No longer playing the victims across every literary trope, the plight of female characters have taken a turn, especially in the horror and thriller genre. Now readers are getting the chance to see women as the monsters exacting violence—and sometimes, even delighting in it. And audiences are eating it up.
Growing up in the cinematic era of iconic slasher films, it seemed that although the female lead could survive until the end, often there was a monster jumping out of the lake, some psycho with a chainsaw, or an otherwise final moment of “Yeah, sorry…. You did great and all, but we still have to kill you. Awesome screams, though!”
Of course, films have changed dramatically. Now we have Barbarian, Midsommer, and Us. And we’re not just surviving, we’re slashing—like in Jennifer’s Body and Pearl. We’ve gone from victim to predator—and it’s refreshing to watch.
Which sounds kind of dark, I know. But let’s be honest, there’s power in getting to see yourself as the monster, as the one acting on your rage instead of bottling it up and putting on a pretty smile. Sometimes, it’s more fun to imagine burning it all to the ground—figuratively, of course.
In literature, we’re still searching for that right amount of female rage that’s still palatable. Gone Girl showed us how to fake our own deaths and be real messy, Big Little Lies let us team up to kill an abusive husband, and My Sister, the Serial Killer—well, that one seems self-explanatory.
Turns out, being the murderer is a lot more fun to read about than being the body washing ashore, inexplicably nude and very much dead.
While female-driven thrillers continue to dominate adult fiction, nothing taps into the potential of bloodthirsty girls than young adult fiction. No more powerless victims, no more barely-developed female characters. It’s rage-a-palooza. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted to say but couldn’t. It’s the final girl but now she’s made you her bitch. And even with all the blood and violence, the stories are exciting and thrilling. They’re fresh and innovative. There are no paint-by-numbers storylines; the characters are nuanced and well-threaded with history, and have clear, if not morally gray, motivations. And readers can’t get enough.
In my newest horror novel In Nightfall, I knew I wanted to pull some inspiration from vampire classic The Lost Boys. Siblings forced to move to a beach town with a single parent, enigmatic locals inducting you into their weird bloody beach cult, and a grandparent who knows way more than they’re willing to say. But in the idyllic town of Nightfall, it’s not the dark you need to be afraid of. It’s the beautiful, vicious, and unapologetically violent teenage girls.
It wasn’t enough to just make them evil, though. They have reasons. They have bottled up rage and an appetite for revenge. Look, it’s already complicated being a teenage girl with adults making all sorts of rules to control you and your behavior and your body. But with fangs… Well, your angry response is a little more compelling.
Ultimately, I think that’s the draw of wanting to see more bloodthirsty women and girls in literature. In a way, they’re exacting some of our vengeance. Or, maybe it’s just more fun to enjoy horror that doesn’t always cast you as the victim. Either way, female monsters and slashers are having a moment and I’m here for it.
Here are a few books for you to check out:
Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
Mind your manners, always smile, and above all else, be beautiful. The girls of Innovations Academy are constantly controlled, but when one of their friends goes missing, the girls start to question the truth about their surroundings, all leading to a bloody finale with plenty of vengeance.
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
On the island of Sawkill Rock, kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires. It’s a place where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation… Maddy did it. But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret… one that will cost them all their lives.
All these Bodies by Kendare Blake
Sixteen bloodless bodies. Two teenagers. One impossible explanation. In this edge-of-your-seat mystery from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kendare Blake, the truth is as hard to believe as it is to find.
Hatchet Girls by Diana Rodriguez Wallach
When Mariella Morse accuses her boyfriend Vik of murdering her wealthy parents with an axe, the town is quick to believe her. But when Vik’s sister Tessa goes searching for answers in a notoriously cursed forest, she and Mariella will have to face a darkness that has lurked within their town since before the days of Lizzie Borden—the original axe murderess of Fall River.