Thriller, horror, suspense, mystery. The list goes on. With so many nuances in genres, it has become both exciting and nerve-wracking to narrow down what you prefer or what you are in the mood for. You might find yourself seeking horror reads, those that come without body horror but retain the elements of the supernatural. Or you might prefer all psychological thrill, where the only element holding you back is your imagination. This list is about that kind of genre – psychological horror.
In my mind and reading experience, psychological horror has come to be characterized by the ‘wait a minute moment.’ In this, you are never sure if what you are reading on the page is truly horrific or your mind playing tricks on you. It is one of those genres that is hard to nail down and can mean something entirely different to different readers.
It is a sub-genre that has come to be characterized by the slowest of burns – stories with something simmering under the surface that eventually comes to a boil. My favorites of the past year included reads like When the Reckoning Comes by Tanya McQueen and Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw. The list below is looking at some relatively newer releases, so you don’t miss out on any of what the genre has to offer. Ready? Let the mind games begin.
Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow
Adolescence, toxic friendships, and race: three make the perfect ingredients for a psychological horror stew. It tells the story of Farrah and Cherish who are the only two Black girls in their community club. When Farrah’s parents lose all of their wealth, she moves in with Cherish and her doting family. As the story progresses, we learn of the reality behind Farrah’s intentions and Cherish’s family’s reality.
Devil House by John Darnielle
Something that always makes for great psychological reflection is true crime and the obsession people have with it. This is what Darnielle focuses on in his novel as his story revolves around an author who decides to provide a history of a house that was the site for grisly murders in the 1980s. But soon in narrating the history of the house, he finds himself at the center of his conflict questioning all that he has ever known and what his words mean.
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Suburbia is a prime breeding ground for this sub-genre. How can it not be, with its HOA regulations about the length of your grass and what color you can paint your house? Sofia doesn’t see any of it though. She is content living her perfect life, in her perfect community with her perfect husband. So what if she sees little of him? Everything threatens to unravel when Sofia opens a chest of drawers and is confronted with a dark secret hiding within.
Lesser-Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu
Confronting your inner demons is always bound to have horrific side effects, if not direct outcomes. That is the essence of this story collection in which the characters face bug infestations, seduction by the Sandman, and a runaway bride confronting her decisions in front of a sea monster.
Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester
How do you keep your child safe from demons when you are running away from your own? Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer is grappling with a lot of things of her own when a serial killer hunting for girls her age appears on the scene. Her mom, Caroline, is adamant that Lila cannot go anywhere after dark and has to stay close by, for her safety of course. But Lila cannot shake off the feeling that there is something her mom is not quite telling her. Something to do with the murders, her past, and quite possibly her future.
Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino
Confronting and reconciling with ideas of a utopia gone wrong are themes of this narrative. Camila is haunted by the death of her sister, Marisol, whose body she carries with her as she enters the utopia of Memoria. We are met with multiple other characters who come into Camila’s life. All of them now have to confront their leader’s dictatorial tendencies before it is too late.
Road of Bones by Christopher Golden
Snow, misleading roads, and unrestful souls of war soldiers: these are the elements that make up this spine-chilling tale. Set on the Kolyama highway, a 1200 mile Siberian road, two documentary filmmakers are determined to capture the history that runs along the road. This is when they discover a ghost town, an abandoned child, and something that hunts them all.
Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier
Do you know what is really horrifying? Having so much privilege that you have to invent your own horrors and disadvantages. Lyla and Graham have little to disadvantage them so they decide to rent out a part of their house to self-made tenants who will have to fight for their sanity against Graham and Lyla’s boredom and dangerous games.
Want to explore more horror and its sub-genres? Check out our picks for social horror.