Grab your torches and pitchforks, ’cause we’re counting down some of the best monsters and psychopaths ever to crawl out of kidlit. You won’t find any run-of-the mill zombies or sparkly vampires here; just the ruthless, twisted, shadowy things we love to see teens trounce and trump. These are ten of the nastiest creatures, the kinds of characters who twist readers’ guts into balloon animal shapes and burrow so deep into our subconsciousnesses, we’ll never dig them back out again.
Not only are these monsters terrifying, but the novels they spring from make great Halloween reads. Give us a shout in the comments, tell us what you think of these books and their dark little denizens, or tell us some of YOUR favorite monstrosities that aren’t on this list. We’ll pick three commenters to win a book off this list of their choice. Now, ready or not, here we go!
10. Other Mother, Coraline
By Neil Gaiman
We’re easing into the list with Gaiman’s button-eyed, child-eating, red-taloned Other Mother. You all know the story: disgruntled Coraline goes through a mysterious door she discovers in her family’s home, only to find a picture-perfect family on the other side — parents who seem attentive and loving, but something’s not quite right about them, and it’s not just their buttons-for-eyes. And the more Coraline encounters these “other” parents, the more monstrous the Other Mother becomes. The Other Mother seems just like Coraline’s real mother, just . . . thinner. Sharper, somehow. And the buttons! Have I mentioned the buttons?
The Other Mother is referred to as a beldame a few times in the text, which is a Middle English word for an ugly, malicious old woman or a witch. It allows the reader to draw some great parallels to the story of Hansel and Gretel, which only ups the creep factor for me. What is with all these witchy women and their taste for children’s flesh, anyways?
9. The Great Queen, Doll Bones
By Holly Black
Doll Bones? As if dolls weren’t already creepy enough, Holly Black wants me to think about their bones, too? Thanks, Holly. In this case, the doll in question is known as “the Great Queen,” an antique china doll with eyes that click open and shut; one with long, flowing golden locks; and one who resides in a glass cabinet and is inhabited by a restless spirit named Eleanor. In fact, when I went to see The Conjuring with my fellow Scream Queen J.R. Johansson, all I could think about during the doll scenes was the Great Queen/Eleanor and how much that doll looked like the Great Queen.
So why does the Great Queen belong on this list? Well, when the protagonists of Doll Bones decide it’s time to grow up and stop playing the Great Queen’s make-believe games, she blackmails Zach, Poppy, and Alice and forces them to embark on one final, terrifying adventure. It’s like Toy Story gone wrong. Very, very wrong.
Dolls are freaky stuff, people, but not half as bad as what comes next . . .
8. Stitch-Face, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray
By Chris Wooding
If I were counting down my top ten most frightening books ever written for teens, Wooding’s The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray would be duking it out with Yancey’s The Monstrumologist for the top slot. This book’s got it all: possessed girls and monstrous wych-kin, foggy London streets, and of course, a serial killer known Stitch-Face.
Stitch-Face targets young, exhausted, working-class women and lures them into his trap with a free carriage ride. He wears a mask made of patches of grey sackcloth, and if that wasn’t unsettling enough, he adds a luxurious, long brown wig on top. With some seventy kills to his name, Stitch-Face terrorizes the streets of London by night, perpetrating his “art” in dark alleys and corners.
You can bet your heart will be jumping whenever Stitch-Face cajoles another woman to take a ride . . . and maybe shouting, “You idiot,” at the page. Not that I did that, not at all.
7. The Cutter, The Replacement
By Brenna Yovanoff
Who else was cheering out loud when Tate went after the Cutter with a crowbar? (I was.) Fey creature the Cutter might be, he wears a set of iron talons which effectively sicken him while he tortures his victims. Sadomasochism doesn’t even begin to describe this monster, who basically lives to destroy sentient beings at his Lady’s behest. Readers don’t see much of the Cutter; instead, he haunts the novel’s pages, spoken about in whispers and rumors, feared even by the undead.
A monster who terrorizes other monsters? Well played, Yovanoff. Well played.
6. Brodie Redding, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
By April Genevieve Tucholke
Oh, Brodie’s a real piece of work, a psychopath with a capital P, so much so that I’d like to see him go head-to-head with the guys who are in the number five slot on this list. (Fanfic mashup in five, four, three . . .) While I can’t say too much about Brodie without spoiling Tucholke’s delicious novel, I can tell you that Brodie controls people by cutting them with a little knife he calls “the Scraper,” creating disastrous effects. Any time this kid’s Texas accent starts seeping onto the page, readers’ heart rates increase, guaranteed.
And if he doesn’t get your pulse pounding, you’re either dead or just as bad as Brodie himself.
5. Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer, Rot & Ruin
By Jonathan Maberry
These guys are such monsters, I wanted to crawl into the world of Rot & Ruin and take them out myself. (Especially after that part with Jessie and Nix — readers, you know what I mean. Lock and load.) Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer make the zombie-infested terrain of Southern California look like a theme park; and compared to them, the zombies are freaking Disney princesses.
Charlie and the Hammer are supposed to be the “good” guys — tough-as-nails bounty hunters, celebrated in their small town of Mountainside for keeping the place safe from the omnipresent zombie threat. But both men are more monstrous than the zombies outside the fence are, and there’s nothing they aren’t willing to do in the name of survival . . . or what makes them both truly terrifying, in the name of saving face. Case in point: their torture, murder, and zombification of Rob Sacchetto, who is then sent after fifteen-year-old Benny Imura as a warning. Crazy much? I think so!
But at least the Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer are just men, flesh-and-blood and fallible. Can’t say the same for some of the monsters coming up next!
4. Kerrigor, Sabriel
By Garth Nix
Sabriel was one of the first young adult novels I ever read, and I’ll readily admit that the dark, shadowy creature on the cover drew me in hook, line, and sinker. I had to know who that monster was, and why the girl on the cover seemed so stone cold about the way it was reaching for her.
Well that, my friends, is Kerrigor, the vengeful spirit of a necromancer who’s clawed his way out of the underworld and back into life. He’s the most powerful entity in the Seven Gates of Death, and wants nothing more than to destroy Sabriel and her family, who work to keep the dead trapped in death where they belong.
To make matters worse, all Sabriel has to fight Kerrigor with are bells. That’s right, bells. They might be magic bells inhabited by spirits of past Abhorsens (necromancers), but still. You try taking a ghost out by ringing a bell in its face. Best of luck with that, especially with the next ghost. She isn’t going down by the bell, oh no . . .
3. Anna Korlov, Anna Dressed in Blood
By Kendare Blake
The locals of Thunder Bay, Ontario call the ghost of Anna Korlov Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna is hands-down the nastiest, angriest, rip-you-in-twosiest ghost in all of kidlit, especially when she’s black-veined and raging. She’s killed everyone who’s stepped into her dilapidated Victorian house in the last fifty years, and those people didn’t die pretty.
Then again, neither did Anna.
Her dress drips with blood. She’s the ghost of a girl all tangled up in wrath and rage and curses, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay far away from the old Korlov place. Far, far away.
2. William Cornelius “Billy” Dent, I Hunt Killers
By Barry Lyga
I Hunt Killers is probably the only young adult novel to really get under my skin — serial killers are my drug of choice when it comes to really getting my scare on. And Billy Dent — known as “the Gentle Killer” or “the Artist,” among other charming monikers — really pushed me over the edge. He is considered the most dangerous killer alive, with more than a hundred murders attributed to his name. Honestly, I will never look at a bottle of Drano the same way again. Or syringes, for that matter.
However, I think Dent’s an incredibly effective psychopath, despite the fact that he’s locked up behind bars for most of the book. (Operative word: most.) His shadow looms over the pages in a Hannibal Lecter-esque way, haunting his teenage son’s every waking moment. Because when “Take Your Son to Work Day” involves knives and human gristle, no kid’s going to walk away well-adjusted. Maybe that’s the most disgusting thing about Billy Dent: not only was he a killer himself, but he tried to raise one, too. Sick.
1. Anthropophagus, The Monstrumologist
By Rick Yancey
Long before Yancey penned the 2013’s big blockbuster novel, The 5th Wave, he wrote a devilishly good book called The Monstrumologist. Set in the late nineteenth century, the novel follows Dr. Pellinore Warthrop and his young aide, Will Henry, as they investigate a mysterious pod of legendary creatures known as anthropophagi. The creatures are headless things, with mouths in their torsos and their brains in their groins, not to mention the shark-like teeth and hands capable of crushing a man’s skull.
Just . . . see below.
And in case you’re not yet convinced the anthropophagus deserves the top spot, here’s a passage from The Monstrumologist: “A massive claw, easily twice the size of a human hand, with a two-inch gray razor-sharp barb on the end of each white digit, burst through the dirt between his feet, followed by a bald muscular arm, flecked with black soil and white stone. And then, like some nightmarish leviathan rising from the deep, the broad shoulders broke the undulating earth, those terrible unblinking black eyes glittering in the glancing glow of the torch, the yawning maw stuffed with three-inch fangs in the middle of the creature’s triangular shaped torso snapping as a shark’s when excited by the scent of blood in the water” (page 65).
If there’s anything more frightening than Yancey’s anthropophagus, I’ve yet to find it!
So that’s the list! For a chance to win one of THREE books off this list (winners’ choice!), leave a comment below and tell us some of YOUR favorite monsters from kidlit.
Stay afraid of the dark . . .