YA and Middle Grade Horror Roundup, September 2023
In this September edition of Young Blood, the YA and Middle Grade section of Ginger Nuts of Horror, we return with ten books for you to mull over. Let’s start with the three Middle Grade releases; we are delighted to see Gabriel Dylan return with a highly entertaining spooky read to spook the top end of primary to Year Seven with Shiver Point: It Came From The Woods, this is the first instalment in his new series and I will definitely be checking in for the sequel in 2024. A few years back Gabriel authored the excellent Red Eye YA horror novel Whiteout and it is cool to see that he is equally skilled writing for younger kids. I am a huge fan of TV personality Yvette Fielding’s Ghost Hunter Chronicles and book three The Witches of Pendle might be the best yet and I hope her young ghost hunters bounce back for a fourth adventure. Over the last year Lindsay Currie has been one of my top discoveries and her latest, It Found Us, does not disappoint, mixing a supernatural disappearance with a historical tragedy. Lindsay is as well known in the UK as she deserves to be, but I highly recommend all her books for your school libraries.
Dave Jeffery’s Beatrice Beecham books also definitely deserve to be better known and I thoroughly enjoyed his latest instalment, The Devil Device, which can be read as a standalone novel also and is nicely pitched at upper Middle Grade to Lower YA. Dave also has a range of great adult horror fiction, with his Quiet Apocalypse series amongst my personal favourites. A few months back we reviewed the rerelease of Kristy Acevedo’s superb science fiction horror The Warning, book two is out now, and although Fallout does not quite reach the heights of its predecessor is still a terrific sequel and a fantastic way to close out a very neat duology.
The next three YA releases are all horror novels, but also have a side theme around race. In Lily Meade’s The Shadow Sister a Biracial girl disappears and later reappears, with her sister suspicious that she is not the same person. Tomi Oyemakinde’s The Changing Man is set in an English boarding school, with the main character being one of the very few Black pupils attending, who gets sucked into a dangerous mystery around the disappearance of another pupil. In Naben Ruthnum’s The Grimmer we jump to small town Canada, with the main character being Canadian Indian and struggling with family problems before being sucked into a mystery based around a weird bookshop.
Kendare Blake’s superb Anna Dressed in Blood recently celebrated a milestone anniversary and has been rereleased with added content to honour the fact, being a terrific story of a teenage ghost hunter biting off more than he can chew when he comes up against a powerful ghost. I loved this book and it featured highly in our Top Fifty YA Horror Novels of the Last Decade back in 2020. Finally, horror Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis has authored a graphic novel, Mother Nature, I was not certain who the intended audience was meant to be, but I would pass on this for a school library.
Do get in touch if you have something we might like to review. The books are presented alphabetically by author.
Kristy Acevedo – Fallout (Warning book 2)
It is rather tricky reviewing Fallout without heading straight into spoiler territory, as book one The Warning finished with a massive cliff-hanger. Thankfully both titles have been published only a few months apart and are rereleases from a few years ago, originally called Contribute (Holo). These were both outstanding novels and I am surprised they never crossed my radar first time around, but a rerelease from Sourcebooks Fire, who are putting out some great stuff, is most welcome.
We reviewed The Warning back in July and said: “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.”
Fallout picks up exactly where The Warning finished with main character Alexandra Lucas, who suffers from severe anxiety attacks, finding herself isolated from her family and making the biggest decision of her life and deciding whether to go through the vortex as the comet hurtles towards earth. As with its predecessor, Fallout has a fascinating countdown which impacts all the characters, but it did not grab the attention in the same way as the comet hurtling towards earth from book one. However, this was still a fascinating sequel, even if it did not quite hit the same sweet spots as The Warning, it was endlessly inventive and moves from being a dystopian end-of-the-world thriller into hard science fiction with hologram technology providing a utopia. But when does a utopia become a scary dystopia? With Alexandra finding herself at the centre of a rebellion and the fight to same both her own life and the future of the human race. Although I enjoyed Fallout I doubt it will have the same universal appeal of The Warning as the level of science fiction in this sequel is significantly higher than the almost believable threat of a comet destroying the earth.
