Hygge, a Danish word that is rapidly gaining popularity worldwide, is a concept that basically means “huddling up in front of a crackling log fire with a fuzzy blanket, a purring cat, and a bowl of cheese fondue, whilst rain patters outside, scented candles fill the house, and your favorite atmospheric music plays in the background”. That feeling of being totally, contentedly, hedonistically quiet, because that is your reward for living in a place where it gets cold during the year. Hygge fits in very well with the bookish life.
Here is a list of three young adult novels that embody the autumn spirit—perfect for a day off or a blustery November evening.
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black
This novel is Holly Black at her finest: haunting, clever, twisty-turny, Halloweeny fantasy. Siblings Hazel and Ben live in a town called Fairfold, a tourist haven bordered by a darkly magical wood that is home to all manner of strange creatures, including a sinister monster at its heart, and faeries with unclear intentions. The Spiderwick Chronicles for an older crowd, if you will. Throughout Ben and Hazel’s lives, the forest’s power has mostly been contained. But it won’t stay that way for much longer.
The setting is breathtaking, and the story immediately evokes that creeping autumnal chill, but Holly’s characters are always what have impressed me most about her work. No matter what fantastical events are afoot, her characters always evoke people I have met in real life and have problems that even the most down-to-earth person could empathize with. Hazel and Ben’s sibling relationship in particular is one of the most believable I’ve ever read, and as a reader you have to delve into several layers of their histories to understand their situation fully. Combine that with the evocative, unexpected plotline, and you have a masterpiece.
Music to read to: MS MR’s “Dark Doo Wop”
THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
Every autumn, the capaill uisce emerge from the sea—strange, savage horses that are notoriously difficult to ride and harder still to tame. A yearly competition called the Scorpio Races offers fortune and glory to anyone who can control their horse long enough to be the first across the finish line. Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick, for vastly different reasons, are among the youngest to take part in the Scorpio Races this year. But neither are prepared for the events that await them.
Maggie Stiefvater is a master of atmosphere. I remember feeling noticeably cold the first time I read Shiver, and I can smell the mountain air upon rereads of The Raven Boys. Even thinking about The Scorpio Races evokes a memory mixture of crisp November air, fresh-baked pastries, whinnying horses, and the smell of the sea. I read it for the feeling it gives me just as much as for the plot. It’s a novel that’s in turns both comforting and enthralling, with Celtic mythos juxtaposed beside fascinating, strong-willed characters. As a bonus, Maggie has actually created a recipe for the “November cakes” featured in the story, which sound like just the thing for a particularly windy day. You can find the recipe here.
Music to read to: Loreena McKennitt’s “All Souls Night”
THIS SAVAGE SONG by Victoria Schwab
August Flynn and Kate Harker come from vastly different worlds, but they both want the same thing: to be what they are not. Kate knows her life would be easier if she were more like her cold-hearted father, who rules his half of V-City’s monsters with an iron fist. August, who lives on the other side of the city, is a monster himself, brought to life by one of the most horrific crimes imaginable, and wants only to be human—so much so that he is starving himself of the souls he must consume to survive. But when August and Kate meet unexpectedly one September, in the face of horrors they’ve never known, there is no telling what either of them might become.
Victoria’s novels inspire a level of devoted geekiness in me that few other authors do, and this is my favorite of her stories. Her characters tend to be underdogs and outsiders, people who can reflect the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, trying their best under very difficult circumstances and proving themselves stronger than they ever dreamed. August in particular is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever read about—Victoria has described him as “the most cinnamon roll to ever cinnamon roll,” and this reader fully agrees. It’s one of those books that reaches thoughts and feelings you’ve never seen in print before—and it isn’t a romance, despite the way the synopsis might sound. Ultimately, This Savage Song feels autumnal not only because of the season in which it’s set, but because of its symbolic value—you can feel the leaves changing in the changing nature of the city and in the expectation of the storm to come.
Music to read to: Ruelle’s “Monsters”