Horror is designed to elicit fear, that’s pretty obvious. But what a lot of people miss is that horror also has ways of making its readers feel rage, heartbreak, shock, frustration, and even joy. There’s so much more to a good scary story than, well, the scares themselves. Whether it’s endearing characters persevering at every terrible turn, or the heartbreak of seeing a bad situation completely collapse, it’s not uncommon to have horror novels lead you on a wild ride. So if you’re looking for a little nuance in the darkness of your bookshelf, here are ten emotional horror books you’ll have to read to believe.
10 Emotional Horror Reads That’ll Give You All the Fears and Feels
Nothing tugs at the heartstrings like a band of plucky, unlikely heroes fighting to save the world during the apocalypse. And SWAN SONG gives us both the pluckiest unlikely heroes and the most sinister of apocalypses. Sister and Joshua, two survivors, team up with a mysterious girl known as Swan, who displays some extraordinary powers. But unbeknownst to them, an ancient evil called the Man with the Scarlet Eye is determined to find and kill Swan before she can use her powers to heal and herald a new age for humanity. It is both a struggle of good and evil and a beautiful study of what it means to be a person—definitely worth picking up if you’re in the mood for something with high stakes and higher feels.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.
New York Times bestselling author Robert McCammon’s prescient and “shocking” (John Saul) vision of a post-apocalyptic US comes to life in his classic epic of terror and renewal.
In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, Earth’s last survivors have been drawn into a final battle between good and evil that will decide the fate of humanity. There’s Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets…Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station…and Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with her gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army…beginning with Swan herself.
Ghost stories tend to get a bad rep, but they’re often some of the most heartbreaking, sorrowful tales in the genre. WITHIN THESE WALLS manages to seamlessly mix the tragedy of a ghost story with the thrills of a true-crime exposé. Lucas Graham needs one more big book to get back in the literary limelight, and he thinks he might have found his subject in death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, a former cult leader who promises to give Lucas an exclusive interview. Jumping at the chance, Lucas moves into the cult’s former residence to try to capture the atmosphere for his book, only to find there’s a lot more than just atmosphere waiting for him. Creepy, disturbing, and down-right disillusioning, this is a must-read for anyone still in their true-crime phase.
In her all-new supernatural thriller, bestselling indie horror author Ania Ahlborn asks: How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?
With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.
If you’re on the hunt for human-driven, emotionally poignant horror, you’ve got to turn to Stephen Graham Jones. And what better way to start the year than with this first book in his new trilogy, MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW. Jade Daniels is a loner, loser, and huge horror fanatic, knowledge that serves her well as people start turning up dead in her community. In this tale of love, revenge, and healing from trauma, Jade’s character grows on you as she discovers her own might and carves out a niche for herself in the world. Best of all, the sequel—DON’T FEAR THE REAPER—is coming out in February 2023!
In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest chilling novel that “will give you nightmares. The good kind, of course” (BuzzFeed) from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”
Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.
Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.
Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.
In the future, a fast-spreading virus makes it so that all animal meat is deadly to humans, leading to the creation of a meat industry that creates and butchers humans. Marcos, however, finds himself connecting with one of his “specimens” and slowly rediscovers both her humanity and his own. TENDER IS THE FLESH is an emotional roller coaster of a novel, making you sympathize with those who eat their fellow man as much as those who get eaten. Be warned, though, this is not a story for those with a weak stomach.
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans—though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.
Drawing the line between reality and insanity is a popular motif in horror, with some of the most terrifying pieces of fiction leaving you questioning what really happened. For Dr. Lily Dominick, a forensic psychiatrist, her strangest patient might also be the one who causes her to lose her grip on what’s real. See, he claims to be both a two-hundred-year-old who inspired some of literature’s greatest monsters and her father. The idea is absurd, but Lily looks for the truth in it, as she seeks to help this man and finds out unfortunate truths about herself. THE ONLY CHILD has many psychological twists and turns, crafting a complicated narrative of uncovering what makes us who we are.
“Gothic fans rejoice!” (The Globe and Mail)
The #1 internationally bestselling author of The Demonologist radically reimagines some of literature’s classic masterpieces—Frankenstein, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula—in a contemporary novel driven by relentless suspense and breathtaking emotion.
This is the story of a man who may be the world’s one real-life monster, and the only woman who has a chance of finding him.
As a forensic psychiatrist at New York’s leading institution of its kind, Dr. Lily Dominick has evaluated the mental states of some of the country’s most dangerous psychotics. But the strangely compelling client she interviewed today—a man with no name, accused of the most twisted crime—struck her as somehow different from the others, despite the two impossible claims he made.
