The 40 Best Horror Books for Teens – Ultimate Guide

We’ve gone through plenty of horrors already, but most of it has been much more along the mature side of the spectrum. So, we decided to get a good list together for the younger readers, those just getting started on their horror odyssey and not entirely sure where to start.

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The 40 Best Horror Books for Teens - Ultimate Guide

Not to say there’s an age limit, though! Many of these books were written for young adults and teens, but still offer great stories and fantastic characters throughout, making a great read for all ages. So, hit the lights, grab a book and maybe double-check all your doors and windows to make sure they’re locked. Otherwise, you might end up in a frightening situation out of a horror novel…

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Shutter

Any book that reminds me of something nostalgic or a story from when I was young will automatically hook me. Shutter will appeal to any fans of the old Fatal Frame games, with a story of one girl who can see ghosts and the camera she uses to capture them.

Well fleshed-out characters and the fun premise are just the start, throwing the horror straight into your face like a surprise camera flash.

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Squad by Maggie Tokuda Hall

Squad

Throw Mean Girls, werewolves, and feminine revenge into a blender and Squad will be the result. While it’s a graphic novel as opposed to a prose novel, it takes the relatable fish out of water story and puts one of the best supernatural twists on it.

Becca moves and starts at a new school, immediately being adopted by the popular girls’ clique. Everything is great until she finds out they’re werewolves, preying on anyone that tries to take advantage of other girls. It’s a little bloody, but the perfect starting point for horror comics.

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Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Five Total Strangers

Five people packed into a car during a snowstorm, trying to get home. Thing is, they’re all strangers and each of them seems to be hiding something. This is more of a suspense thriller than horror, but a good stepping point into the genre.

The pacing is nonstop from the first page, and tension just grows from there with the intensity of the blizzard. Nobody is what they seem, and when things start to go wrong it’s refreshing to have a main character that’s smart and thinks rationally about the situation.

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The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson

The Loop

The classic setup of an evil corporation gets a little too comfortable and normal people pay for it in terrible ways, but in this case, said corporation lets loose a cybernetic parasite that makes what amounts to Skynet zombies. It’s a pretty wild ride, to say the least.

There’s a lot of body horror and blood, but the two protagonists- immigrant teens in a backwoods American town- are likable and smart, with motives beyond just saving themselves.

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Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Mongrels: A Novel

Mongrels was one of Jones’ first books I picked up years ago, and it quickly became a favorite. A coming of age story about a kid on the run along with his grandparents, who are always trying to stay one step ahead from being caught and put to death for their crimes.

The crimes of being a werewolf, that is. There’s a heartfelt story about finding belonging against an individualistic and divided culture mixed in with the action, blood, and family drama.

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House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows (SISTERS OF THE SALT)

More of a dreadful gothic horror with a great atmosphere than outright horror, but an effective story that will give a couple of chills.

Following one of twelve sisters as she tries to solve the mystery as to why four of them have died under mysterious circumstances. Her journey will uncover a curse and conspiracy surrounding their family for centuries that threatens to erase them all.

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Sawkill Girls by Claire Legend

Sawkill Girls

Isolated islands are prime real estate for creatures of the dark and creepy curses to set up shop, with Sawkill Girls being just one of many that follow the trope. Where this sets itself apart is the characters, with our three heroines being underdogs and outcasts trying to prevent any more girls from being hurt.

The three try to figure out just what is happening on their home of Sawkill Island, long haunted by a strange presence and disappearances of young girls. The horror is more atmospheric, though the finale does ratchet up the tension quite a bit.

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Fear Street Series by RL Stine

Fear Street The Beginning: The New Girl; The Surprise Party; The Overnight; Missing

The gold standard for teen and young adult horror. Stine takes a more grounded approach to the horror in Fear Street as opposed to the mostly whimsical Goosebumps series, but the scares are still age appropriate. While it’s not necessary to read in order as the books jump around to different characters, some connections and callbacks enhance the books as you go if you decide to.

The story revolves around various residents in the small town of Shadyside, long cursed by strange happenings and plain bad luck. Things can vary pretty wildly, with stories going anywhere from vampires, ghosts, and demons to simple murders. Keep in mind, this is a wholly different monster than Goosebumps, and Stine puts in the blood to show it (looking for something like Goosebumps but for a more grownup audience? Check out R.L Stine’s YA series Fear Street).

