Welcome to the 23rd challenge in the 2023 Read Harder Challenge. This is one of the best because Social Horror, Mystery, and Thrillers are some of my favorite books to read. You get all of the page-turning excitement and chilling storylines, but the stories carry a bigger message that will leave you thinking long after you finish.
Social horror, thriller, and mysteries are really popular right now, which is exciting because there are tons of titles to choose from to fulfill this prompt. This genre has been around a while, but the boom of social horror really started with Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Since its release in 2017, publishers have been clamoring to find a novel that reads like Get Out.
But social horror/thrillers are more than just “the next Get Out.” Social thriller novels use elements of suspense, horror, and mystery genres to explore and point out issues of oppression and societal inequities. This genre gives authors an outlet to express their anxieties about the world in a way that a wide range of readers from different backgrounds can understand.
Looking for suggestions for what to read in this category? These are some of my personal favorites.
The Getaway by Lamar Giles
I’m starting this list with my #1 recommendation: The Getaway by Lamar Giles. This book is the perfect social commentary about classism and capitalism in the face of (yes I’m going to say it) “unprecedented times.” Which means it’s the perfect book to read right now. It’s set in Karloff Country, one of the world’s most famous resorts (this book is clearly talking about Disney World, let’s be real). Jay lives in Karloff Country and loves his life there. He’s got good friends, a great family, and a job he loves, working after school at the property’s main theme park. Outside, the world might be falling apart, but inside the resort, people can escape from their problems. However, behind this perfect community are dark secrets. When the richest and most powerful families arrive and don’t leave, employees discover that the resort has been selling shares in an end-of-the-world oasis. The world may be ending, but the most powerful people will remain safe. Now Jay and the rest of the resort’s employees will be the ones to care for them, whether they like it or not.
Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow
This social thriller is deeply unsettling, but you’ll just have to read it to find out why. Farrah Turner is the only Black girl at her country club that also has Black parents. The other Black girl is her best friend Cherish Whitman, but Cherish was adopted by white parents. Farrah calls her WGS–White Girl Spoiled. When Farrah’s family is hit with money problems, she sees this as her opportunity to get an inside look at how Cherish’s family lives. And so she goes to stay with the Whitmans. The longer she stays there, the more she becomes obsessed with their way of life. And despite her parents’ warnings that something is off about the Whitmans, Farrah feels compelled to stay with them as long as possible. Cherish Farrah is a social thriller novel that explores many topics, including race, class, friendship, and family.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
A lot of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books could fit for this prompt, so I figured why not go for her latest? Especially since this is an awesome social horror retelling of Carrie. The Weight of Blood follows high school student Madison Washington. Springville High is a tiny high school in small-town Georgia where Madison has always been the target of bullying. But Madison has a secret: she’s biracial and has been passing as white, at the behest of her white father Thomas Washington. When Madison’s secret is revealed and a video highlighting the racism at Springville goes viral, the students know they have to rehabilitate their image. Their solution? Hosting the school’s first integrated prom. But the students still have a few surprises for Maddy. And when Maddy reveals another one of her well-kept secrets, she’ll have a big surprise of her own.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
You’ve probably heard of this one, because I’m pretty sure everyone I know who’s read it is totally blown away by it. Myself included. This novel follows four Blackfoot Indian men who, at a young age, go on a hunting trip that goes very, very wrong. Now, years later, there’s an evil spirit hellbent on revenge, and she’s hunting the men down one by one.
Reprieve by James Han Mattson
This social thriller novel takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room called the Quigley House. If you can make it to the last room of the house without shouting the safe word “Reprieve,” you stand to win a large sum of money. But here’s the thing: no one ever makes it that far. But on April 27, 1997, four contestants do. Only they don’t all make it out alive. This book follows the journey of those contestants during their time in the escape room, but it also goes back to look at how each of them ended up there in the first place. And the truth behind what actually happened in that escape room slowly starts to reveal itself.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
This one is the perfect social thriller for fans of dark academia. Ace of Spades is a YA thriller that explores what happens when Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, the only two Black students at Niveus Private Academy, are faced with the threats of an anonymous bully who goes by the name “Aces.” Will Devon and Chiamaka be able to stop Aces before things get deadly?
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Set against the starkly white backdrop of the New York City publishing industry, The Other Black Girl is a novel about two young Black women. Nella is an editorial assistant who is initially thrilled when Hazel is hired at Wagner books. Now she’s no longer the only Black woman in the office. But soon Hazel becomes the office darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then threatening notes start appearing, and Nella can’t help but wonder if Hazel is behind them. This book is the perfect mixture of of edge-of-your-seat thrills and biting social commentary that will get readers talking.
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
Tender is the Flesh is a social horror novel in translation from Argentina. Marco’s marriage has fallen apart and his father is suffering from dementia. Meanwhile, the world around him is changing rapidly. An infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous, and so the government has sanctioned the consumption of human meat — or “special meat.” Personal contact with those who have been raised to be eaten is strictly forbidden. But when Marcos comes into contact with a live specimen, he feels drawn to her, and he can’t help but start treating her like a human being.
Looking for even more suggestions? Here are 14 social thrillers that will change the way you see the world. Or check out these social horror books perfect for fans of Get Out.