Friendly Haints and Macabre Adventures | 36 Seasonal Titles for Middle Grade and High School Readers

From stories of affable ghosts to tales of encounters with the undead, these 36 books offer middle grade and high school readers plenty of thrills.

Anyone who works with children and books knows that the allure of the scary starts young. And while picture book readers’ definitions of knock-your-socks off frightening may differ from that of their older siblings, they too routinely seek the thrill of zombie and ghost stories .

As kids get older, mysteries, murder, horror, the supernatural, and fantasy enter the mix in titles that offer plenty of genre and cross-genre appeal. Our recently reviewed titles for middle and high school readers have something for everyone—from friendly haints to monster hunters to macabre tales of the undead—as the nights turn chill.

Middle Grade

ALEXANDER, K.R. The Fear Zone. 304p. Scholastic. Sept. 2019. Tr $7.99. ISBN 9781338577174.
Gr 4-8–When five young teens are summoned to the cemetery at midnight on Halloween, they think it’s a prank, but curiosity gets the best of them. Once they arrive, there’s no prank to be found, but there is an eerie gravestone bearing the grisly omen “your nightmares begin,” which seems to appear by magic. As the days go by, all five are haunted by their worst nightmares, which are controlled by an evil clown who is stalking the friends and luring them to his lair. The friends must work together and face their fears in order to get out alive, or risk becoming prey to the terrifying clown. The story is told from varying points of view, which keeps the plot moving swiftly as each of the teens experiences their worst nightmares come to life. Each of the characters is given an “issue” (body image, struggles with sexuality, difficult home life, death of a parent), but none of these topics are fully fleshed out, nor do they contribute to the main plot; they could have easily been omitted. The dynamics among the five characters also feel underdeveloped. VERDICT Those who love plot-driven, edge-of-your-seat horror will enjoy the frequent scares. Recommended for collections with a solid group of horror fans.–Ellen Conlin, Naperville Public Library, IL

ARDEN, Katherine. Dead Voices. 256p. Putnam. Aug. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525515050.
Gr 5-8–A free ski vacation turns into a good news/bad news scenario for middle schoolers Coco, Brian, and Ollie (Olivia) and brings with it an unwelcome reunion with an old enemy in this sequel to Small Spaces. The good news? Ollie’s dad won a week at a newly renovated ski lodge. The bad news? The lodge, a former orphanage, is haunted to the rafters. Coco loves being with her friends and views the growing relationship between her mom and Ollie’s dad hopefully, but she’s no fan of skiing, and she’s the first to have an encounter with a ghost. The vacation goes downhill quickly, with a dangerous snowstorm wreaking havoc and plenty of disturbing encounters with creepy taxidermy animals and even creepier ghosts. The appearance of a ghost hunter, who offers the kids the chance to learn how to communicate with ghosts, is welcome at first, until they realize that he is really the Smiling Man, looking for a rematch…and revenge. This is mostly Coco’s story; the least confident of the trio, she’s the one who eventually figures out how to defeat the Smiling Man. Ollie’s dead mother, communicating through her old watch, plays a part as well. Brian doesn’t get a lot to do, nor do most of the adults, but the door is left open for further spooky adventures. VERDICT Standing just fine on its own (though newcomers will definitely be inspired to read Small Spaces), this is a fine addition to any scary stories shelf.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library

redstar ARMSTRONG, Kelley. A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying. 288p. Puffin Canada. Aug. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780735265356.
Gr 4-6–Rowan and Rhydd were born to greatness; as twin siblings of the queen and a monster hunter, their roles in the kingdom were determined at birth. Because Rowan is the firstborn she must be Queen, while her brother Rhydd trains to become the Royal Monster Hunter with their aunt Janna—roles they would very much like to be reversed. When Rowan sneaks out to help her brother hunt a gryphon, the very same monster that killed her father, she witnesses her beloved aunt’s gruesome death by the creature. But, before she dies, Janna grants her a gift: a way to override the rule that forces Rowan and Rhydd into their traditional roles. Rhydd severely injured his leg in the fight, and his current limited mobility allows them to switch places. When an ambitious relative tries to muck up the plans and send Rowan on a path that can only end in her death, she surprises everyone with her bravery and her wit. Duty and the responsibility that accompanies it are explored through Rowan and Rhydd’s journey; sometimes it is harder to do the thing that comes easiest to you. Thrilling action scenes are balanced with emotionally resonant moments showcasing Rowan and Rhydd’s close relationship and Rowan building tentative new friendships with the unlikely companions she meets on her quest. VERDICT Give this to any fantasy and adventure fan ready for a fast and fun read, a great read-a-like for Tamora Pierce’s “Tortall” series.–Sara ­Brunkhorst, Glenview Public Library, IL

BROWN, Gavin. Monster Club: Hunters for Hire. 256p. Scholastic. Jul. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781338318517.
Gr 3-7–Best friends Tommy, Spike, and Karim are itching for an adventure, and they’re about to find one: their town has been overrun by gremlins, basilisks, and other dangerous and pesky monsters. They sign up as monster hunters on an app called AppVenture and quickly begin receiving requests from around town, but their work leads them to uncover a nefarious plot bigger than they could have imagined. The chapters are interspersed with entertaining “Monsterpedia” entries that describe the creatures the trio face. Though the book includes decidedly kid-friendly elements such as famous online streamers, silly and scary creatures, and lots of monster-hunting action, this strikes an odd tone against a plot that requires at least some understanding of freelancing, profit motives, and corporate responsibility. This book succeeds most when it focuses on the very human experiences and emotions of its likable and well-rounded protagonists, and the concept of a monster-hunting app service is a strong one. However, the plot demands an understanding of economics and capitalism that may be beyond its intended audience. VERDICT The humor, while plentiful, may fly over the heads of many young readers. Fans of mythology-inspired books like Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” novels or irreverent action series like Gordon Korman’s “Spy School” will most enjoy.–Madison Bishop, Plymouth Public Library, MA

