Growing Readers: Learning to Love Reading and Writing Column 27
This editorial article was written by Dr. Jen Harrison
Horror Stories and Halloween Reads for Teens
The Children’s Book Review
As October approaches, it’s the perfect season to think about horror as book club
and school assignment reading, Halloween inspiration, and fodder for reluctant
readers. However, many adults find the teen attraction to horror distasteful, viewing
it as frivolous or unsophisticated. So, should you be encouraging your teen’s
fondness for horror fiction? And if so, how can you identify the diamonds amongst
the coal? In this article, we offer a few pointers.
Are Horror Stories Good for Teens?
First and foremost, it’s worth noting that experts generally agree about one thing:
reading horror can be beneficial for a number of reasons.
Horror’s key benefit, naturally, is its appeal. For those who enjoy the genre, horror
stories are gripping, drawing readers in and making them want to read more. It’s
also a genre with wide popular appeal, offering ample opportunity for social
discussion and engagement. According to an article offered by the School Library
Journal, “Horror captures the attention of teens of all reading abilities–advanced and
reluctant readers find it compelling.” This is because horror is relatable: fear is
something we all experience, and “those stories serve as metaphors for the
challenges they face every day.”
Psychologist Emma Kenny agrees, and even sees additional benefits for the growth
and mental health of readers; she argues that “[b]eing frightened by a book …
helps forge resilience.” As children’s horror writer Cavan Scott explains, “We live in
a scary world, especially for kids … Scary stories help kids learn how to deal with
the real world. They’re a way to acknowledge that life isn’t always easy and learn
that it’s OK to be scared.”
Of course, horror isn’t right for every reader. Readers with anxiety or emotional
issues might want to steer clear—and some teens just aren’t into it. For any reader,
the horror needs to be age and maturity appropriate. However, with this caveat in
place, for those who enjoy horror, there are good reasons to let them indulge.
What Makes a “Good” Horror Story?
Like any other genre, there’s quality horror and … well, the less well-written stuff.
So, how can you tell what’s worth reading?
Of course, the best way to tell if a book is good quality is to read it yourself. If you
don’t have the time or inclination for that, there are a few things you can look for.
First, look for stories that emphasize psychology more than gore. To get the real
benefits of horror, readers need stories with believable characters and relatable
situations and dilemmas, and they are less likely to find these in horror stories that
max out on visceral content.
Second, beware teen romance masquerading as horror. These stories can
sometimes glamorize unhealthy relationships, and there is a lot of unoriginal series that feed on the popularity of more original stories without offering much to
challenge a reader.
Finally, it’s worth watching out for stories that offer an original take on a timeless
fear. Horror isn’t only ghosts and zombies—a great story will find a new and
intriguing way to walk readers through the process of coping with real-life fears,
such as the fear of being alone, the fear of the dark, or the fear of failing. Look for
stories with more than the surface trappings of horror.
5 Great Horror Books and Halloween Reads for Teens
Not sure where to start? Here are a few of our favorites.
The Turn of the Screw
Written by Henry James
107 Pages | ISBN-13: 9798472523417
Henry James’ classic nineteenth-century ghost story is one that no horror fan should
miss. Told through multiple narrators, readers hear the story of a governess who is
convinced that the house in which she teaches is haunted by the ghost of a
previous governess—and the children are possessed. With each layer of narrative
adding a layer of uncertainty and an ending that will send shivers down your spine,
this is a story of timeless psychological depth.
Even better, The Turn of the Screw is a fantastic reading experience for advanced
readers, offering sophisticated language and a challenging narrative structure. This
is classic gothic horror at its best.
Buy the Book
Written by Agatha Christie
272 Pages | ISBN-13: 9780062073952
Agatha Christie is known as the Queen of Crime, and Halloween Party offers an
enticing mix of horror and mystery that really supports that title. In this quaint
English murder mystery, an unpopular teenage girl is murdered after boasting at a
Halloween Party that she once saw someone murdered. No one believes her, of
course—until her body is found, drowned in the apple-bobbing barrel.
Halloween Party offers historical fiction that lacks some of the more disturbing and
graphic elements of modern horror—there is little in the way of sex, gore, drugs,
and other elements of modern thriller fiction. Nevertheless, the story will have
readers thinking deeply about love, hate, trust, and what it really means to feel
Written and Illustrated by Vera Brosgol
224 Pages | ISBN-13: 9781596437135
For readers who enjoy graphic novels, Anya’s Ghost is edgy, thought-provoking, and
utterly chilling. In muted colors and understated lines, this graphic novel tells the
story of Anya, whose problems with body image, family, and peer relationships
leave her desperate for a friend. When she falls down a well and discovers the ghost
of a long-dead girl just like her, it seems like a dream come true—the friend she has
been longing for. However, Anya’s new friend is not all that she seems, and soon
Anya will find her new friendship spiraling rapidly out of control.
This is a ghost story with a wholly modern edge, filled with the gritty elements of
modern teenagerhood that really help it speak to young readers. Following Anya’s story is not only seat-grippingly enthralling—it’s also an opportunity for readers to try out some emotional scenarios and see how they might play out in real life.
I Am Legend
Written by Richard Matheson
448 Pages | ISBN-13: 9781250242754
I Am Legend is the 1954 post-apocalyptic horror novel that really marked the start
of zombie and vampire popular fiction. This timeless story resonates particularly
well today, with so many young people experiencing the fear and anxiety left in the
wake of a global pandemic.
The novel tells the story of Robert Neville, the last remaining survivor of a pandemic
that has killed nearly everyone else and turned all survivors into blood-sucking,
pale-skinned, nocturnal monsters. Although they look and sound just like the people
he knows, these monsters spend the novel attempting to lure him from the house
that has become his stronghold. As Neville tries to understand, research, and find a
cure for the disease, he comes ever closer to death himself at the hands of these
Like many apocalyptic novels, I Am Legend challenges readers to think about how
they would survive if the worst were to happen, and what it would mean to be
human in those situations.
White is for Witching
Written by Helen Oyeyemi
448 Pages | ISBN-13: 9781250242754
The fear of racial tensions and conflict is particularly prevalent in many
communities following incidents like the murder of George Floyd and the death of
six Asian women in the Atlanta-area spa shootings. At the very root of racial
tensions is the fear of otherness, and horror that explores this fear at the safe
distance of a book page can be cathartic.
Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching is both a gripping narrative and a powerful
exploration of the tensions around race, nationality, and family that affect so many
communities. Set in an English country house full of secret passageways and long-
lost secrets, the novel tells the story of a young girl whose troubling eating disorder
and sensitivity to spirts is drawing her further and further away from the living
world. This is a challenging read, perfect for more mature readers.
Thank you for reading the Growing Readers: Learning to Love Reading and Writing column. Bookmark this Growing Readers Column link or subscribe to our e-newsletter so you do not miss out on the monthly reading tips. 5 Great Horror Books for Teens and Why to Read Them was written by Dr. Jen Harrison.