Historically, I steer away from the horror and thriller genres and tend to read fiction where no one gets sliced, stalked or slowly driven insane. I blame my mother and Jack the Ripper for this aversion. I grew up the 70s when people commonly had one TV in their home and mini-series were a huge deal (Roots, Thornbirds, *North and South, etc.). There was no way Mom was missing a juicy miniseries like Jack the Ripper. When I voiced my concern about having nightmares, she told me I had two options: watch or go to bed. At the time, I had cause to believe that a vampire lived in the drawer under my bed so I wasn’t going upstairs alone. I was a coward, but I wasn’t an idiot. Therefore, I watched and was scarred for life. My mom thinks this story is hilarious and responds by saying, “Well, you could have gone upstairs. It’s not like we had DVR back then so what did you want me to do, miss it?”
I know from experience as a school librarian that kids adore Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series. Ten year olds are aghast when I tell them I can’t get past the early scenes where someone’s head gets lopped off. I know what they were thinking: wimpy librarian. I can live with that. I’m thrilled to recommend the Grimm series to students who like their horror served with a head on a plate. Kids seem less bothered by gore, in general. To my credit, I did get through the spooky novel Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland, even though it totally creeped me out (as the author intended), and the young horror fans I handed it to were delighted with it. I also frequently recommend Seraphina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Beatty succeeds in providing just enough chills (skin in gloves!) without being inappropriate or gratuitous, and even though I figured out the main mystery pretty early on, there was a later twist that I didn’t see coming. For me, that rarely happens with children’s books, and I thought he did a masterful job of plotting. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Like me, some children frighten easily, so you have to know your audience when you make recommendations. I usually ask kids directly, “Do you like scary books or do they give you nightmares?” They know their limits. Right now, I’m trying my hand at writing a young adult thriller. It was an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone and even though I’m a little scared to write it, these characters want to get on the page. I’m reading both adult and young adult thrillers so I can better understand the elements of this genre, and I started with Sister by Rosamund Lupton. The gore was minimal, but the suspense was gripping. Having a beloved sister, The Bean, I could relate to the main character’s drive to discover the truth. Some of the thrillers and mysteries I read in the past seemed to sacrifice character development in favor of complex plotting. Lupton’s characters were so well developed out that I found myself crying at certain points of the novel. I don’t think even the greatest plot can make you cry unless the writer fully invests you in the characters. I highly recommend reading Sister if you haven’t already.
I’ll write further updates on my foray into reading and writing thrillers. It’s getting late, and I need to check under the bed for vampires.
*I’m pretty sure that when my mother bought me the book version of North and South, she was unaware that it was R-rated. She probably should have surmised it from the naughty bits in the TV version, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell her!