Eerie Reads for Lovers of A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (2011) is a creepy, moody story of grief and loss that looks at the role of stories in helping us to heal. Growing increasingly angry and isolated as he watches his mother succumb to cancer, Conor is visited each night by a monster who tells him stories and demands that Conor tell him a true one in return. This book pressed all my philosopher-librarian buttons and I couldn't get enough of it, so here's some more dark, atmospheric YA lit that doesn’t forget the importance of finding your place in the world:
Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) by Jay Asher explores the causes and aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide from the perspective of Clay Jenson, a classmate who receives a box of cassette tapes that, when played, reaveal a recorded suicide note from Hannah. If you liked the chilling, unsettling feeling of A Monster Calls, give this one a try!
Through the Woods (2014) is webcomic artist Emily Carroll’s print debut, and perfect for readers who loved A Monster Calls’ spooky, atmospheric illustrations. Through the Woods is a collection of five short graphic stories, including Carroll’s hit “His Face All Red,” that have all of the lurking horror of a classic Grimm’s fairy tale. Just be prepared to suddenly find the bedroom from Goodnight Moon completely terrifying.
Like A Monster Calls, John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things (2006) tells the story of a boy coping with the loss of his mother and focuses on the power of stories to help us heal. David has taken refuge in his books since his mother died and his father remarried, but he now finds himself trapped in a menacing fairy-tale world that has more in common with the traditional faerie realm than a Disney setting. Try this one if you liked A Monster Calls’ theme of staring down dark monsters to find a way back to the light.
No list of eerie stories would be complete without something from master of the unsettling Neil Gaiman, and Coraline (2002) delivers. In her family’s new apartment, Coraline opens a door — walled up back when the building was converted to flats — to find a passageway to another world. It’s uncannily like the world Coraline left behind, with sinister differences, including a button-eyed couple intent on adopting Coraline as their own. Coraline is a children’s story that will have teens and adults going to sleep with the light on if they can get away with it. Like A Monster Calls, Coraline isn’t strictly a graphic novel (though that’s also an option), but McKean’s jerky illustrations contribute to the atmospheric feeling.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2011) has been a hit for Ransom Riggs, and if you’re a fan of scary stories it’s easy to see why. After the violent death of his beloved grandfather, Jacob visits the island where the old man grew up — and the setting of his fantastic stories about his peculiar, magical playmates. On his arrival, he finds that the children are still there, all these decades later. Although Jacob wants to learn more about his grandfather, danger is dogging his footsteps and he must act quickly to save the "Peculiars." Riggs and company play their mixed media well here, with creepy vintage photographs that become more unsettling the longer you look at them.
In Asylum (2013), a group of students living in a mental hospital converted to dorms start exploring the old building and uncovering its old secrets. Asylum is a more straightforward horror story than many of the others on this list, so go for it if you want an undiluted haunted-house novel. Author Madeline Roux creates a “found footage” feel by including disturbing photographs of real-life asylums and their inmates.
Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves (2013) isn’t really a horror story, but if you loved the way A Monster Calls drew out Conor’s fear and anger in dream-like stories, take a look at this one. Ronan Lynch, a supporting character in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, takes center-stage here, using his power to pull anything he dreams into reality while grappling with his own self-loathing, family secrets, and the violent death of his charming and mysterious father. Do yourself a favor and read the whole series, but Ronan’s story is rich enough to stand on its own here if you’re not ready to take the plunge.
Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) (2006) translates the sinister benevolence of A Monster Calls to the screen, albeit in a more violent, less prosaic setting. Guillermo Del Toro makes good use of his Fascist Spain setting, creating a world where young Ofelia is afraid of both the adults in her life and the monster under her bed. Trying to keep herself and her mother safe from her stepfather, Ofelia follows the directions of the eerie Pale Man (the titular fauno) while Del Toro keeps the audience guessing whether she is merely falling out of the frying pan and into the fire.
And now for something completely different: If you enjoyed the mingled tension and hope of A Monster Calls, please give this game a try. In Jonas Kyratzes' The Infinite Ocean (2010), you find yourself in an abandoned bunker: the chairs are knocked over and the coffee is still warm. As you piece together emails, diaries, and log entries from an AI development project, you’ll uncover what happened to the scientists and where to go from here. This is a beautiful, philosophical game with a haunting soundtrack. With no weapons or action sequences, all the tension comes from the player’s own mind as they piece together the story at their own pace.