BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

13 Terrifying Tales of Diverse Hauntings [in The Booklist Reader]

It’s the time of the year to be scared witless – and by choice, egads!

Gluttons for fear, unite.

And brace yourselves for the following 13 diverse hauntings.

The Black Isle by Sandi Tan

The protagonist begins her life as Ling, the first-born twin in a well-to-do Shanghai clan. Half the family leaves to seek new fortune on the British outpost called the Black Isle, where life proves harsh. Decades will pass, new identities forged and discarded through war, slavery, and independence (sort of), until finally, when she’s almost 90, the past comes knocking: “Anyone who has lived as long as I have, and who has done the things I have, knows there will come a reckoning.”

Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

In the first book of this four-volume graphic novel series, Jimmy’s wife and daughter are dead, killed by a drunk driver. Jimmy plans revenge, but things go awry, making him a murderer-by-mistake. He decides he’ll kill himself, too, but he keeps coming back – in other people’s bodies. Casually and constantly, over the course of the series, the body-count grows, the police join in, OSS agents get called, the penal system locks him up, but Jimmy – and death – keep marching on and on! Despite all the neverending death and gruesome destruction (don’t judge me too harshly), it’s ROTFLMAO funny.

The Devourers by Indra Das

Das’s eerie debut combines a contemporary love story (of sorts) with an ancient, fantastical tale. One December evening in Kolkata, history professor Alok meets an enigmatic man who insists he’s a werewolf. Captivated by the stranger’s stories, Alok agrees to transcribe his trove of aging notebooks and parchments, when he (and readers) discover an ageless love triangle that meanders through the Mughal Empire and centuries-ago Europe to reveal who – and what – the stranger truly is.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito, translated by Jocelyn Allen

Lurid, can’t-look-away violence dominates these eight creepy, macabre “fragments” from one of Japan’s best-known horror manga artists: a girl grows into a desperate woman determined to flay innards, a lone hiker with debilitating injuries stays alive eating mysterious flesh, a caretaker grooms her charge for the ultimate (justifiably) vengeful act. As frightful as these stories are, even more grisly are the images – this is a graphic title, after all.

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

What is most haunting in Kupersmith’s nine multi-layered pieces are not the specters, but the lingering loss and disconnect endured by the still-living. In “Skin and Bones,” two Houston sisters visit their grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City in order to “rediscover their roots.” One dying youth tries to steal another’s body in “Little Brother.” An insistent knock at the door demands retribution 40 years after the war in “One-Finger.” With an American father and a Vietnamese mother, Kupersmith channels her bicultural background to reveal contemporary glimpses of reclamation and reinvention on both sides of East and West.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Li Lan, a young woman in 1890s Malaya about to age past marriageability,  receives an eerie offer: to marry Lim Tian Ching, the wealthy heir to a privileged family, never mind that he’s, well, dead. But Li Lan is no obedient wallflower, and she quickly realizes she’ll have no future if she can’t chase down her undead betrothed and expose him as the less-than-honorable spirit he is. And thus begins her epic journey seeking death in order to live.

Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Thirteen-year-old Pinky lives with her extended family in a sprawling family bungalow in 1960s Bombay. Her grandmother, who rescued her after her mother’s death as a toddler, dotes on her. Her aunt-by-marriage barely puts up with her. Her oldest cousin, in love with Lovely next door, barely notices her, although Pinky finds herself suddenly swooning over him. Late one night, Pinky does the forbidden and opens a creaky bolted door. . . unleashing a vengeful spirit. Secrets emerge, lies are told, truth is repeatedly obscured, leaving no one in the family safe from harm.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Intellectually-gifted Jessamy is just 8, the only child of a Nigerian mother and English father. During a family trip to Nigeria, Jess meets TillyTilly, a mysterious girl who seems to know more about Jess and her family than Jess herself. When Jess returns home to London, TillyTilly has unexpectedly moved into her neighborhood … or has she? Who is TillyTilly? Why doesn’t anyone else notice her? How can she do some of the things she does? And if TillyTilly can, what might Jess be able to do?

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Michael Emmerich

Since her husband Rei disappeared 12 years, self-sufficient Kei lives in busy Tokyo with her mother and teenage daughter. Routine drives Kei, raising her daughter, and sleeping occasionally with her married lover. When “the woman” appears – part memory, part ghost – Kei recognizes that she’s somehow linked to Rei. As Kei draws closer to the aggressive apparition, she hovers between a world of love and loss, truth and denial … and must ultimately choose between the past and future.

Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano, translated by Matt Thorn

Composed as two overlapping narratives set 11 years apart, the first page begins with butterflies, a set of crying twins, an open notebook, and a dark tunnel to nowhere. When a body turns up in the entrance to the Nijigahara tunnel, rumors start circulating. The town’s young children insist that a monster lurks deep within: in a fit of terrifying violence, they decide to ‘sacrifice’ Arié – the daughter of the just-identified corpse – and throw her down a long well. And then the dead speak. . .

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

The ingeniously interrelated “dark tales” here require reading sequentially to get the full effect, no sloppy skipping-ahead allowed. In the shudder-inducing opening story, a mother marks what would have been her late six-year-old’s 18th birthday by buying strawberry shortcake; that cake then reappears in the next seemingly unrelated story, about a schoolgirl who takes a classmate to have lunch with her estranged father. From tale to tale, details carry over – from something minor like fruit to whole paragraphs transcribed from one story into another in an utterly different context. By book’s end, you will be haunted by a question: how’d she do that?

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

For 45 years, Ephram Jennings has lived a life dictated by others. When the one woman he’s never stopped loving returns to their hometown – ironically named Liberty – he’s ready to claim his independence for Ruby. The once-lively girl who left returns as an unrecognizable, tormented woman. Liberty’s men continue to debase her, the women judge and condemn her. She carries with her the tortured souls of not only those she lost, but the ghosts of all the motherless children who have no one else to cling to. Against all expectations, Ephram intends to save her.

Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan

In Locke, California, in 1928, an unfamiliar boat emerges out of the dense fog carrying three Chinese women: Ming Nai, a young bride deserted in China ten years earlier by one of the townsmen, another Gold Mountain widow, and an untethered young woman. The mysterious threesome becoming quickly entangled with the small town’s inhabitants, drawing the spirit world closer and closer.

Published: “13 Terrifying Tales of Diverse Hauntings,” The Booklist Reader, October 24, 2017


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