For some, it seems that Gothic fiction is synonymous with classic or old fiction. Modern horror may use aspects of the Gothic, but it is still rooted in fluorescent lights and electronics—few storytellers have found a way to blend these things together into a true representation of that genre. That is not to say that it has not happened. In 2009, young author Helen Oyeyemi descended upon the literary world with a shattering and brilliant novel called White is for Witching. And seven years later, this novel is very seldom discussed. That is a shame, I dare say a tragedy, because Oyeyemi's story creates a truly Gothic, beautiful exploration of millennial terrors.

Oyeyemi was in her early twenties when she wrote White is for Witching, which both surprises me and seems inevitable. Her writing is confident, solid, and searing—signs of a mature author; but she uses her brilliance to eviscerate fears of the youth in ways that only a youth could. Most horror stories that deal with teenagers are eager to punish them. While that makes for good entertainment, it feels like a waste in the end, because what age group experiences more nebulous dread than those aged thirteen to twenty? Oyeyemi recognizes this, and renders the dread in such a sympathetic way that it makes one’s heart ache to read it. It makes you think that someone understands.

The Gothic trappings are all there: a massive old house with hidden corridors and a mind of its own; unexplained happenings within said house; and a female protagonist plagued by sickness and paranoia. Oyeyemi has clearly studied the classics. These elements rest overtly in the modern world as well. The protagonist, Miranda, is described as uncannily timeless when compared to her brother Eliot’s disillusioned, edgy friends. She is at odds with the 21st century. But, at the same time, she is a part of it—a young person haunted by her past (literally, I might add), suffering from an eating disorder, and completely unable to reconcile her future.

The best Gothic fiction is also psychological. Sheridan LeFanu incorporates the breaking minds of his characters into the supernatural; Charlotte Perkins Gilman renders a harrowing breakdown in “The Yellow Wallpaper”; Henry James constantly questions the sanity of his governess in The Turn of the Screw. Oyeyemi is brilliant to choose an eating disorder as the central illness—is this not an epidemic amongst youth today? Even further, she threads this illness into Miranda’s family history, a curse from generations past. All around Miranda, too, is her house, which Oyeyemi boldly makes into a conscious character. The house does not want her to leave. It does not want her to join the real world.

All of this in the first hundred pages. After this point, Oyeyemi introduces Ore, the child of Nigerian immigrants, adopted by white parents. With Ore comes a horror Miranda cannot understand, that of otherness and racism. She is part of a different world, one that Miranda’s ancient house cannot accept. Oyeyemi, a person of color herself, renders these fears just as tangibly as she does Miranda’s.

The initial anxieties materialize with casual racism and discrimination that are encountered on the college campus where Ore and Miranda meet. Their different nightmares find solace in each other, though neither is able to fully understand the other. These anxieties pale in comparison, however, to what Ore encounters in Miranda’s house. Without revealing too much, I will say that Oyeyemi personifies the monsters of the past in a single entity, and orchestrates its attack in a disturbing and ingenious way. Race and sexuality are examined at once; the literal beasts represent the invisible, but real, ones that we face everyday.

Here Oyeyemi’s novel parts ways with others of its kind and roots itself in the modern world. Plenty of Gothic stories have explored mental illness and white women’s fears. Oyeyemi does this, but incorporates so many other elements, ones that are even more openly discussed now than they were when the novel was published. These topics have so rarely been touched by the horror genre, but it is the perfect genre in which to explore them—people who belong to oppressed cultures and races feel this terror daily, whether unconsciously or overtly. Oyeyemi recreates it in a sensitive, truthful, and harrowing way. Even if you do not experience that terror in reality, you will feel it in her words.

White is for Witching is not a deconstruction or an inversion of Gothic tropes. It is simply repurposing them for our modern world, rife with its own nightmares that classic Gothic fiction would not or could not touch. Those living in fear, whether it's due to racism, homophobia, or mental illness, may find some sort of solidarity in the struggles of Miranda and Ore. Oyeyemi is an essential voice because of this. Her scathing exorcisms reveal things that society does not want us to see; but we so desperately need to see them.