CAMPBELL, K.G. A Small Zombie Problem. 240p. (Zombie Problems: Bk. 1). Knopf. Jun. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553539554.
Gr 5-8–August wishes to have friends and adventures, and to go to school, yet he’s never left the crumbling house he shares with his eccentric Aunt Hydrangea, who lives in her past glory as Miss Chili Pepper Princess. The novel’s setting in Hurricane County, a “soggy part of the nation...a place where water reigned, and nothing could truly be called solid ground,” gives a nostalgic feel of a time gone by with formal teas and dinner parties. August’s life is looking up when he finds himself invited to tea with an aunt and cousins he never knew existed. Then, he inadvertently reanimates a zombie, Claudette, who will not leave his side. August learns that not everything is as it seems when Claudette turns out to be his best companion. August’s lonely character is well developed; he seems timid at first but gets braver as the book progresses. The ending is predictable yet lighthearted, hinting strongly at a sequel. Campbell’s strong use of figurative language evokes vivid imagery and paints a picture in the reader’s mind. VERDICT Reminiscent of Roald Dahl in uniting the macabre with realism.–Elena Schuck, Mattacheese Middle School, Marstons Mills, MA

CONDIE, Ally & Brendan Reichs. The Beast. 320p. (Darkdeep). Bloomsbury. Oct. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781547602032.
Gr 3-7–Veteran writers Condie (Matched) and Reichs (Genesis) have teamed up again for a sequel to their thrilling fantasy, The Darkdeep. Once again, Nico, Opal, Tyler, Emma, and Logan face terrors from beyond that threaten their sleepy northwestern town of Timbers. The action picks up seamlessly where The Darkdeep left off. In the first book, the friends stumbled upon a mysterious houseboat floating in the center of a dark pond called Still Cove, where a strange monster was rumored to live. Down below, in the hold of the houseboat, a watery portal beckoned to the kids. One by one, they dove in and were taken on a ride that brought to life their mind’s thoughts. The friends thought that the figments were contained but now realize that there is a new, more dangerous threat: solid, beastly, violent figments have emerged from the pool and now endanger the whole town. The kids must work together to restrain the Darkdeep’s Beast before things spiral out of control and make their worst nightmares a reality. The friends have distinct personalities that allow for humor and empathy amid their struggles, but these differences also create tension and discord. Pressure mounts as their friendship and loyalties are tested. The alternating points of view will grab readers from the first page and keep them guessing straight through to a satisfying ending. VERDICT A fast-paced adventure story of unsupervised teens trying to save the world. Perfect for all middle grade readers who appreciate suspense and thrills, but also a welcome addition for reluctant readers.–Carole Phillips, Greenacres ­Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY

DOWNS, Paul & Nick Bruno. Urban Legendz. illus. by Michael Yates. 112p. (Urban Legendz). Humanoids/BiG. Jun. 2019. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781594657146.
Gr 5-8 –After his mother dies, Dwayne reluctantly moves from Indiana to Brooklyn with his father and brother. Dwayne’s father may be a police officer, but it is Dwayne and his new group of friends who uncover the truth about Brooklyn: urban legends, like mutant alligators and giant, blood-sucking bedbugs, are real, and they are attacking people. At first, the only one who will believe Dwayne and his friends is a homeless man who takes the children to an area known as the Refuge, where displaced and forgotten people gather. But soon more people become aware of the problem. While action-packed monster fights add a supernatural element, the tale is grounded in realistic socioeconomic issues as a land developer tries to gentrify the neighborhood. Though the author never fully explains why the monsters start appearing in public all of a sudden, there are hints that it was to force the people in the community to unite. The building of a community center at the end of the book supports this theory. The narrative and artwork have a nostalgic feel, but smartphone usage sets the story in the present. Dwayne is African American, and his friends include Mya, Worm, and Cashew, so-called because he is both Catholic and Jewish. Readers will eagerly await the next installment, which takes place on Coney Island. VERDICT For libraries looking to expand their tween graphic novel collections. Give to those who like monsters in their mysteries.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

HAHN, Mary Downing. Guest: A Changeling Tale. 224p. Clarion. Sept. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780358067313.
Gr 4-7–It’s Mollie’s fault when the Kinde Folke (a group of spiteful fairies who are neither delicate nor kind) kidnap her brother and leave Guest in his place—a sickly fairy halfling who does nothing but bite, pinch, eat…and tear her family apart. Eventually, a desperate Mollie treks to the Darklands with Guest in tow, determined to make the fairies give her brother back now that Guest is healthy again. Everyone they meet along the way has their own secret agenda, but worst of all is the Queen of the Kinde Folke. And Mollie’s brother, once discovered, has no wish to leave his new family to return to a life of poverty with his old one. Can Mollie’s bravery make up for her habit of speaking before she thinks? This tale by Hahn, notable for her “just right” scary stories for the upper elementary school crowd, is somewhat different than her usual offerings, veering more toward fantasy than horror. The creepy atmosphere and Mollie’s determination offset her rather slow-moving journey to the Darklands, and the absence of neat endings lends a touch of reality. VERDICT A solid purchase for upper elementary school students who like a dark tale grounded in myth.–Elizabeth Friend, Wester Middle School, TX

