13 Horror Books (or Other Frightening Books) by Neurodivergent Authors
October 26, 2020
I started this October with a list of over a dozen horror books I wanted to read. I’ve finished two of them. Instead of trying to finish one more book on my original list before the month ends, I decided to make another book list, which is the one you’re reading now. I got the idea after finishing Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp, and realizing it was the only horror book I knew of that was written by an openly autistic author. As an autistic horror writer myself, I was curious to see what my peers have come up with, and if there’s anything unique about the ways autistic authors approach horror. Because I could only find five true horror books by autistics, I decided to broaden this list to all neurodivergent writers, including those with mental illness and addiction, and to include a few books that aren’t quite horror.
This list is far from complete. I’ve chosen to focus on relatively recent or lesser-known books and authors, because many of the most famous horror writers are or were neurodivergent. In fact, neurodivergence seems to be almost as pervasive in horror creators as it is in horror fiction. Octavia E. Butler, author of science fiction and horror works like Parable of the Sower and Fledgling, was dyslexic. Stephen King has written about his experience with addiction, and how it influenced books like The Shining and Misery. One of the most famous horror short stories in the English language, The Yellow Wallpaper, is based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s experience with mental illness “treatment.” Edgar Allan Poe has been speculated to have had mental illness, addiction, and various neurological disabilities. Shirley Jackson lived with mental illness and addiction. Those are only a few examples.
The descriptions of each of the 13 books below were found on Goodreads. I found some of the books on a blog called Diversity in Horror Fiction, and the book Experimental Film was recommended to me on Twitter by Ada Hoffmann, whose book is second on this list. I have also provided links to places where you can buy each book, but I’m not a part of any affiliate programs and do not receive compensation for links, clicks, purchases, etc.
If you have any more recommendations for horror books by neurodivergent authors, I’d like to hear about it in the comments section, and maybe next October I’ll provide an updated version of this list.
1. Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.
FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.
Are you ready to play?
Even If We Break is a young adult horror novel released in September 2020. Of the five main characters, two are transgender or nonbinary, one has arthritis and uses crutches (and is one of the most awesome disabled characters I’ve ever read about), and one is autistic and has a substance use disorder. Marieke Nijkamp, who is autistic, is also the author of Before I Let Go, a young adult mystery novel about the death of a girl with bipolar disorder.
2. The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.
The author of The Outside, Ada Hoffmann, runs a book review series called Autistic Book Party, where they review speculative fiction books that are by autistic authors or have autistic characters. According to the “About Me” section on Hoffmann’s website, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13. Hoffmann is also the author of Monsters In My Mind, a literary anthology that includes elements of horror.
The Outside can be found in paperback, ebook, and audio book editions on Bookshop.
3. Experimental Film by Gemma Files
Experimental Film is a contemporary ghost story in which former Canadian film history teacher Lois Cairns-jobless and depressed in the wake of her son’s autism diagnosis-accidentally discovers the existence of lost early 20th century Ontario filmmaker Mrs. A. Macalla Whitcomb. By deciding to investigate how Mrs. Whitcomb’s obsessions might have led to her mysterious disappearance, Lois unwittingly invites the forces which literally haunt Mrs. Whitcomb’s films into her life, eventually putting her son, her husband and herself in danger. Experimental Film mixes painful character detail with a creeping aura of dread to produce a fictionalized “memoir” designed to play on its readers’ narrative expectations and pack an existentialist punch.
According to Ada Hoffmann’s review of Experimental Film, the book is told from the perspective of an autistic mother of an autistic child who is dealing with internalized ableism, and is a rare example of an unlikable autistic character done right. The author, Gemma Files, is also autistic and has discussed how Experimental Film‘s main character was based on herself.
4. The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan
Five boys attacked her.
Now they must repay her with their blood and flesh.
Bethan is the apprentice to a green healer named Drina in a clan of Welsh Romanies. Her life is happy and ordered and modest, as required by Roma custom, except for one thing: Silas, the son of the chieftain, has been secretly harassing her.
One night, Silas and his friends brutally assault Bethan and a half-Roma friend, Martyn. As empty and hopeless as she feels from the attack, she asks Drina to bring Martyn back from death’s door. “There is always a price for this kind of magic,” Drina warns. The way to save him is gruesome. Bethan must collect grisly pieces to fuel the spell: an ear, some hair, an eye, a nose, and fingers.
She gives the boys who assaulted her a chance to come forward and apologize. And when they don’t, she knows exactly where to collect her ingredients to save Martyn.
The Hollow Girl is a young adult horror novel. Hillary Monahan also wrote a young adult horror duology based on the legend of Bloody Mary. The first book in that series is Mary: The Summoning. Monahan identifies herself as autistic in her Twitter bio.
