There are certain books that just… shake you. Some are downright terrifying (@Dreaming Darkly, we’ve been sleeping with the lights on THANK YOU VERY MUCH), or utterly gut-wrenching (we basically just sat in silence for a minute or twenty after finishing Monday’s Not Coming), or keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish (all of these, tbh). All in all, these books are *epic* and we can’t get enough.
Straight horror or a poignant contemporary, something about these books just disturbs us, and they’ve stayed with us looooong after we read the last page. Let’s take a look here: Dreaming Darkly literally opens with the line: “I was eight years old when my mother tried to kill me,” and tbh, it’s all downhill for Ivy from there. Other Words for Smoke?? Sweet James is a literal nightmare and we will never look at an owl the same way. Just take a look at the cover of A Line in the Dark and tell us that’s not simply unsettling??
We’ve got total page-turners, psychological thrillers, and more in this super creepy roundup—scroll down to see them all!
19 Unsettling Young Adult Books
THAT YOU’LL NEED TO READ WITH THE LIGHTS ON
1. Dreaming Darkly by Caitlin Kittredge
Ivy Bloodgood’s mother is dead, and she should probably be sad about it. But she isn’t. Myra Bloodgood was a manipulative personality who never told the truth—about where she came from, who Ivy’s father was, or why they were living their lives on the run.
Now that Ivy has been sent to the family estate on Darkhaven, an island off the New England coast, she is forced to reckon with her mother’s past. Ivy can tell right away there are long-held family secrets buried within these walls, but when she wakes up from one of her nightmares covered in someone else’s blood, Ivy fears that whatever demons her mother battled while she was alive have come to roost in her own mind.
Scared that she can no longer trust what she sees, Ivy seeks the help of a boy who thinks her episodes are connected to the sordid history of Darkhaven—but what they don’t know might kill them both.
2. Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin
Twins Mae and Rossa’s summer away from home becomes life altering when they discover a house full of witches, experience devastating first love, and face a dark power beyond any imagining.
Sarah Maria Griffin’s haunting and literary sophomore novel explores the balance between love and fear, weakness and power, and the lengths one will go to claim one’s freedom. For fans of Libba Bray’s The Diviners and Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints.
When the women from the house at the end of the lane went missing, none of the townspeople knew what happened. A tragedy, they called it. Only twins Mae and Rossa know the truth about that fateful summer.
Only they know about the owl in the wall, the uncanny cat, the insidious creatures that devour love and fear. Only they know the trials of loving someone who longs for power, for freedom, for magic. Only they know what brought everything tumbling down around them. And they’ll never, ever breathe a word.
3. Contagion by Erin Bowman
Perfect for fans of Madeleine Roux, Jonathan Maberry, and horror films like 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, this pulse-pounding, hair-raising, utterly terrifying novel is the first in a duology from the critically acclaimed author of the Taken trilogy.
After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission.
When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project—including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what could have possibly decimated an entire project, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.
4. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried.
When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?
5. House of Furies by Madeleine Roux
Featuring stunning interior illustrations from artist Iris Compiet, plus photo-collages that bring the story to chilling life, House of Furies invites readers to a world where the line between monsters and men is ghostly thin.
After escaping a harsh school where punishment was the lesson of the day, seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton is thrilled to find employment as a maid at a boarding house.
But soon after her arrival at Coldthistle House, Louisa begins to realize that the house’s mysterious owner, Mr. Morningside, is providing much more than lodging for his guests. Far from a place of rest, the house is a place of judgment, and Mr. Morningside and his unusual staff are meant to execute their own justice on those who are past being saved.
Louisa begins to fear for a young man named Lee who is not like the other guests. He is charismatic and kind, and Louisa knows that it may be up to her to save him from an untimely judgment. But in this house of distortions and lies, how can Louisa be sure who to trust?
6. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.
Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.
But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost… as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.
7. This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis
Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her Oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved.
But suddenly there’s a fork in the road in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, and her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it. Why does he act like he knows her so well—too well—when she doesn’t know him at all?
Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending the chapter of another: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule, or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac.
Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.
8. A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs
Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery—a subterranean bunker that belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe.
Clues to Abe’s double-life as a peculiar operative start to emerge, secrets long hidden in plain sight. And Jacob begins to learn about the dangerous legacy he has inherited—truths that were part of him long before he walked into Miss Peregrine’s time loop.
Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom—a world with few ymbrynes, or rules—that none of them understand. New wonders, and dangers, await in this brilliant next chapter for Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children.
9. This Splintered Silence by Kayla Olson
Lindley Hamilton has been the leader of the space station Lusca since every first generation crew member on board, including her mother, the commander, was killed by a deadly virus.
Lindley always assumed she’d captain the Lusca one day, but she never thought that day would come so soon. And she never thought it would be like this—struggling to survive every day, learning how to keep the Lusca running, figuring out how to communicate with Earth, making sure they don’t run out of food.
When a member of the surviving second generation dies from symptoms that look just like the deadly virus, though, Lindley feels her world shrinking even smaller. And as more people die, Lindley must face the terrifying reality—that either the virus has mutated, or one of their own is a killer.
10. Drop Dead Gorgeous by R.L. Stine
Morgan Marks is the new girl—and nobody can stop talking about her.
She’s popular, smart, and beautiful. Everyone wants to be her friend.
But her past is veiled in mystery, and no one knows where exactly she came from.
Now Shadyside Homecoming is just around the corner. And Morgan’s dark secrets are about to be dug up for all the world to see.
11. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Who are the Sawkill Girls?
Marion: The newbie. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.
Zoey: The pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.
Val: The queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives; a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.
Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires. Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight…until now.
12. Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
13. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery’s never been there, but she’s heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.
The town is picture-perfect, but it’s hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone has declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.
Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she’s in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous–and most people aren’t good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it’s safest to keep your secrets to yourself.
14. A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
The most important thing is that Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend, even if Angie can’t see how she truly feels. It’s okay that Jess is the girl on the sidelines that nobody notices. That means she’s free to watch everyone else and be at Angie’s side. But when Angie starts falling for Margot, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can already see what’s going to happen. And suddenly her gift for observation is a curse.
As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess finds more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences.
When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.
15. Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.
The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.
But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.
Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.
16. Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: When the king dies, his son the prince must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.
When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon or what horrors she faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome young man, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny of sitting on a throne beside him. It’s all like a dream, like something from a fairy tale.
As Ama follows Emory to the kingdom of Harding, however, she discovers that not all is as it seems. There is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows, and the greatest threats may not be behind her, but around her, now, and closing in.
17. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from acclaimed author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books, This Savage Song is a must-have for fans of Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, and Laini Taylor.
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
18. The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.
First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.
That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.
There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.
19. The First True Thing by Claire Needell
Marcelle is clean and sober, attending a tough-love version of after-school rehab, and barely hanging out with her user friends. But one night she gets a text from her best friend, Hannah, asking Marcelle to cover for her.
The next morning, Hannah is missing. Marcelle was the last one to hear from her…and now she’s lying to everyone—about the text, and more.
How long can Marcelle go on before she admits to herself what she has to do? If she comes clean, can she save Hannah?