JONES, Kelly. Sauerkraut. illus. by Paul Davey. 288p. Knopf. Sept. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524765958.
Gr 3-6–Maker and superhero-loving HD Schenk has a plan to build his own computer from scratch and enter it into the county fair this summer. But first he must earn enough money to buy parts, so he offers to help clear out his uncle’s basement. On his first trip downstairs, HD encounters a ghostly voice. When he finds an old pickling crock that had been used by his great-great grandmother (Oma) to make sauerkraut, HD realizes that Oma is haunting the crock and she has a singular mission: to enter her sauerkraut in the county fair and win. As the only person who can hear Oma’s voice, HD is compelled to help her but has trouble balancing his own dreams and goals for the summer with the demanding Oma’s. Instead of keeping Oma a secret, HD introduces her first to his best friend Eli and then to his family and trusted members of his community. Oma is a strong enough ghost to work a pencil (among other kitchen equipment) and communicates with everyone through notes. This thoroughly quirky tale highlights the importance of mutual respect, community, and family heritage. HD, who is biracial and bicultural (black and German American), must constantly explain why he doesn’t look like his dad, and has integrated his parents’ different cultural backgrounds into his worldview. The grown-ups encourage HD and his friend to make time for their own goals and summer plans and respectfully accept Oma into their lives. Lists and plans and scientific observations of various projects are featured throughout, as well as warm, evocative pencil illustrations by Davey. VERDICT A ghost story about family heritage and obligations that will appeal to fans of family-driven, slice-of-life tales.–Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

LASHNER, William. Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas. 320p. (Elizabeth Webster). Disney-Hyperion. Oct. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368041287.
Gr 5-8–Henry Harrison, star swimmer at Elizabeth Webster’s school, has asked her to tutor him. In reality, what he really needs is help with a ghost who has been haunting his house. Why Elizabeth? Because the ghost asked for her. Elizabeth’s tutoring gig ends up being much more than she anticipated when she learns that her missing father and grandfather own the secret family law firm Webster & Son, Attorneys for the Damned. She has to learn to defend someone in court, run for her life from people and demons, and find the truth about the death of Henry’s ghost. The quick-moving dialogue and witty banter keep the story moving at a quick clip. The twists and turns will keep readers guessing about who is responsible for the ghost’s death and how she died. The courtroom for the underworld is an unusual setting, but it’s still scary fun. VERDICT This blend of ghost story and mystery will satisfy readers who ask for “the scary stories.” Recommended.–Julie Overpeck, Holbrook Middle School, Lowell, NC

MARTIN, Laura. Hoax for Hire. 320p. Harper. Aug. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062803801.
Gr 3-7–Have you ever seen a Loch Ness Monster? The MacNeils see them every day because they pull off hoaxes, tricking people into thinking their creations are the real thing. A sea monster, Bigfoot, a yeti, a Bunyip, and more are all part of their “research.” Grayson’s family comes from a long line of cryptid hunters and adventure seekers. But the 12-year-old struggles with this life of lies about creatures that don’t exist. His older brother, Curtis, is all in, but Grayson wishes he could study photography and attend school full time. Just once, he would love to capture his adventures on film and write about them. Even though Curtis hurls rude comments at his brother daily—Grayson calls them “poetic”—the family’s commitment to one another is strong. VERDICT Martin weaves a wonderful adventure of hoaxes, legendary monsters, and the importance of family connections. Children will appreciate the creative and difficult steps the family takes to accomplish each hoax and the surprises along the way.–Paige Bentley-Flannery, Deschutes Public Library, Bend, OR

PRENTICE, Andrew. Ghost and Bone. 224p. Delacorte. Aug. 2019. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780525643968.
Gr 4-8–Oscar has always been different; he walks with a crutch and prefers the dead over the living while working in his family’s funeral home. But once Ghost Law Enforcement officers Sally and Sir Cedric crash into his life via ghost carriage, he realizes just how different he is. Oscar has the ability to turn into a ghost at will and can see the City of Ghosts that living beings cannot. That’s only the beginning as he joins Sally in a fantastical buddy ghost cop story, chasing down a bad guy who wishes to end death forever. Readers may find themselves as confused as Oscar about this weird world in the beginning, but just as eager to catch up, flying through chapters to see what ghastly ghoul is haunting the next corner. In what other world would the slogan “Die Better!” be considered inspirational? The plot moves at a fast pace and is a fun introduction to some light horror, but it’s the world-building and characters that are the stars of the show. Sally is a Victorian ghost in a preteen body, Mr. Mortis (one hopes his first name is Rigor) heads up the Ministry of Ghosts, and if you want to stick around for some unfinished business, you’d better get a Haunting Visa from the Ghost Visas department on the first floor. VERDICT This fun romp through the City of Ghosts will awe, delight, and creep readers out just a little. A solid purchase.–Kerri Williams, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

SHEPHERD, Kat. Babysitting Nightmares: The Twilight Curse. illus. by Rayanne Vieira. 224p. (Babysitting Nightmares: Bk. 3). Imprint. Aug. 2019. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781250157010.
Gr 5-8–The latest installment in the series is a haunting mystery for middle grade readers. When Clio’s aunt buys an abandoned theater in town, Maggie develops a special interest in acting. To spend more time at the old theater, Maggie takes a job babysitting the lead actress’s daughter. As the theater prepares for the opening of its first performance of Macbeth, strange and inexplicable things start happening. Clio, Maggie, and the rest of their friends must assemble the clues and use what they know about the supernatural to stop things from getting out of control on opening night. Thrill-seeking readers will appreciate the well-constructed mysteries. Fans familiar with the series will most enjoy this third entry, as there are various references to earlier titles and the ending is also linked to the other installments. VERDICT A pleasantly spooky supernatural mystery. Fans of Mimi McCoy’s “Poison Apple” series or Trenton Lee Stewart’s “The Mysterious Benedict Society” will gravitate toward this selection.–Elizabeth Pelayo, St. Charles East High School, IL

