Rites of passage. Coming into your own. Coming of age. Growing up. Think of one of your favorite stories, movies, or books. Chances are that quite a few of you would name something that includes an aspect of “coming of age.”
Bildungsroman, the literary term for coming of age, means “a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.” What, then, does that look like in horror fiction? Those who are not fans of the genre may believe that a tale about growing up, which happens to be a horror story, must end in devastation. It must be horrific. This style of horror fiction does put characters through horrible, awful situations, like most stories do, but this is just a mirror for life. Sometimes the end isn’t happy, sometimes it is, much like it is in life.
Let’s turn our thoughts to who populate these stories. Usually, it’s a boy or group of boys, with perhaps a token girl or two. IT, Stranger Things, and so on. Some pretty cool female characters, but is it their story? Not really. These stories, with girls at the forefront, exist, I promise. Decades ago, these stories were called “novels of development” and “it seem[ed] clear that the authors conceive of growing up female as a choice between auxiliary or secondary personhood, sacrificial victimization, madness, and death” (Leisha Jones, Contemporary Bildungsromans and the Prosumer Girl). A choice between what kind of background character to be, death, or insanity? These tales have importance, but I sure am glad we’ve turned the corner.
As it’s Women in Horror month, I thought it would be amazing to lift up the ladies who are excelling in this particular subgenre. Because, I’m sorry guys, they do this better. Can a man REALLY write what it feels like to experience menstruation for the first time, to convey what it’s like to be suddenly seen as a sex object, to be any number of things that only girls growing up can experience? Maybe.
What follows are books I recommend (I’ve read them) and some suggestions (books that I have on my TBR list). There are no male authors listed here, and while there ARE some amazing girl-centric stories written by guys; I’ll save that for another article. Ladies first, please 😉
These are a few of the recent books I’ve read. Each one of these will have an abbreviated synopsis, a link to the book, and a few, more specific, thoughts.
Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.
It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.
Nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.
My thoughts: I loved this story for so many reasons. It is relatable and appeals to such a broad range of readers. Kiste’s prose is effortlessly gorgeous and brutal. This book was in my top reads from 2018, and as the winner of the Stoker for debut novel, it is a “don’t miss” read. Here’s a little excerpt from my my longer review: “…the question of “what is happening to the girls in Denton Street” is central to the story; however, it is surrounded by a devastatingly gorgeous coming-of-age tale…the author’s ability to take something that seems very personal and open it wide for so many others to relate to. That’s talent and believability all in one.”
In her debut novella, Rios de la Luz examines the lives of a small family of water witches living near the US-Mexico border. Exploring issues of race and trauma along with beauty and magic, Itzá is a powerful reclamation of body and identity.
My thoughts: This slim novella hurt me. It is also in my top 3 reads of 2019, despite being published 2 years earlier. It is gorgeous and brutal, and there were times my heart just ached for these girls. An important piece of speculative fiction, I want more people to experience this book. Tread carefully, it is powerful. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book: “Hand in hand, they walked to what used to be the end of town and knocked on the gate of the cemetery. Crows sat on the skyscraper tombs and rain sprinkled the graves. The air smelled like childhood.”
From my review: “Do not go into this book expecting clear, linear plot lines and rigid, exact language. To me, this is a story of soul, of heart, and the surreality of de la Luz’s prose fits this perfectly…the author melds horrible life experiences like rape and racism with the strong and beautiful lives of these girls. The politics and trauma are there; they are an inextricable part of their lives and de la Luz shies away from none of it.”
In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.
That belief got Becca killed.
It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until now.
My thoughts: Walter’s book was a good read for me. I love her writing style and I found this coming of age tale exactly what I needed to read at the moment. In my review, I stated: “I love that the characters all seem to behave in ways that are absolutely true to the characters that Walters has created. I could see myself in both the “now” and the “then”, and honestly, that is so important to me. Not that I can see myself in a character, but that the author’s skill set has allowed them to craft REAL people…The Dead Girls Club is a coming of age tale that makes us ponder truth and fiction, love and hatred.”
Jacqueline is a young Creole slave in antebellum New Orleans. An unusual stranger who has haunted her dreams since childhood comes to stay as a guest in her master’s house. Soon after his arrival, members of the household die mysteriously, and Jacqueline is suspected of murder. Despite her fear of the stranger, Jacqueline befriends him and he helps her escape. While running from the slave catchers, they meet conjurers, a loup-garou, and a traveling circus of supernatural freaks. She relies on ancestral magic to guide her and finds strength to conquer her fears on her journey.
My thoughts: This is a slice of historical fiction which follows the life of a young girl as she navigates the world as a slave in antebellum New Orleans. Mix in supernatural characters, blood magic, and so many trials and tribulations, and you have this horror/dark fantasy story. While this particular book wasn’t exactly what I love, I dug Lane’s writing and my Sci Fi and Scary “co-worker”, Nico, absolutely adored it. You can check out her review here.
JOIN ME IN ADDING TO YOUR TBR!
Recently, I reached out on social media and asked for suggestions for female-centric coming of age tales. So many people offered ideas! You can view the original tweet and ALL the replies here. I added quite a few to my TBR pile; here are a few by female horror authors that I can’t wait to read:
I am truly looking forward to these reads. Coming of age is, like I mentioned earlier, a sub-genre that is not only a favorite of mine, but one that resonates with a huge portion of the population, across genres. The female horror authors I’ve read so far are nailing coming of age stories centered around girls. Of course they are. I want more; we NEED more of these stories. Because girls are different, girls are bad ass, and who better to tell these stories than those who experience it first hand?
Tracy Robinson is a “horror cheerleader” and book reviewer. She is a member of the Ladies of Horror Fiction team which seeks to lift up female horror authors. Her book reviews can be found on Instagram and Twitter (@tracy_reads79), http://scifiandscary.com, http://ladiesofhorrorfiction.com, and other various review outlets.
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