermillion’ was top notch, a whole online culture (some might call it a cult) has sprung up around the film where V-Heads (obsessive fans) try to move along the various stages of ‘the path’ guided by an obscure website called ‘Crismon Dread’. There are lots of real films in cinematic history adult readers might be able to connect with ‘Vermillion’ but this will go over the heads off genuine teen readers. I enjoyed the website sequences, even if everything did not connect and the mumbo jumbo occult stuff, try the ‘Book of Ka’schor’ which was lifted straight out of Aleister Crowley’s playbook! The main character Sophia was all over the place as her return to film the documentary was preceded by her sister inexplicably vanishing, which set the internet alight as it was an ongoing police investigation.

Also, the documentary is being filmed by one of the top V-Heads and it extremely hard to know who to trust. Although When Ghosts Call Us Home takes its time it develops into a very ambiguous atmospheric supernatural chiller which deserves to be read very closely as there are clues and clever reveals here and there. As I approached the final fifty pages I had no idea what was going to happen (where was Layla, alive, dead or in another supernatural realm?) and was wrong footed by the clever ending. If the film ‘Vermillion’ (most obviously inspired by the successful ad campaign behind Blair Witch) existed I would definitely watch it, but only with the lights on!

AGE RANGE 13/14+

Gigi Griffis – The Wicked Unseen

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Underlined 

Gigi Griffis - The Wicked Unseen

Gigi Griffis takes her readers back into 1996 rural Pennsylvania, at the tail end of the Satanic Panic phenomenon, which was probably a bigger deal in the eighties. Although the panic is never specifically mentioned in The Wicked Unseen the authors informative endnotes provide further information and some personal details from her own life and how it was impacted. There are considerably more adult horror novels about this period than YA, so this extremely dramatic page-turner deserves to find an audience. Of course, it is likely your average teen reader will never have heard of the Satanic Panic, where Evangelical Christians believed the Devil was literally everywhere corrupting their kids, with The Wicked Unseen also reading fine as a dark (potentially supernatural) thriller.

It is also a quirky spin on the Final Girl storyline, with horror film main character Audre often comparing her own circumstances to what might happen in a horror film. Most of the small town (which as seven churches) locals will believe that demons lurk under every bush, that Dungeons and Dragons will corrupt their kids and that the word of their Preacher has come down from God himself. It is quite easy to take digs at Evangelical Christians, but for the most part Gigi Griffis holds back on the cheaper shots with their prayer meetings and church services portrayed in a non-judgemental way, even if the cynical main character Audre has it in for the church from the get-go.

The story revolves around the disappearance of Elle, who is the sixteen-year-old daughter of the Preacher of one of the most influential churches. Audre, who is new to town, struggles to fit it and is seen as an outsider and if it were not for classmate Puerto Rican David would have no friends at all. Audre is also gay and the LGBTQIA+ storyline is an important plot strand at events develop, with issues like conversion therapy mentioned in the background. Although Audre only knew Elle very briefly she was attracted to her and felt they had some kind of connection before her disappearance which the church connects with Satanic activity in the local forest.

Adult readers who know anything about the Satanic Panic movement will realise quickly there is nothing supernatural going on, but this will not be so cut and dried for genuine teen readers. Audre was a great lead character, even if she gets hot under the collar very quickly, ably supported by David (also gay) and other interesting support characters who secretly indulged in Dungeons and Dragons! The Wicked Unseen was a timely thriller, with many strong messages about acceptance, also taking in bullying, coercion and trauma.

AGE RANGE 13+ 

Jessica Lewis – Monstrous 

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Delacorte Press

Jessica Lewis – Monstrous 

I enjoyed Jessica Lewis’s YA debut Bad Witch Burning (2021) about a teen who stumbles upon a way in which to bring the dead back to life. In her highly entertaining follow-up Jessica really puts her central character, Black eighteen-year-old Latavia through both the emotional and physical ringer, starting with a bone-crunching broken leg in the opening stages. This is small-town horror (with secrets, REALLY big ones) in which track-star Latavia arrives at her aunt’s for the summer before starting university on a sport scholarship. Little does she know that the town of Sanctum (Alabama), which is dominated by a church, unfriendly and suspicious locals who treat her like an outsider, are after their next sacrifice to a giant killer snake which lives in the local (forbidden) forest, Red Wood.

