Ginger Nuts of Horror
As an occasional feature I will provide you all with a roundup of the different YA horror titles which have crossed my path over the previous couple of months. The majority of these will be fairly new, however, I will also feature older books by authors I have enjoyed which have not been covered on Ginger Nuts of Horror in previous reviews. Many sure you read to the end, as the final book is a total 10 out of 10 knockout.
Creeper Man by Dawn Kurtagich
First published in 2016, is easily the cleverest YA horror novel I have read in a good while. It was challenging, twisty, unpredictable and layered in such an intelligent way adults would could enjoy it as well as any younger reader. It was very, very clever. On the simplest level the plot revolves around two sisters who escape London and their violent father to live with an aunt in a remote country house in the middle of a forest. Something happens to the aunt and she seemingly shuns the girls and locks herself in the attic. The intimidating dense and surrounding forest seems almost alive and threatens the sanity of the girls, which is questioned repeatedly throughout the novel. For much of this multi-layered corker you can never really be sure whether there is a supernatural entity at work or whether everything is psychological. The Creeper Man of the title is a superb creation and is as effective as any bogeyman creation in most adult horror as he and the imposing forest move closer to the girls as the sanity of the elder girl disintegrates. You’ll find yourself asking questions, such as when is it set? Why don’t the girls go to school? Why are there no phones? Is there a war going on? And not all these questions are answered as this claustrophobic read has a truly remarkable unreliable narrator in Silla. The merging of her delusions with reality play a crucial part of this exceptionally clever psychological horror novel which is fiendishly well plotted with a superb ending and very clever twist. I highly recommend this challenging novel which is teen horror of the very highest order. So good in fact I have another novel by the same author already on my rather large the ‘to be read’ pile….
Sarah by Teri Polen
A solid, if undemanding, teen/YA read aimed at younger teens, or kids 12+, but in comparison to the previous title somewhat bland. In this American novel a teenage boy, who is a star player on his high school football team, ends up dating a popular girl he doesn’t really like and struggles to dump her as he’s too nice. At the same time Cain doesn’t realise that his house is haunted and before long the presence of a ghost girl begins to make Cain do strange things which twists the story into some entertaining directions. It was a decent but slightly unchallenging ghost story which was a bit lightweight if compared to more complex YA horror writers, who layer their writing and avoid all the standard high school clichés which threads through this novel. I suppose it’s got some creepy moments and when the ghost begins to have a bigger part there are some very good sequences which will excite younger readers. However, it’s unlikely to ignite the imaginations older teens who would probably be ready for proper adult horror or the previous title, but it’s a step up from the likes of RL Stine, so a perfectly satisfactory read for 11-13 year olds. Being a UK reader I do find it funny reading about Yanks and their “soccer” matches. This was Polen’s debut novel and I’ll be interested to see whether she continues to write horror. Also, the cover does the novel no favours at all as it is such a blatant rip-off of ‘The Ring’.
Camp So-And-So by Mary McCoy
A quirky blend of horror, thriller, with a smattering of the supernatural thrown in. Probably aimed at children, girls most likely, of the ages 12+ it played around with the standard horror film setting of teens on a remote summer camp, with something nasty going to happen…. However, I’m guessing the author is probably a horror film buff who has used her film knowledge to come up with an original and clever tale which should entertain younger teens. The camp is full of your average group of horror film teen clichés, drama queens, loners, those only interested in their hair and boys and lots of others. Split into cabins the dynamics of the rooms work pretty well and the tension builds when one girl disappears and rumours begin to circulate about nastiness happening in the camp in the past. The book has an odd structure which I think teens are going to have to concentrate on to follow the story, otherwise they might give up too soon. Along the way there are some decent twists, suspense and you can’t help but think you might be in a Friday the 13th flick and it was cool when the cabins actually begun to figure out what was going on. Actually, it reminded me of lots of other books/TV, but in a pop culture sort of way it most definitely turns into its own work as it runs with plenty of fresh riffs on this popular YA genre. Summer camps are very American, so I’m not sure whether a British audience with identify with it so much, but you will most definitely have a good laugh at some of the Councillors, one girl when she meets her leader is greeted with “If you bother me I will END you! Ouch. An American author to watch out for. I think the author is a Librarian. A very cool job.
Give Me A K-I-L-L by RL Stine
Probably everyone reading this review of Give Me A K-I-L-L by RL Stine has probably read a novel by this famous author at one time or another, but this was the first Stine novel I had read in the best part of twenty years so I was interested to see if he had changed at all. And the answer is a simple NO. The formulae which has resulted in the sale of millions and millions of books is exactly the same. So it was pretty dull. This novel published in April was exactly the same as many of his others and read like an episode of Scoobie Doo, where for much of the time there is an obvious suspect, then another is uncovered before the inevitable double twist. This new ‘Fear Street’ novel did exactly that in a fairly pedestrian and A-B-C way in which all the characters are pretty bland and sketchily drawn. Gretchen, new to the school, and hoping to make the cheerleading squad tries out for the team and quickly falls foul of the team bully who for much of the novel we believe is stalking her, or even trying to kill her as there are unexplained accidents until we head towards the double twist. As I said Stine has been writing this sort of stuff for decades and in that period children’s and YA horror fiction has moved on. However, this novel has none of the characteristics of top quality horror or suspenseful teen fiction and is as bland as the cheerleading squad which dominates the story. However, the book isn’t aimed at me, and I suppose undemanding 10-12 year olds may find it entertaining on some level, as clues are thrown into the mix and it jogs along at a decent page turning pace. But you’ve read the same story a thousand times before.
