Autumn is a great time of year to read scary stories – so long as you’re safely curled up in a blanket with a hot drink, with lots of lights on. Lately I’ve helped several patrons find their next spooky read, so I wanted to take this opportunity to give my best scary book recommendations for all ages.
These books are roughly sorted in descending order by the age group they were written for, but depending on your mood and the level of frights you want, any of these might do, regardless of your age!
After Stephen King, of course, The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock is a great choice to start with, not least because it was recently made into a film starring Tom Holland and streaming on Netflix. It focuses on a town full of corrupt and sinister characters, including a disturbed veteran, a husband and wife serial killer team, a false preacher, and Arvin, an orphaned young man caught in the middle.
A recent release worth trying for some chills is Sisters by Daisy Johnson. This haunting tale depicts two sisters who are very close — too close. They have recently relocated to an isolated house after a sinister event in their hometown. In their new life, as dread and unease rises in the house and in their relationship, the sisters’ darker impulses push them to the brink, and nothing will ever be the same.
If you’re looking for something more speculative, Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland might be the historical zombie novel for you. The sequel to 2018’s Dread Nation, it follows two young women traveling west in an 1880s America plagued by the restless dead. Jane and Katherine are looking for a safe haven, but find only more conspiracy, danger, and lies – not to mention the undead.
Another recent release worth trying – if you like scary clowns – is Clown In A Cornfield by Adam Cesare. Quinn and her father moved to a small, boring town to get a fresh start. But the town is struggling after the loss of their factory and its income, and has now divided into a conflict of adults vs. kids. This battle might destroy the town, so the town mascot (a creepy clown, of course) decides to eliminate the problem by getting rid of the troublesome kids for good.
After Neil Gaiman (of course), I’d recommend readers of middle-grade novels check out Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall. It’s a recent publication, and it has echoes of both Stranger Things and Coraline. Eleanor, haunted by her mother’s disappearance in a fire, moves to too-perfect Eden Eld, where 3 children disappear every 13 years. This year, it’s her turn. It’s up to Eleanor and her two new friends to solve the mystery and save themselves before it’s too late.
This Town Is Not All Right is another middle grade read worth checking out. It evokes Stephen King, especially in the setting: it’s set in a Maine fishing village, the very region Stephen King has made iconic in his books. Twins Beacon and Everleigh, newly arrived with their father, can’t help feeling there’s something off about the town – even before Everleigh is recruited into the mysterious group The Gold Stars. Beacon must then find the chilling truth or risk losing his sister forever.
Finally, a personal favorite of mine: The Gates by John Connolly is a great spooky book for all ages, packed with humor, science, and (of course) terrifying evil. Three days before Halloween, precocious Samuel Johnson and his dog stumble onto his neighbors calling forth the devil in a flirtation with the underworld gone wrong. Now, the gates of hell could open, and only one eccentric little boy can stop it. This is a hilarious and thoughtful read, packed with action and some pretty complex ideas.
Other great authors of scary books include Dean Koontz, Jo Nesbo, Ruth Ware, Victoria Schwab, Leigh Bardugo, Ransom Riggs, Patrick Ness, Tamsyn Muir, Mary Downing Hahn, R.L. Stine, and K.R. Alexander.