SIEBEL, Kathryn. The Haunting of Henry Davis. 240p. Knopf. Jul. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101932773.
Gr 3-5–Henry Davis is new in town. On his first day of fifth grade, Henry meets Barbara Anne, a fellow fifth-grader and a resident of Henry’s new Seattle suburb. The two make for unlikely friends; Henry is quiet and reserved, whereas Barbara Anne is outspoken and the leader of the pack. As the narrator of this story, she takes control of every situation; she is energetic and opinionated and inserts herself into Henry Davis’s life and the mystery that soon unfolds. Barbara Anne and Henry, along with a band of trustworthy friends and associates, work to unravel a mystery that is haunting Henry. While the crew get involved in a myriad of elementary high jinks, the quick-witted banter keeps readers engaged and the story moving rapidly along. Packed with adventure, this is a perfect read for reluctant readers and thrill seekers. It is also a great option for fans of spooky tales and ghostly chills. VERDICT Children will love the fast-paced narrative and pulse-pounding adventure. Highly recommended for public and school libraries with demand for ghost stories and mysteries.–Maryjean Bakaletz, Morris County Library, Whippany, NJ

redstar STEINKELLNER, Emma. The Okay Witch. illus. by Emma Steinkellner. 272p. S. & S./Aladdin. Sept. 2019. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9781534431461; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781534431454.
Gr 4-8–With her frizzy hair, her gap teeth, and her lack of friends, 13-year-old Moth Hush doesn’t fit in at school. She discovers why she doesn’t belong—she’s not like everyone else. As her powers activate for the first time, Moth learns that she’s from a family of witches. Moth’s mother, herself a former witch who gave up her powers, reveals their family’s dark past of the 1600s witch hunts and forbids Moth from practicing her abilities. But when Moth obtains a talking-cat familiar and the diary her mother kept as a teen, she is forced to confront witch hunters, ancient family drama, and, worst of all, irritating school bullies. Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel is a tour de force of middle grade storytelling. The wordy, quirky, character-rich dialogue and emotional narrative guide readers through what’s simultaneously a coming-of-age tale, a mother-daughter story, and a supernatural roller coaster. Conflicts with bullies and witch hunters evoke themes of inclusion and diversity vs. ignorance and fear. Fans of Steven Universe and the “Cucumber Quest” books will adore the energetic art. This title has a deceptively low page count; younger readers might miss many deeper themes. VERDICT A must-have for libraries that serve middle graders, but recommended for comics fans of all ages.–Matisse Mozer, Los Angeles Public Library

STINE, R.L. The Scare School. illus. by Kelly Matthews & Nicole Matthews. 144p. (Just Beyond). Kaboom! Sept. 2019. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781684154166.
Gr 4-6–Twins Jess and Josh and their neighbor Marco discover a terrifying, unconscious creature shut away in an empty classroom. It awakens and chases them into a terrifying alternate reality school where middle schoolers are treated like very young children. The protagonists must work together to evade the principal and find a way home. This thrilling, compelling book is Stine’s first original graphic novel and the first in a new series. Much like the author’s “Goosebumps” books, each “Just Beyond” installment will follow a different set of characters. The bold palette combined with a minimalist drawing style will attract a wide range of readers. There are plenty of action sequences featuring scary monsters from the alter school and the principal, who resembles the trio’s own principal. Unfortunately, plot holes may drive away stronger readers wishing for more exposition. It’s unclear why the students in the alternate world are forced to act like little kids, studying ­coloring and building blocks. It is also never explained how in the opening sequence the three alternate children are able to escape into the real universe. VERDICT Strong on ­action and weak on details. Give to those who love “Goosebumps” or fans of Jarrett J. ­Krosoczka’s “Lunch Lady” series who are looking for something more intense.–Jenni Frencham, Indiana ­University, Bloomington

redstar STRONG, Karen. Just South of Home. 320p. S. & S. May 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534419384.
Gr 4-7–Sarah firmly believes in science, but when her cousin Janie’s pilfering lands them in the middle of their town’s greatest mystery and shame, she may start to believe in the otherworldly. Sarah was supposed to spend a quiet summer with her little brother Ellis, but once Janie steals a trinket from the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, they unknowingly disturb the spirits resting there and come to find out more about the town’s unsettling racist history. Now they must come together as a family to heal the restless ghosts, called haints, that they have unleashed onto the town. All of the haints who haunt the church are victims of hate crimes, and readers’ horror will come more from the atrocities committed against them in this rural Georgia town than from the ghosts themselves. Strong does not gloss over the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in the town, nor the lynchings and church burnings they carried out. These topics are addressed boldly but gracefully, acknowledging the pain of the past while using it to drive the plot forward. The pace goes quickly because of an intricate mix of Southern mystery, history, and a ghost story that creeps but doesn’t scare; readers don’t know which they’ll be getting as they turn the page. Strong’s prose presents a world so real readers will feel the warm Georgia breeze, or the haints’ chilling breath down your neck. ­VERDICT Readers will need a sweet tea to calm their nerves after this emotional adventure. First purchase for all collections.–Kerri Williams, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

redstar TOALSON, R.L. The Woods. 480p. little bee books. Sept. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781499809572.
Gr 5 Up–Richard Cole is a scientist—some would say a mad scientist—who is working to defeat the break of the Stonewall Curse. The Cole family has been plagued by a generations of losses of family members, all having to do with the nearby mysterious woods. While Richard is working to halt the curse, his niece, Lenora, comes to live in his mansion. She has been orphaned by the worst industrial accident in U.S. history, the Texas City explosion of 1947. Lonely and grieving, Lenora struggles to understand her incomprehensible uncle, who is always working in his laboratory. Uncle Richard warns her to stay away from the woods, but she is drawn to them. Then a spirit calls to her from an open window, the spirit tries to become flesh, and Lenora soon faces the worst danger imaginable. Will she survive? Is her family dead or alive? Readers must piece this story together through excerpts from Uncle Richard’s journal. VERDICT A supernatural wonder of a book. This Grimm-like fantasy is vividly detailed and will appeal to young and old readers alike.–Lisa Gieskes, Richland County Public Library, Columbia, SC