AGE RANGE 13+
Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire
Purchase a copy here
Kendare Blake – Anna Dressed in Blood
Anna Dressed in Blood recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and has been republished to mark the occasion. I was always a huge fan of this entertaining tale and its sequel Girl of Nightmares which appeared a couple of years later, both wild spins on the teenage exorcist, ghost hunter, story. Although the ghost ‘Anna’ is referenced in the title, the story is mostly seen from the point of view of Cas Lowood, who has inherited an unusual vocation: he kills the dead. Whilst most kids Cas’s age are enjoying high school, instead he moves around the country with his mother following leads about hauntings, local lore, and unusual deaths. He is also a boy on a mission, his father before him, was gruesomely murdered by a ghost and Cas takes revenge on every supernatural being he encounters.
The novel kicks off when the mother and son arrive in a new town in search for a ghost known as ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ who apparently got her name after having her throat cut and blood flowed freely all over her dress. However, this spirit is incredibly powerful and might not be all bad, so their normal strategy of ‘track, hunt, kill’ goes out the window as he has a weird connection with the ghost after she spares his life after his initial attempt to exorcise her goes terribly wrong.
Once he begins to dig deeper he uncovers a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before, who has been raging since her death in 1958, killing everybody who has dared to venture inside her Victorian house. Anna Dressed in Blood was a superb ghost story of exorcisms, hauntings, and it was genuinely nice to read a novel written in the first person from a male point of view, in a genre which is totally dominated these days by girls. Although it lacks scares, it more than makes up with it with believable well drawn high school characters and the obvious sympathy you are going to feel for the ghost. And the ending will most certainly make you return for the sequel, most kids I know who have read book one, head straight to book two and why not?
Publisher : Orchard Books
Lindsay Currie – It Found Us
Lindsay Currie was, far and away, my top Middle Grade discovery of 2022 and in quick succession I read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed three of her other novels Scritch Scratch (2020), What Lives in the Woods (2021) and The Girl in White (2022). If you are a school librarian looking for not-too-scary horror fiction this author is indispensable and one of my top tips. Currie returns with It Found Us, another engaging horror thriller, which also keeps one eye on historical events (but this does not become apparent until quite far into the plot) being built around the disappearance of a teenager who is fooling around playing hide and seek in the local graveyard late at night. This tightly constructed plot then plays out over the next two to three days as the small town are shocked by vanishing of Everett, who seems to have disappeared into thin air, with no clues to his whereabouts.
However, even though the police fail to find clues this is not the same for twelve-year-old Hazel Woods has always had an unusual knack for sleuthing and dreams of running her own true crime podcast (even if her parents said no). The missing teenager, Everett, is the best friend of her elder brother Den and together they try and solve the mystery which they soon connect with the supposedly haunted graveyard. Hazel is the type of character Lindsay Currie loves to put front and centre in her fiction and I enjoyed the manner (with her methodical lists of clues) she solved the creepy mystery, with her best friend also joining the team. It quickly becomes apparent that something supernatural is going and young readers are going to have fun with the strange presences which follow the kids, cracking the clues and identifying what lurks in the cemetery. It Found Us is a beautiful blend of suspense, ghosts, mystery, friendship and family. Highly recommended and another winner from Lindsay.
AGE RANGE 10-13.
Publisher : Sourcebooks Young Readers
Jamie Lee Curtis, Karl Stevens & Russell Goldman – Mother Nature (graphic novel)
I rarely read graphic novels and am a relative novice at reviewing them, however, the name of legendary horror Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis immediately attracted me to Mother Nature. According to an interview endnotes with JLC the project started life as a potential film script many years ago before recently being revived for this format. As with all stuff published by Titan it was impossible to tell who it was aimed at, and this is a particular pain with graphic novels, as at first glance it looked like it was aimed at kids. However, sporadic but graphic violence which will restrict its library audience, but at the same time the confusing story seemed too basic for adults. Suffering from an identity crisis, with a clunky environmental message, I have no idea who Mother Nature is aimed at or where to place it on my school library shelves.
