Coming-Of-Age Thrillers and Chillers

Ever since I watched the made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King's It, opens a new window at a middle school slumber party, I've been captivated by coming-of-age horror stories and mysteries. Sure, I also devoured all of Judy Blume's candid yet wistful novels of adolescence as ravenously as any other precocious prepubescent with a library card. But the coming-of-age horror/thriller subgenres particularly appealed to me by uniquely capturing the darker side of growing up, with evil clowns, murderers, and monsters standing in for the frightening specters of puberty, hormones, and loss of innocence.

Take an eerie trip down memory lane with one of these nostalgic tales of terror!

Summer of Night

It's the last day of school in 1960, and 12-year-old Dale and his friends are looking forward to three months of pick-up baseball games, twilight bicycle rides, and stargazing. Class isn't even dismissed before one of their classmates suddenly vanishes inside the school house...and that's just the beginning of a summer where all hell breaks loose in the seemingly idyllic town of Elm Haven, Illinois. At 500 pages, author Dan Simmons takes his time working up to some truly monumental scares, but the characterizations and world-building descriptions are so rich and engrossing that you'll want to follow the narrative anywhere.

After Her

In the summer of 1979, a pair of tight-knit sisters on the brink of adolescence listen to Peter Frampton albums in their bedroom, play pranks on their neighbors, and explore the mountain trail just beyond their backyard. Their halcyon days are brought to a sickening halt when young women start turning up viciously murdered on the mountain, and the girls' detective father is tasked with bringing the killer to justice. Loosely based on the true story of Marin County's Trailside Killer, After Her makes up for a somewhat disappointing resolution to its murder mystery with plenty of mesmerizing passages that stunningly convey the languid, sun-dappled feeling of a 1970s California summer.

Boy's Life

One cold morning before the dawn, young Corey Mackenson and his father see a speeding car drive straight into a lake. During a frantic attempt to rescue the driver, his father is confronted with a gruesome and depraved sight that changes him forever. It's part fairy tale, part Southern Gothic murder mystery as Corey tries to find a killer in a mystical Alabama town populated with endearingly eccentric characters, river monsters, sociopathic school bullies, and even a triceratops.

The Secret Place

"The Secret Place" is a bulletin board at St. Kilda's all girls' school where students anonymously pin up all manner of private thoughts. One year after a boy at a neighboring school is found murdered on the St. Kilda's campus, his photo appears at The Secret Place bearing the caption "I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM". Over the course of a single day, two resourceful detectives delve deep into the intricate and inscrutable world of teenage girls to uncover the truth, zeroing in on a clique whose fierce loyalty and love for one another might be more than meets the eye.