Scream and Scream Again! edited by R.L. Stine
Scream and Scream Again!: Spooky Stories from Mystery Writers of America (2018) is a short-form horror anthology in which “every story begins or ends with a scream,” and its twenty contributors are all members of Mystery Writers of America, an organization “dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre.” The anthology is edited by R.L. Stine, himself a contributing author, and the overall age range of its protagonists and general subject matter mark it firmly as suitable for the pre-teen and early-teen crowd.
Two of the authors may be familiar to Fantasy Literature readers — Beth Fantaskey and Heather Graham — and I recognized a few others from scanning the mystery shelves at my local library, though most of the names listed in the table of contents were new to me. Many, but not all, of the contributors write YA fiction in various genres; the “About the Authors” section is a helpful guide for young readers and their parents who may want to follow up on a particular author’s body of work. Scream and Scream Again! provides a wide range of styles and subject matter, from cursed necklaces to a ghost-witches haunting a bayou cemetery to time travel, and while readers might not connect with every story, they’ll likely come across at least a handful of tales that stick with them. (One story revolves around a “gypsy curse,” a concept I find deplorable and unacceptable, and so was the only one I skipped over.) Some of the authors’ voices are uneven, some of the stories try too hard to scare than to tell a good story, and some of them are a little ridiculous — but then again, I’m not the target audience. These days, I’m more afraid of my monthly electric and water bills than ghosts and goblins!
Personally, the stories I enjoyed the most were “Ring and Ruin,” by Steve Hockensmith; “Summer of Sharks,” by Lisa Morton; “Cat Got Your Tongue,” by Wendy Corsi Staub; “The Only Child,” by Joseph S. Walker; and “Kamikaze Iguanas,” by Alison McMahan. They each had solid world-building and striking imagery or phrases, relatable and authentic-sounding narrators, a cohesive plot from beginning to end, incorporated the “scream” theme in a way that felt natural, and, most importantly, contained some key element that surprised me. I’d be willing to read more of these authors’ work on the strength of these stories alone.
Scream and Scream Again! is a solid anthology, and seeing as how a solid 20% of the stories were memorable or stood out in some way to me, I’m impressed. Parents of younger children may want to scan through it quickly to make sure it’s suitable for their readers, as some of the stories may be a little gory or frightening for them, but overall I’d say it’s worth picking up for reading during the month of October.