Whether you’re a long-time fan of horror and splatterpunk or new to this part of town, you’ve likely heard of Aron Beauregard’s Playground. You probably also know that the book is one of the most, if not the most, extreme horror books on the market at the moment. After finishing (or giving up on finishing) the legendary tale, many people aren’t sure what to read next. We've taken it upon ourselves to scour the internet for fresh meat—or rather, fresh reading material.
Read on for some skin-crawling terrors focused on children and some genre-defining examples of extreme horror. Here are eight books to read if you're a fan of Aron Beauregard's Playground.
Another book by Aron Beauregard, The Slob follows Vera, a forced-neat-freak after growing up in a house so filthy she’ll never forget how slimy it made her feel. But her neat-freak tendencies prove to be useful in unexpected ways. When she finds out that she and her disabled husband Daniel are expecting a baby, she finds a way to make some fast cash. She gets involved in the booming door-to-door sales business of 1988, and all is going well…at first.
Soon she arrives on the steps of a home that contains a certain evil that she’ll never be able to wash her hands of.
This option is great for Playground fans as it is not only written by Beauregard himself, but also continues with that same sickly feeling you get inside when you read it. It belongs to the same extreme, gory genre, and also provides a similar ambiance, as Vera ends up stuck in a place she doesn’t want to be in, but cannot seem to escape from. It's also worth noting that this novel has a sequel, Son of the Slob, that readers have equally enjoyed, but it is crucial to read them in order to understand Vera’s lore.
For The Sake Of
Another popular novelist in the extreme horror genre, Judith Sonnet came out with a stomach-churning, raw (no pun intended) depiction of a mother’s commitment to her child. Six-year-old Riley has been missing for eight months, and Tabby never thought she’d see her child again. But then she wakes up one morning to find a burner phone on her back porch with a photo of Riley with a decapitated head in her lap.
Now that Tabby knows her daughter is out there, she’ll do anything to get her back—no matter how sick, twisted, or evil. To the dismay of sensitive readers, Tabby jumps through violent hoops to prove to the psychopath that took Riley, and his hoard of online followers, that her daughter is worth saving.
We’ve included For The Sake Of for many reasons, one of them being simply because it was written by Judith Sonnet. She’s become a familiar name in the genre, and this book (and its sequel, For The Sake Of 2) are shining examples of why she’s so well-read. Additionally, this story also centers around a child, providing that same urgent tension and desire to save that Playground makes us feel. And, of course, the gore is wonderfully nasty, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Summer Never Ends
Blazing ahead on the Judith Sonnet train, we also recommend Summer Never Ends. This coming-of-age story introduces us to Tanner, a young boy who is doomed to attend church camp in the summer of 1985. He expected a boring summer, but was surprised to make two new friends, and the three of them embark on a hike in the woods beside Creston Camp.
They were looking for a good time, but instead what they find in the forest is evil beyond comprehension. Not even the church can save them now.
Summer Never Ends is a crucial addition to the list because it emphasizes the coming-of-age drama that often darkens the already dismal plot of a horror novel. The coming-of-age and child protagonist combination reads similarly to Playground. While this book has some strong religious commentary (cathartic for those of us who have Catholic school trauma), it’s simply just another angle one can use to initiate a child blood-bath. Whether through incorrect use of religion or incorrect use of a playground, children suffer!
The Laws of the Skies
Another camping trip situation, The Laws of the Skies is about 12 six-year-olds and three adult chaperones going on a camping trip…and none of them make it out alive. We explore the minds of all the members of this doomed camping trip, murderers and murdered both, as they confront their childhood fears—or become the fears of others.
Part fairy tale and part horror story, this macabre fable includes illnesses, poison, and accidents; a children’s love triangle; and both children who play the role of a hero and a villain on a murderous rampage. But everyone meets a grisly end.
In addition to the never-ending list of horror novels that feature children as main characters, this story also provides a similar maturation trope to Playground. It also similarly has a variety of intricate and gory methods of torture.
Another increasingly popular name in the horror and splatterpunk genres, Matt Shaw’s book truly lives up to its title. Sick Bastards is a post-apocalyptic novel in which a family (Mother, Father, Sister, and Brother) wake up without any memories. No one recognizes each other, nor their location, but they all take shelter in an unoccupied house. The Father recalls a blast from an atomic bomb, but nothing else. When going out to search for food, Brother and Father discover humanoid monsters that are trying to kill them.
The trapped and starving amnesiacs huddle in their home, hoping that someone will come save them. The shell of the story seems typical, family-friendly even, but there’s a warning on the cover for a reason. This family will do anything to survive after the nuclear attack left their world in ruins…things that most people wouldn’t come up with in their wildest nightmares.
One reason this book makes the list is simply because it’s another infamous book from the genre, by another very popular author. But additionally, the themes this book centers around run parallel to the themes of Playground; beyond unspeakable acts of sexual violence, it also explores a loss of peace and humanity, which is similar to the loss of childhood experienced by the protagonists in Playground. While not exactly the same, both provide a dark type of heartache you can only experience by losing yourself.
The Things He Heard
Ben Closs is a 10-year-old boy with cancer. But it’s not the cancer you're thinking of; Ben has “his Cancer.” His Cancer is a voice in his head that tells him to do bad things. His Cancer says that if he just does something bad once, it will leave him alone.
Ben tried to tell others it was there, but they shoved him off, saying he’s “fine” and telling him he’s being “melodramatic.” But Ben knows it’s there. He can feel it growing inside of him, and it scares him. The more people doubt him and refuse to listen, the more his Cancer grows. He knows one day it’s going to explode, he just doesn’t know who’s going to end up as collateral damage.
The Things He Heard is another heart-breaking story about a child whose needs continue to go unmet, surrounded by people who don’t care enough about him to listen to him. It’s similar to Playground in that it demonstrates a real-world loss of innocence theme, it just comes at the topic from a different angle.
They Are All Monsters
A killer stalks the streets of Belton, savagely mutilating and murdering young children. This killer is good at his job, as the task force who’s been hunting him has no clues, no witnesses, and no suspects. And then, somehow, it gets worse. Children start disappearing, kidnapped, very unlike the previous murders, which can only mean one thing: there’s a copycat killer on the loose, too.
The deaths continue to become more brutal, as if the two are challenging each other to a game of “who can inflict the most amount of suffering on their chosen victim.” Jeff and Clive, the heads of the task force, need to track the killers down and stop them. But the only suspect they have is the suspicion that, in their own way, sometimes they are all monsters.
Playground enthusiasts will enjoy this novel too because it also includes a killer who is trying to inflict the most amount of suffering possible. Additionally, we eventually find that one of the killers is looking for vengeance for his daughter’s death—and to do this, he targets all the evil people in life, including would-be abusers and abused kids that may grow up to be abusers. This follows a similar Playground theme, as under-privileged families seem to be a target in both novels.
I Found a Circus Tent in the Woods Behind my House
Dave and his four-year-old son, Jacob, are playing outside one day when they find a circus tent in the woods behind their house. A strange and mysterious voice beckons them inside, but when the two refuse, the tent swallows them. What follows is a maze of circus tents, each with their own strange performers and horrific, unreal capabilities. They want Dave and his son to put on a show…and the worst performer of the two is in big, big trouble.
While not quite as gory as the other books on our list, it is just as nefarious. This novel is a great choice for Playground fans who enjoyed the fact that the setting is inescapable, and the plot of the story almost unbelievable. It also explores the theme of lost childhood, but in this book, it’s manifested more through the father’s worries for his son than from the son himself.
Featured image: František G./Unsplash