Multiple Bram Stoker Award–winning author Jonathan Maberry compiles more than twenty stories and poems—written by members of the Horror Writers Association—in this terrifying collection about worst fears.
What scares you? Things that go bump in the night? Being irreversibly different? A brutal early death? The unknown?
This collection contains stories and poetry by renowned writers such as R. L. Stine, Neal and Brendan Shusterman, and Ellen Hopkins—all members of the Horror Writers Association—about what they fear most. The stories include mermaids, ghosts, and personal demons, and are edited by Jonathan Maberry, multiple Bram Stoker award winner and author of the Rot & Ruin series.
Perhaps more than any genre, due to its many gradations, horror comes down to a matter of taste on the part of the reader. Some readers go for epic gross-out gore, others prefer a smooth, chilly ghost story, yet both types of novel (and their many sub-sub-sub genres) will be shelved in the same place at the local bookstore. This is all the more true when dealing with an anthology. With 21 authors contributing a short piece of horror poetry or fiction to a collection, there are bound to be clear winners and clear losers in the minds of most readers. That is exactly the allure of the anthology format, regardless of genre.
Scary Out There (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is edited by none other than Jonathan Maberry. Maberry, of course, knows his horror stuff, and the entire endeavor is under the auspices of the Horror Writers Association. Each of the contributing authors is a member of the HWA as well, and has published in the genre. Horror fans will be attracted by names familiar to them, and should find a few new gems to follow too.
Scary Out There does focus on younger protagonists, but that should not deter older readers, many of whom are already fans of the Young Adult (or YA) genre anyway.
Successful short fiction requires different writerly skills than crafting a novel, and for the most part, Maberry’s stable of writers performs admirably. Maberry himself starts off the anthology with a strong introduction that answers that perennial question “Why read horror?” with straightforward conviction. Real-life horror, after all, surrounds us day in and day out; the only question is how much it directly impacts our individual lives at any given moment.
The biggest downside to Scary Out There was likely not preventable given the conceit of the collection. Because it is pitched as YA, the stories naturally often veer into well-worn YA territory: cutting, bulimia, suicide, feeling inferior. More than one story touches on (or dives into) these contemporary YA topics, so much so that the anthology feels a little front-loaded with them. While the majority of YA writers today have exceptional empathy with and for their teen readers—and that empathy is indeed on full display here—there really is a limit to how much angst readers can digest in one sitting.
Not every entry in Scary Out There is a “scary monster” story, but those that are tend to score higher on the “creepy” factor. Some are painfully empathetic to very real teenage plights, while others feel a bit pushy in their Very Important Subject Matter. At least one story—and it won’t be the same for every reader—will fall squarely in the “Uh… I don’t understand what just happened” category.
“[S]ometimes a poet can stab right to the heart of the darkness,” Maberry says in the introduction, and he’s right about that with the poetry he’s curated for this collection. As with the prose, not every verse entry hits the mark, but it is refreshing to see horror played out in this rare way. Poe would be proud.
To be sure, there are a couple of entries that are fraught with genuine terror or outstanding suspenseful dread. Many are legitimately—and pleasingly—grim. Some are a slow burn, others a quick gasp. Maberry has done a good job of putting the entries into order, though again, the first half seemed rather top-heavy with “teen issues.” While not graphically violent, serious subject matter and mature themes make the book most appropriate for high school readers and up.
Overall, there is more to enjoy than not in this collection, and it is well worth horror fans giving it a go. Contemporary YA readers ought to also give it a chance. It really is scary out there, as every human knows, and this anthology is good for at least one if not many nights with the lights kept burning brightly.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Scary Out There edited by Jonathan Maberry
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 30, 2016)