The teenage years are traditionally thought of as the wonder years; but they are really a doorway to all kinds of new horrors. Some are biological, others are social, and both of them belong to the evolutionary slip’n’slide that takes on the more or less well-formed child and turns out, not necessarily intact, the young adult.

But sweet sixteen isn’t all armpit hair and acne and disastrous prom dates. Modern neuroscience tells us it’s also a time when the brain is re-wiring furiously, getting denser, and its pathways more defined. Think of the young adult brain as a pinball machine lighting up in new ways with every new experience.

Which more or less explains the catastrophic trail of bad to terrible decisions even the most sober adult can look back on with some degree of embarrassment and self-denial. Put it down to a temporary service upgrade, but most of us just weren’t thinking straight at the time.

A natural choice

So, naturally, when I found myself wanting to write a novel about teenagers, I went to the single, most prominent emotion I associate with my own teenage hood – horror. Was my past particularly fraught? Not really, I struggled with impulse-control but I never went off the rails in a way that would make news headlines the way some unfortunates do. Yet there was the sensation of always being on the edge of something, a realisation or event that could change me irrevocably.

I was conscious of no longer being a child and to quote a Natasha Bedingfield pop song, without an iota of irony, “the rest was still unwritten”.  Who was I underneath when the rules and cushioning were taken away? What did I really want? How far would I go to get it? There were unexplored instincts to contend with, and opportunities that were exciting, risky, and whose temptations ran far too deep for me to fully understand.

After all, leaving the nest is what the teenage years are about, and the avian metaphor is pretty accurate. Teenagers are oversized children who have grown wings and must take a leap off the family tree into the unknown trusting their instincts will keep them from crash-landing or becoming cat-food.

It can be terrifying to be on your own in the world for the first time. It is also thrilling, tantalising, and promise risks and rewards, without which it is impossible to move forwards.

That is also, in my opinion, one of the basic premises of horror – this acknowledgement of the devastating potentiality of the hidden. What can be more of an adrenalin rush than going into the unimaginable unknown? Considering the strange, the odd, the creepy, even the out-and-out scary, is far more electrifying than knowing what lies on the other side of a closed door.

An unpredictable mix

Teenagers face the closed door routinely, and they almost always push it open to see what happens: First kiss. Third date. Driver’s test. New Year’s Eve with a valid ID; somewhere out there, in the cascade of first experiences is the magic formula that makes you grow up. Maturity is hard won, whether you’re an aboriginal teen undergoing a do-or-die rite of passage or an urban kid trying to fit in and have a life; at some point you must suffer a change, and transform.

I wrote my horror novel I See You as a sort of coming of age story even though my lead character Alia lives through only a year of her life at seventeen and her year is far from normal. I liked putting her through the paces and seeing how she reacts but I enjoyed even more ramping up the challenges by presenting her with scenarios that were freaky and terrifying.

After all, storytelling can talk about the ordinary in an extraordinary way, but when you inject teenagers into the horror genre you are in a realm of extreme unpredictability. It is like putting two reactive chemicals together and sitting back to watch the explosion. The supernatural drama gets to the heart of things in a more intimate way, in a way that is gut wrenching and real, even when, especially when, it is at its most bizarre, because it forces its characters to react. Thus shaking loose curious traits and impulses that can otherwise stay latent inside a character.

My heroine Alia is a strong girl, a teenager at the heart of a horror tale. Her battles are both social and supernatural but both feel equally real to me, because more than the first kiss, third date, driver’s test, or New Year’s Eve with valid ID, what I remember of being a teenager is the horror and the thrill of not knowing what will be waiting when I push the door open.

Karishma Attari is the author of the horror novel I See You.