Sometimes, all you’re looking for in a book is an axe murder. Or an autopsy. Or something otherwise ghoulish or gross. Whatever may have led you to hunger for a heinous new read doesn’t matter. We’re sure we’ve got what you need in one of these novels that leans in to the blood, guts, and gore of its plot.
The world is often ugly. Sometimes you need a book that reflects that reality.
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Wilder Girls, by Rory Power
In the months since the Tox struck the Raxter School for Girls, the campus has remained under quarantine. The sickness has affected everyone differently, killing teachers and changing the bodies of surviving students in unusual and grotesque ways. Given the circumstances, there’s a simmering tension at the school, which comes to a boil when Hetty’s best friend Byatt goes missing. Hetty will stop at nothing to find her, including breaking all the rules put in place by the people and the institutions that were supposed to help. The isolated setting gives Power’s fast-paced debut a sense of claustrophobia that never lets up—grim realities, bodily horrors, and all.
#MurderTrending, by Gretchen McNeil
The premise of this grisly novel should seem outlandish. Somehow, though, the circumstances that precipitated Alcatraz 2.0 (a reality star president, a societal lust for entertainment, a for-profit prison system) don’t feel all that fantastical. This makes Dee Guerrera’s fight for survival all the more gut-wrenching. In this world, Alcatraz has been repurposed as a Survivor-esque penal colony where convicted criminals live and work until one of the island’s theatrical murderers gets them. The deaths are streamed live for all the country to see, comment on and rate. There’s just one little thing: Dee isn’t guilty of the crime she was convicted of—and neither are the handful of other young inmates she meets.
Slice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves
Slice of Cherry, the second foray into Reeves’s unsettling Portero, Texas, universe, is a rather gruesome tale of two sisters coming to terms with growing up—as well as the horrific legacy of their father, the notorious Bone Saw Killer. In a town plagued by very real monsters and supernatural menaces, Kit and Fancy Cordelle are still outsiders, painted with the same brush as their murderous dad. And maybe for good reason. The girls undertake their own killing spree, (vividly) ridding Portero of rapists, abusers, and other undesirables. All’s good and gory until the Cordelle sisters get entangled with the Turner boys who awaken some new feelings and interests in the once-inseparable Kit and Fancy
There’s Someone Inside Your House, by Stephanie Perkins
There are major Scream vibes in this horror-filled mystery about a serial killer stalking small-town Nebraska. When Makani Young is uprooted from her Hawaii home to her grandmother’s tiny corn-fed town for her senior year of high school, it seems like things can’t get much worse. But then her classmates start turning up dead in bizarre, graphic, and deeply personal ways. Makani may be an outsider, but somehow, she seems central to this series of murders. The deepest, darkest secret from her past may be critical to unraveling the deadly events of the present, but can Makani figure out the identity of the killer in time?
The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey
This book opens with a double autopsy of a man-eating monster and the corpse it desecrated. Viscera plays a big role in the 19th-century journal entries of young orphan Will Henry, apprentice to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, the titular “monstrumologist.” The opening autopsy leads to a perplexing discovery: headless, cannibalistic Anthropophagi have arrived in America. How they got here and how to stop them are the questions Warthrop and Will Henry must answer before the monsters wreak havoc in New England. The story Will Henry narrates is creepy and Gothic in all the right Mary Shelley ways and tackles broad themes of morality just as unsettling as the giant, deadly monsters that stalk its pages.
Survive the Night, by Danielle Vega
What could go wrong at an all-night rave in an abandoned pocket of the New York subway system? Everything, as it turns out. Casey has just returned to her suburban life after a stay in rehab for a painkiller addiction. But even as she tries to lay low, she can’t resist the siren call of her wild best friend, Shana. Which is how she ends up at Survive the Night with Shana, a few of their friends, and Sam, her ex-boyfriend. It’s dramatic, to say the least. But when Casey finds her friend’s mutilated body, the party takes a far more sinister turn. Trapped underground, Casey and crew are in a race to avoid being the next victim of whoever—or whatever—is hunting them.
Rotters, by Daniel Kraus
The family that robs graves together, stays together? Sixteen-year-old Joey Crouch is about to find out. When Joey’s mom dies in a freak accident, he’s shipped from Chicago to Iowa to live with a father he’s never met and who’s known around town as the “Garbageman.” Bullied at school and neglected at home, Joey struggles through his first few weeks of a strange new life—until he discovers the truth about what keeps his father away for days at a time. The Garbageman is a Digger, tracking down lucrative corpses and lightening their afterlife load. When Joey persuades his dad to bring him along on a job, get ready for some unsparing descriptions of death and decay
Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami
While the book may not fit neatly into the YA label (or any label really), no list of gory novels could be complete without this legendary bloodsoaked door-stopper. In an alternate Japan, 42 ninth-graders are diverted from their planned field trip to an abandoned island. They’ve been selected to participate in the Program, a state-sponsored slaughterfest. They’ll be required to kill each other until only one student, “the winner,” remains. If they refuse to participate? The collars around their necks will explode. The story is horrifying and, at times, excruciating to read, an experience made all the more nauseating as you watch the number of students dwindle. But the bloody physical and psychological warfare are hard to turn away from.