On one level this plot probably sounds really improbable, but within the narrative and the highly engaging first-person narrative, worked perfectly and the banter between the snake and Latavia was genuinely funny with them coming across like a quirky odd couple. However, in between the chattiness Monstrous was very dark with unrepentant revenge killings with a tone which went further than most YA novels of this kind. 

The fact that the monster really was not what you expected made Monstrous all the more enjoyable as he used Latavia to try and break free of the supernatural constraints which kept him in the forest. The teenager was originally supposed to be the next sacrifice until her quick wit saved her from being his latest snack. Along the way there is a cute and slowly paced LGBTQIA+ love story with Latavia having a thing for one of the locals, Alison.

Latavia herself was loaded with ambiguity, as with her revenge is extremely sweet and she seems to enjoy the killings very much, whilst the snake just takes it in his stride. As characters go, Latavia was incredibly angry as with her broken leg her track scholarship disappeared out the window and she was obviously hurting from the betrayal from her aunt. Things probably got a little bogged down in the middle and even though the snake was a mass murderer he was hard not to like even when he went on a killing spree as the locals were even more unpleasant.

AGE RANGE 13+

Lisa Richardson – Channel Fear

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Chicken House

Lisa Richardson – Channel Fear

Lisa Richardson’s debut Channel Fear was a tasty blend of thriller and horror which cleverly used our obsession with social media and stardom, whilst asking how far we are prepared to go to gain a few more ‘likes’ or smiley faces. A convincing toxic friendship lies at the centre of Channel Fear, Iris co-hosts an unsuccessful ghost hunting YouTube channel with Byron and his girlfriend Molly. The reader sees the negative comments (and only a few hundred views) after their latest episode fails to make any impression and early in the action we find out that Byron has become tired of the show and is intending to leave, taking Molly with him. The story is told in the first person by Iris, who is much more intense and obsessed with the show’s success, there is also a keen sense of her being an unreliable narrator, as she tries to convince Byron to stay (for more than one reason). 

The main hook of the plot was a very clever one: the three are on the hunt for YouTube ghost hunting stars Zach and Lucas, who had a following of over three million subscribers. Ultimately Iris, Byron and Molly dreamed of their success and in a bid to find new viewers try to uncover what happened to Zach and Lucas via a series of shows. After a few damp squids a lead takes them to the long since abandoned Thornhanger House where most of the novel is set.

They believe Zach and Lucas visited this spooky house and soon they find clues, however, the novel revolves as much around the dynamics between Iris, Byron and Molly just as much as whether there is anything supernatural going on. As a blame game starts Lisa Richardson nicely balances bumps in the night, friendship troubles with potential sabotage. There are some nice jump scares, obvious comparisons with The Blair Witch Project, clever use of found footage with a strong social media spin relevant for teenagers of today. Apart from a few F-bombs, there was not much violence, I felt anybody in secondary school could read this.

AGE RANGE 12+ 

Rebecca Schaeffer – City of Nightmares

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Hodderscape 

Rebecca Schaeffer – City of Nightmares

I was a massive fan of Rebecca Schaeffer’s debut Not Even Bones and the sequels which concluded her formidable Market of Monsters trilogy, which cleverly blended horror and urban fantasy. City of Nightmares is the first part of a duology, with Cage of Dreams following later this year. I thought this was a great, very quirky and highly original read and am definitely sold on the prospect of the second book. Like, Not Even Bones, City of Nightmares has a great main hook which should be an easy sell to teenagers: for the last hundred years or so when somebody has a nightmare, there is a particularly good chance they will turn into whatever their nightmare is, which becomes real in our world.