High School

AGUIRRE, Ann. Heartwood Box. 336p. Tor Teen. Jul. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765397645.
Gr 8 Up–Araceli Flores Harper has been sent to spend her senior year of high school in a small town in upstate New York, in a ramshackle Victorian mansion, with a great-aunt she has never met. When she finds an old box in the attic, she begins corresponding with a soldier from the First World War. Then Araceli learns that people have been disappearing mysteriously for years, and there are strange lights and occurrences around a security-laden research compound in the woods. This is a unique and genre-bending tale; there are elements of a historical romance, a science fiction ghost story, and a spy thriller. However, the writing style, especially at the beginning of the novel, seems heavy-handed. Rather than setting the scene of an eerily empty small town, the narrator states that it is a strange place without much description. The rushed style may be due to the author attempting to cover so many different plotlines at once—Araceli is the new girl at school, falling in love with a World War I soldier and uncovering an underground experiment—but the way Aguirre ties together the disparate threads makes for a satisfying conclusion. A unique and exciting story imperfectly executed. VERDICT An additional purchase but with cross-genre appeal.–Jeri Murphy, C.F. Simmons Middle School, Aurora, IL

ANSTEY, Cindy. The Hummingbird Dagger. 320p. Feiwel & Friends. Apr. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250174895.
Gr 9 Up–Anstey returns with another historical suspense mystery. England, 1833. Young Lord James Ellerby witnesses a carriage accident and immediately provides aid to an injured young woman. The woman, traveling alone in a coach, in a dirty and torn dress, with multiple injuries and no memories, quickly takes the name Beth and is determined to be a lady of class. All Beth knows is her recurring nightmare of a hummingbird dagger. James, Beth, and the rest of James’s family quickly learn that Beth’s accident was no accident as more suspicious incidents and attacks occur when Beth is near. After avoiding a murder attempt, Beth and James flee to London, where they discover Beth’s condition is tied to the British government and the highest tiers of London society. Anstey balances a suspense-driven plot with deeper character development, which occasionally causes the story to drag. The narrative switches among multiple perspectives, which can be repetitive at the beginning of the story but successfully creates more suspense as the climax approaches. Readers will most likely be drawn to the slow-burn romance between James and Beth, which is appropriate for a Georgian historical setting. Place this book in the hands of Anstey fans who enjoyed her previous novels Love, Lies and Spies and Suitors and Sabotage or fans of Meg Cabot’s Victoria and the Rogue. VERDICT Think Austen with kidnapping and murder. An intriguing historical suspense balancing mystery and romance, perfect for Regency era fans.–Kaetlyn Phillips, Yorkton, Sask.

ARMENTROUT, Jennifer L. Storm and Fury. 512p. (Harbinger: Bk. 1). Inkyard. Jun. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781335218797.
Gr 7 Up–This first installment of the series is a spin-off of Armentrout's "Dark Elements" trilogy with some of the same characters. Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow, who is losing her sight, has a well-kept secret. She can see and talk to the dead and must remain in a compound that is guarded by Wardens who are shape-shifting gargoyles. They must protect her from demons who want to capture her to take on her special powers. However, a new threat arrives, and Trinity joins forces with Zayne, a Warden from another clan, in order to save her family. Fans of "Dark Elements" will be excited for Zayne to find romance with Trinity, who is a strong character with good instincts. The action and suspense build with each chapter, making this a compelling read. Readers will anxiously await the next installment in this series, and libraries will find it difficult to keep this one on the shelf. VERDICT Recommended. Fans of the "Dark Elements" trilogy will enjoy revisiting this world with the same characters.—Karen Alexader, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI

BÉRUBÉ, Amelinda. Here There Are Monsters. 352p. Sourcebooks/Fire. Aug. 2019. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492671015.
Gr 9 Up–Skye is 16 years old and is tired of playing childish games with her younger sister, Deirdre. After moving, Skye starts to make new friends and start a new life, while Deirdre lives in the past in her fantasy world, building creatures in the woods. One night, Deirdre disappears from their home and the search for her begins. Then one of Deirdre’s homemade monsters visits Skye and tells her how to get Deirdre back. Can she do it? This book is reminiscent of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, with much darker undertones. Both Skye and Deirdre are a little difficult to relate to—Deirdre isolates herself, while Skye at first seems indifferent to the fact that her sister is missing. That aside, the action starts right away and quickly draws readers into the story. Teens will be kept guessing what is real and what is imagined by these sisters who couldn’t be more different. VERDICT This book, dark and eerie with just the right amount of creepiness, is perfect for any fan of young adult horror.–Maeve Dodds, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC

CHO, Kat. Wicked Fox. 448p. Putnam. Jun. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984812346.
Gr 8 Up–Miyoung may look like any other Korean girl, but she’s the daughter of a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who feeds on the life force of men. This makes Miyoung half gumiho—and half human. Though raised by her mother, Miyoung is drawn to humans as well, wondering about her missing father and hating that she must kill in order to live. Nevertheless, she manages to follow her mother’s rules, always maintaining distance from others so that her secret is not discovered. But one night she strays from the rules, saving the life of Jihoon, a human boy who was attacked by a goblin, and all does not go according to plan. Miyoung suddenly finds herself juggling Jihoon’s human world of school and friends with her supernatural world of shamans, spirits, and magic. This is urban fantasy as readers have not seen it before: steeped in Korean folklore but with an added layer of contemporary Korean school and home life, appealing not only to K-drama fans but to lovers of fantasy in general. Dealing with themes of family, loyalty, and trust, the book has a unique setting and premise. VERDICT Fresh and fast paced, weaving together ­action and romance, this is a promising ­debut that adds a new voice to any urban fantasy ­collection.–Zoë McLaughlin, Michigan State ­University, East Lansing