HAUNT ME BY LIZ KESSLER
I enjoyed Liz Kessler’s Haunt Me, a skilfully told ghost story aimed at teenagers probably aged 12-14 and although it has a few mature themes they are handled sensitively. It's a ghost story with a believable dose of romance, but certainly isn't 'paranormal romance' and doesn't fall in with any of the clichés the never ending list of books about angels, vampires and werewolves often do. Yes, it's supernatural, but it also reads as a very contemporary teenage novel. A family move into their new house, looking for a fresh start after their daughter was badly bullied in her previous school. After a freak accident she begins to see the ghost of a teenage boy in her house, and when the novel begins he is unaware he is dead. A strong friendship, maybe something more develops, and I really liked the way this relationship unfolded between these two very fragile teens. The story is told in alternative points of view until a third character is introduced a bit later and the teenage girl has some difficult choices to make. The school scenes were effectively played and I liked the fact that the characters were drawn together via stuff like poetry, very uncool to most. I guess an adult reader will see where the book is going, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It had real heart.
THE BONE WITCH BY RIN CHUPECO
Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch has picked up considerable pre-publication hype which for the most part fails to deliver upon. Personally, I don’t think making bold comparisons with the likes of “The Game of Thrones” does the book any good at all, as invariably it is going to disappoint. Sure ‘Tea’ is a pretty cool and engaging teenage lead character, but she really is no ‘Daenerys Targaryen’ and should not be compared to the ‘Dragon Queen’. George RR Martin is a giant of the genre, this author is just starting out, so let Rin Chupeco find her own legs. Much more fantasy than horror, “The Bone Witch” follows the story of a junior witch called Tea who travels the kingdoms with her mentor and her undead brother whom she has brought back from the dead. For a teen novel it was pretty slow and heavy in parts, and I don’t think it has quite enough going for it to challenge the seasoned adult fantasy reader, so I’m unsure of crossover appeal. This sturdy read spent ages on the world building and the story just moved along too slow for my taste. I much preferred this authors “The Girl from the Well” which was a straight horror novel and reviewed elsewhere on GNoH. Like the previous novel, this book has a lot of eastern influences in the story and it many ways that made this fantasy world very believable. As Tea progresses up the greasy pole in the world of magic, the dangers and intrigue also increase. It must be said that the dead brother was a pretty great character and has many of the novel’s best lines. As I said, it was more of a fantasy read and I would aim it at girls more so than boys, but if you’re expecting another “Game of Thrones” you will be sorely disappointed. Of course it finished for a sequel, but I for one will not be on the edge of my seat.
THE CALL BY PEADAR O'GUILIN
I’ve saved a totally fabulous book for last “The Call” by Peadar O'Guilin was totally terrific on many levels and the finest mesh of horror and teen fantasy I’ve read in ages. Sadly this brilliant book has been saddled with the dullest cover possible, we can only hope the publisher sees the error of their ways and rectifies it for the paperback. It has a great plot: in this weird version of Ireland the country has been sealed off from the rest of the world by a supernatural barrier. In this Ireland teenagers can be ‘Called’, this means they are summoned to another realm where they do battle with the Aes Sidhe, the ancient rulers of Ireland before they were banished in a great war. These as very evil fairy creatures and down-right nasty creatures which are incredibly cruel and live to torture humans for sport. The way the ‘Calling’ works is really great, any teenager can disappear into thin air for three minutes and they reappear in the fairy world where they are hunted. Most are killed horribly, mutilated or tortured, only one in ten return unharmed. Although they are only gone for three minutes in the fairy world this is 24 hours or longer, so avoiding death is almost impossible. Kids no longer go to school, instead they go to battle schools where they are taught how to survive the ‘Calling’ which will happen sooner or later. The plot revolves around a girl called Nessa, who has polio, and so cannot run properly, so nobody gives her a sniff of survival, however she is one TOUGH cookie. This book is quite simply brimming with fantastic ideas, meshing successfully Irish folklore with a totally fresh fusion of horror and fantasy. It was really violent and littered with believable characters and a totally terrific ending which is both satisfying for a standalone read and equally great for a sequel. Can you tell how much I loved this book? Nessa seriously rocked.
That brings us to the end of this first instalment of my YA horror roundup, do get in touch with Ginger Nuts of Horror if there are any suggestions for reviews or you want any YA horror advice. I hope to look at some of the titles on the YA section of the Bram Stoker Awards, it’s stacked with American titles by authors relatively unknown to British teen audiences, so that will be interesting.