Whenever I’m asked about my favorite reads, my go-to recommendations are almost always YA mysteries. I have an expensive habit of auto-buying any and every new release in the genre and devouring the books the moment I get my hands on them!
My own YA mystery, This Is Why We Lie, is set to be released September 21st with Inkyard Press. The story follows Jenna and Adam as they race against time to solve the murder of a local teenager. With prep school sandals and small-town secrets, someone will take the fall.
In the lead up to the release of This is Why We Lie, I thought I’d take a more in-depth look at some of the YA prep school mysteries that I’ve been binging lately . . . and I’m bringing you along for the ride!
While writing this, I started to wonder what it is about the trope that has so many readers hooked. The conclusion: I think the allure comes down to the setting. In these books, authors paint a picture of a private and closed world to which only the select few are permitted access. In the age of cult classic TV shows like Gossip Girl and Elite, bringing prep school scandals into teen literature is deliciously addictive. Who doesn’t want to immerse themselves in the dark and dangerous, often salacious hidden societies embedded in these fictional schools? Moreover, these 21st century page-turners pay homage to the locked room mysteries explored by Agatha Christie and the greats. An accessible read for young adults, concealed behind the walls of an upscale institution. Of course, in real life, private schools are far less dramatic, but in bookish lands, pass me the popcorn and give me a whodunnit to solve!
So, without further ado, let’s dive into some YA prep school mysteries.
People Like Us by Dana Mele
People Like Us is a gritty YA mystery. The cover caught my attention—four prep school plaid uniforms, minus the bodies to fill them. This book came out early 2018, at a time where the mystery/thriller genre was just edging its way into YA bestseller lists. With shelves dominated by fantasy, there were a few fun whodunnits around (one of which I’ll discuss later), but the edgier, grittier themes were not quite as prevalent as they are today—thanks to breakthrough titles like One of Us Is Lying.
In People Like Us, our main character Kay is part of the popular squad, but she’s hiding a secret that threatens to turn her life upside down. When a classmate is found dead, Kay is sent on a sinister scavenger hunt, implicating many of her friends in the murder. I read this book in one sitting and went back and forth with my suspicions until the last few chapters. Mele did a great job here and is definitely an auto-buy author for me!
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Truly Devious is a real page turner. With short chapters and a diverse cast of characters, this one had me hooked. The story takes place at Ellingham Academy, a private school for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. True-crime fan Stevie Bell begins her first year at the academy with a plan to solve the cold case of Albert Ellingham’s kidnapped family.
Despite the grim context, this is a reasonably light-hearted read, filled with riddles and puzzles. It ends on a cliff-hanger, which put me off at first because I love a conclusion, but credit to Johnson, it was a great tactic to get me throwing my cash at the second book in the series, Hand on the Wall. I’ve seen this series all over social media, and readers unanimous praise Maureen Johnson for her witty dialogue and clever plotting.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Released summer 2021, Ace of Spades is one of the newest titles on my list, and it’s already made its mark in the YA world! Set in prestigious private school, Niveus Academy, we follow Devon and Chiamaka as they’re targeted by an anonymous bully, Aces. They must team up to figure out who is spilling their secrets in cryptic texts. Who is the sinister texter known only as Aces? Compelling and beautifully written, Ace of Spades powerfully tackles sensitive issues such as racism and homophobia. It’s a book with true heart, gripping and fast-paced, and a must read. Looking forward to more from Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé!
Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor
I couldn’t compose a list of prep school mysteries without including this book! Published in 2013, it reads very differently from some of the more recent YA thriller titles, particularly Kara Thomas’s (AKA Kara Taylor’s) more recent work, such as That Weekend and The Cheerleaders, which are a lot darker than her series penned as Kara Taylor. Nonetheless, Prep School Confidential stands the test of time. It follows new girl, Anne Dowling, as she enrols at Wheatley Prep. After a party one night, Anne finds her roommate gone and soon learns that her body was discovered in the forest surrounding the school. Anne becomes determined to solve the mystery. This is a fun and wild ride, with a great cast of characters. I’m a huge fan of Kara Thomas—auto-buy!
These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin
This book had me totally mesmerized! The Red Court is a name to be feared, a secret society that rules Heller High with an iron fist. Capable of causing social ruin, but at a cost, the members are unknown to anyone but their leader: The Queen of Hearts. Ember Williams is ready to take the court down from the inside, and she starts to build her case against them. With clever plots twists and hairpin turns, I had no idea who the Red Court’s leader was, and I was immersed in Ember’s journey to uncover their identity. The elite society tone was thrilling, and the Alice in Wonderland references added to the creepy, topsy-turvy sense of mystery.
They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman
This book has received a lot of hype lately, and it’s in the process of being adapted into a TV series! Set in a Gossip Girl style prep school in Long Island, Jill Newman and her friends are the epitome of money. Three years earlier, Jill’s best friend, Shaila Arnold, was killed by her boyfriend. But as Jill reaches senior year, questions begin to arise. Who really killed Shaila? Complex and darkly competitive, this is a prep school mystery at the most scandalous level. One to read, but be prepared to feel furious at the characters and their choices!
Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich
Set to be released March 2022.
I was fortunate enough to read this book early, and I’m eagerly awaiting more from Brenna Ehrlich!
In Killing Time, Natalie Temple is shaken by the murder of her favourite teacher, and as a true-crime fan, she begins her secret quest for the truth. Killing Time is a thrilling ride, gripping and addictive. Natalie is such a compelling main character, and I was totally absorbed in her world. I couldn’t put this book down, and it haunted me long after I closed the covers.
One to pre-order!
I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of my favourite prep school mysteries! If you get chance to read any of these, or if you decide to pick up a copy of This Is Why We Lie, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Instagram @GabriellaLepore_Books. Happy Reading!