Okay, so if you’ve made it here, you’re probably here for the scary. The more the scarier, right? But how do you classify “horror”? Does it have to tick the boxes off a certain checklist? Or is it more that you just know it when you see it?
One thing I’ve noticed about reading boatloads of horror is that it seems more fluid than other genres—in the best way possible. After all, what scares you is subjective. Spiders may terrify your mom (on screen and off!), but you only feel that creeping dread for psychological scares. Horror doesn’t have to mean blood gushing out of severed limbs or zombies crawling out of the ground. Horror can be anything that pulls you out of your comfort zone or makes you question your beliefs. So, it’s the genre that bends in and out of sci-fi and dark fantasy and hosts elements of comedy, coming-of-age, character-driven drama, romance, and so many other types of stories.
The reason we are drawn to horror is because it makes us feel alive, right? It reminds us that there’s something to fight for every day, and that we can be that resilient final girl who throws off her hesitation and fear, standing up for what she believes with a big ole machete in her hands. Now, maybe our everyday lives are not quite as thrilling as a horror narrative, but it’s that feeling where the blood rushes through you and you’re just invincible—that’s what I take away from horror. The confidence to know that I can be more confident in my daily life.
One of my favorite facets of the genre is what I’ve come to call horror adjacent—books that perhaps aren’t technically “horror,” but still host a complement of speculative themes and general darkness. I always have a list of these at the ready for those people who ask, “why do you like to read THAT stuff?” I am firmly of the belief that there is something out there in the horrorverse for everyone.
If you’re looking to branch out and see what else horror might have to offer, or maybe you want to entice someone you know to dip their toe in the murky waters, here are some great recent reads to check out!
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House delivers a coming-of-age fever dream steeped in social and philosophical criticism. It isn’t the type of book that is going to hold your hand and spoon feed you anything. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something important to say. Beneath the substance of the plot pulsates another story, what I saw as the lifeline of the book. It is, at its core, a story about a girl wrapped in depression and trauma, a girl who is trying to find a way to be comfortable in her own skin, to become herself.
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
This book is juggling a lot: it is a genre-bending speculative masterpiece and an unusual take on storytelling, has a strong feminist lens, reimagines and reinterprets the consequences of one of the great classic horror novels (Frankenstein, obvi), and is a thought-provoking futuristic imagining all at once. Winterson is a bit unclassifiable herself, so this books strange, amorphous nature—both historical and futuristic at once—is fitting.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
This is a character-driven story laced with symbolism, slow-building tension, and stream-of-conscious narration that all builds to an ominous sinking in your stomach that you just can’t ignore—all in just 144 pages! If you like a bit of a literary fiction twist to your horror, this is one you’re going to love.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This book is a straight-up black comedy, a social satire that rides the line between ridiculous and completely plausible. It is such a joy to read, a truly power-packed punch of a novel with brilliantly drawn characters and a strong message. It’s feminist AF, but also riotously funny.
The Need by Helen Phillips
This is a strange and liminal tale, and one that I really have to insist you just give a try—and that you go in blindly, without knowing anything about the actual plot. Just trust me! It is a story about motherhood and career choices, but it lives in the sci-fi range of speculative fiction. It will truly warp your brain.
Severance by Ling Ma
I’d pitch this book as a zombie apocalypse coming-of-age novel for millennials—but this book really has so much going on. With themes of anti-consumerism, the immigrant experience, the meaninglessness of office jobs, and a darkly satirical tongue-in-cheek narrative style poking fun at the lackadaisical nature of our generation, Ling Ma manages to write a compelling story that says a lot about modern-day society.
The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg
This book is a phantasmagoria of grief, marriage and relationships, travel, horror tropes, film, memory and the psyche, and ultimately, the search for self. It follows a woman attending a horror film festival in Cuba as she attempts to come to some sort of peace about her husband’s sudden death—but then, she sees him. Or does she?
The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
The book examines good and evil—who is right and who is wrong? Can this even be decided? The prose is unexpected, sometimes strange or unfamiliar, but always lyrical. McDaniel is a very unique writer and her influences from southern Gothic writers and other literature are keenly felt, but adapted in a way all her own. The book is highly stylized and more like a fairy tale than realistic fiction, hovering just above reality and told in a heightened state. Be sure to also check out her forthcoming horror adjacent novel, Betty.