CRAIG, Erin A. House of Salt and Sorrows. 416p. Delacorte. Aug. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984831927.
Gr 8 Up–An accomplished first novel, equal parts gothic fairy tale and romance. Teenage Annaleigh and her seven sisters live in their ancestral house of Highmoor with their father and stepmother, the Duke and Duchess of the People of the Salt. Their family has been in near-continuous mourning for years after the deaths, one by one, of the girls’ mother and four older sisters. Desperate for some happiness and an escape from their island community, the girls find a hidden passageway and begin a series of secret nights dancing their shoes into tatters at darkly splendid balls. The foreboding atmosphere intensifies, and eventually Annaleigh decides to forgo the parties and unravel the mysteries surrounding her family’s ongoing tragedies. Loosely based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” the novel takes place in a 17th-century European–sounding world where an invented pantheon of gods guide, and sometimes afflict, their human devotees. The author’s background in theater design surely contributed to Annaleigh’s first-person narration as she tells the sisters’ story in lavish visual detail. Well-described settings with rocky shores, obsidian fireplaces, and satin gowns bring this magical realm to life. Nuanced heroes and villains with complex backstories reveal their motives throughout the narrative, and the cause—and resolution—of the family’s sorrows is both unexpected and thoroughly satisfying. VERDICT Compulsively readable, with sweet young love and truly creepy ­horror. First purchase for school and public libraries.–Beth Wright Redford, formerly at Richmond Elementary School Library, VT

ERNSHAW, Shea. Winterwood. 336p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Nov. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534439412.
Gr 8 Up–Ernshaw succeeds with a spellbinding tale of love, murder, and the occult for teen readers. Nora Walker, her mother, and every Walker female for generations have been labeled as witches for their mystical interactions with nature and their outcast status in the community. Nora is living alone in her rustic family home across the lake from the Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys when she discovers a body in the Wicker Woods. In time it is discovered that one boy is dead and one is missing. As the lies and secrets surrounding these events invade Nora’s solitary world, truths are revealed about the crime itself and the deadly powers of humans and the natural world. From the first sentence, the author entices readers into the strange warmth of Nora’s cabin and to the edge of the unforgiving woods. The malevolent timbers become more than a convention of setting, but a brooding, spectral character itself. The chapters are interspersed with pages of ancient histories and spells from the protagonist’s witch ancestors: “The Spellbook of Moonlight & Forest Medicine,” while the narrative is handed back and forth between the two main male and female characters for a varied perspective. Themes of first love, alienation, right vs. wrong, and teen angst give this novel contemporary appeal alongside its otherworldly fairy-tale allure. Some explicit language doesn’t detract from the engaging and unpredictable characters and haunting plot lines. VERDICT A dynamic thriller for fans of paranormal fiction.–Jane Miller, Nashville Public Library

FRENCH, Gillian. The Missing Season. 304p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062803337.
Gr 9 Up–Dragged from place to place by her dad’s job, perennial new kid Clara Morrison has landed in Pender, a dying New England mill town where the guidance counselor warns her “things may seem a bit off” because of a student’s recent death. The official story is drugs, but the guys at the skate park tell chilling tales of a child-killing creature called the Mumbler that lives in the marsh and is blamed for the Halloween disappearances of troublemakers over the last two decades. Clara dismisses the rumors as urban legend—she’s more worried about her fledgling friendship with aloof Bree and the magnetism she feels toward Kincaid, the elusive skater boy whom Bree also has a crush on. But as tensions rise over a series of Halloween pranks orchestrated by Clara and her friends, another student disappears and Clara begins to fear that she is the troublemaker the Mumbler is after next. French’s most recent YA mystery brims with lyrical prose and striking imagery but is much less frightening than the premise suggests. It may have stronger appeal to fans of contemporary YA than frequent mystery readers: Clara’s anxieties about her new friendships and romance with reckless, lonely Kincaid take center stage for much of the book. Although the climax feels rushed and slightly forced, the foreboding atmosphere, rich setting, and gorgeous prose make for a rewarding read. VERDICT A worthwhile purchase for most collections; hand it to readers looking for a creepy seasonal read without serious chills.–Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia

KITTREDGE, Caitlin. Dreaming Darkly. 368p. HarperCollins/Harper. Apr. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062665621.
Gr 8 Up–After her mother’s suicide, Ivy Bloodgood is sent to live with a strange uncle, whom she previously never knew existed, on a secluded island off the New England coast. Mood is the driving element in this gothic suspense tale as Ivy hears rumors about her family’s murderous past and tries to grapple with the mental illness that she is afraid runs in her blood. Readers will struggle along with Ivy as they try to determine what is real and what is in her head after she wakes from a nightmare clutching bloody objects. A long-standing feud between the Bloodgoods and their neighbors also creates a forbidden romance between Ivy and the mysterious boy next door. While some of the secondary characters and school story line are less developed, the tension of Ivy’s family story propels this mystery. There are several satisfying twists along the way, and the climax leads to an action-packed showdown. VERDICT This is perfect for teens who want an entertaining dark thriller complete with a complex family curse and illicit love story.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