For example, early on in the story we find out that the main character Ness’s (short for Vanessa) little sister some years earlier turned into a giant spider monster which then ate their father and a couple of other people. The beast was eventually killed by an organisation, a bit like the police, that track, monitor, and kill nightmares. Once you get your head around how things work in the very weird town of Newham (where nightmare have been becoming real for a century) the book gets easier to follow, as there are clear rules which make survival possible. 

The story is cleverly built around the fact that Ness is a coward, the long term and complex effects of losing her family, who is scared to get close to anybody in case they turn into a nightmare and murder her. However, in Newham everybody takes medication which suppress dreams, but once in a while somebody forgets and something nasty nightmare appears. Once turned into a nightmare this cannot be reversed or turned again into a further nightmare, so this might mean that if a nightmare is not dangerous a person might spend their entire life with gills or pincers for hands! (depending on what their dream/nightmare featured).

The main thrust of the plot puts poor cowardly Ness into the spotlight after she is one of two survivors of a deliberate bomb blast on a boat, involving her in a conspiracy which takes her close to a friendly vampire and the original cause of the nightmares, which will obviously be explored in the second book. The world building in City of Nightmares was refreshing, original and bold, being so good it matched Frances Hardinge, and if you enjoyed her Unravelled you will love this. It was outstanding to have such an atypical hero who had a captivating narrative with big personal revelations as the plot moved on. Very cool stuff.

AGE RANGE 12/13+

Deirdre Sullivan – Wise Creatures

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Hot Key Books

Deirdre Sullivan – Wise Creatures

Best of 2023: Young Adult

I first came across Deirdre Sullivan back in 2019 when we reviewed Perfectly Preventable Deaths, a beguiling novel about witchcraft in rural modern-day Ireland. Wise Creatures is similar in style in that it is also a slow burner which has to be read very carefully and is aimed at older teens. It is also one of those YA novels that adults could read and not initially realise they are not the targeted audience. Unless you follow the subtexts of the plot, the subtle shifts and narrations it is extremely easy to miss what is going on.

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is the main character, who lives with her aunt (Susan) and cousin (Nina) their relationships are so close she regards them almost as sister and mother. Her parents are dead and this is revealed via flashbacks and to other traumatic moments from Daisy’s past which are crucial to the story. The past plays a huge part in the present narrative as Daisy believes ghosts (the ‘Wise Creatures’ of the title) from her childhood have returned to haunt her increasingly withdrawn cousin Nina. These are not ghosts in the traditional sense (and this is miles away from a traditional ghost story) and present themselves as unsettling manifestations such as mould on the walls, objects moving or stuff more akin to poltergeists. 

Wise Creatures is a dark psychological slow burning horror novel and if you are after a “boo!” jump scare style of book this will not be for you. It is a very Irish study of a teenager who has a lot of problems, she is also bisexual but this LGBTQIA+ storyline does not figure too much in the narrative and it was great to see this being normalised. What I found most fascinating is that Daisy was a child medium (which is clearly abuse of some kind) and the manner in which she has been brought up and reads the signs of what is ailing her cousin is beautifully vague.

As is much of the narrative, which drifts in and out of a stream of consciousness with Daisy’s character being the great strength of the narrative with the layers of abuse she suffered being revealed almost in a casual manner at the action moves forward. This was an immersive reading experience with Daisy believing she has to use her long dormant supernatural gifts to help her cousin. But, of course, it might not be about this at all and that is the beauty of this book. Vague, read between the lines and exploring the idea that it is people who are haunted rather than houses. AGE RANGE 14+

