Blame it on my sister who once, while babysitting, told me dinner would only be served in front of the movie Seven, but it feels like I’ve always been sickly fascinated with all things creepy. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good frothy teen read as much as anyone, but the books and stories of my childhood that stuck with me the most were the ones that scared the freaking daylights out of me. And for some reason, they still scare me, far more than anything being written today. Proceed at your own risk:
Twins by Caroline B. Cooney
Oh yes, this is the book that prompted my mother to WRITE TO THE AUTHOR, CHASTISING HER FOR CREATING SOMETHING SO SCARY YET MEANT FOR CHILDREN. I was probably mad at the time, but I can’t say that I really blame her, since this is the absolute scariest most twisted not-even-that-well-written book ever. Look, twins are already terrifying. I’m sorry. Why should there be two people who look identical walking around in one world? Even worse, we’re supposed to believe they have different personalities when they are TECHNICALLY THE SAME PERSON? I’ve never been able to get on board with identical twins, and books and movies have done nothing to make me more comfortable with the concept. In this particular novel, identical twins and BFFs Mary Lee and Madrigal are total opposites. When their parents send Mary Lee to boarding school to separate them, she is a complete social outcast. That is, until Madrigal comes to visit and positively shines. They switch clothes to play a trick on Mary Lee’s school mates, Madrigal conveniently falls from a ski lift TO HER DEATH, but everyone thinks it’s Mary Lee, and Mary Lee decides to take over her sister’s life. Little did she know… her sister was evil! I won’t ruin the rest for you, but it all comes out sloooooowly and super, duper creepily Not to mention the fact that the evil boyfriend is named John Pear. WTF?
Fade by Robert Cormier
Speaking of twins, literally the only thing I remember about this book is a shocking scene involving fraternal twins who like to have sex with each other. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Robert Cormier, master of all things creepy and (even creepier) meant for young adults, wrote this charmer about a boy who discovers he has the power of invisibility. Of course, when he sets out to experiment with this new and incredible gift, he discovers that the world is an evil, depraved, perverted, disturbed and hopeless place. Everything he witnesses is something he wishes he never saw. WHAT KIND OF CHILDREN’S BOOK IS THIS? Shouldn’t he be, like, spying happily on the girl he has a crush on or stealing tons of penny candy from the local soda shop? Honestly, I could have listed any of Cormier’s books because every single one of them disturbs me to this day. Don’t even talk to me about the final image of I Am The Cheese.
My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews
Famous for the supremely disturbing incest tome, Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews wrote a whole host of scary books for teens. This particular novel is, you guessed it, where Audrina Patridge got her name. Why someone would name their child after the nightmare that is this book is a total mystery, but the book is definitely memorable. Recommended to me by my best girl Lesley, My Sweet Audrina kept me up until 4 in the morning, desperate to find out the truth. Without giving much away, I’ll tell you that our title character is a little girl whose older sister (also named Audrina) was raped and murdered nine years earlier. The new Audrina is hypnotized by her father into trying to remember all of her older sister’s memories and, consequently, hope to become as special as her sister was. Ummmm, what? Cue unbelievably disgusting scenes of little Audrina rocking back and forth on her father’s lap trying to remember every gory detail of her older sister’s rape. Every member of Audrina’s family is more disturbing than the last, and the mysteries keep unraveling until the very last page. All of which makes the book’s 416 pages sound a lot more exciting than they actually are.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Oh, right, “Anonymous”, that miracle woman to whom EVERY BAD THING ON EARTH HAPPENED and she somehow managed to record every detail of her multitudinous trauma into perfectly articulated and preserved diaries. Right. This book is a total fake, but as a kid, I had no way of knowing that. Presented as an actual diary of a real teen girl who became addicted to drugs, Go Ask Alice paints a particularly gruesome portrait of our heroine’s descent into nothingness. Every bad thing you can think of happens to her, all written in a melodramatic supposed-to-be-realistic confessional teen voice. Needless to say, drugs lead to sex, fights, loss of friendship, her grandfather’s heart attack, rape, and death. It’s a feel good winner for the kid in all of us!
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates
This short story is not technically meant for children, but I read it as a middle schooler and have had nightmares ever since. My mom once described the plot to a young family friend and he couldn’t sleep for a WEEK! Having not even read the story! This highly-anthologized and extremely chilling tale tells the story of a teenage girl who makes the fateful mistake of staying home from a family picnic one Sunday. A boy she flirted with the night before appears at her house with his friend and starts trying to convince her to go with them somewhere. As the story swiftly and skillfully moves along, our protagonist starts to realize that these “boys” are much older than they seem… and much more threatening. I won’t say anything else but of all the books and stories on this list, this is by far the best. Joyce Carol Oates based the story on a real murder spree in Arizona, and the whole true crime element only makes it that much more disturbing.
Obviously, there are also young adult books meant to be scary and marketed as such – the entire catalogue of R.L. Stine and most of Lois Duncan’s work, to name a couple – but what made the books on this list so upsettingly special was that, at first glance, they almost seemed like regular books. Sure, the cover of Twins should have tipped me off, but who would have guessed a story like Oates’ would articulate every unvoiced nightmare I’d ever had? I’m actually really grateful I read these books when I did, otherwise I never would have known that the world consists entirely of drug addicts, rapists, incestuous siblings, and, of course, evil twins.