Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Tony Jones
Ginger Nuts of Horror would like to congratulate Kim Liggett for her recent win in the YA Stoker for her novel “The Last Harvest” which was a decent page-turning devil worshipping tale set in rural America. We wrote in our earlier review: “It’s a solid attempt at spinning a countryside devil-worship yarn in small town America which both boys and girls might get a kick out of. I’m pretty sure a twelve-year-old version of me would have enjoyed this.” It you read Point Horror as a kid, it’s in that ball-park. However, it lacked the power, sophistication and genuine horror featured in the brooding character driven Amy Lukavics novel “The Ravenous” which pressed all the buttons a truly great horror novel should. This was Ginger Nuts of Horror runaway favourite and the strongest novel of those nominated, and the HWA missed a trick by voting for a page-turning pot-boiler over a novel with genuine depth, outstanding writing and sequences to make an adult wince, never mind a teen. One wonders how many members of the HWA cast votes for books they had never read?
The overall short-list was far from stellar and that’s hardly the fault of the HWA though. The depth of very good YA horror novels, across the year, seems to be in very short supply and the YA part of the horror market, at the moment, seems to be tiny. We should know, as we search for new titles far and wide. We reviewed the best of them across the year at the Ginger Nuts of Horror, and we haven’t come across many other good ones we haven’t already featured earlier in 2017. So, this ‘Alternative Ginger Nuts Stoker’ sadly only includes three entirely new books, and seven previously reviewed. As well as straight horror we feature crossover dark fiction and dystopia.
Let’s be clear “The Ravenous” by Amy Lukavics was without doubt the strongest YA horror novel of 2017 and our runaway favourite, but if you want to dig a little deeper all these books come highly recommended and have lots to offer. They are also an international selection, rather than the all-American Stoker short-list.
The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale
Let us start right at the top with a wonderfully dark fantasy horror novel which may have been pitched at the adult market in the USA, however trust me, it is most definitely a YA novel published by Simon & Schuster Children's UK for teenagers. You’re not going to come across many darker and edgier fairy-tales than this, which is one of those books which can be equally enjoyed by both teenagers and adults.
The setting of this imaginative and dreamlike novel is kept deliberately vague, but there are enough clues to point at medieval Wales, I wonder whether American readers picked up on this? A farmer and his wife being blessed with twin baby girls, Angelica and Benedicta. But there is a problem, the twins are the mirror image of each other, both carrying a mark which symbolises ‘the Beast’ (a simple birthmark) of the novel’s title. Their mother realises this, fearing for their safety, keeps them hidden from the local villagers. But before long their secret is out, and the farmer succumbs to the pressure of the masses and casts his wife and daughters out into the ‘fforest’, an alternative to seeing them drowned or stoned as witches. For a while he visits them but as time goes on, they are forgotten, but begin to change when they have no contact with humanity. Left to fend for themselves, the girls eventually return and take their vengeance on the village, becoming creatures known as ‘souleaters’. Much of this superb novel is seen from the point of view of a little girl called Alys, who the souleaters spare for some reason when they are on a killing spree. The reason why is one of the major cruxes of this exquisitely crafted fantasy horror. Aimed at ages 13+
Ink by Alice Broadway
“Ink” the debut novel of Alice Broadway is a clever fusion of fantasy, horror and dystopia. Set in an unknown location, Saintstone, where culturally everything revolves around tattooing. Babies are tattooed when they are newly born, and thereafter every significant moment in their lives is recorded on their bodies with a fresh tattoo. This ranges from everything from exam success to marriage. The novel is seen from the point of view of Leora, who dreams of being a tattoo artist when she reaches adulthood. However, when her father dies suddenly her life is turned upside down. After a death all bodies are dried, then skinned of their tattoos are once they are removed are converted into a ‘Skin Book’ which records the good deeds and successes in any life, and this is a way of the deceased to enter this society’s version of heaven. When Leona discovers that her father’s ink has been edited and his book is not available for reading, she begins to realise he had secrets she did not understand? Of course, she begins to investigate and there is both mystery and romance along in the way, in this highly readable novel probably more aimed at girls. Shockingly, she discovers there is another disregarded society, those without tattoos, known as ‘Blanks’. “Ink” was a clever character driven novel which lacked action, but more than made up for it with a cleverly drawn world. Aimed at ages 12/13+
Beatrice Beecham's Cryptic Crypt: by Dave Jeffery
“Beatrice Beecham's Cryptic Crypt” was Crystal Lake Publishing big splash into the dark waters of YA and was entertaining and enterprising fun about a group of for teenage misfits (the ‘Newshounds’) who get wrapped up in a supernatural mystery in their sleepy small American coastal town. Although it was supernatural, it was also very good natured, the joy of the first kiss, walks on the pier, holding hands and all that cute stuff. I found the main character Beatrice to be really engaging and innocently likable, and not really the type of girl to get wrapped up in the weird reawakening of World War II and Neo Nazis. But, hey, Bea’ takes it on the chin and rolls with the punches. The Nazi revival comes around via a Second World War survivor who recognises a voice from her past in a dodgy hearing aid which can cross time.
But the quiet fishing town, Dorsal Town, is exactly the sort of place where weird stuff happens. Jeffery makes an excellent job of keeping everything quite light, but fast paced, and the characters deliberately recall famous contemporaries from children’s literature of yesteryear including the ‘Famous Five’, ‘Nancy Drew’ or the ‘Hardy Boys’ with a decent amount of respect for these legendary characters. The book is loaded with larger-than-life and engaging support roles, and along the way the kids deal with everyday issues like bullying, and even hold down part-time jobs. I suppose you could argue the kids are too good to be true, but that’s part of the charm of the book, these kids aren’t going to do drugs or other nasty stuff. Plus, you always know they’ll save the world, and good for them. It’s not at all scary, but it’s not really supposed to be, and I thought it was a rather charming read. Beatrice returns with another book “Cryptic Crypt” later this year. A good read for ages 10/11+
Thornhill by Pam Smy
“Thornhill” was one of the best books I read in 2017, kids or otherwise and the Stoker panel should never have missed this beautifully haunting novel. Even though it weighs in heavier than 500 pages an adult could still easily read it in a couple of hours, mainly because it is a time-slip story with the present-day story told only in pictures, which are just so easy to read. So “Thornhill” has a lot of illustrations, in a style made popular in recent times by Brian Selznick “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and his other novels. “Thornhill” itself is a care home for kids in 1982 which is shortly going to close for good, the story focusses on Mary who is a lonely orphan who suffers from selective mutism and is bullied mercilessly by other girls and one particularly nasty girl who is the ringleader.
Flick forward to 2017, Ella moves into a new house which overlooks the burned-out shell of Thornhill and she is sure she can see a ghostly figure watching her in the derelict building. Adult readers will be able to tell where the story is going, but it is so beautifully told you will still have a tear in the eye come the end. The drawings are so great they really do tell the 2017 story of Ella without the needs of any words at all. It’s a big old book, but anyone over the age of 10+ (adults included) will adore it. Wonderful in every possible way.
Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody