How Not to Write YA Horror

As I mentioned recently, I'm on the lookout for solid YA horror to hand to my kids, particularly when they've got gore on the brains in October.  So far, I've found very little that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

Perhaps part of the problem is that if teens really want gory, horrifying stuff, they'll probably just head over to adult or watch a movie.  I'm not saying that's a perfect solution, but it is a common situation.  Horror books featuring teens and written with a teen audience in mind are not very common.  I've read more adult-oriented books with teen or tween protagonists--one that comes to my mind is the most excellent Wink.  So-called teen scream books just aren't popular in the collective consciousness like they were when Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer made a splash in the late 90s.

I've been trying to request more galleys of YA horror in thehopes of finding something that I can happily recommend.  I may have to stick with just spooky, like the excellent Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud, or Constable and Toop by Gareth Jones.  My latest foray into horror with the book Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie gave me high hopes at first, and then dashed them on the pointy rocks of  Unbelievably Over-the-Top Villainy.

Creed begins with three teens going to a concert.  Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and his brother Mike, are headed away for a secret weekend celebration of Dee and Luke's anniversary.  Dee's backstory is actually really interesting and felt promising: she was placed in foster care after her father was thrown in jail for abuse.  She doesn't trust men in general, but she's finally come to trust Luke.  Mike is there because ... Dee can't lie or some lame excuse like that.

Anyway, they take a shortcut (Bad Idea 1), stop for Twinkies (Bad Idea 2--those suckers don't disintegrate!), and forget to buy gas, which is not just a Bad Idea but also a whaaaat? situation.  It would have been more believable had they blown a tire or found out that someone had poured sand in their gas tank whilst buying Twinkies or something.  Anything other than "I forgot to buy gas."  Especially when Dee pipes in that her new family always makes her fill up the car after every trip.  This was so unbelievable that I may have groaned in pain.  That sets the theme for all of their subsequent decisions: stupidity.

Instead of hunkering down in the car (point: there's no heat / counterpoint: there are three of them and they can definitely generate heat, plus there's clothes in the trunk), they get out and start walking in a winter storm toward where they think a town might be.  Mike grabs a tire iron, which is probably the most sensible thing anyone does in this book.  As they walk through the abandoned town of Purity Springs, the only sound is the emergency siren.  The streets, homes, and shops are utterly deserted.  There's also a particularly effective creepy-graveyard-scene, which made me think, "Hey, maybe this would be okay.  I hope aliens show up."

Dangit.  No aliens.  After sleeping in one of the cookie-cutter houses on a cookie-cutter street, Dee wakes up to find that Luke has gone foraging in the night and found a fundamentalist discipline manual in every single house.  It advocates serious beatings and blood-letting to release evil and so on.  A boy named Joseph just sort of shows up and claims to a) want to escape because b) his father is evil and going to hurt his sister.  The Three Wise Men say, "Gee golly, let's go with this guy because we have no other choice!"

Yep, they leave the tire iron behind.

As it turns out, the town of Purity Springs is run by Joseph's father, who is flat-out insane and has somehow managed to a) convince an entire town to beat their children and wives to death in order to save their souls and b) not show up on any map or garner any attention from the authorities.  Literally no one in the outside world knows what's going on.  Of course he captures them and tortures them and blah blah blah.  That's where I quit--52% of the way in (or out).  The multitude of bad decisions made my brain hurt.

I *think* they were trying to go for a Stephen King vibe here, what with the isolated winter setting, the madman, and the depressing denouement.  However, King's works thrive on the meticulous crafting of the characters.  Here, the characters are flat and boring.  I didn't care about any of them.

So, if you want to write a YA horror novel, please don't:

Make your characters stupid
Make your characters boring
Use a cliché villain and blame it all on AHH RELIGIOUS FANATICISM! 
Let them forget the tire iron

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley and the publisher.


Popular Posts