Quiz: Young Adult Fiction? Or Real-Life Serial Killer?

It's often hard to distinguish young adult literature from some of the grisliest moments in human history. Can you tell whether each of the following is the story arc of a young adult novel or the real-life story of a serial killer? HarperTeen; Katherine Tegen Books; Bluefields; Little, Brown and Company

Many people think of young adult literature as being geared toward a less mature audience—that the plotlines and characters will be less weighty, dark and grim than those we find in designated-adult novels.

As a young adult writer—and avid reader—I can promise you that's not true. In fact, these days it's often hard to distinguish YA literature from some of the grisliest moments in human history...including from the stories of gruesome serial murderers.

Can you tell whether the following are story arcs from young adult novels or real-life stories of serial killers?

1) There's a werewolf on the loose in the town of Dole.

Farmers have seen it silhouetted against the night sky, stalking its prey through the fields. A group of workers traveling home one evening came across it feasting on a recent kill, and barely escaped with their lives. Children are going missing, and when they're found, huge ragged bites are left in their thighs and bellies.

The most recent victim, a little girl, escaped the werewolf. Now she's fighting for her life, battling the wounds he left her with. And the moon is waxing…

ANSWER: Serial Killer; Gilles Garnier

In the past century or two, the idea of a serial killer motivated by lust and perversion, incapable of normal human emotions, has become well-known to the point of being almost cliché. In the 16th century, however, the idea that a man (or woman) would torture, kill and, in Garnier's case, eat the flesh of child victims was hard to comprehend. In a pre-Nietzsche world, with God very much still living, these gruesome crimes could only be explained one way: as the literal work of the devil.

Garnier was just one of several serial killers tried—and convicted and executed—on charges of lyncanthropy, or changing into a werewolf. Lycanthropy trials were held into the 18th century in some parts of Europe.

At trial, Garnier claimed the devil gave him an ointment that would allow him to change into a wolf in order to hunt his prey. Other famous werewolves, however—including Peter Stumpp, the "Werewolf of Bedburg," whose trial became a kind of entertainment for the aristocracy—were tortured extensively before they "confessed" to transforming into a killer wolf.

Incidentally, one little girl did escape Garnier. He'd already bitten and clawed her savagely, however, and she eventually died from her wounds.

2) It's 1926, Manhattan is in the grip of flapper fever, and young people have never had more personal freedom—girls can even go out unchaperoned.

But not everything is sparkly in this world of Bright Young Things. A killer has been targeting young people around the city, mutilating their bodies and leaving cryptic occult symbols behind on the corpses.

As more and more bodies turn up (each with different parts missing) it becomes clear police work isn't enough to track down this killer. But a psychic may be able to uncover the killer's identity…

ANSWER: YA Novel; The Diviners, by Libba Bray

This weighty book (at over 150,000 words, it's more than twice the length of most young adult fiction) follows flapper Evie O'Neill as she tangles with the murderous "Naughty John," an extremely creepy killer using ritual murder in an attempt to raise "The Beast."

Important detail (that might have given away the YA-ness): Naughty John is actually the ghost of a long-dead serial killer…doing more serial killing.

Evie and her frends are "Diviners"—they all possess unique psychic capabilities. These help them defeat the ghost-murderer at the end of the novel, the first book in a planned series.

3) The Gray Man, shuffling down the street mumbling to himself, is so faded from head to toe that he looks like he's made of dust and could disappear in a cloud of smoke.

The Gray Man steals little children out from under their parents' noses, and no one even realizes he's the one who did it.

The Gray Man likes to eat fat little boys and girls for his dinner with a side of gravy and a roasted onion.

Is The Gray Man coming for you next?

ANSWER: Serial Killer; Albert Fish

Albert Fish's story is horrifying almost from the very start. Born into a family that battled severe mental illness—two siblings and an uncle were diagnosed with mental illnesses and his mother suffered from aural and visual hallucinations—Fish's self-given name, Albert (he was born Hamilton), was actually that of a dead brother. Abused in an orphanage for several years, Fish developed predilections for physical and sexual violence toward children while still a minor himself.

In the 1920s he abducted, tortured and murdered at least three children, who he claimed to have cooked and eaten (sometimes detailing the recipe he used in letters to the victims' parents).

His eerie moniker, "The Gray Man," came from the mother of victim Frances McDonnell. She spotted him near her home the day her son went missing, and told reporters about Fish's "thick gray hair and his drooping gray mustache. Everything about him seemed faded and gray."

4) It's an opportunity like no other, especially for a girl whose family can barely count itself in the ranks of the gentry: travel to the beautiful Countess's castle and live as one of her favored attendants. A girl would have a chance to learn courtly manners, dance with handsome young men, maybe even find a husband and a palace of her own!

But there are rumors in the village that the Countess is an evil woman. That the young women who attend to her are treated cruelly. Some even say her beauty comes from a pact with the devil, and that she bathes in the blood of young girls to maintain it.

Passing up such an opportunity would risk everything one young noblewoman's family has fought to build. But taking it might risk her life…

ANSWER: Serial Killer; Countess Elizabeth Báthory

Considered one of the main models for the character of Dracula, Countess Elizabeth Báthory of Transylvania has been credited with murdering anywhere from 36 to 650 young women between 1585 and 1610.

