Young Adult

SEVEN DIRTY SECRETS by Natalie D. Richards

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Cleo still has nightmares about the day Declan died. Some of it is the trauma of watching him drown. Some is the guilt. And maybe some of it is relief–that her ex died before his abuse killed her. But someone isn’t convinced that Declan’s death was an accident. What starts as a creepy scavenger hunt from a mysterious stalker quickly begins exposing secrets from the fatal camping trip. Is the stalker one of the five others who were there that night? Or was there another witness? One thing is for certain: Cleo has to play the stalker’s game. Because the stakes are high, and she can’t afford to lose anyone else…

Fast-moving and packed full of clues and suspects, SEVEN DIRTY SECRETS will satisfy teen thriller fans who love a mystery to solve. Well-founded twists and complicated characters add depth to the edge-of-your seat plot. A fun, quick read for YA thriller readers!

THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR by Amy Butler Greenfield

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When Elizebeth Smith accepted a job studying Shakespeare’s First Folio on a wealthy man’s estate, her primary motivation was to escape her domineering father’s household. But this unusual opportunity would set her life on a new and unexpected course. On the estate, she met fellow employee William Friedman and the two began collaborating on code breaking projects. Their partnership would become both professional and romantic, skyrocketing them both into positions as elite cryptanalysts for the United States government. Though William would become famous for heading the team that cracked the Japanese code machine “Purple” and for his role in the fledgeling NSA, Elizebeth’s contributions to her country were less celebrated and in some cases attributed to others–men, of course. But Elizebeth’s incredible work not only saved American lives in both World Wars but broke down barriers for women in intelligence work and pushed the boundaries of code breaking.

Spanning two wars and featuring colorful characters from eccentric millionaires to rumrunning gangsters, this true story at times feels like fiction. Though marketed to teens, adults will enjoy this fascinating biography just as much as younger readers. Greenfield is honest about holes in the historical record but still manages to uncover enough information to piece together a cohesive picture of Friedman’s secretive life and contribution to counterintelligence. Bits of code included in the text along with instructions for deciphering it add a beautiful interactive element to the book. I highly recommend this one to teens and adults alike!

THE LAST LEGACY by Adrienne Young

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When Bryn Roth turned eighteen, she was summoned back to the country of her birth to take her place in her powerful family. But she soon learns that her uncle’s methods of securing and maintaining their power are illegal, underhanded, and sometimes even violent. The first time she one of her uncle’s schemes deliberately puts her in danger, she realizes that she will need to find a way to make herself valuable to the family to avoid being used again.

Unfortunately, her uncle has other ideas of how she can be of use to him in his bid for a coveted merchant’s guild ring. And his plans keep bringing her into conflict with Ezra, the surly and infuriating silversmith that Bryn finds herself unwittingly drawn toward. As her uncle plots to sell her to an influential merchant in marriage, Bryn desperately tries to distance herself from the dangerous family politics by immersing herself in her late mother’s legitimate business. But when lies and betrayals come to light, Bryn learns that if she is to have any hope of a future independent from her uncle, she will have to embrace all the aspects of being a Roth.

Young returns to the cutthroat world of the FABLE duology for a story of political intrigue and forbidden love. Fans of FABLE and SKY IN THE DEEP may be surprised at the almost courtly start to this novel, as the well-bred, gown-wearing young woman arrives to take her place in her powerful family. But the story quickly gets underway with all of the grounded world-building and visceral story experience you can expect from Adrienne Young. The plot kept me guessing, the characters surprised me, and the romance threw me off-balance in the best possible way. This was one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommend!

THE WOODS ARE ALWAYS WATCHING by Stephanie Perkins

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Camping may not have been the best idea for Neena and Josie’s last adventure before college separates them. Neither of them has ever been camping before, and it isn’t long before they’re exhausted and lost on a lonely mountain trail. With Josie watching fearfully for bears, and Neena trying to stifle her fear of running into a dangerous criminal in the isolation of the forest, their nerves quickly fray, and it isn’t long before they begin to fight. But the fight ends abruptly when a horrible accident leaves Josie trapped in a pit, Neena racing down the mountain alone for help. Unfortunately, their fears weren’t just in their imagination, and the worst kind of predator is on the prowl…

After a slow start, blood-chilling, violent terror drives an unputdownable second half of this psycho/serial killer horror novel. The psychological suspense in the first half wasn’t enough to keep me from skimming, but for the second half, I couldn’t look away. I’d recommend this to horror fans who love books with high stakes and physical violence.