Even though this eco-horror graphic novel highlights the dangers of greenwashing and the common acceptance of society allowing companies and governments to control nature I found it challenging work, there were odd plot jumps and some sequences made little sense. After witnessing her engineer father die in mysterious circumstances (one of the violent bits) on one of the Cobalt Corporation’s experimental oil extraction projects, Nova Terrell has grown up to hate the seemingly benevolent company from the town of Catch Creek, New Mexico where the action is centred. Nova then wages a campaign of sabotage and vandalism on the oil giant’s facilities and equipment, until one night she accidentally makes a terrifying discovery and the story moves into supernatural territory. At 140 pages it was a relatively brief read and I found the realistic style graphics bland and uninspiring. I am probably not the right person to review this, but either way, Mother Nature is not something I would recommend.
AGE RANGE 13+
Publisher : Titan Comics
Gabriel Dylan – Shiver Point book 1: It Came From The Woods
The number of authors who can write both Middle Grade and YA horror fiction successfully is relatively few, but you can add Gabriel Dylan to that exclusive list. In 2020 Ginger Nuts of Horror listed their favourite fifty horror novels of the previous decade, ranking Dylan’s superb Whiteout (2018) at 37, published on the excellent Red Eye Series. It Came From The Woods is the first book is a projected quartet called Shiver Point and now that this Invasion of the Bodysnatchers inspired opener has set the scene for the ‘Shiver Squad’ I cannot wait to see what the team of twelve-year-olds get up to next. There is a lot of terrific Middle Grade horror around at the moment and this new series is very much in the same vein as Jennifer Killick (Dreadwood) and Lorien Lawrence (Fright Watch trilogy) who have featured in previous roundups.
It Came From The Woods was an easy-to-read page-turner and is an engaging gateway horror novel, with a splash of science fiction, for kids who do not want to be scared too much at the top end of primary or first year of secondary school.
Twelve-year-old Alex is new to the small town of Shiver Point and has struggled (refused even) to make friends with his single parent mum often working long hours. One night he spots a meteorite plummeting into the local Howelmoor Forest and decides to investigate, only to find four other kids from his class, Oli, Sophia, Mo and Riley, with the story featuring them all in the narrative. Before long lots of weird things begin to happen in the town and the group realise that what fell to the ground definitely was not a meteorite. It Came From The Woods does not break any new grounds, but it was an engaging fun read and would be perfect for kids to get lost in for a few hours. The characters are nice and diverse, many will relate to Alex’s struggle sitting into his new school, and there are lots of nice horror jokes scattered here and there (the dog was called Cujo). In the end friendship triumphs and the ‘Shiver Squad’ gear up for another adventure, with A Tap at the Window arriving in February next year. Bring it on!
AGE RANGE 8-12
Publisher : Piccadilly Press
Yvette Fielding – The Witches of Pendle (Ghost Hunter Chronicles book 3)
In the third of the Ghost Hunter Chronicles Eve, Clovis and Tom make a welcome return, following The House in the Woods (2021) and The Ripper of Whitechapel (2022), both of which were reviewed favourably on the site. I do not know how successful these terrific Middle Grade horror thrillers have had, but I have certainly soaked them up and the series deserves to pick up momentum with the kids getting involved in a secret government department which monitors supernatural activity, which was introduced at the end of book two and is a major factor in The Witches of Pendle storyline. I particularly enjoyed the manner in which Yvette Fielding skilfully weaves the true story of the infamous Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 into the story, giving young readers plenty of scope to investigate the horrific events in how a group of women were tortured, accused of witchcraft and eventually put to death.
However, in this story the ghosts of the restless dead (guilty or not) will not stay dead and the young teenagers are sent to investigate, supported by Eve’s uncle, Professor Rufus.
I love Middle Grade horror as it is scary enough to keep most kids happy and you can be rest assured that even the most sensitive readers should manage this novel no problem. The Witches of Pendle pitches it perfectly, the kids eat lots of cakes and drink hot chocolate being supported by a bunch of kind adults as they leave their London homes, with Christmas just around the corner, to investigate weird goings at Pendle. The spooky murmurings begin after a family move into a new home and a kid finds what turns out to be a Witch Bottle (again, kids might have fun looking this up!) and then gets ill and if followed by others getting sick, seeing things or acting strange. This third book had a particularly exciting finish, with Evie coming good which promises future storylines. I also enjoyed the kids staying at a hotel that existed out of time, with Sir Winston Churchill almost making a guest appearance! I hope there is a fourth book in the pipeline as this series is going from strength to strength with a quality blend of sympathetic characters, chills, clever historical references and page-turning chills.