Her first victims were the daughters of local peasants, brought to the castle with the promise of work. She'd then mutilate, starve, freeze and otherwise torture the young women to death. (Accounts of her bathing in virginal blood to maintain her youth are less reliable.)

When she moved on to the daughters of the gentry, she drew too much attention from high places. Because of fears of damaging the status of the nobility, her servants were tried and executed, but she was sentenced to strict house arrest. Báthory lived four more years in rooms that had been bricked in from the outside, with only small slits for air and the passage of food.

5) Multiple murders in London are linked through a crucial piece of evidence: Each body is found with a letter attached, detailing the reasons the person deserved to die.

Scotland Yard is baffled as to the identity of the murderer; the killer leaves no physical evidence behind. Each murder seems to be a "perfect crime."

Eventually the murderer can't resist the urge to toy with the police, which leads to their first major break in the case: They believe the murderer might be a student at one of London's elite private schools.

ANSWER: YA Novel; Dear Killer, by Katherine Ewell

A young adult answer to the Dexter series, Dear Killer features a protagonist, Kit, who was trained by her mother from earliest childhood to become an expert, morally neutral killer.

The letters she attaches to each victim in fact come from the individuals requesting the murders; all begin "Dear Killer."

Over the course of the novel, Kit begins to question whether her primary murder rule, "Nothing is right, nothing is wrong," is valid. In the meantime, however, she brutally offs several individuals, for reasons ranging from "she doesn't love me back" to "we need the insurance money."

6) The tiny town of Friendship, Wisconsin is shaken to its core when a teenage girl is found brutally murdered, with straw stuffed down her mouth and throat, her lips crudely sewn shut, and part of her scalp missing.

Police pin the murder on a boyfriend, but just weeks later another woman is found dead in her home. In a town where everyone knows everyone else, it's impossible to imagine who could be responsible for the grisly killings.

But the killer is hiding in plain sight.

ANSWER: YA Novel; No One Else Can Have You, by Kathleen Hale

Though it's set right in the heart of serial-killer country (notorious killer Ed Gein—reportedly the inspiration for the killers in Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—was from Plainfield, barely 30 miles away), Hale's story is pure fiction.

It's also extremely funny.

As the protagonist, Kippy Bushman, attempts to unravel the mystery of who killed her best friend—seemingly from an instruction manual that's half TV procedurals, half Nancy Drew, and all Diane Sawyer-worship—the reader is introduced to a cast of bizarre characters that turn what could be a grisly mystery into a darkly hilarious madcap romp.

Hale's sequel, Nothing Bad is Going to Happen, will continue the unique young adult combination of dark deeds and fizzy writing.

7) In the greater Detroit area, crime is hardly a noteworthy occurrence. Even brutal crimes, like the violent assault, rape and stabbing murder of Heather Monroe, barely hold the news cycle for 24 hours in a town where murder is a near-daily occurrence.

But residents and police start to take notice when more victims show up sharing striking similarities with Heather: All of them are tall, pale, slim and redheaded, and all of them are still in their teens.

ANSWER: YA novel; Serial Hottie, by Kelly Oram

As the title might suggest, Serial Hottie is less dark than the "brutal rapist and murderer on the loose" plot thread would have you believe. The main character, tomboyish Ellie, falls hard for her new neighbor, Seth, but starts to worry when he likes her back. After all, no boy has been into Ellie before; isn't the only logical answer that her gorgeous neighbor is actually Detroit's serial murderer…and she's just his type?

What follows is a mystery romance, one several readers called "enjoyably fluffy."

For many, in fact, the creepiest element in the novel isn't the murder plot, it's Seth, who kicks off his relationship with Ellie by breaking into her room while she sleeps (spoiler alert: he's not the serial killer). Controlling, jealous, and possessive, Ellie's early fear of Seth is treated as overblown for the sake of narrative tension…but it might be the most realistic element of this romantic page-turner.

8) In a tiny cottage in the deep dark woods a magic mirror is hidden. Legend says that if you look into it while performing a special spell, you'll see your future.

There's just one problem. The girls who venture into the woods, hoping to spy the face of the man they're meant to marry in the mirror's depths, disappear without a trace. When whimsical Catherine, the beauty of the Seidel sisters, fails to return from her quest to learn her true love, her sister sets out to find her. What she uncovers will change her life forever…

ANSWER: Serial Killer; Andreas Bichel

Andreas Bichel, also know as "The Bavarian Ripper," committed his murders at the turn of the 19th century in Regendorf, Germany.

Bichel used the story of a magical mirror to lure young female victims to his secluded house. Telling them the mirror would only work if they followed its spell—which involved tying their hands behind their backs and blindfolding them, so they wouldn't touch it and disturb its magic—he then stabbed them to death, dismembered their bodies, kept their clothing and goods, and buried the women near his home.

Bichel was discovered when the sister of Catherine Seidel, searching for clues to Catherine's disappearance, saw a Regendorf tailor making a waistcoat with a fabric she recognized: the material in the petticoat Catherine had been wearing when she went missing. More of Catherine's clothing was discovered at Bichel's house, as were the dismembered bodies of two young women. Bichel was executed in 1809.

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