ANY SIGN OF LIFE by Rae Carson

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When Paige wakes up, her first thought is that she’s missing basketball practice. Her mom probably hoped she’d oversleep and would say she shouldn’t be overdoing it while recovering from the flu. She apparently brought home a ton of IV bags from the hospital and hooked Paige up to all of them to keep her hydrated. It’s weird, though, that all the bags have run dry. And that she’s so thirsty that her first sip of water makes her vomit.

And then she finds the corpses.

Paige’s whole family is dead. Everyone on her street is dead–possibly everyone in Ohio. That flu that was going around wiped everyone out in less than a week. But Paige remembers the Covid-19 pandemic that happened less than a decade earlier. That virus didn’t even come close to this death toll. Is it even possible? Paige goes in search of supplies, aware that her mom’s last wish as she daisy-chained those IVs together was that Paige would live. But when she meets another survivor, a fellow teen athlete named Trey, she learns that her suspicion was correct. The virus wasn’t a coincidence. And the aliens that created it will stop at nothing until all the humans are eradicated…

Before I get to my effusive praise, I want to note that this book won’t be for every reader–at least not right now. For many readers, a book about an alien virus that wipes out 99.999% of humanity will be far enough removed from the reality of our current pandemic that it will allow them to work through some of the emotions and experiences of our real world in the fantastical extreme of the story. But for some teens, especially those who have recently lost loved ones to Covid-19, the wounds will be too raw and too deep. Early in this story, the protagonist abandons the corpses of her family, compartmentalizing her grief and focusing instead on survival. But for readers in mourning, this difficult shift and the constant presence of corpses–and reminders of the people they used to be–might be unduly upsetting. So I would hesitate to recommend this book to a teen who has lost someone during the pandemic.

That caveat aside, this book is excellent. The action and suspense starts on page one and builds to a thrilling climax, but what really elevates the story beyond a basic alien war is the constant search for–and discovery of–meaning in a post-apocalyptic world. The survivors aren’t just fighting for their lives; they are fighting to build something new and to preserve the memories of everyone who perished. It is truly a fight to preserve humanity rather than individual humans. The characters are nuanced, the moral quandaries complex, and the story riveting from the first sentence. I highly recommend this to fans of sci-fi, dystopias, and thrillers/suspense.

DARK AND SHALLOW LIES by Ginny Myers Sain

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Elora can’t be dead. Grey won’t accept it. When she steps off the boat back into her small bayou hometown, she’s immediately surrounded by the missing posters with her best friend’s face. She’s not the first of the Summer Children to be lost. Two of the ten children who were born in the same year died almost a decade ago, a double murder shrouded in secrets. But Elora is missing, not dead, and Grey is going to find her.

But as soon as Grey is back home, visions begin to plague her–visions of Elora fleeing from a shadowy madman who’s determined to kill her. Grey is the only one of the Summer Children who never developed supernatural abilities. There are times she wished she was a psychic like her mother, or an empath like her crush, Hart, but now she hopes that the visions only dreams, not a true window into a deadly past. That hope dies, however, when a stranger shows up in town–another Summer Child that no one knew about–and the dark undercurrents of the bayou rise to the surface. The only way this many secrets can exist in a town of psychics is if everyone only tells part of the truth…

World-tilting twists and an eerie, immersive atmosphere guarantee a gut-plummeting ride in this YA Mystery-Horror hybrid. Though it takes a few chapters to acclimate to the number of important players and their various superhuman abilities, the volume of characters and secrets makes the mystery that much more difficult to unravel. Suspense junkies won’t want to miss this stellar debut!

THE GIRLS ARE NEVER GONE by Sarah Glenn Marsh

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Dare is looking forward to spending a summer at a haunted mansion She knows she won’t see any ghosts (after years of ghost hunting with her ex, she’d have seen a ghost by now if they were real) but the internship will give her a great opportunity to launch her podcast, establish herself as a ghost hunter independent of her ex. And besides, even without ghosts, the history of the mansion and the suspicious drowning of a teenage girl who lived there is fascinating.

But when Dare arrives, her expectations for the summer are immediately upended. First, there’s Quinn, the daughter of the estate’s owner, who is not only adorable (and possibly into Dare, too) but also 100% convinced that she’s being haunted. Then, there are the mysterious occurrences: the warnings scrawled on the wall in what looks like blood, the shadow of a face in the mirror, the murky lake water pouring into the bathtub. And as Dare delves deeper into the history of the estate, she begins to suspect that more than one girl drowned in that lake, and if she doesn’t accept the possibility of a ghostly threat soon, she–or someone she cares about–might be next.

Deliciously chilling, THE GIRLS ARE NEVER GONE has the perfect blend of eerie atmosphere and ancient mystery, blood-curdling scares and false alarms–not something you’ll want to bring on your vacation to a remote lake! Its queer romance and Type-1 Diabetes representation set it apart from other YA horror while the thoughtful character development is just as engrossing as the mystery. Pick this one up if you want a ghost story that will have you jumping every time someone turns on a faucet!

BURDEN FALLS by Kat Ellis

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As if surviving the car crash that claimed her parents’ lives wasn’t devastating enough, now Ava has to say goodbye to her family’s ancestral, and see it sold to the man responsible for her parents’ deaths. There has been bad blood between the Thorn and Miller families since a centuries-old feud, but now there is literal Thorn blood on Miller hands and Ava can’t bear to think of either one of the Miller kids sleeping in her old bedroom–especially not Freya, her artistic rival.

But death hasn’t abandoned Burden Falls. Not long after Ava and her aunt and uncle move to a cottage near the old mill, the body of a girl is found at the bottom of the waterfall. Most sinister of all, her eyes have been gouged out, like the legend of Sadie, the ghost of an accused witch who supposedly still haunts Thorn Manor. The same ghost Ava’s father claimed to see moments before his death. Ava begins to catch glimpses of Sadie everywhere. At first she thinks it’s just her imagination, but when Freya Miller turns up dead, mutilated in the same way, she has to admit that the danger is very real. With the police suspecting her, her aunt and uncle pressuring her to get her head checked, and her best friend keeping secrets, Ava doesn’t know who to trust–except Dominic Miller, the only person who seems to agree that she is both sane and innocent. But as they launch their own investigation into Freya’s death, Ava can’t help but wonder: how can she prove her innocence when the most likely alternative suspect is a vengeful spirit?

From an eerie start to a dramatic, pulse-pounding conclusion, this thriller does not disappoint. There are great twists, an emotional hook, and even a touch of forbidden romance. Fans of YA thrillers and psychological horror will not want to miss this one!

DARLING by K. Ancrum

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Wendy’s parents may as well have her under house arrest. It was their idea to move to Chicago so that she could go to a prestigious prep school (and so they could adopt more kids to keep under house arrest). But now they won’t let her hang out with her friends–all because when her mom was younger she saw some kid get murdered at a party in a graveyard.

Of course, Wendy’s parents aren’t home when a charismatic guy named Peter breaks into her house, and when he invites her to join him and his friend Tinkerbelle at a party, she can’t bring herself to say no. But instead of a party, Peter brings her home to meet the boys he’s taken under his wing–boys who give Wendy cryptic warnings that lead her to believe that Peter isn’t what he seems. With the police on their trail and something dramatic slated to happen later that night, Wendy will need to figure out who to trust if she’s going to make it home alive.

This dark Peter Pan twist is impossible to put down! I loved how Ancrum turned it into a thriller instead of a fantasy, drawing out the darkness that already exists in the original Peter Pan and infusing it with a new take on the concept of “eternal youth.” I was riveted. Highly recommend to fans of YA thrillers and dark contemporary.

Amazon.com: Darling: 9781250265265: Ancrum, K.: Books

Featured Book List: YA Chills and Thrills for 2021

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It’s October–time for ghosts, zombies, and serial killers (in our books, of course)! This month’s featured book list includes this year’s most heart-pounding releases for teen readers.

I will continue to curate this list throughout the month, but titles include:

WHITE SMOKE by Tiffany D. Jackson, a chilling horror about a house full of ghosts and the even scarier reality of racial injustice.

HOUSE OF HOLLOW by Krystal Sutherland, a dark fantasy that sends three sisters back into the land of the dead, searching for the truth about their past and an escape from the man who is hunting them.

EAT YOUR HEART OUT by Kelly Devos, an action-packed zombie satire set at a sinister fat camp.

BAD WITCH BURNING by Jessica Lewis, the story of a teen witch who discovers her ability to raise the restless dead while searching for an escape from abuse.

Check out the full list on Bookshop.org. (Don’t worry if you’re not looking to buy; just see what titles look good to you, then find them at your local or school library!)