Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Why is the horror genre so hard to lock down?

Welcome to another day of Spooky Month™ in which we talk more about one of my favorite genres. In the last few days there has been a LOT of talk on Twitter about how YA needs a resurgence of good YA horror. This has offended some people and inspired lots of recs to prove good YA horror never left. However, many of those recs are not what I'd consider horror at all. Why is horror such a difficult genre to agree on? What even is horror?

Most other genres are pretty cut and dry. When shelving books it's simple to decide which ones are fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, etc. But people seem to disagree a lot on which ones actually count as horror books. Let's look at some genre definitions taken from Wikipedia:


Okay, so all of these are pretty straightforward. Romance focuses on romantic relationships, mysteries focus on solving mysteries, sci-fi focuses on science-y stuff, and fantasy focuses on fantastic worlds. But then there's horror.

The definition goes on to say that it "shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing". It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror is frequently supernatural, though it might be also non-supernatural.

This genre is definitely much more convoluted. I feel like horror is more subjective than most other genres because what scares or disgusts each person is different. Still, here's my contribution to the argument: if a book fits in primarily another genre it is not horror. A mystery or romance book with a ghost is not horror by default. Neither is a book with witches or a murder.

Here are a few of the books and authors I've already read that have been recommended as GOOD horror and the genres I think they fit better with:

  • Wicked Saints - This is definitely fantasy. There's a villain and the magic is done with blood. That doesn't make it horror. 
  • Holly Black - Most of her books I'd definitely categorize as fantasy. The only one I think MIGHT qualify as horror is The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but only because the vampires are actually scary. 
  • Gretchen McNeil - I haven't read all of her books, but the ones I have are mystery. One of her older books seems to have an exorcist, so maybe? But it seems to be primarily shelved as fantasy.
  • April Genevieve Tucholke - No, not a bit. Her books are all fantasies. Good fantasies, but fantasy nonetheless.
  • House of Salt and Sorrows - I ADORED this book, but it's fantasy. 
I just. I get it. People are frightened by different things, but please don't get mad at those of us who insist YA needs more REALLY SCARY horror. The kind that actually makes you put the book down at night because it's too dark out to read it. Mysteries and ghostie romances have their place, but those of us who love the horror genre could definitely use a few more books! 

If you'd like to see some of my horror recs you can check out my Top Ten post from yesterday!

What scares you in a horror book?
Do you think romance and horror can go together?
Let me know in the comments!