LLOYD-JONES, Emily. The Bone Houses. 352p. Little, Brown. Sept. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316418416.
Gr 7 Up–Teenager Ryn has been caring for her siblings via her steadily dwindling work as a gravedigger in their remote village. Though more villagers are turning to cremation than burial, the teen’s work isn’t getting any easier: the dead just won’t stay dead. According to legend, a fae curse stirs the corpses, or “bone houses,” that emerge from the nearby forest each night, and Ryn often enters the forest alone to stop the dead from reaching the village. On one of her outings, she finds Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker living with chronic pain. But with his arrival comes an attack more vicious than any before. Desperate to end the curse, the two teens travel through the forest to the mountains that once served as the home of the fae. With little backstory and only limited mention of communities outside of Ryn’s village, the book focuses on the teens and their mission. Both characters are fully realized, each beginning with a singular goal but ultimately learning that love and loss are their own journeys. Lloyd-Jones turns Ryn’s familiar fantasy quest through the woods into a new and magical journey, filled with the best parts of a fairy tale. Monsters, curses, love—both slow-burn and familial—beautiful descriptions of an eerie mythical Welsh setting, and a streak of humor make this stand-alone novel a must-read. VERDICT This fresh take on the undead is recommended for YA collections.–Maggie Mason Smith, Clemson University, SC

MILLER, Sam J. Destroy All Monsters. 400p. HarperTeen. Jul. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062456748.
Gr 7 Up–Ash and Solomon are best friends fighting against evil and their past in very different ways. Ash takes refuge in her passion for photography, while Solomon retreats to a vivid fantasy world, complete with dinosaur transportation. Ash is the only person in Solomon’s life who takes his stories about Darkside remotely seriously. Most of the time Solomon is labeled as crazy or psychotic, even by his own father, who also happens to be the local high school football coach. When a string of targeted attacks puts the town on edge, Ash suspects that the football team is behind the incidents. As she uses her photography to get to the truth, a dark secret from her and Solomon’s past begins to creep to the surface. Alternating voices and worlds are used to explore each character’s struggle with current conflict and past trauma. Art and storytelling are featured both as coping mechanisms and tools by which the survivors find a voice and stand up for the truth. Ash and Solomon are a source of strength for each other, giving readers total friend goals. Ash avoids using many of the harmful labels others place on Solomon. While she is conflicted about how much to step in when he is in serious danger, Ash’s actions are smart, mature, and compassionate. Ash and Solomon show that friends sometimes have to do the hard things to do the right thing. A balanced mix of realistic and fantasy elements keeps the action going and appeals to fans of both elements. ­VERDICT A combination of Andrew Smith, Laini Taylor, and John Corey Whaley that crosses genre borders and will win over readers.–Carrie Finberg, South Park High School, PA

PRESTON, Natasha. The Lost. 320p. Sourcebooks. Apr. 2019. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492652267.
Gr 9 Up–Sixteen-year-old Piper and her best friend Hazel come to the alarming conclusion that 11 teens have mysteriously disappeared from their town. A little neatly, the girls discover what has happened to the missing teens, but it is too late. Flattered by the attention of two rich, handsome college boys, the girls accept a ride with them. The boys trick Hazel and Piper into giving up their phones and imprison them in a clubhouse in the woods, where the girls find some of the missing teens. The others have been forced into a variety of specially developed torture rooms. In some rooms they must withstand extreme temperatures for hours or days, and another room requires them to fight one another to the death. The teens live in a constant state of fear that they will be called to one of these rooms. Eventually, a new teen, Evan, stumbles into the girls’ room and tells them he’s been subjected to the torture rooms for months. Piper develops feelings for Evan only to discover a horrible truth about him. An interesting plot twist leaves the narrative wide open for a sequel, but the teen characters are stereotypical and readers may question Piper’s naivete. Pick this one up for pure entertainment value. VERDICT Expeditious escape room fiction to add to the thriller shelves.–Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

redstar RUBY, Laura. Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All. 384p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Oct. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062317643.
Gr 9 Up–Ruby’s first young adult novel since her Printz Award–winning Bone Gap is a feminist historical ghost story that is based on the author’s mother-in-law’s childhood experiences in a World War II–era Chicago orphanage. In 1941, after losing his wife and struggling to support his family, Frankie’s Italian immigrant father “temporarily” sends his three adolescent children to a Catholic orphanage. However, he soon remarries and moves away, taking only one of his children. Frankie and her sister, Toni, are left under the watch of the iron-fisted nuns with their oppressive rules. Frankie dreams of growing her hair past her ears, becoming an artist, and falling in love. She never suspects that someone unseen is actually watching over her and longing to protect her: the ghost of a teenage girl, Pearl, dead since 1918, who haunts the orphanage. As Frankie wishes for freedom, Pearl longs to have an impact on the physical world. And Pearl, like Frankie, has been let down by her family, been treated as a commodity, and suffered great loss. Each girl draws strength from her hardships, however, and refuses to submit to those who would control her. Some sexual content and brief, yet disturbing descriptions of violence make this title most appropriate for older readers. VERDICT Powerful plotting, masterful character development, and a unique narrative device set this work apart. Make room on the shelf next to Code Name Verity and The Book Thief.–Liz Overberg, ­Zionsville Community High School, IN

SNYMAN, Monique. The Night Weaver. 266p. (The Harrowsgate Series). Vesuvian. Oct. 2019. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781645480068.
Gr 9 Up–Stephen King’s It meets Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight in Snyman’s first installment of a new series. In the town of Shadow Grove, an ominous presence seeks to be fed and cause destruction. Children mysteriously vanish into thin air; all the while, adults put a veil over the history of the town, developing lies to cover up a hidden truth. With no sane adult to turn to, 17-year-old Rachel Cleary, her neighbor Mrs. Crenshaw, and teen grandson Dougal Mackay brave their way through the town’s forest to search for the missing kids and ward off the Night Weaver (the evil Black Annis of folklore) before she captures and devours all of the children. This is a frightening story of horror and fantasy woven together to create a delectable tale of the macabre. Snyman effortlessly transforms an ominous story into one of romance and action, as love blossoms between Rachel and the mysterious Fae named Orion who aids her on her quest to save the town’s children. The mature content intensifies the story while backing up the need for the teenagers to take on adult roles. Readers will fall in love with Rachel’s no-nonsense personality and witty banter. VERDICT Snyman’s storytelling will have people lining up for the next book in the series.–Beronica Puhr, Oak Park Public Library, IL

