It used to feel like YA was all about werewolves, vampires, and post-apocalyptic wastelands, but over the past few years, there’s been a turn towards the mysteries, thrillers, horror, and suspense in the genre. Some new classics of the genre include Karen M. McManus’ One of Us is Lying, Tiffany Jackson’s Grown and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give; in short, the teen fiction mystery pantheon is no longer just The Westing Game, although I could read The Westing Game all year long.
I only started paying proper attention to the new wave of YA suspense last year, and what I found thrilled me, so this year I’ve been covering young adult crime fiction in the hopes of getting everyone else as psyched for this turn as I am. Below, you’ll find 10 works of mystery, horror, and suspense, each featuring teen protagonists in in twisty situations, often featuring heavy moral decisions. Some are historical, some are high-concept, and one is a YA take-down of Fire Fest, but all are equally good and deserving of readers’ attention. While YA novels are often a fast read, I found myself lingering over the pages below, and hope you will too.
Courtney Summers, I’m the Girl
Courtney Summers’ new book is about Georgia, nicknamed George, beautiful, vulnerable, and powerful, on the cusp of making a choice that many of us have been forced to make: to support other women and fight for bodily autonomy, or to enforce the patriarchy and accept its barbed rewards. But rewind here: what actually happens in this book? So, George finds the body of a 13-year-old girl, and starts investigating the murder with Nora, the victim’s sister, who’s also a burgeoning love interest. Meanwhile, George goes to work in the small town’s high class hotel and club, which is also the town’s main source of income. She gets close with the couple that own the establishment, but is she willing to do what is necessary to secure her position with her new friends? Summers is an astute observer of power and its’ discontents, and in I’m The Girl, she’s written an unforgettable work of biting social criticism. A perfect read for angry women.
June Hur, The Red Palace
(Feiwel and Friends)
June Hur is a rising star in the world of YA historical thrillers, seamlessly integrating intrigue, romance, and rich detail. Her third novel, The Red Palace, cements her place alongside the best historical writers, as she takes us inside the royal palace from a young nurse’s perspective. One night, several women are murdered in their beds, and it will take all the gumption and cleverness of Hur’s heroine to find out the true culprit behind the killings.
Francesca Padilla, What’s Coming to Me
In Francesca Padilla’s new heist novel, a desperate 17-year-old girl and her drug-dealing friend hatch a scheme to rob a corrupt, money-laundering ice cream stand and get revenge on the stand’s creepy sex pest owner. As in all the best heist stories, of course things do not go to plan.
Tiffany D. Jackson, The Weight of Blood
(Katharine Tegan Books)
Tiffany D. Jackson takes the already brilliant story of Carrie and turns it into a commentary on American racism in this perfect social thriller. Maddy Washington is mousy, frequently bullied, and passing as white. When her mixed parentage becomes known to the school, the bullying turns into outright racism. Meanwhile, Maddy’s school has held two proms—a Black prom and a white prom—since the 1960s, and the bad press from videos of racist incidents surfacing convinces a popular white girl with a Black boyfriend to propose integrating the prom. Because this book is based on Carrie, we all know what happens at the prom…but how do they get there? Jackson blends old and new elements impeccably for what might be the most entertaining and thought provoking work of the season.
Robin Roe, Dark Room Etiquette
Robin Roe is a former counselor for at-risk youth who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to trauma and young adulthood. In Dark Room Etiquette, she sets out to show the long-term emotional consequences of a horrific event. A privilege high schooler is kidnapped and develops Stockholm Syndrome; the story of his captivity is rent with twists and turns and ends on a surprisingly hopeful note. If you are seeking emotional catharsis, read this book.
Kate Williams, Never Coming Home
And Then There Were None meets Fire Fest as 10 social media influencers find themselves trapped in a deadly vacation nightmare in which someone is determined to expose their misdeeds—and make each of them pay. Each of the characters is complex, beginning as someone you love to hate and slowly morphing into the kind of characters you can root for (or at least, hope for a quick death).
Andrew Joseph White, Hell Followed Us
Body horror meets apocalypse noir meets queer love story in Andrew Joseph White’s viscera-filled YA novel, Hell Followed With Us, perfect for those who appreciated Manhunt earlier this year but wished it came with more intestines. In White’s debut, trans boy Benji is on the run from his fundamentalist mother and her apocalyptic cult when he finds shelter with the kind denizens of a LGBTQ Center, and budding romance with the mysterious and deadly Nick. He’d love to just be happy with his new friends, but his old community is in hot pursuit—they’ve injected him with a transformative virus that gives him control over the many monsters created by a deadly plague, and they’re not about to let him go. In order to escape for good, Benji must embrace his terrible new powers in a perfect metaphor for coming-of-age that is also a disgusting pile of blood and viscera (and I mean that in the best possible way).
Juliana Goodman, The Black Girls Left Standing
(Feiwel and Friends, July 28)
In the tradition of Angie Thomas and Pamela Harris, Juliana Goodman has written a powerful social novel that captures the struggle for justice in modern America. When Beau Willett’s sister is killed by an off-duty cop, she makes it her mission to track down the only witness and prove her sister was murdered in cold blood. She must face danger and engage in far-reaching activism, or the circumstances of her sister’s death, like those of so many other young Black women, will be changed to justify the actions of police. Never have I seen a book so clearly focused on the narrative of a life as the source of its power.
Hannah Capin, I Am Margaret Moore
(Wednesday Books, March 22)
In this gorgeously written novel set at a sailing camp run with military precision, the girls of Deck Five serve as Greek chorus to a tale of murder and revenge. The girls are fiercely loyal to their bunkmates, and when one of their own falls prey to the waters, they know to dig further and find out who sent her to her watery grave. The structure of the book, split between several summers at the camp, serves to underscore the cohesiveness of this tight-knit group that will do anything to avenge a loss. I truly enjoyed this book. And I hated summer camp, so that’s definitely a win for the book.
Jesse Q. Sutanto, The New Girl
(Sourcebooks Fire, February 1)
Jesse Q. Sutanto’s new mystery is a razor-sharp expose of racism, classism, and academic misconduct at an elite boarding school with echoes of the college admissions scandal. The titular New Girl is excited to get a track scholarship to a prep school, but no sooner has she arrived then she encounters a toxic environment rift with bullying, cheating, and outright prejudice. Perfect for fans of Lisa Lutz’s The Swallows!