The Hollow Girl can be found in hardcover and ebook editions on Bookshop.
5. Devil's Call by J. Danielle Dorn
On a dark night in the winter of 1859, three men entered the home of Dr. Matthew Callahan and shot him dead in front of his pregnant wife. Unfortunately for them, his wife, Li Lian, hails from a long line of women gifted in the dark arts–the witches of the McPherson clan.
This diary, written to the child she carries, records her quest from the Nebraska Territory to Louisiana to the frozen shore of Lake Superior, to bring justice to the monsters responsible for shooting her husband in the back. Our long-rifled witch will stop at nothing–and risk everything–in her showdown with evil.
On their Twitter account, J. Danielle Dorn has written about living with addiction, and according to the Diversity in Horror Fiction website linked above, Devil’s Call has a supporting character with an alcohol use disorder.
6. Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales by Carmilla Voiez
Thirteen tales of the macabre from horror author Carmilla Voiez. Meet a confused ghost, a vampire, searching for love, and a woman bent on revenge; visit a gateway to hell, a hotel in faery and an abandoned asylum, in this unique collection of stories. Includes the novella Basement Beauty.
On the “About Me” section of her website, Carmilla Voiez describes herself as “a proudly bisexual and mildly autistic introvert.” Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales also explores mental illness.
Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales can be found in paperback and Kindle ebook editions on Amazon.
7. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
This is the story of what happened first…
Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the sequel to Every Heart a Doorway, another young adult book featuring the aforementioned Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. In an interview at WBUR News, Seanan McGuire described herself as a “fat girl with OCD who loves other girls.” Down Among the Sticks and Bones has a main character with OCD.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones can be found in multiple formats on Bookshop.
8. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.
Mira Grant is actually a pen name of Seanan McGuire, but I’m going to go ahead and give her a second entry for this book. Into the Drowning Deep is an adult horror novel, which, according to a review at The Illustrated Page, has killer mermaids, a bisexual main character, an autistic lesbian love interest, two characters who are deaf, and one with a chronic pain condition.
Into the Drowning Deep can be found in multiple formats on Bookshop.
9. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell – who has different-colored eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright – sees things differently than the rest of the “train-track thinkers.” So when Standish and his only friend and neighbor, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…
Maggot Moon is a young adult novel that was described in a BBC interview as a dystopian that “recalls the ‘hell’ of being a schoolchild with dyslexia.” That same interview mentions that Maggot Moon‘s author, Sally Gardner, was diagnosed with dyslexia herself at the age of twelve. Gardner is also the author of the horror graphic novel Tinder.
10. On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
January 29, 2035.
That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.
Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?
When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?
11. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.
Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.
When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.
An Unkindness of Ghosts is an Afrofuturist dystopia that features a Black, neurodivergent, non-cisgender protagonist, written by an author who identifies similarly. Rivers Solomon is also the author of The Deep, the second book about mermaid-like beings by an author on this list.
An Unkindness of Ghosts can be found in multiple formats on Bookshop.
12. Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker
Eleven fresh vampire stories from young adult fiction’s leading voices!
In this delicious new collection, you’ll find stories about lurking vampires of social media, rebellious vampires hungry for more than just blood, eager vampires coming out―and going out for their first kill―and other bold, breathtaking, dangerous, dreamy, eerie, iconic, powerful creatures of the night.
Welcome to the evolution of the vampire―and a revolution on the page.
Vampires Never Get Old includes stories by authors both bestselling and acclaimed, including Samira Ahmed, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Julie Murphy, Mark Oshiro, Rebecca Roanhorse, Laura Ruby, Victoria “V. E.” Schwab, and Kayla Whaley.
Another September release, Vampires Never Get Old is an anthology of young adult short stories about…vampires. I recognized one author in the anthology, Heidi Heilig, from her interview at Disability in Kidlit on how being bipolar shaped her book The Girl From Everywhere. According to a review by Smart Bitches Trashy Books, another story in Vampires Never Get Old, by disabled writer Kayla Whaley, stars a vampiric teenage wheelchair user and explores the “mercy-killings” of disabled people.
Vampires Never Get Old can be found in hardcover and ebook editions on Bookshop.
13. A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
A KIND OF SPARK tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make her voice heard?
A Kind of Spark is not a scary book in the way the other books on this list are, although reading about the ableism its 11-year-old main character has to face is terrifying in its own way. Written by neurodivergent author Elle McNicoll, A Kind of Spark is one of the best books with an autistic main character I’ve ever read, as I wrote about in my review of it. It’s also about witches. Kind of.