It’s that time of year again when dressing up as murderers, pontificating about vampires, and frolicking in cemeteries are all considered normal. I tend to accept these social faux pas only during my favorite holiday: Halloween. Something about embracing the dark side of our shared existence has always fascinated me.
Despite this fascination, I generally detest horror. However, come October all those misgivings evaporate and I’m left being horrified for a solid three weeks. Must be that harvest moon.
Out of all the elements that make for good horror, I have to say that cemeteries take the cake for me. As a Hindu, I’m used to cremating loved ones who’ve passed on to the next cycle of their existence. But for people of other faiths, cemeteries are the final resting place for loved ones.
Maybe my outsider perspective makes cemeteries a “safe” horror option for me. Either way, those patches of earth housing the dead are fertile grounds for some truly spooky tales.
Cemeteries Versus Graveyards
Before I go any further, I think it’s prudent to discern between cemeteries and graveyards. Both terms are used interchangeably and refer to the same thing: a ground where the dead are laid to rest. However, there’s one distinction for the discerning reader. Cemeteries refer to general burial grounds whereas graveyards are smaller burial grounds attached to churches.
This list introduces 10 books that feature cemeteries or graveyards in various capacities, proving that although these burial grounds can be perfectly horrific, they’re versatile plot devices that can breathe life into a story.
Middle Grade and YA Books Featuring Cemeteries
Cemeteries in middle grade and YA books are fascinating because the protagonists are right at the beginning of their lives, contrasting sharply with cemeteries, which contain people whose lives have ended. Although the horror element is softened in middle grade and YA books, cemeteries still provide acceptable spook levels.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Yadriel is determined to make his traditional Latinx family accept his gender and prove that he’s a brujo. For this to happen, Yadriel decides to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. Unfortunately, Yadriel ends up summoning the ghost of Julian Diaz, who had been the school’s troublemaker. True to his nature, Julian is determined to understand the circumstances surrounding his death, leaving Yadriel no choice but to help.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
When Mila Flores’s best friend Riley dies under mysterious circumstances along with two mean girls from school, she refuses to believe that it was suicide. Determined, Mila does the unthinkable and uses an ancient grimoire to bring the three back from the grave. But she’s out of luck when none of them can remember how they died—but they do remember they have some unfinished business.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
If you’re looking for a little spooky graveyard fun without the horror, then The Graveyard Book is perfect. In the book, we’re introduced to Nobody Owens, or Bod, who’s perfectly normal other than the fact that he lives in a graveyard and is being raised by ghosts. For everyone else in the small town, the graveyard is treacherous. But for Bod, it’s protection against the world of the living, where the man who killed his family lurks.
Fiction Books Featuring Cemeteries
Fiction is no stranger to symbolism, and cemeteries are the most literal way to symbolize death and loss. They also elicit some hard-hitting philosophical questions: What happens when we die? How can we live better? Such questions are perfectly explored in fictional cemeteries, and the answers that authors come up with can leave us feeling both unsettled and hopeful.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Twins Julia and Valentina move into their dead aunt’s apartment, which is located near Highgate Cemetery in London. Slowly but surely, they become acquainted with their new neighbors, such as Martin who loves crossword puzzles and Robert who was their aunt’s mysterious lover and a scholar of Highgate Cemetery. As the girls get acquainted with their new home, they realize that their aunt might be closer than they thought.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo unfolds over the course of one night in February 1862, amidst the Civil War. President Lincoln has just buried his young son in a Georgetown cemetery, but keeps returning to the gravesite. Told in a unique mix of prose, dialogue, and verse, Lincoln in the Bardo is a cacophony of the ghosts who are stuck in the bardo, a transitional state in the Tibetan tradition.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes place over several years from Old Delhi to the Valley of Kashmir and to Central Indian forests. The story follows Anjum, who calls a graveyard home; a baby that appeared at midnight; and a woman loved by three men. Roy’s words unfold the lives of these characters who are as much shaped by their circumstances as they are by those around them. More than anything, this story is driven by people who refuse to surrender to impossible circumstances. The graveyard here is beautifully described by Roy and is a pivotal setting.
Horror Books Featuring Cemeteries
Let’s be fair, cemeteries are closely related to the horror genre, whether it be zombies rising from the grave or vampires using coffins for their siestas. Sure, it might be cliché to use a cemetery in a horror novel, but let’s be honest, they do the job.
The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown
Iris and her best friend Daniel are playing in the snow when Iris discovers the crumbled gravestone of a young girl named Avery Moore. Not long after this discovery, odd things begin to happen to Iris, who begins to see a small, shadowy figure in the woods. Iris and Daniel begin researching their town’s history and realize that Avery was buried in a neglected Black cemetery. Iris and Daniel are determined to ensure the dead of the cemetery are given the respect they deserve, but must first handle Avery’s vengeful ghost.
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
King has gone on the record saying that out of all his books, Pet Sematary disturbed him the most, so proceed with caution. The Creeds have moved into a beautiful home in Maine and are the perfect nuclear family. However, their happiness and stability are upended by a dark secret buried in the woods.
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike
This one is an unsettling horror story of a young family that has moved into an apartment next to a graveyard. The family believes they’ve found the perfect home away from a dark secret of their past. But their hopes of a bright future are dashed when terrors descend upon them, forcing all of their neighbors to move out until the family is left alone with something crawling in the basement.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemí Taboada is headed to the Mexican countryside after receiving a distressing letter from her cousin. When she arrives to High Place, Noemí is confronted with her cousin’s enigmatic husband and terrifying father-in-law. A glamorous socialite, Noemí is the last person to be a rescuer, but she immediately sees that High Place, with its dark secrets, is unhealthy for her cousin. Although a cemetery isn’t the key setting for Mexican Gothic, there’s one near the house Noemí contemplates in, rounding out the image of a dark, gothic mansion.
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- Meh! Halloween! A Bookish Guide to a Low-Key Halloween
- 10 Horror Podcasts for the Love of All Things Scary
- Truth Can Be Scarier Than Fiction: 6 Scary Nonfiction Books
- That’s a Dead Body, Damien: Horror Elements in Eve Silver’s DARK DESIRES
- 8 Great Picture Books for Halloween
- 4 Creepy Creatures in Comics
- Can’t Touch This: 8 Great Books Featuring Cursed Objects
- Why Are Teenage Girls So Scary?