Girls, ghosts, and ghouls

In four new shiver-inducing middle-school and YA novels perfect for the Halloween season, young women come face-to-face with the restless dead, who are variously mindless and hungry or self-aware and in need of assistance — and not so different from their living counterparts. For more, see this recommended YA reading list, and don't miss these books celebrating the two-hundredth  anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. More Halloween recommendations to come this Friday, October 12th, in our Horn Boo! Herald e-newsletter; subscribe here.

A near-drowning experience a year ago left twelve-year-old Cassidy with the ability to see beyond “the Veil” separating life from death — and a best friend who's, well…"corporeally challenged." (Jacob is sensitive about the g-word.) When a particularly strong, malevolent spirit plots to trap Cass in the Veil and steal her life, Cass and Jacob must rely on their wits and the expertise of fellow “in-betweener” Lara to protect both of their existences. Victoria Schwab's supernatural adventure City of Ghosts nicely balances spine-tingling spookiness with the humor and warmth of the characters’ strong bond. (Scholastic, 11–13 years)

The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn opens with a girl who doesn’t know who she is, why she’s locked in an attic, or how long she has been trapped there. She becomes a fainter and fainter presence over time until twelve-year-old Jules moves in to the house and begins seeing the girl and visions of the past. Through the characters’ alternating perspectives, this ghost story successfully explores its dual plots: one of a young person who wants to stay where she is, and the other of a spirit who wants to move on. (Clarion, 11–13 years)

Nedra, protagonist of Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis, is a student of medical alchemy hoping to find a cure for the rampant plague called the Wasting Death. When her academy shuts down and Nedra goes home to find her family dying, the strictures against the taboo Fourth Alchemy — necromancy — seem suddenly irrelevant. Revis's take on the undead has an originality that steers the novel clear of tired zombie tropes, but it is Nedra’s connection with her twin sister, and the frightening transformations she works on her, that will bring home the true pit-of-the-stomach queasiness of this horror tale. (Penguin/Razorbill, 12–16 years)

Just days after Jane was born, the Civil War became a war between the living and the undead. Now seventeen, Jane is shipped off to a frontier outpost to be a white society lady’s Attendant, a chaperone/bodyguard warding off scandal and “shamblers” alike. Justina Ireland's Dread Nation is a refreshingly subversive zombie action story/alternate history featuring a badass, biracial, bisexual heroine — and an unflinching condemnation of institutionalized American racism, then and now. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 12–16 years)

From the October 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, formerly editor of The Horn Book Guide, is a freelance children’s and YA editor. She's also a former bookseller who holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons University. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more