Horror is a vast and nuanced genre capable of inciting an array of intense emotions. It disturbs, enrages, and terrifies us. But what of horror that goes even further and devastates us? What about the tales that, even if they end with a victory, are so emotionally harrowing along the way that we as readers find ourselves forever changed?
These gripping reads are built on endearing, relatable characters and emotional conflicts that either reflect our deepest anxieties or mirror the true struggles of our own lives. These reads are sure to get your heart pounding, but be sure to have a box of tissues nearby, too. Here are six emotionally devastating horror books that will leave you shattered.
Elegy for the Undead
Newlyweds Jude and Lyle find their lives torn apart when a vicious bite infects Lyle with a disease that sets a slow and violent transformation in motion. This harrowing zombie virus has no cure, leaving the husbands to prepare for the worst over their last month together, even as Lyle slowly loses all sense of himself. Dispersed with their new and terrifying challenges, readers are taken through flashbacks of their happier moments—a drastic contrast between falling in love and saying goodbye.
The Cabin at the End of the World
Seven-year-old Wen is on vacation with her dads, Eric and Andrew, in a quiet cabin on an isolated New Hampshire Lake. One serene afternoon, Wen is approached by a peculiar stranger, Leonard, whose friendly charm wins her over. They play together until Leonard pauses the fun with an apology—and a promise that nothing that follows is going to be her fault. As three more strangers descend upon the cabin, Wen rushes to warn her parents, even as Leonard assures her that it's up to her family to save the world. But it's even more complicated than this unsettling promise seems.
This dark and disturbing read by Cormac McCarthy will leave you flinching and weeping in equal turns. In the burnt-out husk of what remains of America, a father and his son fight for survival. Together they head for the coast, unsure of what awaits them there. Armed with nothing but a pistol to ward off the lawless droves lurking on the roads, they are the entire world to one another. But in the midst of this harsh world of cannibals and criminals, love is what sustains this dwindling family.
The Girl Next Door
That this book was based on the true story of the murder of Silvia Likens in 1965 makes it all the more heartbreaking. After the unexpected death of their parents, teenage Meg and her disabled sister, Susan, are sent to live with their Aunt Ruth. But Ruth is at the end of her rope with the three sons she already has, and as she plunges into a violent madness, her children follow after. Ultimately, it is Meg who pays the price. And only one troubled young boy stands against the tortures inflicted upon her.
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A vivid exploration of grief, this book follows widowers Abe and Dan. After the passing of their wives, the men have found a tenuous comfort in one another's friendship, strengthened by their shared love of fishing. But they've heard rumors of the remarkable Dutchman's Creek—a creek said to bring back lost loved ones. While at first, they believe it's just another local tall tale, they become entangled in a world of dark pacts, old secrets, and a mysterious figure known as Der Fisher. Are they willing to pay a steep price to reclaim what they've lost?
They Drown Our Daughters
The legends say ghosts linger behind in Cape Disappointment. The tales of haunting pulled in tourists by the droves, once upon a time. As they explored the rocky shoreline near the lighthouse, they would invent dark and ominous shapes looming out in the surf. But now the tourists are gone—and now Meredith Strand must return.
After a bitter divorce from her wife, Meredith takes her young daughter to her childhood home. It's a place full of bad memories, made all the more difficult by the fact that Meredith's mother is suffering from Alzheimer's. Her mother believes that the tales of ghosts are real, and that something is watching and waiting for them in the water. And the dark force amidst the waves wants Meredith's daughter—calling to her as it has called to every woman in their family for generations, greedy to pull them out to sea.