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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

The Different Shades of Horror

I am writing this on the Sunday evening of a weekend during which the movie “Insidious: Chapter 2” made $41 million dollars at the box office. Tomorrow evening “Sleepy Hollow” premieres on Fox and CBS airs the finale of the first season of “Under the Dome”. “The Walking Dead” is on the cover of this week’s Fall TV Preview EW magazine.

An MSNBC article about the success of “Insidious 2” states, “Consumers under the age of 25 made up 62 percent of ticket holders — one of the best showings in recent memory (19 percent were under the age of 18).” There is no denying that teens love horror flicks, but do they love reading horror just as much?

Just what scares each of us is hard to predict. Horror is all about emotion, about feeling dread or disgust or fear. Some teens crave the adrenaline rush of fear, some avoid it like the plague. I was thrilled to find an article about horror by the always-on-target Kelly Jensen (of Stacked) in the latest issue of SLJ. It’s chock-full of great YA horror recommendations, most from this year or last.

But before you seek out that article, take a look at these three new adult horror titles. What I love about this combination is that it demonstrates beautifully the variety of horror fiction. We begin with Help for the Haunted, our starred review of the day. John Searles has hit it out of the park with this perfect cross-over novel — a creepy coming-of-age mystery full of family secrets, in which the horror is generated not only by the unknown, but also by the reality of abruptly losing one’s parents as a teen.

Apocalypse Cow is a zombie novel for teens who enjoy the humor of Christopher Moore or A. Lee Martinez. Farm animals turned hungry for human blood? The concept alone is terrific, and Scottish author Michael Logan delivers. He won the inaugural Terry Pratchett Anywhere but Here, Anywhen but Now First Novel Prize.

Night Film, Marisha Pessl’s much-buzzed, long-awaited second novel (after Special Topics in Calamity Physics), is a literary puzzle. The inclusion of websites, newspaper clippings, and mysterious photos is a popular device used to increase the immediacy in novels from Stephen King’s Carrie to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Following a brief prologue, the first page is a New York Times article, “Ashley Cordova, 24, Found Dead.” Teens will be transfixed.

* SEARLES, John. Help for the Haunted . 362p. ebook available. Morrow. 2013. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780060779634.

Help for the Haunted

Adult/High School–Young Sylvie Mason’s parents were murdered in a church, while Sylvie sat waiting in their car outside. The suspect under arrest is someone they had helped in their jobs as “help for the haunted,” counselors for those who feel as if bad spirits are affecting their lives. Sylvie is now in the care of her older sister, Rose, who was also on-site the night of the killings. Sylvie also knows more about the murders than she has told. Did that creepy doll that her parents took from the family of a deceased child bring bad luck? Using a time-shifting narrative, Searles really cranks up the suspense as each character other than Sylvie could be a red herring, a murderer, or more. The church, a basement with a mysterious light, and an abandoned movie theater all take turns as the spookiest of settings. Was anyone really helping the haunted, or did the nosy reporter actually identify the Masons as scam artists? Early in the book it’s hard to imagine how all this scariness will lead to a logical, realistic conclusion, but slowly the story unfolds. Everything about the novel makes it a great read for teens, from its young teen protagonist to the mix of the normal with the scary, to the rollicking plot surprises. This one is a real page-turner.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

LOGAN, Michael. Apocalypse Cow. 347p. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2013. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781250032867. LC 2013009931.  Apocalypse Cow

Adult/High School–Only a complete meltdown of society as a result of rabid, zombie cows could turn the losers and misfits of Apocalypse Cow into survivors and even heroes (despite themselves). Teenage nerd Geldof is vegan under protest. Raised by parents given to tantric sex marathons, nonstop pot smoking, and a militant desire to live meat-free and off the grid in suburbia, Geldof is the laughingstock of his school. Imagine his surprise when, in the midst of being bullied by the neighbor boys, the cow he’s being forced to tip turns out to be a wee bit bloodthirsty. It seems the livestock of Scotland are out for human blood. The country quickly falls under martial law as residents are mauled and killed in a variety of spectacular and bloody scenarios. Readers almost feel guilty for laughing out loud as one arrogant or ridiculous human after another is taken down by a zombie cow or pig. Logan has a superb eye for tragedy and comedy and never hesitates to skewer everyone–from Geldof’s militantly vegan mom to the abattoir worker suffering from low self-esteem. Fans of the movie Shaun of the Dead or S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament (Three Rivers Press, 2009) will enjoy the copious blood and violence, along with the very flawed humans who are just trying to survive the unthinkable–a total breakdown of society that actually improves a nerd’s chance of scoring a girlfriend.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Queens Public Library, Jamaica, NY  

PESSL, Marisha. Night Film. 602p. photos. Random. 2013. Tr $28. ISBN 9781400067886; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780679643913. LC 2012041163.  Night Film

Adult/High School–Like so many horror stories, Night Film begins with the death of a beautiful girl. Twenty-four-year-old Ashley Cordova appears to have committed suicide by diving down the elevator shaft in an abandoned warehouse. It’s a scene that her father, reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova, could have staged; Ashley chose the most dismal of settings for her final exertion of power. Former investigative reporter Scott McGrath, whose career was ruined when he accused the elder Cordova of criminal activity, finds his obsession with the family rekindling after Ashley’s death. Images from McGrath’s investigation, including faux websites, newspaper articles, interview notes, etc., effectively provoke readers’ curiosity about the sinister influences stemming from the Cordovas. McGrath reluctantly accepts “help” from two others who are determined to learn more about Ashley’s demise: a sweet-tempered, homeless girl named Nora, and the devastatingly handsome Hopper. Each piece of information they discover proves to be confounding, equally likely to be part of an unimaginable evil as an elaborate hoax. Teens will be sucked into this mind-bending story, with all its accompanying online accoutrements available using the “Night Film Decoder” app. Pessl writes with a breathless urgency, as if hurriedly whispering in the dead of night, suggesting that all could be ended abruptly. The images, the invocation of terror beyond imagining, the haunted characters that slip in and out of focus–they all add up to a horror fan’s delight.–Diane Colson, formerly at Palm Harbor Library, FL

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Meghan – I’m getting that book right away. Great review!

    • Great! I truly think it’s worth any teen or high school librarian’s collection development dollars. This one will sell itself!