YA Mystery

YOU’RE SO DEAD by Ash Parsons

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Plum’s older sister Peach Winter barely speaks to her anymore. She’s not doing it to be cruel. It’s just that since her business as an influencer took off, she hasn’t had much time for anyone. Especially not a baby sister who’s going nowhere back in her hometown in Alabama. But when an invitation to an exclusive festival on a private island gets delivered to the wrong P. Winter, Plum finally has a chance to go somewhere–even if it’s just for a weekend.

As soon as Plum and her two best friends show up on the island, though, they realize something is wrong. There are no famous people–just a handful of low level internet personalities. There is no entertainment. There’s barely even any food.

And then the murders start…

The mystery-thriller plot of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE meets the comic ridiculousness of CLUE in this new YA thriller. Don’t get me wrong–this is a murder mystery and the serial killer will keep you on the edge of your seat–but what makes this novel work is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The premise is over-the-top, but not unrealistic given the over-the-top reality of private-island-festivals and Influencer culture, and there is always a thread of humor, or a comment on the absurd extravagance of the murder’s pageantry, even at the most tense moments. It’s not true farce (like EAT YOUR HEART OUT), but it’s a heart-pounder that will also make you laugh (+ a warm-fuzzy friendship subplot). I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t need their thrillers to be dark.

Amazon.com: You're So Dead: 9780593205129: Parsons, Ash: Books

Featured Booklist: Book Club Titles for Kids and Teens

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The school year is underway, and whether you’re a teacher or librarian running a book club or a parent stockpiling good reading material for those inevitable Covid-exposure quarantines, I have a book list for you!

This list includes titles for upper elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers. All of the books were released within the last year, and they have a blend of unputdownable storytelling and though-provoking thematic content. As always, you will need to evaluate the individual titles to be sure they fit within the specific parameters and needs of your students/children, but think of this list as your launchpad.

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

FAST PITCH by Nic Stone, a middle grade sports story about a girl combatting racial injustice while vying for a softball championship.

NIGHTINGALE by Deva Fagan, a middle-grade fantasy about an orphan thief, a reluctant prince, a magic sword, and worker’s rights in a racially diverse, Victorian-London-esque fantasy world.

GENERATION MISFITS by Akemi Dawn Bowman, a middle grade contemporary novel about four social outcasts and one popular girl who find friendship and the courage to express themselves through their mutual love of J-Pop.

ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE by Sabina Khan, a YA contemporary novel about a Pakistani Muslim immigrant wrestling questions of home, identity, and belonging after a bigot targets her family with hateful vandalism.

VIOLET GHOSTS by Leah Thomas, a YA historical fantasy about a transgender boy in the ’90s coming to terms with his identity as he helps restless ghosts find justice and a safe haven in the afterlife.

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer, a YA sci-fi about two young men from rival countries on a mission to rescue a fellow spacefarer aboard a ship that may or may not be trying to kill them.

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!)

LIES LIKE WILDFIRE by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Hannah is looking forward to college and to pursuing a career in criminal justice like her father, the sheriff. But when she and her friends accidentally start a forest fire during a day trip to a California mountain lake near their home, suddenly she needs to use her knowledge of the legal system not to solve a crime but to get away with one.

Hannah wasn’t the first to lie (that was Violet) but Hannah is the one who badgers the other four to keep the lies going. She knows her father. He didn’t balk at putting her mom in prison for the drunk driving accident that killed a person. Hannah and her friends have killed 3–and counting. Starting a forest fire, even accidentally, can be a felony with almost a decade of prison time. Her dad can never find out that the five of them were anywhere near the fire’s origin. But as homes are destroyed, more people die, and evidence starts to surface, lies might not be enough to keep them out of jail or save their lifelong friendship. Especially if someone breaks the pact and tells the truth…

This novel is divided into two halves, the first a disaster story, the second a straightforward thriller. The theme of loyalty vs. honesty unites both parts of the novel, but the thematic threads really serve the fast-paced plot which is the main drive, appeal, and strength of the novel. Pick this one up for a teen who loves heart-pounding thrillers with well-intentioned characters making abysmal choices.

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

14 WAYS TO DIE by Vincent Ralph

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Ten years ago, Jessica’s mother was the first victim of the Magpie Man. If the police were better at their jobs, maybe she would have been the last. But instead, every nine months another victim was taken. He’s killed thirteen women and never left a single clue at the crime scene. But Jess knows he’s left clues somewhere. He’s someone’s boyfriend or brother or husband or son. Someone knows something.

With four months to go until the next murder, Jessica signs up for an Internet reality show which will live stream her life from 7 a.m. to midnight. The show’s producers probably think they’re going to exploit some fame-hungry teen with a tragic past and an emotional relationship with her broken father. But that isn’t anywhere near the truth. Jessica isn’t here for the fame. She’s here to catch a serial killer.

This YA thriller is everything the title suggests: a fast, edge-of-your-seat, OMG-why-are-you-taunting-the-serial-killer?!?! murder mystery. It is heart-pounding fun, pure and simple. Perfect for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.

Amazon.com: 14 Ways to Die (0760789304286): Ralph, Vincent: Books

THE SILVER BLONDE by Elizabeth Ross

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Clara is ecstatic when the studio execs promote her to the film editing staff. After putting in her time in the film studio vault, she will now be a real member of the crew. It is her dream come true–a dream that would have been difficult enough for any woman to attain, let alone a German immigrant in 1946. But her triumph turns to horror when she stumbles on the body of film star Babe Bannon’s stand-in.

Everyone has a theory as to who killed poor Connie. After all, Babe has a slew of enemies in the studio and beyond, and it would be easy enough for someone to mistake the stand-in for the star. Same build, same costumes, same silver-blonde hair. But Clara isn’t convinced that Babe was the intended victim. When the cops let her return Connie’s belongings, Clara finds herself swept up in an investigation that endangers her job and brings her back in contact with the Nazi threat her family worked so hard to leave in the past.

I loved this atmospheric noir mystery! Though WWII historical fiction is ubiquitous, this novel takes a fresh look at the War (and post-War) in Hollywood and the subtle, insidious ways that ordinary people get swept up in hateful movements. There are frequent reminders of the many American Nazi sympathizers before Pearl Harbor (including famous figures like Walt Disney and Henry Ford) and the way microaggressions create a culture of discrimination. Though it is set in the past, this novel is (sadly) timely.

Adult fans of historical mysteries: do not let the YA label turn you off to this book! It is for you. Teen fans of historical fiction, noir fiction, and/or Old Hollywood will certainly enjoy the book as well, but THE SILVER BLONDE really exists in the mythical “New Adult” niche. All of the characters are 18+, some of them war veterans, struggling to advance their careers in misogynistic, antisemitic workplaces and reevaluating priorities when good career moves will take them away from family. While these themes aren’t inaccessible to teens, they will resonate most with college-age adults and 20- and 30-somethings. College book clubs will definitely want to check this one out!

Amazon.com: The Silver Blonde eBook: Ross, Elizabeth: Kindle Store

WHEN ALL THE GIRLS ARE SLEEPING by Emily Arsenault

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

It’s almost a full year after Taylor died when the video comes to Hayley’s inbox. Hayley assumes it’s The Video, the one Taylor took of Jocelyn and Charlie making out and subsequently posted to social media, causing Jocelyn to change schools. But when she clicks the file, it’s something very different: Taylor in her room at the boarding school, eyes wide in terror as whispers come out of the darkness around her.

Hayley never fully accepted the official explanation of Taylor’s death (marijuana-induced suicide) but the video makes her wonder if one of the many people she hurt was targeting her. Or… Hayley never believed the stories of the ghost that supposedly haunts the senior dorm each winter, but there are some things in the video that are difficult to explain. As she digs deeper into the history of the school and its ghost, patterns begin to emerge, leading Hayley to the alarming conclusion that not only might the ghost be real, but another senior girl might be this winter’s target.

I read this book in one day–could not wait to find out what happened! There were so many red herrings that complicated the mystery, plus the horror-like ghost story atmosphere added a lot of suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Highly recommend to YA mystery and psychological thriller fans!

When All the Girls Are Sleeping by Emily Arsenault: 9780593180792 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

THAT WEEKEND by Kara Thomas

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

When Claire’s ex cheated on her, her dreams of a fun prom weekend evaporated. Maybe that’s why she accepted her best friend Kat’s offer to join her and her boyfriend at her grandmother’s lake house in the mountains. She should have said no. A weekend away with Kat and Jesse would either be torture or another opportunity for her to let it slip how in love with him she’s been all these years.

But Claire could never have imagined the horrors that would actually occur that weekend. In fact, she can’t even remember them. She was the only one who descended the mountain at the end of it–with a head wound and amnesia and covered in someone else’s blood. As the days pass and her closest friends change from “missing” to “presumed dead,” Claire is the only one who might be able to uncover the truth of what really happened on the Saturday that’s missing from her memories.

I’d recommend this one to readers who like thrillers that are driven by twists and suspense and care less about character development. Most of the interesting character building starts about 50% of the way through, when Claire finally makes the jump from amnesic victim to amateur investigator. Since I prefer character-driven narratives, it wasn’t until that halfway point that I really connected with the story, and even then, some of the twists weren’t founded enough for me. But there were lots of twists, and because the novel started with full-throttle suspense, thriller readers who don’t need that character connection will be sucked in immediately.

That Weekend by [Kara Thomas]

THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL by Candice Marley Conner

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

Bea’s brother has ceased to exist.

At least it seems that way when the whole town turns out to his funeral, even though there’s no body, even though he’s only been missing for six months, even though Bea saw someone rescue him from the flood waters. But her parents and the sheriff have written her off as crazy and insisted on declaring him dead so that Bea could move on with her life.

Of course no one asked Bea what she wanted, and she has no intention of moving on. When she finds the out-of-towner who pulled her brother from the flood, she begins her own investigation into Jim’s disappearance. But her small Alabama town has more secrets than she imagined, and every clue she finds seems to complicate the case. As her detective work begins to attract attention, Bea starts to wonder whether Jim got himself mixed up in something seriously dangerous–or if maybe she’s as crazy as everyone believes.

This new title checks all the boxes you look for in a teen thriller: a kidnapping, parental drama, a supportive but skeptical BFF, a love triangle, ill-defined danger, and a protagonist you’re not sure you can trust. While it’s not in the same league as a Megan Miranda or a Karen McManus, the lower intensity and lack of violence allows this thriller to skew younger, and it might have an easier time getting past gatekeepers. (FYI, there are references to drugs, but the teens don’t use the drugs, and it felt a bit like “drugs” was the token crime the way that every Hardy Boys book seems to involve smugglers…) I’d put THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL in the hands of a thriller-hungry reader in grade 8 or above.

The Existence Of Bea Pearl - By Candice Marley Conner (paperback) : Target

THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur

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Hwani hasn’t returned to the island of Jeju in years—not since the Forest Incident, when she and her sister were found near the body of a murdered young woman, an incident which Hwani cannot remember.

But Hwani’s father never forgot. The woman’s murder was the one case Detective Min never solved, and the continued disappearance of young girls from the forest caused him to return to Jeju over the past five years. Until the day he disappeared. Disguised as a boy and clutching her father’s journal, Hwani returns to the village of her birth, determined to find her father and solve the mystery of the stolen girls. But when the mystery brings her to the door of her estranged sister, Hwani discovers that the forest isn’t the only source of secrets, and she begins to wonder if finding the truth of her past will be worth the cost.

Set in 15th century Korea, this historical mystery is suspenseful, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. It gripped me from start to end. Though it is YA, adult historical fiction readers will find lots to love here, too. My favorite book of the year so far, and a must-read for YA mystery or historical fiction fans!

MAD, BAD, AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed

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Khayyam is grateful to have the summer in her father’s native Paris to get her life together. Her senior year is about to start. Her never-quite-official boyfriend is off to college and popping up in Instagram pics with other girls. And worst of all, Khayyam has ruined all of her chances of becoming an art historian with one ill-conceived, under-researched essay erroneously linking Alexandre Dumas and Eugene Delacroix.

“The work of a dilettante, not a future art historian.” That was how the head judge at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago had described her work. Khayyam had hoped that participating in the essay contest would set her apart–show the Art Institute how serious she was–so that the School would take a closer look at her college application. Now, she wonders if she’s distinguished herself in a bad way and is destined for still more rejection.

But when she meets a descendent of Alexandre Dumas (another, younger, perfectly charmant Alexandre Dumas) by chance at a cafe, Khayyam sees new possibilities opening up for her. Maybe she and Alexandre can work together to unravel the truth behind Dumas’ connection with Delacroix and salvage Khayyam’s reputation as a future art historian. And maybe in the process, they can discover the identity and history Leila–a woman of Asian and Muslim descent (like Khayyam)–who was described by the poet Byron, painted by the artist Delacroix, but never given a voice of her own.

With the hashtag #writeherstory, Ahmed attacks the narratives that men build around women (particularly women of color and intersections of marginalized identities)–narratives that subsume women’s own voices and cast them as sexual objects in dramas directed by the men around them. She mounts her assault poetically with the interweaving of Khayyam’s voice with the voice of Leila, fictional in reality but real in the world of the narrative. Khayyam’s conflicts and power struggles with the men in her life parallel on a less grand scale the experiences of Leila in her interactions with the male-dominated artistic community–many well-intentioned men, none quite listening to Khayyam or to Leila. I loved every page of this book and highly recommend it to older YA readers who like deep, thought-provoking (thought-requiring) realistic fiction, especially readers with an interest in art history and/or classic literature.