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book

While Gaiman has Coraline for the younger audience, The Graveyard Book is the perfect entry point for a teen horror fan. The story of Roald Dahl’s Jungle Book, but set in a massive, fantastical graveyard full of ghouls and ghosts.

It follows the same basic beats as the original story but with the supernatural twist knotted into every thread of the plot. Gaiman’s prose is easy to get into, and he has this simple way of capturing your attention within a page with his wordplay.

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Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, Book 1) (Anna Dressed in Blood Series, 1)

What starts as a sort of family road trip/exorcist story where a boy and his widowed mother exorcize ghosts and ghouls throughout America (along with their not-entirely normal but totally adorable cat) quickly becomes a wild murder mystery and survival thrill ride.

Cas, said kid who can see ghosts, ends up in a small town haunted by a murdered girl that kills anyone brave or foolish enough to try her. Cas makes it out fine though and begins a twisting journey to the bottom of finding out who killed her and why.

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We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Spooky, gothic horror with a teenage protagonist, perfect as an intro to young adult horror and the trope of an unreliable narrator. This is a favorite because everyone I’ve spoken to has a different take on the ending and it still gets discussed today.

Merricat and her sister live with their uncle in their family mansion. They’re the only survivors, as the rest of the family died in a strange poisoning a little over a year before the book begins. We follow Merricat as she deals with the townspeople nearby, raising suspicions about her and her sister being the killers while fighting the thought that maybe she is the one to blame…

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The Getaway by Lamar Giles

The Getaway

This book found its way into my reading list recently and hasn’t left my head since. There are a ton of great moral and ethical questions raised for teen-targeted horror too, which is always a good thing for critical thinking development. It’s isolation horror with little bits of apocalyptic disaster thrown in that works as a critique on the class divide among other things.

A teen living in an isolated resort, walled off from the rest of the world where things aren’t going so great. Not that it affects him… until it does. Wealthy elites start pouring into the resort as things outside take a dangerous turn, leading to an all-out race for survival as conditions quickly break down.

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This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

This Is Not a Test: A Novel

Back to the classics with a newer twist on the zombie apocalypse. One girl holes up with other survivors in a high school as the ravenous dead try to batter their way in. She’s not keen on surviving, having recently been through massive tragedy and loss in her own life, but things change pretty quickly when everything crashes down in the most hellish way.

What starts as a zombie apocalypse becomes a psychological game of death as she has to suddenly figure out how to survive when death is at every turn.

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The Coldest Girl in Cold Town by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Years after a vampire legion comes to be and government-sanctioned “Coldtowns” are set up to contain them and their victims, known as Colds. The Colds can potentially turn into vampires after being bitten, leading to a cycle of being trapped in the Coldtowns.

The book follows one girl who is bitten after vampires slaughter most of the party she’s at. So begins a journey into Coldtown to try and find a cure along with a non-threatening vampire and her now vampirized boyfriend, though what she stumbles into will be far more dangerous than she expects.

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Good Girls Die First by Kathryn Foxfield

Good Girls Die First

Blackmail leads five teenagers to an isolated pier amusement park. While they all have secrets, the greatest secret is what’s about to happen to them as the pier gets dark and fog moves in, with something coming along with it.

There’s a tense chill throughout the entire book from the moment the fog sets in, giving atmosphere to the already engaging mystery. Full of surprises, and didn’t go how I expected.

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Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White

Hell Followed with Us

This is another that’s stuck with me since reading it, probably due to my religious upbringing as a queer kid. There’s righteous anger and vulnerability mixed in the story follows Benji, a young trans boy experimented on by a doomsday cult and used to usher in the apocalypse.

Benji escapes and finds refuge with other youths at an LGBTQ+ Youth Center, but everything isn’t as it seems despite looking like Benji has finally found a home. There’s heart, horror, a little humor, and a beautiful, bloody journey of discovering yourself through the chaos of the world.

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Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman

Full Tilt

No, that title is completely accurate when it comes to this book by Neal Shusterman because the author leaned full tilt into the terrifying carnival from hell here. Something Wicked This Way Comes but with a more isolated and focused sense of danger centered around the carnival rides themselves.

When little brother Quinn runs off on his own into a strange carnival, it’s up to older brother Blake to find him. Unfortunately, Blake will have to survive seven attractions straight from hell to get his brother back. A quick read that will fly by and has plenty of fun scares.

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Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas Series Complete 8 Books Collection Set by Dean Koontz (Odd Thomas, Forever Odd, Brother Odd, OddHours, Odd Apocalypse, Deeply Odd, Saint Odd & Odd Interlude)

There’s always a special place for Odd Thomas, one of Koontz’s most enduring characters. Odd is just a normal short-order cook in a normal town, dating a normal girlfriend that he loves very much. Except Odd can see ghosts and something very bad is about to happen judging by how many have gathered around him lately.

Odd is such an endearing character that just wants to do right by everyone but just constantly faces bad luck and terrible circumstances, yet he keeps moving and being positive. Inspirational and light reading with supernatural horror as the backdrop, more of a relaxing break series in between darker horrors.

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Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Alien: Echo: An Original Young Adult Novel of the Alien Universe

Disclaimer: Alien is my favorite film of all time and I have an inherent bias. That said, Alien: Echo is probably one of the best entry points to the franchise for young readers, barring traumatizing younger kids with the original movie.

Twin sisters arrive in a new colony on a distant planet when they move for their parents’ work. Unfortunately, that work involves studying xenomorph biology and that never goes well.  Containment is broken and the colony quickly falls into chaos as the sisters must fight to survive and escape.

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Go Hunt Me by Kelly deVos

Go Hunt Me

A fun read that gives all the thrills and chills of classic vampire movies, complete with an authentic Romanian setting. High school friends decide to go all out for their last short film before they head off to college, pooling money and getting access to a Romanian castle to make a vampire film inspired by Dracula.

Things go a little too according to plan as they begin dying one by one, with suspicions and fears that it may be a real vampire. It’s a fun hide-and-seek game through a twisting castle that moves faster than a vampire avoiding sunlight.

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The Boys of Summer by Richard L Cox

The Boys of Summer: A Novel

A cursed town, dual timelines, and a group of friends who need to stop the evil. Sounds like the recipe for IT by Stephen King but it isn’t, instead following a survivor of a deadly tornado as he and his friends fight a strange presence that settled in the destruction.

The inspirations and homages are right out front and serve as a great gateway into the horror that inspired him, but Cox’s characters are the shining point of the story, as they all have to come together in the past and present to figure out how to save their town.

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Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls

This was hard to pin down at first, with a lot of things going on without too much explanation in the beginning. It gets going quickly, though, and doesn’t let up the pace as the isolation and paranoia set in.

An all-girls school on an isolated island gets locked down in quarantine after some strange contagion starts causing all kinds of body horror nightmare mutations. Things escalate when someone goes missing and our protagonist Hatty has to break out into the contaminated world beyond to find her.

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Malice by Chris Wooding

Malice (1)

Malice is marketed towards middle grades and up, but don’t let that fool you because you’ll miss out on a fantastically fun horror ride. It’s an easy-to-pick-up and easy-to-read story, but Wooding went all in with the prose and idea, leading to almost slapstick comedy in the middle of some of the weirdest horror.

Three friends get sucked into a horror comic and have to figure out how to survive and escape. I’ll leave it there because honestly, it’s a quick read and a much more fun experience. You’ll have a blast.

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All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

All These Bodies

Moving to the edgier side of things, All These Bodies starts with a string of murders where everybody has been drained of blood down to the last drop. Things get really interesting when a surviving girl is found at the latest slaughter, covered in blood. 

The pace is fast and it’s a quick read, with a more investigative mystery hook with the horror taking a back seat. There’s a bit of a drop near the end but the ride up to it is still a thrill and has some great character writing.

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The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike

The Midnight Club

Adapted recently by Mike Flanagan into a Netflix series, Pike’s book was the original inspiration for the stories of terminally ill kids trying to scare each other with terrifying stories.

It’s more of a short collection with a frame story, but there’s plenty of variety so even if one doesn’t get you, another may.

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The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz

The Rains (The Rains Brothers, 1)

The most interesting zombie stories are always ones that take a different approach to the concept. The Rains sets everyone on a timer, where the moment anyone turns eighteen they become a mindless ghoul.

A series, the first book focuses on survivors in a small town led by the oldest of two brothers, who is due to turn eighteen in just weeks. It’s tense as there’s the dichotomy of knowing the danger lurking outside the safe zones while the seeming hopelessness of everyone being a ticking time bomb of death.

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Raising the Horseman by Serena Valentino

Raising the Horseman

A fun intro to a classic horror story updated for modern times. Valentino takes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and fast forwards two hundred years from the original haunting, picking up with a modern-day teenager that comes across an old diary.

