Let’s start with a confession: I’m a huge chicken. I really can’t do horror, and even some spooky middlegrades have really scared me in the past. I’ve also really enjoyed some of them, though! I’ll recommend 5 different ones today 🙂
Victoria Schwab – City of Ghosts
Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.
When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn’t sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn’t belong in her world. Cassidy’s powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.
City of Ghosts, as well as the sequel, Tunnel of Bones, have quickly become some of my favourite middlegrade books. As a child, I always used to have imaginary friends, and Cassidy’s friendship with Jacob, who’s a ghost, really reminded me of that. I absolutely love their friendship, and these books are just sooo creepy!
Katherine Arden – Small Spaces
Bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.
Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver’s warning. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.”
And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.
Frankly, I could read Katherine Arden’s grocery list and still love it. As I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale, I just had to pick up Small Spaces, her middlegrade debut. I’m such a scaredy cat that this book properly creeped me out, but I also really enjoyed it! It’s a rather short novel but it really packed a punch and almost had me crying by the end. It drew me in with the whole “book in a book” situation, which I’m always sure to love. But it’ll really stay with me because ultimately, it was a story about a girl coming to terms with the death of her mother. The way her grief was described felt a lot like my own experience with depression (especially the description about “book dreaming”, where Ollie hides in books because they’re a preferable alternative to her reality), and so it hit a lot closer to home than I expected before picking it up.
I only recently found out that the sequel, Dead Voices, came out a month or two ago, so I’m hoping to read that one this October!
Alexandra Bracken – The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding
I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.
Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type.
The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.
Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.
If you’re looking for more of a funny, light-hearted sort of spooky read, I would recommend The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, which is about a boy whose family has made a deal with a demon, and now the demon shares his mind. I have to admit this isn’t quite one of my favourites, as I felt like it lacked some necessary character development, but it’s definitely cute and entertaining.
Jonathan Stroud – Lockwood & Co.
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.
Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Gho- Uh, wait… LOCKWOOD & CO!
I had so much fun reading this series, starting with The Screaming Staircase! The books are all really fast-paced (you’re basically thrown into the story), and so suspenseful I had to force myself not to stay up all night to finish them in one sitting. They’re sort of a combination between Ghostbusters and Warehouse 13, which is such an underrated series!
Robert Beatty – Serafina and the Black Cloak
“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”
Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.
But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.
Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.
Less creepy, but definitely still spooky, Serafina and the Black Cloak is the first installment in a series about a girl who finds out she’s a shifter. Biltmore, where the story is set, really reminds me of Downton Abbey, and overall it’s just a really fun and suspenseful middlegrade series.
What’s your favourite spooky middlegrade?
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