orangeeatscreepsThe Orange Eats Creeps
Grace Krilanovich
2010, Two Dollar Radio

In this novel, a runaway teen bounces around with a band of Pacific Northwest crust punks as they break into Safeway break rooms to make out, steal shit, terrorize gas station attendants, and act generally crusty. The unnamed narrator says that her friends are “hobo vampires” and claims to have ESP, but it’s unclear if she’s speaking metaphorically or literally—or maybe she’s just done too many drugs. In any case, the stream-of-consciousness writing is to die for: I love the way Krilanovich employs crass, quotidian words (slutty, shitty) in a way that makes her sentences feel fresh. I love the nightmarish quality created by the narrator’s alternating between descriptions of memories and observations of the present. And I love the whole crusty culture, forever and always. —Anna M.

niagara fallsNiagara Falls All Over Again
Elizabeth McCracken
2001, The Dial Press

If you, like me, are obsessed with the strangeness of vaudeville and the wonders of Old Hollywood, you will fall madly in love with the story of the fictional comedy team Carter & Sharp, a Laurel and Hardy–esque duo. Mose, the straight man haunted by childhood tragedy, narrates the tale of the team’s success and Vaudeville’s decline. A thread of melancholy that runs through the book, even when Carter & Sharp are at the top. A fascinating, lovely story about two men, their changing world, an industry where talent is disposable, and the bonds we make as we try to find our place in the world. –Pixie

Illustrated_man.jogThe Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury
1951, Doubleday & Company

The titular character of The Illustrated Man is a despondent former carnival worker whose body is covered with magical tattoos drawn by a time-traveling witch. The 18 illustrations on his body transform to correspond to each of the 18 short stories in this marvelous collection. In one story, a child’s nursery capable of projecting any scene that the person standing in the room imagines takes on a life of its own. In another, the black colonists of Mars prepare for the arrival of the first white visitors. Another piece, “Rocket Man,” was inspired Elton John’s song of the same name. Space and technology are the overarching themes, but The Illustrated Man is so much more than a sci-fi book. These stories are heartbreaking and suspenseful; they’re nightmarish and thought-provoking like a great Twilight Zone episode. –Amber

dangerousgirlsDangerous Girls
Abigail Haas
2013, Simon Pulse

A spring break trip in Aruba turns deadly when American high-schooler Elise is found murdered. The main suspect in the ensuing investigation is Anna, Elise’s best friend, and the narrator of the book. As Anna awaits trial in prison, she reflects on the early days of her friendship with Elise, their privileged lives at a Boston private school, and the events that led up Elise’s final days. This is a really fast-paced read that you’ll feel in the pit of your stomach. Read it before you have to go back to school, because it’s the type of story you’ll stay up all night to finish. –Anna F.

waterforelephantsWater for Elephants
Sara Gruen
2006, Algonquin Books

The circus is magical, but behind the magic, there’s mystery. What are the performers’ lives like after the tents go dark? Water for Elephants is about what happens backstage. The story focuses on three characters: Jacob, the circus veterinarian; Marlena, the star performer; and Rosie, the circus’s new elephant. Behind the scenes, circus life is still fantastical, but it’s also full of cruelty and danger: animals and humans alike struggle to survive the Great Depression under the pitiless watch of circus owner Al and his head trainer, August (who is also Marlena’s husband). As Jacob and Marlena’s budding romance becomes obvious to August, they have to take drastic measures to keep themselves–and Rosie–safe. If you’ve seen the movie you might think you have the gist of the story, but you still ought to pick up the book–I promise, it’s even better that the film! –Rachael

whoresonthehillWhores on the Hill
Collen Curran
2005, Vintage

Astrid, Julie, and Thisbe are 15-year-old students at the last all-girls school in Milwaukee. They hike their skirts up too high, sneak into nightclubs, and hook up with boys. People call them the “whores on the hill” (a reference to the location of their Catholic school), but they don’t care. Each chapter is like a short vignette, moving the story along in unique ways–one focuses on Astrid’s answers to a quiz from a teen magazine. The anecdotes come together to tell a story about the kind of girls I wanted to be in high school, especially Astrid, who is like an ’80s Catholic-school-girl version of Rayanne Graf. The story is equal parts exhilarating and heartbreaking, and although it is full of crazy risks and betrayal, it is 100% real. –Stephanie

DWCityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Erik Larson
2003, Crown

I’m embarassingly under-read when it comes to history; the subject always felt like a punishment in school. When a friend told me to read this book, I was just about to put on my trademark “No, thank you”-face when she quickly said, “IT’S NOT JUST HISTORY; THERE’S A MURDER STORY BUILT IN!” Well in THAT case! It was really fascinating to read about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (it’s sort of sad that we no longer have those things, right?), and to learn tiny details about that time, like why we say the Pledge of Allegiance in the way we do. But what really got me to read this book from cover to cover in under two days was the way Larson was able to weave a novelistic account of murder into a book of nonfictional events. Even if you’ve never been to Chicago, it’s really interesting to think of this story unfolding on the real streets and buildings of a living, breathing city. One of the creepiest things this book taught me is that at the time, you could just disappear and it’s possible that no one would notice! It’s pretty scary, but it also keeps you riveted. Read before bed at your own risk. –Danielle

peculiarchildrenMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
2011, Quirk Books