The Headless Horseman returns to the small town and begins to wreak havoc once more, leading our heroine to question everything in a coming-of-age twist on a classic.

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Dreamfall by Amy Plum

Dreamfall (Dreamfall, 1)

The most terrifying thing about nightmares is that they don’t have to go by any logical rules. Dreamfall relies on that and takes full advantage by going all out with some of the wildest terrors in the weirdest places.

Seven teens opt to take part in a sleep therapy to cure various issues like insomnia, sleepwalking, or horrible night terrors. Then an earthquake hits and sends the experimental equipment haywire, trapping them in a world of nightmares they have to fight to survive.

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Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Asylum (Asylum, 1)

Experimental horror often lends a sense of realism, giving you an insight into the story you may not have had otherwise. Asylum does that by including full photographs to go along with some of the scenes, giving a more vivid picture of the crumbling asylum the characters are exploring.

Three kids at a prestigious school have to stay in an old criminal asylum when the usual boarding dorms are under repair. What they find throughout is a teeming evil and terrible history.

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Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds: The First Official Stranger Things Novel

There’s probably no need to explain Stranger Things, with the series making its way into every facet of life at this point. The first novel based on the show is something else though, taking a prequel approach about the founding of Hawkins Lab and its original experiments- MKULTRA.

More taught thriller and setup for true horror to come, there’s a lot of really cool background here for the character of Dr. Brenner and the development of how he came to be the person seen in the show. There’s also a cool historical fiction twist, taking a lot of inspiration from the tensions of the Vietnam war at the time and the very real MKULTRA experiments performed by the CIA.

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The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre Sacasa

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Sabrina Spellman should also need no introduction, considering the teenage witch has been casting spells for decades at this point. Chilling Adventures came along and put such a fresh twist on her that she’s almost become a new character.

Taking a much darker approach than the previous comics, this series follows Sabrina learning her powers and fighting darker forces in between navigating high school and romance. It’s fun and pretty light on the actual horror, focusing a lot more on the fantastical, but still gives a good jump every so often to keep you on your toes.

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The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass

The Taking of Jake Livingston

Georgia has a really good streak of putting out great artists and writers (like me!) but Ryan Douglass takes the experiences of living in the deep south as a queer BIPOC kid and makes it so anyone can relate to Jake’s feelings. It’s a rare ability to make a character you can empathize with from page one, but Douglass pulls it off and backs it up with good scares.

Jake is sixteen, the only black kid at his prestigious school, and he can see ghosts. Something more horrifying with these ghosts though is that they relive their final moments over and over, all while Jake has to see it. The problems start when a murderous spirit makes his own plans for Jake.

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The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Weight of Blood

A modern-day Carrie from the perspective of a secretly biracial teen at her highschools first integrated prom. Unfortunately, the basis for the story is all too real, but Jackson takes it and turns it into a story of justice and embracing yourself.

Maddy is a biracial teen made to pass as white by her unstable father. When her town is finally exposed for the roots of racism that still thrive there, they try to deflect with the school’s first integrated prom. Unfortunately for Maddy, she’s always been somewhat of an outcast, and that makes her a target on prom night. Unfortunately for her classmates, Maddy is hiding much more than her race.

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Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker: A Novel of the Clockwork Century (The Clockwork Century, 1)

If horror and steampunk are listed anywhere in the same book, it gets added to my library. No exceptions. Boneshaker was one of the best additions though, combining steampunk, alternate history, zombies, and freakin’ SKY PIRATES! How can anyone not think sky pirates are the coolest thing ever?

So, an inventor attempts to make a massive drill to drill for oil under layers of ice right after the American Civil War. Naturally, things go wrong and the drill destroys most of Seattle, also unleashing an ancient gas that turns living into the undead. It’s gross. So with it being right after the Civil War and not a whole lot of choices, the United States just walls off the city and tells people to keep out.

We follow the widow of said inventor, who supposedly died in the accident, as she has to journey into the city to rescue their headstrong son. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book has everything.

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Yu Yu Hakusho by Yoshihiro Togashi

YuYu Hakusho, Vol. 1

Though Togashi gets more spotlight these days for his series HunterxHunter, Yu Yu Hakusho was the intro for a lot of fans new to the medium of manga. Especially back in the early 2000s before it was prevalent in America, the story of Spirit Detective Yusuke Yurameshi became known outside of the niche fanbase.