AGE RANGE 10-13
Publisher : Andersen Press
Dave Jeffery – The Devil Device
Dave Jeffery is an established and critically acclaimed adult horror author who every few years authors another book in his long-running Beatrice Beecham series, about a teenage girl who lives in the English coastal town of Dorsal Finn where weird and unexplained occurrences are the norm. I have read a few of the series and they definitely deserve to be much better known in the YA book world than they are but suffer from the fact that they have been released by a number of different publishers who do not specialise in children’s books and as a result lack a brand to connect them. However, I love the brand-new makeover Beatrice has been given for The Devil Device and kids could easily read this as a standalone novel no problem.
Should you want to invest further I would recommend the two previous adventures, Beatrice Beecham’s Cryptic Crypt and Beatrice Beecham’s Ship of Shadows as well worth tracking down. The plot of Beatrice’s latest adventure The Devil Device follows the events of predecessor Ship of Shadows, but has a brand-new plotline, with a large ensemble cast of Beatrice, her friends and other Dorsal Finn locals.
Beatrice is to Dorsal Finn what Buffy Summers is to Sunnydale, she has the strange supernatural power to withstand The Dark Heart, an ancient and malevolent entity which lurks underneath the town, with an agenda to corrupt and is a beacon for all things devious and evil. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Beatrice has a loyal group of friends around her and she needs them as her latest adversaries have the ability to shape shift and take over the bodies and personalities of anybody they choose. Fans of Stranger Things will find much to enjoy here, with a convincing LGBTQIA+ storyline playing a part in Beatrice having to come to rescue of both Patience who has personal problems which spiral into something horribly worse and Elmo being seduced into believing he is the next big guitar superstar. All this is connected to the Dark Heart and the four strangers who arrive in town. Interestingly, there were also some adult narratives, more so than you would normally see in a YA novel. Also, Beatrice has slightly less page time than usual, with the author deciding to give Patience, Elmo and Emily more page-time. Dorsal Finn is a fantastic location for supernatural adventures and I am always happy for a revisit and spending time with Beatrice and her friends whenever Dave Jeffery drops a new book in the series
AGE RANGE 12+
Publisher : macabre Ink
Lily Meade – The Sister Shadow
The Sister Shadow concerns the disappearance and reappearance of a Biracial teenage girl who comes from a background of privilege, with a white mother and Black father. I mention this at the beginning of this review as there are a lot of racial undercurrents to the novel which I felt bogged down the thriller element of the plot, which for extended periods not much happened. The novel is predominately narrated in the first person by Casey, the younger sister of Sutton, who disappears. It is clear from Casey’s point of view that the two girls did not get on, “My sister is a bitch, but that doesn’t mean I want her dead” is the opening sentence of The Sister Shadow. Much of the story revolves around what happened to Sutton when she was missing (suffering from memory loss) and the fact that Casey feels that her sister has changed dramatically after her surprise reappearance.
She seems much friendlier, acting differently and clearly not interested in her old hobbies, such as cheerleading, where she was one of the stars of the team. I was invested enough to see where the story headed but found the ending both anti-climactic and slightly rushed. It was also pretty obvious what was going to happen, although genuine teen readers might not find it all so obvious. Parts of it reminded me of Krystal Sutherland’s House of Hollow, but it lacked that novel’s dreamy otherworldly feel and the narrative failed to grip in the same way.
The father’s side of the family are descended from slaves and he works in academic research around this area and so race frequently comes up in conversation and this is used as a device to insert hoodoo slave magic into the story. I was unconvinced how necessary this element was as it did not fit into Casey’s search into what actually happened to her sister. At various points, the narrative briefly jumps to Sutton, sometimes years in the past, but this just adds confusion as she does not seem to dislike her sister in the same way as Casey does her. A powerful church lurks in the background, a few half-suspects are served up as red herrings whilst Casey tries to get to grips with her vastly different sister. A lot of the story revolves around the complex family dynamics where the family want to present a picture-perfect version to the media, especially as if Sutton is seen as Black is less likely to attract sympathy in the newspapers. Perhaps The Shadow Sister tried to do too much as it just did not grab me as a thriller or a horror but nevertheless had a lot of say about generational trauma, family history and the complexities of race and teenagers who are Biracial.
