Looking for an introduction to indie horror? There’s never been a better time. Summer has a tendency to spark nostalgia for days of our youth. Especially during 2020, which has brought so many challenges to compound the difficulties of adulthood. As we draw near the end of summer, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to escape to the past. One great way to do so is through coming of age stories, whether on screen or on the page. As a reader and fan of indie horror, I’ve gathered a list of five novellas that perfectly capture days gone by.
These stories will take you back to simpler times. Perhaps you’ll find pieces of your own experience within the characters’ successes and struggles. Great coming of age tales typically highlight the good and the bad that comes along with adolescence. I think there’s something for everyone on this list. Not only will these stories take you down memory lane, they might even lead you to discover a new favorite author. Read on for my top picks!
Jedi Summer with the Magnetic Kid by John Boden
If you’ve never heard of John Boden, now is the time to seek him out and begin following his work. Boden’s prose has a poetic flair. He can break your heart in one sentence and leave you stunned in the next. His writing has made a lasting impact on me and I’d be selfish not to share his work.
This novella is a great place to begin your journey. The story is set in the summer of 1983, and there are some great references to music and movies of that time. The best moments in this book are found in the relationships and interactions between the characters. Boden expertly explores the moments that we take for granted or wish we could speed up when we’re young.
The Same Deep Water as You by Chad Lutzke
Lutzke is another standout in the world of indie horror fiction. If you’re a music fan, try reading this while listening to The Cure’s Disintegration album. This record heavily influenced the writing of the story, and the author recommends listening to it while reading. I typically can’t handle music and reading at the same time, but I was able to make in this case, and it did enhance the experience. Music in the background will add to the ambiance and effectiveness of this story. If you choose to read without the soundtrack, the story still packs an emotional punch.
This tome focuses on a group of older characters (late teens-early 20’s). You might typically think of younger characters when you hear “coming of age”. But that doesn’t take anything away from the authenticity and efficacy of this story. We can all relate to those in-between years, when you’re not a kid anymore, but don’t feel quite like an adult. It’s currently my favorite read from this author.
A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman
A lesser-known gem from Malerman, who is now a household name thanks to the success of his novel Bird Box, and the Netflix movie based on the story. Since discovering his work, I’ve always said that Josh is a creative genius. I stand by that opinion, and this story is no exception. It’s a tale of first love, but features a premise unlike any other.
If you spent any of your summers on a lake as a teen, this one will draw you in. It starts out as a seemingly “normal” first date on the water, which leads to the discovery of a house beneath the surface. It’s peculiar at times, and ultimately an unforgettable adventure. This novella might be tough to find at the moment, as it’s no longer in print. But never fear, there’s a new edition with a forthcoming release in the works.
The Last Firefly of Summer by Robert Ford
Ford is one of my favorite authors. I was lucky to snag a limited edition of his collection, Inner Demons, which features this story and three other novellas. It’s also available as a standalone or in the paperback version of the collection. Ford, like Lutzke and Boden, is one of those authors who writes horror with heart. His stories move readers through the full spectrum of emotions. The Last Firefly of Summer is a knockout tale of young love and revenge. It begins with a spotlight on the main character as a teen, and then follows him into a future heavily impacted by the events of his youth.
The Pale White by Chad Lutzke
My final mention is yet another Lutzke story. He is one of the best authors at creating relatable coming of age stories. And this story features a mostly female cast of characters, which is something I’ve found to be lacking in this sub-genre. While any coming of age tale can be powerful and nostalgic, there’s something even more profound about relating to the characters on multiple wavelengths, including gender.
Fast-paced and packing an emotional punch, this is a story of a group of young women who bravely face down their captor and attempt to integrate back into a “normal” life. I found myself rooting for these brave characters on their road through revenge and redemption. It’s a brief story, but it’s one I won’t forget any time soon.