Yusuke is just a typical high school punk, a delinquent always picking fights but secretly harboring a heart of gold. Until he dies, pushing a child out of the path of a speeding car, taking the hit for her. For his act of selfless altruism he’s granted another chance at life, but this time as a Spirit Detective helping to lay lost souls to rest.

It’s a classic trope now and pops up everywhere (even I’m guilty) but this was just a fantastically run series that is just as good decades later as it was on release. The horror is more of an aesthetic, but some characters are genuinely horrifying, especially during the Dark Tournament Arc (which is a whole history lesson of its own!).

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Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan

Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare

Another classic horror series for teens and young adults, Cirque Du Freak combines every horror creature it can into a carnival of chaos led by one very eccentric vampire.

The story follows a boy who becomes assistant to the lead vampire, helping to carry out the more odd aspects of the supernatural circus. There’s a great comedy with horror elements sprinkled throughout the series.

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Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Clown in a Cornfield

Ugh, clowns. I’ll take the worst tentacled cosmic horror over clowns any day of the week, and this is one of the reasons why. 

There are kids versus adults in the small town of Kettle Creek where nobody can agree and the town is crumbling for it. Everyone has to choose whether to set aside their differences or not very quickly though as the clown mascot of the high school football team starts going on a murder spree through the rural community.

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Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

A teen horror anthology instead of a novel, with some of the biggest names in teen and YA horror contributing stories. 

A personal recommendation from the collection is In Forests Dark and Deep, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a much more murderous rabbit than the original.

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Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie

The original classic that inspired so many teen horrors to come. Stephen King’s first published novel, and to this day a terrifying coming-of-age story.

Carrie is a scared girl with strange powers. Between her religious fanatic mom and awkward appearance, she doesn’t have many friends and is often the subject of abuse. That all changes on prom night.

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Frankenstein by Junji Ito

Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection

Surprise, Ito recommendation! Frankenstein is Ito’s take on the original Mary Shelley classic, translating the story of a man playing God by creating his own monster to manga form with his disturbing art.

As always, the art is so ridiculously detailed down to every stitch in the monster, and Ito is obviously having fun with drawing the gruesome scientific procedures at play.

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There we have it, forty books to bring a new generation of readers into the world of ghosts, monsters, and horrors of our own reality. Most won’t be too scary but will stoke that love of horror in readers of any age to keep the fire going and keep monsters out.

Frequently Asked Question Corner!

How can I tell if a horror book is appropriate for teens?

Well, it all depends on the age and what is considered appropriate by the parents or guardian. The best way to determine is always reading it yourself, but there are a lot of handy guides on the internet that help categorize what kind of mature content pertains to different books. All the books listed here are on the lighter side and contain for the most part nothing mature outside some sparse language and blood.

They’re not quite teenagers, are there any horror books for younger children?

Coraline is the go-to answer here, written by Neil Gaiman and adapted into a fantastic film as well. It’s more of an illustrated storybook, following one girl as she enters another realm not quite like ours.

Goosebumps will be the other best bet, with RL Stine going all out with spooky horror and ridiculous situations. These will introduce young readers to every type of horror trope and creature imaginable while being completely kid friendly.

Who are the best horror writers for teens and young adults?

RL Stine is a safe bet due to how prolific he is and the sheer amount of work put out. Otherwise when it comes to teen horror authors like Kendare Blake, Christopher Pike, and Cassandra Clare all incorporate elements of horror in their series for younger readers.

Which books are good transitions from young adult and teen horror into more adult-oriented horror?

Stephen King is going to be the most accessible author when it comes to making that jump (from personal experience anyway). Start with something like Revival, which is a great intro piece not only to horror, but to multiple different genres including religious, folk, and cosmic horror.

Otherwise, Grady Hendrix or T. Kingfisher might be the best points to cross over. For Hendrix give My Best Friend’s Exorcism a read for good horror and humor mixed in. T. Kingfisher likes to keep more to a gothic styling, but What Moves the Dead is a fun starting point for creepy folk horror and gothic mystery.

What is the scariest book for a teen to read?

AP Calculus, 6th Edition. At least, that was it for me as a teen. If we’re going for sheer terror without having too many mature themes, Pet Sematary by Stephen King is pretty high up there. I (and many others) will also agree on multiple nightmares coming from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collections by Alvin Schwartz. “Harold” especially supplied enough nightmare fuel to keep me running for three decades now.

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Ross Tyson