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Guest Post: A Book That Scares Sonia Gensler

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Sonia Gensler, author of THE REVENANT

You might have heard me say this before, but I did not enjoy scary tales when I was younger. For the longest time I was too impressionable, for the mildest spooky stories or films (or even just a photograph of a ventriloquist’s dummy) would keep me up all night. In college, however, I deemed myself sufficiently mature to take an honors survey of Gothic literature. As it turned out, most of the stuff was pretty wacky—in a totally wonderful and addictive way, mind you—but I was safe because the stories were too preposterous to be truly scary.

And then we came to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.

To be honest, even this wasn’t “put the book in the freezer” scary*, but it proved very unsettling. What haunted me then, and what still haunts me today, was this notion of a very young woman, hardly out of her teens, taking a job that gave her complete authority over a remote country house AND responsibility for the education and well-being of two vulnerable children. All this on her hands, and she is strictly forbidden to ever contact the employer who has left his house and his wards to her care.

I read the novella when I was the same age as the protagonist. The enormous weight of her burden overwhelmed me. At the same time, I couldn’t help identifying with her attraction to her employer, her desire to gain his good regard—perhaps even his romantic interest—by managing the daunting tasks he’d given her.

As you can see, I was hooked well before the ghosts made an appearance. Yes, I said THE GHOSTS. Once they entered the frame, I was swept up in the young woman’s need to protect the children, as well as her bold resolve to confront and defy the ghosts. Those sweet children, their souls ripe for the picking, had turned into potentially malevolent creatures, and the governess was the only one who saw through their schemes and knew what to do. She was the only one to see the truth.

The truth?

After several re-readings and film adaptations, one stage performance and even one [terrible] opera, I am still grappling with what really happened in this story. AND I LOVE THIS GRAPPLING. The tale never gets old for me because it never really resolves itself in my head.

The Turn of the Screw is a quick read, and you can download it for free on your Kindle. However, if you need an even quicker fix, do check out the 1999 TV adaptation starring the incomparable Jodhi May and featuring a cameo from Colin Firth. It’s gorgeously Gothic and spooky!

*apologies to TV snobs for the Friends reference!

Sonia Gensler grew up in a small Tennessee town and spent her early adulthood collecting impractical degrees from various Midwestern universities. A former high school English teacher, she now writes full time in Oklahoma. So far, her husband and cat are putting up with this. The Revenant is her debut novel.

Visit Sonia at

Follow @soniagensler on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  


Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away:

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.

19 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Book That Scares Sonia Gensler

  1. Thanks so much for the heads-up on the free Kindle edition of The Turn of the Screw. I just recently downloaded the Kindle for PC app and I’ve been having so much fun snagging all the free books.

    I agree, I couldn’t read scary books when I was younger; I was much too impressionable. Now I’ll read them, IF they have good recommendations, and IF nothing bad has happened to the people who’ve already read them.😉

  2. Oh wow, I had no idea Turn of the Screw was free on Kindle! That’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages!

  3. The cover alone is so very creepy! If I’d seen it as a child, that alone would’ve scared me🙂 And hey, what’s wrong with FRIENDS references?🙂

  4. Another free book for my Kindle. Thanks for the tip! I’ve never read this but have heard it mentioned many times. Sounds like a great Halloween read🙂

  5. i think kids had to mature much faster back in the day. esp since life spans were pretty short. i would hate to have been responsible for a whole house at such a young age – esp an old house full of ghosts! ahhh! never read this one but i think i’ll check it out. sounds creepy.

  6. I read this during my obsessive Henry James phase. It is really scary, in a subtle way. After I finished it, I almost wished I could have been a reader when it was first published, because I have a feeling it would have been even more unsettling.

  7. Wow, you make this one sound worth it, even for someone who’s never meshed too well with classics. Or I’ll just watch the TV adaptation… thanks!

  8. This book really creeped me out in high school. I think it’s the uncertainty as to what’s real, whether the governess is insane or these things really are happening to her. *shudder* The book was so much better than the play adaptation I saw.

  9. I’ve read a couple gothic novels for class these last couple weeks and it’s been so cool seeing the horror conventions in these novels that are still thriving in YA today. I just read Zofloya by Charlotte Dacre and it has one of the most brutal and frightening murder scenes I’ve read in a 19th century novel ever. Lots of graphic stabbing and a tumble down a cliff…

  10. This is one of my favorite books, too. I love that you can’t tell whether it’s the children driving the nanny crazy or not. But that’s kids for ya! haha…

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