As someone who used to work in a bookstore and handled literally hundreds of books every day, I consider myself pretty open to trying just about any genre that caught my attention. In fact, some of the best books I have ever read were ones I picked up on a complete and utter whim. For years, however, I’d avoided one genre in particular: horror. As Halloween approached this year, I decided it was time to face my fears and see what was out there.
Once I started poking around, I realized that the genre has a lot to offer and now is a particularly exciting time to be getting into horror as the genre is becoming more inclusive and welcoming to groups it previously mocked or relegated to victimhood. Whether you’re just starting out in this genre or you’re a die-hard fan who’s been devouring Stephen King under the full moon since childhood, I’ve got three recommendations that will scare your socks off.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
This novel has the power to send shivers down your spine in the middle of a crowded store in broad daylight. I would know; I literally could not put it down even to go to the grocery store. The repeating refrain, “I’m thinking of ending things,” loops through the head of the main character as she embarks on a road trip to meet her boyfriend’s parents. Haunted by menacing phone calls and increasingly doubting her own reality, she becomes less and less sure that she’ll ever return.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado brings horror to an entirely new level in this collection of nine eerie short stories that will haunt you long after you’ve put the book down. It’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark for grown-ups. Machado combines the most unsettling elements of old campfire ghost stories with sharp wit, dark humor, and a centering of queer and feminist narratives in this absolute masterpiece collection.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
I’ve saved the best for last. Weaving a haunting tale of forbidden love and threatening curses through two storylines over a hundred years apart, Emily M. Danforth creates an atmospheric and eerie drama that centers queer characters and relationships.
In the 1902 storyline, Clara and Flo, students at an all-girls boarding school called Brookhants, have been found stung to death by yellow jackets in a thicket just off-campus. Another girl’s death, a memoir by Mary Maclane, and a string of unexplained “happenings” will eventually lead to the school’s closure.
In the 2019 storyline, a film crew endeavors to capture the full story of Brookhants in a horror film/mockumentary. When the crew—consisting of celebrity Harper Harper, child star Audrey Wells, and writer of the novel The Happenings of Brookhants upon which the film is loosely based Merritt Emmons—travels to the abandoned school, they have no idea what they will awaken within Brookhants and within themselves.
I hope you find yourself happily haunted by these novels. Happy Halloween!