Teri Terry – Scare Me

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Hodder Children’s Books

Teri Terry – Scare Me

Best of 2023: Young Adult

I have been a huge fan of TT for a number of years and the fact that I have all thirteen of her YA novels in my school library certainly backs up that point! This author is a master of dark dystopian thrillers, which often have a science or speculative fiction edge to them (Slated 2014-19, Dark Matter 2017-18, and Dark Blue Rising 2018-20), however, her latest Scare Me is her first out-and-out YA horror novel. I hope she decides to spend some time in the supernatural world as this was a highly entertaining page-turner which would be brilliant for young teens looking for a good scare, with a strong plot and convincing characters told through a neat split narrative. Set predominately in the Brighton area, fifteen-year-old Liz has seen the ghost (or something) of her dead twin who died at birth and has spent her entire life keeping this secret from her mother.

The relationship of single-parent mother and daughter is a key part of the story, as the mother is flaky, dates younger guys and can pretend Liv is her younger sister rather than her daughter. Early in the novel Liv meets a boy called Echo, who is the second part of the split narrative, but at the same time she has become close with classmate Bowie. The ghostly Molly sees all this and can drift in an out of Liv’s life and even offers relationship advice! This four characters: Liv, Molly, Bowie and the mum built a very entertaining story, with Echo taking the narrative in a different direction.

Echo investigating the death of his mother who drove her car off a cliff the previous year, also almost killing him in the process. Somehow he figures out Liv can see the ghost of her dead sister and believes she can use this strange ability to help him contact his mother from beyond the grave. With friend/potential boyfriend lurking in the background Liv goes slightly off the rails with Echo, who she does not trust but does like, taking the plot into darker supernatural areas.

There were some particularly good twists along the way and there was a major subplot development in the last 10% of the book which went beyond the Liv/Echo/dead mum story. As well as being a clever ghost story Scare Me was a terrific teen drama which I am sure could be enjoyed by those who might not normally read horror or ghost stories. AGE RANGE 12/13+  

Mark Wheaton – Who Haunts You 

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Off Limits Press 

Mark Wheaton – Who Haunts You 

Best of 2023: Young Adult

I was hugely impressed by Mark Wheaton’s Who Haunts You, to the extent that I devoured it in a day and was disappointed to close the last page (and was also blown away by it). Pulling in at a tight 150 pages it is perfect for teens who do not like long books and barely a word is wasted in a tight, gripping and highly original supernatural thriller. Wheaton has authored other novels but is probably best known for his screenwriting work, which includes the 2009 reboot of Friday the 13th. He has also worked on computer games and written for a host of top horror magazines, including Fangoria and Starburst. High school senior Rebecca “Bex” Koeltl is the main character of Who Haunts You and totally steals the show as an autistic neurodivergent teenager who is trying to anonymously survive school, making it to graduation and hopefully college beyond that.

The convincing family dynamics play an important part of the story, with Bex’s mother and elder sister having pivotal roles in Bex managing her autism and being able to function at school, which is full-on, very social media savvy, and highly academic. She also sees a psychologist and the book convincingly portrays a teen who struggles (but does try) to connect with others, explores and explains her coping mechanisms whilst she volunteers at the school library, listens to audiobooks on repeat, and takes early morning walks to avoid crowds and minimises human contact. 

Bex’s neurodiversity plays a clever part in the story, as when school basketball star Yunwen dies there is a huge outpouring of grief from the students of Claremont High about this apparent suicide. However, a second death follows shortly afterwards and another tragic accident is blamed (nobody wants to say suicide) and Bex begins to suspect something is up but struggles to express this to anybody who might believe her. She has a certain distance from events and uses her computer skills to hack into their files and believes they were all having similar psychological problems brought on by hallucinations.

I do not want to say too much more about the plot except that the dead teens believed they were haunted by long-dead relatives their own family members swear never existed. As Bex investigates there are other victims and from then you might be able to guess the direction the plot takes, with the anxieties this brings for somebody who is autistic, heightening significantly. I loved the way the book ended and the shocking build up and the fact that sometimes everything does not end up happily ever after, even in teen novels. AGE RANGE 13/14+

Tony Jones

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