At the end of October each year, 17-year-old Cara’s family becomes inexplicably accident prone. It’s been that way for years, with many of these family accidents turning deadly.
The quest to get to the bottom of the curse forms the basis of The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle, the most recent entry into the family-curse YA canon. For Cara and her family, the accident season is a time of year when “bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom,” and, occasionally, death strikes—as it did for her father. The how and why of this hereditary burden becomes more complicated with the addition of Cara’s elusive childhood friend, Elsie, who seems to be more than just an ordinary teenager.
While The Accident Season weaves a completely unique spell, YA is littered with cursed families and unfortunate heirs to the familial throne. Because, if a subgenre ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Here are just a few of our favorites.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton
Not all curses are as physical as bumps and bruises. For the women of Ava Lavender’s family, their birthright is love and loss, a curse of failures of the heart. The story follows several generations of Ava’s family and peppers their tales of passion and heartache with elements of magical realism, most evident in Ava, who—to the surprise and consternation of everyone—is born with wings. That Ava’s feathered appendages are just another piece of the puzzle, and not the novel’s sole focus, is a testament to Walton’s lyrically told story.
Compulsion, by Martina Boone
What goes hand in hand with a family history filled with secrets? A Southern gothic setting, South Carolina plantation and all. When her, well, eccentric mother dies, Barrie Watson is sent to live with her aunt at the familial homestead, Watson’s Landing. At first, Barrie sees this as a blessing. But soon, she hears the story of a curse hanging over the home and her family. Barrie is gifted in a supernatural way, and she’ll use her ability—along with a certain charismatic neighbor—to delve into her family’s secret history and sordid past, which is both of this world and belonging entirely to another.
Heap House, by Edward Carey
There’s nothing mystical about the curse placed upon the Iremongers, the alt-London family at the center of Carey’s delightfully grim series. Their burden is one you can see (and presumably smell): the Iremongers are tenders of the heaps, enormous, ever-growing piles of refuse from all over the city. As one would expect from kings of the trash heap, the family is not altogether pleasant and exceedingly secretive. That is, until young Clod Iremonger starts hearing voices emanating from family members’ “birth objects,” random things assigned to them from which they dare not be parted. The resulting narrative is part Edward Gorey, part Lemony Snicket, and part uncategorizable.
Splintered, by A.G. Howard
At this point, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retellings could fill its own bookstore section. But Howard manages to breathe life once again into Alice’s adventures, by focusing on all the women who came after her. When Alyssa Gardner starts hearing the whisperings of flora and fauna, she tries to silence them. She’s concerned about more than just her own mental health; this same affliction has haunted her family since, you guessed it, Alice Liddell first fell down that rabbit hole. She can’t ignore her family’s “madness” for long, as she must travel to Wonderland to save her mother. How? By correcting all of the first Alice’s mistakes.
Holes, by Louis Sachar
Any list of family curses would be incomplete without mentioning poor Stanley Yelnats, who has the misfortune of descending from a “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather” whose misdeeds cursed his progeny. When Stanley gets sent to the juvenile labor camp from hell, Camp Green Lake, he thinks it’s just one more misfortune to befall his family. But he ends up digging more than just holes, uncovering the twists that led from his ancestor’s fateful decisions in Latvia all the way to the present.