6 YA Books That Visit the Land of the Dead

Guardian of the DeadAs we get deeper into autumn and the days grow shorter, those of us of the goth persuasion rub our hands together in glee, anticipating a seasonal appetite for all things dark and spooky. If you’re in the mood for some reads that visit the land of the dead (literal and metaphorical), then check out the following books.

The Star-Touched Queen, by Roshani Chokshi
Any Hades and Persephone retelling necessitates a visit to the land of the dead. The heroine, Princess Mayavati, is cursed with a horoscope foretelling a marriage with death and destruction. Little does she know just how literal her fate will turn out to be when a mysterious stranger named Amar arrives on the day of her wedding to carry her away. As the story unfolds, Maya discovers her new husband is the Lord of the Dead, and she is queen of an enchanting, otherworldly kingdom where wishes grow on trees and there are roomfuls of stars. Chokshi’s Otherworld is inspired not only by Greek mythology but by Hindu stories, making Akaran an especially unique and beautiful land of the dead.

Everneath, by Brodi Ashton
Everneath is another Hades and Persephone–inspired tale, but with its own twist: the Persephone character, Nikki, comes back to the world of the living to find redemption before she has to return to death. As soon as you think you know where this story is going, it takes another turn, and another, and yet another before you reach its surprising, heartbreaking, and oh-so-right conclusion. The Everneath series both retells and subverts the Persephone myth in unexpected ways, and is a great, emotional, and romantic read.

All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry
McCarry’s All Our Pretty Songs is also inspired by a Greek Underworld myth, but not Hades and Persephone’s. Instead, it takes the story of Orpheus and turns it into a dreamy, lyrical coming-of-age story set in Seattle’s 1990s rock scene. All Our Pretty Songs is about two girls, best friends and better than sisters, whose bond is challenged when a mysterious and possibly preternaturally talented musician named Jack comes to town. Reality and fantasy overlap and blur together in McCarry’s sumptuous prose, which takes you on an extraordinary journey to the underworld and back.

Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey
A series of unsettling murders are happening in a small New Zealand town, and protagonist Ellie Spencer finds herself drawn into the mystery in unexpected ways. Healey is a pākehā (non-Māori) New Zealand writer drawing on the indigenous myths of her home country to tell the story of a struggle between life and death, the native people and creatures and the colonial interlopers. Ellie Spencer is studying at a New Zealand boarding school when she comes across Mark Nolan, a beautiful and mysterious loner. As it turns out, Mark is part-patupaiarehe, an otherworldly creature, and together he and Ellie work toward stopping murders in their town. Their adventure culminates in a confrontation with the goddess Hine-nui-te-pō, the eponymous guardian of the dead. Healey’s novel is rich with Māori mythology, and she provides a glossary and an author’s note providing sources to study, as well as an explanation of how, where, and why she diverges from native cosmology.

The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass spoilers ahead—proceed with caution!
Following the enormous revelation at the end of The Golden Compass that not only parallel universes exist, but can be traveled to, Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon travel from her world to ours and meets a boy named Will. In The Subtle Knife, they come in possession of a weapon that can cut between universes…including into the realm of the dead. The entire His Dark Materials trilogy is a master work by master storyteller: a loose retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost, a rebuttal of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and one of the most beautiful and poignant coming-of-age narratives of all time. Also, who wouldn’t want a dæmon, the physical manifestation of your soul in animal form?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling
Spoilers ahead—but you’ve already read Deathly Hallows, right?
This last pick is perhaps a cheat: in Deathly Hallows, Rowling reveals that Harry’s entire life has been working toward one moment: his death. As he is the last, unintentional Horcrux, he must die in order to destroy the piece of Voldemort’s soul that lives in him. The moment in the clearing when Harry walks to his death is one of the series’ most affecting scenes, and what follows is a conversation between Harry and Dumbledore in an afterlife that looks like King’s Cross station. In many ways, the Harry Potter books are about death—the fear and acceptance of it—and this scene is a culmination of the theme.

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