Fight the winter doldrums with four fresh takes on the supernatural.
Danvers, Massachusetts, site of the 1692 witch trials, is the setting of Quan Barry’s enchanting novel We Ride Upon Sticks (Vintage, $16.95, 9780525565437). The year is 1989, and the teenage girls on the Danvers Falcons field hockey team are desperate to get to the state finals, so they sign a pact of sorts with the devil. The pact seems to work, as the team hits a winning streak, and all manner of witchy teenage mischief ensues. As many ’80s references as a “Stranger Things” fan could desire and a group of unforgettable female characters make this a delightful read, and Barry’s exploration of gender roles and female friendship will spur spirited discussion in your reading group.
In TJ Klune’s fantastical tale The House in the Cerulean Sea, Linus Baker, caseworker from the cold, impersonal Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), must decide if a group of enchanted youngsters poses a threat to the future of the world. When he befriends the odd bunch (which includes a gnome, a strange blob and the actual Antichrist) and falls for Arthur Parnassus, their kindhearted and devoted caretaker, Linus’ loyalty to DICOMY wavers. Klune contributes to the tradition of using speculative fiction to obliquely discuss the experiences of marginalized groups in this funny, inventive and gently told novel.
Stephen Graham Jones’ chilling The Only Good Indians tells the story of Lewis and his three friends, Native American men who left the Blackfoot reservation in search of a different life and who share a bond from a traumatic event in their childhood. When Lewis is visited by an ominous elklike figure, mysterious deaths start to occur, and the men realize that their past has—literally—come back to haunt them. Jones’ atmospheric novel is compelling both as a horror novel and in its treatment of guilt, social identity and the complexities (and dangers) of assimilation. The canny, surprising ways he combines Native history and traditions with horror tropes will give your book club plenty to talk about.
J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker offer a spine-tingling supplement to Bram Stoker’s iconic Dracula with Dracul. Bram is the main character and narrator of Barker and Stoker’s Ireland-set tale (and yes, Dacre Stoker is the real-life great-grandnephew of the Victorian author). As a boy, Bram has strange encounters with his nursemaid, Ellen Crone, who seems connected to a series of local deaths. When Bram and his sister, Matilda, learn years later that Ellen is a member of the bloodsucking undead, they find themselves in the center of a terrifying mystery. Reading groups will enjoy making connections between Stoker’s original story and this creepy companion novel as they examine the conventions and devices of both supernatural narratives.