AGE RANGE 13+
Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire
Tomi Oyemakinde – The Changing Man
Teen thrillers and dramas set in posh boarding schools are being published at an alarming rate and I have reviewed many of them, however, there are probably few as off-the-wall as Tomi Oyemakinde’s debut. Billed as a ‘speculative thriller’ the final third is totally bizarre and not what I was expecting in the slightest, moving from school drama with racial overtones into full blown Stranger Things mode. The action starts with teenager Ife joining Nithercott School through its prestigious Urban Achievers Program, which aimed to support poorer but very clever pupils. Ife already feels hugely different as there is only one other Black girl in her school year and does not feel she is made to feel very welcome. I found some parts of this story hard to believe, not that the privileged might have racist attitudes, but the fact that the kids on the Urban Achievers Program had to wear different school uniforms to single them out as ‘different.’
The eye is in the detail and I just do not see this happening in any modern school and I found this more unbelievable than the wild direction the story takes. I also felt the teachers were unnecessarily unpleasant, almost like caricatures of stuck-up spinsters, and I struggled with this as they dished out detention after detention or shouted at kids for little reason. Perhaps I am making these complaints as I have worked in schools for thirty years.
The mystery itself was fast paced and engaging and Ife was a fun character to spend time with. One could feel her anxiety levels increasing as her phone was confiscated and struggles to settle in class with no friends and being unaware how the school ticked and its weird rules. There was one particularly unsettling scene where a teacher confronts her up for having her skirt too short, not realising (or maybe not caring) that the skirt has been rolled up because it was second hand. Soon Ife makes friends with Ben and Bee and she is sucked into the mystery to find Ben’s elder brother who disappeared in the prologue and it takes them to the most unsuspecting places and into the path of a local legend ‘The Changing Man.’ The kids were the best part of this story, the Changing Man lacked any fear factor and did not appear in the novel until well into the action. One might wonder why the police did not show more interest in disappearing children, but it does all tie in nicely at the end, leaving things open for a sequel which take the action beyond the boarding school. A complex blend of racial commentary, thriller, boarding school drama and some outlandish plot developments.
AGE RANGE 12+
Publisher : Macmillan Children’s Books
Naben Ruthnum – The Grimmer
I enjoyed The Grimmer, although I have a feeling it might struggle to find a YA audience as not enough happens to get the pulses racing of your average fourteen or fifteen-year-old (unless they like chilling out in second-hand bookshops that is). It spent too much time setting the scene for further instalments and in reality the main supernatural villain did not hold my attention at all and appeared in the book too infrequently. Naben Ruthnum AKA Nathan Ripley is an established adult writer, with The Grimmer being his first foray into YA, and to be truly successful this book needed more action and be slightly less talk. Many adult writers have come up short when switching to YA (it is not easy) and as a first attempt this is not bad and is saved by its engaging central character, enjoyable nineties smalltown feel and quirky coming of age drama with an odd supernatural twang which encompasses Physics and Science.
The action opens with fifteen-year-old Vish returning home to his small Canadian town after two years in a boarding school. He was sent away as his doctor father was an addict who was trying to get clean and at the same time Vish fell out with his two oldest friends Danny and Matt, a wound that was unhealed across his two years away. The Grimmer makes a lot of interesting observations of the fact that Vish is of Indian heritage and is one of the few ‘brown’ kids in the town, he is also a heavy-metal fan, which is also predominately ‘white.’ With his band t-shirts and leather jacket Vish feels like an outcast and when he returns home visits his favourite bookshop gets chatting with the owner Agastya, who is also Indian Canadian. After witnessing a strange confrontation in the shop Vish is sucked into a complex supernatural fantasy drama where he finds himself stalked by a creature trying to force itself into our world. I much preferred the non-supernatural aspects of The Grimmer, Vish going to his first gig, connecting with Gisela and his old friends and his complex relationship with his overbearing parents. I hope this novel finds its fanbase, but it did lack some bang.
AGE RANGE 12/13+
Publisher : ECW Press