Jacob grows up hearing his grandfather Abe’s stories about the island he was sent to as a teenager to escape the Nazis in World War II–a place full of strange children, like a girl who had to be tied down so she wouldn’t levitate away, and a boy so strong, he could lift a boulder with one hand. As Jacob grows older, he comes to believe that these are just fairytales–until one afternoon when his grandfather calls him in a panic and Jacob finds him dying in the woods behind his house, talking about monsters, a bird, and a letter. The experience is so traumatic that Jacob convinces his father to take him to the island so he can figure out his grandfather’s secrets. This book is scary, magical, and thrilling. –Stephanie

waygwhyb“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Joyce Carol Oates
1966, Epoch Magazine

This short story is the creepiest thing I’ve ever read. It’s about a vain, wild 15-year-old girl named Connie who is pursued by a smooth-talking boy who isn’t what he seems to be. What starts out as a straightforward tale about teen angst and rebellion slowly becomes disorientating, fantastic, and totally terrifying. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” was my introduction to Joyce Carol Oates and what immediately struck me about her writing was that the horror is subtle but still so intense. I’m freaking myself out just thinking about it. –Amber

bitchposseThe Bitch Posse
Martha O’Connor
2006, St. Martin’s Griffin

This is the story of friends Rennie, Cherry, and Amy, three high school outcasts who grow up to be a failed writer, a psych ward resident, and pregnant in a miserable marriage, respectively. In the late ’80s they met in a small Illinois town and formed the the Bitch Posse, a girl gang that immediately reminded me of The Craft because of the intensity of the bond between the girls and the dark path they take. Something awful happened at their regular hangout, Porter Place, during their senior year, and it’s still affecting them 15 years later. The book bounces back and forth between the past and present as bits and pieces of the puzzle come together and the Bitch Posse’s secret comes to light. The story is deliciously twisted and violent, like an even more intense Heathers. –Stephanie

theunknownportraits_coverThe Unknown Portraits: A Collection of Imagined Personae
2009, Magic Pony

As the authors (a husband and wife team that go by the name of Kozyndan) explain, this book came about when they found a bunch of photos in a Venice, CA thrift shop, and decided to redraw the photos in graphite pencil and collaborate with writers who would compose surreal tales to accompany some of the images. The result is a collection of new stories for the real memories of total strangers. This book helped me survive my first year of high school, when I broke my leg and was unable to walk for four months. The only way I was able to forget the discomfort of the constricting cast was when I was able to disappear into imaginative books like this one. –Kendra

divinersThe Diviners
Libba Bray
2012, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

This book grabbed me right from the beginning, when a Ouija board in New York City releases the spirit of Naughty John, a serial killer with a ritual to complete. Meanwhile, in Ohio, a young flapper named Evie gets in trouble for exposing a wealthy boy from an important family, and almost reveals her own deepest secret in the process: She’s a diviner who can read minds and memories by touching objects. The pace of The Diviners keeps you biting your nails, and the details—the clothes, the voices, the neighborhood, the tourist landmarks–keep you so thoroughly immersed in 1920s New York that the 600-plus pages will fly by and leave you yearning for more. Fortunately, there’s a sequel coming out next year. I can’t wait. –Stephanie

mysteriousbsThe Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
2007, Little, Brown & Company

I read a lot of children’s books, and I find the good ones can be divided into two categories. The first are books that I can appreciate for what they are and whose appeal for a younger audience is apparent. The others are the ones that blow my grownup mind. The Mysterious Benedict Society is in that latter group. It’s filled with twists and turns, whimsy and mystery. When an advertisement is placed in a newspaper seeking gifted children for “special opportunities,” hundreds apply to take a series of tests, but only four kids pass. They are Reynie, with a mind for puzzles and problem solving; Kate, who grew up in a circus and is prepared for any physical challenge (total hero status, BTW); Sticky, who reads and remembers everything; and Constance, a tiny contrarian with a sharp wit. Together they are sent on a dangerous mission that will test all their skills and potentially save the world. This is the first in a series, and I am not ashamed to say that I am 23 years old and I am OBSESSED with this book that is ostensibly for kids. I am now trying to get more of my friends hooked on this series so they will understand my costume when I inevitably go as Kate for Halloween this year. –Anna F.

outsidersThe Outsiders
S.E. Hinton
1967, Viking

Like many people, I read The Outsiders for the first time in English class. It was eighth grade and I’d just been in a performance of Grease that summer, so I was obsessed with the ’50s and I was super psyched to read about Ponyboy, Cherry, and the greasers vs. the socs. I didn’t realize how this novel would be the perfect dark counterpoint to Grease‘s cartoon universe. The nuanced portraits of characters like Ponyboy, who is in a gang but is also an avid reader of Robert Frost and a lover of Gone With the Wind, and Hinton’s sensitive insight into their lives, kept me coming back to the book even after I memorized all of the big events. That and the book’s important and timeless moral: Always be true to yourself, or as one character paraphrases Robert Frost, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.” —Stephanie

stewartonanThe Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy
Stewart O’Nan
2000, Doubleday

This book is about a fire that happened 69 years ago in Hartford, Connecticut, at a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, that killed 168 people. That may seem like just an unfortunate, even tragic, thing that happened so long ago that why should we even care about it now, but Stewart O’Nan researched the fire so exhaustively that he packs every page with the most incredibly fine-grained, minute-by-minute detail that you feel like you were totally there, smelling the burning wax on the canvas top of the circus tent, pushing up against other human bodies trying to escape, witnessing the burns and injuries of the people who couldn’t get out in time. The story isn’t sensationalized and the writing isn’t flashy or manipulative—it is just totally 3D and life-size and immersive and, in the end, incredibly moving. It’s a pretty long book—363 pages—but I didn’t want it to end. It’s one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read and it’s got pictures, too. —Anaheed ♦