First, that he is more than two hundred years old, and he personally inspired Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker to create the three novels of the nineteenth century that define the monstrous in the modern imagination. Second, that he’s Lily’s father. To discover the truth—behind her client, her mother’s death, herself—Dr. Dominick must embark on a journey that will threaten her career, her sanity, and ultimately her life.
A “breathtaking story rife with emotion and chilling suspense” (The Big Thrill Magazine), The Only Child fuses the page-turning tension of a first-rate thriller with a provocative take on where thrillers come from. In his latest novel, “Andrew Pyper’s writing is gripping, and readers will undoubtedly make comparisons to Stephen King” (Library Journal) as they stay up all night to discover the last, unforgettable revelation.
If you pick up THIS THING BETWEEN US expecting a story about fighting Evil Alexa, then you are in for one hell of a surprise. While, yes, the novel does start off that way, it quickly delves into something far darker and more upsetting. Thiago and his wife, Vera, buy an Itza, a new smart device that amplifies the already weird occurrences in their home. But when Vera ends up dead, Thiago tries to escape the nightmare that his life has become and instead finds that the horror lives within him. A moving and dark exploration of grief, intimacy, and what we carry with us, this is a novel that will have you weeping while also being absolutely terrified.
There’s very little I wouldn’t do for my best friend, but if she needed me to return to the eerie haunted house where we were both traumatized to figure out what really happened that night, I might have to rain check. But Clare is on a mission—her best friend Abby is lying in a coma after attempting to kill herself, an action Clare believes stems directly from their visit to the Octagon House twenty years prior. But Clare has her own demons to confront, whether she’s willing to acknowledge them or not. A story of loss, friendship, and the darkness we all face, BENEATH THE STAIRS is as eerie and moving as horror stories get.
“An enthralling debut by a gifted storyteller!” —Wendy Walker, author of Don’t Look for Me
In this spine-tingling, atmospheric debut for fans of Jennifer McMahon, Simone St. James, and Chris Bohjalian, a woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.
Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.
Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.
An eerie page-turner, Beneath the Stairs is about the trauma that follows us from childhood to adulthood and returning to the beginning to reach the end.
Nature can be as deadly as it is beautiful, but troop leader Tim Riggs isn’t worried. He’s been taking troops camping for years. Except on his latest outing, he and his scouts are confronted with something even more harrowing than nature: human arrogance. A man approaches them, carrying within him a modified tapeworm that reproduces so quickly, it causes its host to eat at a voracious rate. Every chapter follows a different character, so you’ll end up rooting for the scouts and mourning as each meets his grisly fate. THE TROOP presents a deadly, enclosed thriller that ramps up the tension so effectively, you’ll find yourself trying to make a run for it (so maybe a good read for the gym!).
“The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best.” —Stephen King
This “grim microcosm of terror and desperation haunting” (Christopher Golden, New York Times bestselling author) follows a scout troop on a terrifying fight for survival when they come across a mysterious—and deadly—stranger in the Canadian wilderness.
Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. But when an unexpected intruder stumbles upon their campsite—shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—Tim and the boys are exposed to something far more frightening than any tale of terror. The human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare. A horror that spreads faster than fear. A harrowing struggle for survival with no escape from the elements, the infected…or one another.
Part Lord of the Flies, part 28 Days Later—and all-consuming—this tightly written, edge-of-your-seat thriller takes you deep into the heart of darkness, where fear feeds on sanity…and terror hungers for more.
Stephen King knows how to hit readers where it hurts, but wow, the emotional betrayal in ’SALEM’S LOT feels like a knock-out punch. The book revolves around Jerusalem’s Lot, an idyllic little town with its small dramas and a cast of characters that all falls apart when a vampire moves into town. As the vampire slowly turns the townsfolk into blood-crazed fiends, more and more characters are killed in increasingly heart-wrenching ways. And King spares no one—even beloved and fleshed-out main characters cannot escape the onslaught of violence. If you’re looking for a tear-jerker, take a little trip up to the Lot and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
One of the most ambitious and terrifying novels about the undead ever written, ’SALEM’S LOT explores what would happen if vampires existed in our modern world. When a young man returns to his hometown, he quickly realizes that it’s harboring something dark and evil. Can a small, insular town survive, or is it—and the rest of the country—doomed?
Don’t be fooled by the page count, PENPAL is one of those books that finds a way to sink its hooks into you in just one chapter. Originally a creepypasta (aka a spooky story posted on an internet forum), the book follows a young man as he explains six strange occurrences during his childhood and how, as an adult, he’s finally able to start to understand what they really meant. They culminate in a heartbreaking reveal as well as a sinister twist that will have you both reaching for the tissues and double checking that your mailbox hasn’t gotten any unwanted mail.
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