10 YA Books That Scarred Us For Life


Today is the 73rd birthday of YA staple Gary Paulsen, the author of over 200 novels, including Brian’s Saga (read: Hatchet and its ensuing sequels). Hatchet is one of those books it seems like just about everyone we know has read, and just about everyone we know (ahem, including us) was at least a little bit scarred by it — or at the very least, picked up some important survival skills. So as a tribute to the author of this ubiquitous novel, and for a fun trip down memory lane, we’ve compiled a list of YA books that gave us some serious emotional wounds that we may or may not still be nursing a little bit. Click through to check out our list of YA books that totally scarred us for life, and let us know which ones still keep you up at night in the comments.

Hatchet , Gary Paulsen

In this novel, Brian’s plane crashes, leaving him alone in the wilderness with only his hatchet to rely on, staying alive on his wits and this one archaic tool. Okay, we learned some survival skills, but we can’t even bring hatchets on planes anymore. We can’t even bring Swiss army knives! We bought a Swiss army knife after reading this book and then realized it totally wouldn’t help in a plane crash situation! This book just reinforced our feeling that we would probably die if stranded in the wilderness for 54 days. Sigh.

Where the Red Fern Grows , Wilson Rawls

Look, as far as we’re concerned, this book is not appropriate for children. Your humble author read it in the third grade, when the teachers realized I was bored stiff with the picture books they were prescribing to the rest of the class. I fell out of my chair crying. Spoiler alert, but at the end, the one dog dies, and then the other dog dies of sadness. That is just the worst thing I had ever heard. It still might be.

The Giver , Lois Lowry

The ending of this book has been plaguing us for oh, almost two decades now. The premise is startling enough — a world without color, emotion, or any free will — and we still think of the stern lesson in “language precision” Jonas received whenever we whine that we’re “starving,” but the ending is what keeps us up at night. The way we see it, there are only two possibilities: either Jonas finds the non-dystopian world of his dreams, filled with soft light and warm food, or it’s a death hallucination. Sadly, we sort of think it’s the latter.

Bridge to Terabithia , Katherine Paterson

It’s bad enough when animals die in books, but this was probably the first book we read where a kid — a kid our age — died too. Plus, Paterson took so much care to make her awesome before she killed her off. Lesson learned: stay away from rope swings at all costs. Especially if you’re an atheist.

Logan’s Run , William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Another book centered around a futuristic dystopian society, this one ageist to the point where they have it all set up so you happily go to your death as soon as you hit age 21 and the little shiny crystal in your hand turns black. Needless to say, this book has only gotten more profound (well, sort of) as we’ve gotten older, but we remember being horrified by it even at a young age, examining our palms and eyeing our parents and teachers with mistrust whenever they asked us to go anywhere. We would not be summarily executed on our birthdays. No, sir.

Lizard Music , Daniel Pinkwater

Pinkwater is pretty much the weirdest, and your intrepid author’s father enjoyed pressing his books into her hands just to see what faces she’d make. In this one, Victor, home alone for two weeks, sees some giant lizards playing in a band on late-night TV. Turns out no one knows anything about them except the Chicken Man, who leads Victor on a absurd, hilarious, wild lizard chase to an invisible island. This had us both hooked on and terrified of television for years.

The Golden Compass , Philip Pullman

So let’s get this straight: there is a woman kidnapping children to do sick experiments on them — separating them from their souls, essentially — and then we find out it’s our heroine’s mom? That’s just not right. Also, we want our own personal daemons, stat. No, that teddy bear won’t do, Mom. What is this, more torture?

The Chronicles of Narnia , C.S. Lewis

We probably don’t have to explain to you why these books were so scarring, but let’s put it this way: more than one of our friends has a story about how, when she finished the final book, she fell to the ground crying, wailing that she had to die, or she’d never get to Narnia. Sure, we don’t think that anymore (we get it, it’s a Christian allegory), but you can’t deny it’s a pretty messed up message to send to a kid.

Lord of the Flies , William Golding

Like everyone else (probably), this book had looking at our classmates with distrust when we read it in school. Ever since we’ve been plagued by the question — what would we do? Would our animal instincts take over? Would we hunt pigs? Would we hunt Piggy? We just don’t know, but this book terrified us.

White Fang , Jack London

New Girl’s Schmidt isn’t the only one whose life choices have been informed by the end of London’s classic. True, we’ve never personally “White Fanged” anyone, but we can’t say we’ve never thought about it. It’s kill or be killed, after all.