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Five Books That Will Have You Looking Over Your Shoulder

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I know what you must be thinking, “How can a book scare me?”, and you’re right and totally valid but there’s something about creepy towns, stalkers, and even psychological torment that hits different through the pages of a book. You think you’re safe when it comes to getting comfy and cozy with a good book- that is, until your mind starts playing tricks on you. These books, while not jumpscare, paranormal, or slasher-film scary, do pack a hell of a punch when it comes to making you think about what you’re reading. So here are some of the most psychologically horrifying books you should check out if you’re in the mood to get some goosebumps:

1. You by Caroline Kepnes

Oh, Joe. Would you believe me if I said he was worse in the book? Without the pretty soundtrack, the pretty set, and well, Penn Badgley, to distract you and have you rooting for the bad guy; You is pretty horrifying in book form. I’m sure you’ve watched the show, but there is something so chilling about being in Joe Goldberg’s head for 422 pages. The best way I can describe reading this book is the feeling of being chased in a bad dream. Even though I was stuck to this book like glue from page 1, I could not bring myself to read this before bed. Before starting to read this book (and all the other literary pieces mentioned in this list, for that matter) and get in the mood for Spooky Season, I would check out the trigger warnings, since Joe is pretty messed up.

Penn Badgley You Netflix GIF by YOU - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: Netflix, @YOUNetflix via GIPHY

2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

This psychological thriller threw me for a loop the first time I read it. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is confusing from start to finish, and the only thing you are sure of is that sinking feeling in your stomach telling you that something is off. Oh boy, things are off. I’ve been advised by hours of watching BookTube and BookTok that reading this book is so much better when you have no idea what it is about, which is true. All you need to know is that what you think is happening is actually not happening. Though it is relatively short, it packs a whole bunch of existential dread throughout all of its 210 pages; and let’s be honest, what’s scarier than existential dread? Exactly. 

3. My Sister, the Serial Killer by ​​Oyinkan Braithwaite

How much do you love your siblings? And how far are you willing to go to protect them? This dark yet witty book takes us through the journey of two sisters, one of which would do anything to protect the other. My Sister, the Serial Killer is laced with everything you could want in a thriller, especially making you think about the lengths that you would go to in order to protect your family. Braithwaite takes her time in curating this gruesome and terrifying novella, leaving you wanting more, but relieved that it is finally over. Though satisfying through and through, this book will have you peeking around the room to make sure you’re really alone.

4. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Not only did Gillian Flynn have me looking over my shoulder while reading Sharp Objects, but she also had me questioning everything I thought was happening until the. very. end. This book takes place in a small town where girls have been going missing and being found dead. You’ll think you know who the killer is until you flip to the very last page. This book can be easily read in one sitting. In my case, I could not put it down once I started it. There’s something about a small creepy town unraveling slowly that is so entertaining and terrifying all at once. The ending is so unsatisfying, it makes perfect sense and you sit there fearing the worst for our main character. If you want all of the chilling feelings, check out the limited series on HBO Max. 

Amy Adams Hbo GIF by Sharp Objects - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: HBO Max, @sharpobjects via GIPHY

5. Night Film by Marisha Pessl 

Now for the book that fueled most of my nightmares for the majority of 2015, I present to you: Night Film. Like most of the books on this list, this one is a psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat up until its very end. The interactive detective work presented throughout the book is enough to immerse you in its story, making you believe that the Cordova Universe is real. One of the last few scenes will have you going in circles for hours, spacing you out while you attempt to make sense of what just happened. Scenes of going around in circles at an abandoned movie set, access to detective documents and so many other interactive pieces within the book itself, the book is truly the stuff of nightmares. Night Film is definitely one of the most enjoyable and paranoia-inducing books I’ve ever read. I was fifteen when I read it; and, at twenty-one, I cannot and will not stop recommending it.

Though books will never compare to the adrenaline of watching a horror film in the dark by yourself, you’d be surprised with the power of words and some good ol’ fashioned storytelling. Whether it’s Joe’s horrific thoughts, an unreliable narrator, or the thought of Cordova’s noir films, you won’t want to read these late at night. While these books won’t necessarily have you trembling, they will keep you up at night trying to figure out what just happened. The rabbit hole awaits…

Luisa Colón is an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus. They are currently studying English Literature. Besides the usual long walks on the beach, she enjoys reading romance novels, updating their bookstagram, and starting (but never finishing) crochet projects. We know you'll love her, xoxo HC.
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