TERRY, Teri. Contagion. 416p. (Dark Matter: Bk. 1). Charlesbridge Teen. Jul. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781580899895.
Gr 7-10–Terry’s American debut, the first in the “Dark Matter” trilogy, provides a sinister scientific plot mixed with the supernatural in the form of a contagious epidemic with world-ending consequences. Shay, an older high school student, and 12-year-old Callie are thrown together unexpectedly when Shay experiences a photographic recall of Callie’s abduction from the previous year. The trigger for Shay’s flashback comes from a missing person flyer she stumbles upon at the supermarket, leading her to call the contact number. This is how she meets Callie’s brother Kai. Not realizing how powerful a role her memory will play in the upcoming quest to bring an end to the deadly disease, Shay vows to do whatever she can to help Kai find his younger sister Callie. Little do they know that Callie, who was abducted and experimented on with the deadly disease, is the first to survive its fatal impact. The problem is that her survival caused her to take on a new form, and when she escapes her imprisonment, a wave of destruction is unleashed upon the world. For some mysterious reason, Shay’s and Callie’s families have immunity to the disease’s deadly grip. Set in Scotland and told from Shay’s and Callie’s alternating perspectives, this fast-paced tale accelerates to a cliff-hanger conclusion shortly after Shay comes to a devastating realization. VERDICT Fans of Michael Grant’s “Gone” series, Lauren James’s “The Next Together” series, and Emma Pass’s The Fearless will not be able to wait for the next installment in this survival story that is steeped in mystery and revenge.–Sabrina Carnesi, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, VA

VEGA, Danielle. The Haunted. 304p. Penguin/Razorbill. Jun. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780451481467.
Gr 9 Up–Hendricks arrives in the small New York town of Drearford with her baby brother, her house-flipping parents, and major baggage from her hometown of Philly. Escalating incidents with her former boyfriend Grayson forced her family to relocate with the goal of renovating a run-down old house, which Hendricks soon learns has a macabre history. Several teens, curious about the new girl, quickly fold her into their close-knit group, and even more quickly, school hottie Connor makes it clear he is interested. But with flashbacks and references to troubles with her ex, Hendricks isn’t jumping into anything soon. As she learns more about the history of the house, as well as the connections between it and her enigmatic neighbor Eddie, disturbances in the house turn from scary to violent. Ultimately Hendricks and Eddie must battle the house and the hungry spirits that inhabit it. Interplay and dialogue between the teens ring true, more so than the almost nonexistent relationship between Hendricks and her apparently oblivious parents. Allusions to cruel bullying as the catalyst to events almost get lost as the story culminates in a finale that, while dramatic, feels rushed and overcrowded with explanations. The relationship with Grayson and the role alcohol played are intriguing yet used as a red herring rather than fully explored. Socioeconomic status, poverty, and mental illness are examined through the equally haunted Eddie, who feels that there is something “rotten” with the entire town. VERDICT Teens will relate to the characters and enjoy the creepiness, making this a strong choice where horror is in demand.–Lee De Groft, Jamestown High School, Williamsburg, VA

WINTERS, Cat. The Raven’s Tale. 368p. Amulet. Apr. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419733628.
Gr 7 Up–Seventeen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe is ready to go to college to escape his overbearing foster father, who believes poetry is a waste of time. Although Poe admires Byron and love poems, he secretly yearns to tell tales of death and darkness. While he is daydreaming in church about 72 people who died in a theater fire, his Muse manifests into a raven-haired girl. Muses of art are frowned upon because they lead to debauchery, and Edgar tries hard to abandon his Muse, Lenore, but it becomes too late as the town and his father have encountered her. Hoping to escape Lenore at the University of Virginia, Poe finds himself in deeper trouble as he is penniless and cannot afford to pay his college debts. This work reimagines Poe as a teen and the circumstances that may have led to his macabre poetry and his untimely death. Winters strategically creates a physical being, Lenore the Muse, as a metaphor for passion or dreams, a theme that rings true as Poe tries to ignore and escape his gothic poetry until it nearly kills him. Although the plot moves slowly, teen fans of Poe’s poetry will learn about his life and the included verses will create new fans. VERDICT Purchase where Edgar Allan Poe and Winters’s books are popular.–Dawn Abron, Zion-Benton Public Library, IL

WRIGHT, S.K. It Ends With You. 384p. Atom. Sept. 2018. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780349003177.
Gr 9 Up –Luke thinks he’s finally had a stroke of luck when the beautiful and popular Eva chooses him to be her boyfriend, but when Eva turns up murdered in a ditch, he becomes the prime suspect. Luke’s reputation as a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks is no help, but upon further investigation it is revealed that Eva may have had more secrets and enemies than anyone would have thought possible. In an effort to cover their own tracks and preserve Eva’s reputation and memory, her friends begin to weave an unmanageable web of lies, which only leads to more questions. Is Luke her murderer? Who is the mysterious blonde girl with the wrist tattoo? Who was Eva’s secret older boyfriend? In this quick and compelling novel, Wright asks characters and readers alike to piece together the truth of a terrible murder by providing alternating glimpses into the reactions and motivations of some seriously unreliable narrators. Dark and complicated in its narrative, this is not a novel that wraps up with a pretty bow, opting instead for some hard truths and lingering danger. VERDICT Seedy and violent without becoming too explicit, this is a good introduction to the crime and thriller genres for the younger high school crowd.–Emily Grace Le May, Ashaway Free Library, RI

For more horror see: Teen Screams: YA Horror for Every Kind of Reader and for books for some 2019 titles for younger readers, see Zombies and Skeletons and Vampires, Oh My!


Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing