Young Adult Mystery is a huge genre. Everything from R.L. Stine’s The Babysitter series, to Joan Lowery Nixon, to Caroline B. Cooney, and more fits under the umbrella. But, in my opinion, there are a few authors who really nail it.
Caroline B. Cooney was probably the first YA mystery author I read. My high school library had almost all of her books, and every week freshman year I would pick a new mystery, since most of them are short enough to read in a week after homework. She wrote The Face On The Milk Carton and the rest of that series, so she’s probably very familiar to you.
Lois Duncan is another author I would check out from my high school library almost every week. Her novels were short, but full of suspense. She’s a master at scaring you out of your mind, and just writing this and remembering the books of hers I’ve read is raising the hairs on the back of my neck. You probably know the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer (or maybe not, am I dating myself here?) but did you know the movie is loosely based on her novel of the same name? Her most terrifying is widely considered to be Killing Mr. Griffin, about high school students who plan to kidnap and kill their teacher.
Joan Lowery Nixon completes the trifecta of female young adult mystery authors who probably sold their souls in order to make such excellent mysteries. I recently rediscovered my collection of Nixon books in storage boxes while searching for a different book. My favorite? Definitely Murdered, My Sweet, which lightly riffs on Murder She Wrote in its premise.
Meg Cabot is so well known for The Princess Diaries, that a lot of people don’t know she’s written a mystery series. The series is called 1-800-WHERE-R-U, and it’s about a teenager, Jess Mastriani, who gets struck by lightning and develops a psychic ability: she sees missing children. Jess starts calling in tips about the kids, and of course it gets complicated. These books are short but wonderful, and Jess is exactly as spunky as you’d expect from a teenager with psychic abilities. I absolutely devoured these books in high school, even walking into a column once because I was so engrossed.
Now I have two standalone young adult mystery novels for you.
What I Saw And How I Lied – Judy Blundell
I stumbled across this book in the library back in Brooklyn one summer. It’s set in a post-WWII world, with all the glamour you’d expect. The main character, Evie, is about 15 when her family spends a summer in Florida, and she meets charming former GI Peter, who happened to have served with her father. But not all is what it seems, and when tragedy strikes, Evie is catapulted into the adult world. What I Saw And How I Lied won the National Book Award, and I can see why.
Silent to the Bone – E.L. Konigsburg
Silent to the Bone is an upper middle grades/young adult mystery novel about 13-year-old Branwell who is accused of assaulting his infant sister. His best friend Connor takes up the case and finds a way to communicate with Bran, even as Bran is silent. It’s surprisingly complex, and will really keep you guessing as to whether Bran did it, and who else could be suspects. E.L. Konigsburg is a great writer who’s written dozens of books that have shaped countless childhoods, including my own.
In celebration of Teen Read Week, I’ll be posting about books all week long! Young Adult lit is a vastly underrated genre by a lot of adults, but for many of us it’s still a great place to find your next read.
Today’s YA Recommendation is Peeps by Scott Westerfeld.