Get Genrefied: Mysteries (+ Thrillers)

Angela’s reader’s advisory challenge this month focuses on mysteries, and we’ve thrown in thrillers as well, since the two are often found together. But they’re not quite the same. Wes Miller at Mulholland Books breaks down the two here, and it’s a good summary of what mysteries and thrillers have in common and how they differ. Kimberly’s basic rule is this: if there’s a solution at the end, it’s a mystery. If not, it’s a thriller. Many books are both, but not all, and there’s certainly a lot of crossover appeal between the two.

Because of their nature, mysteries can have a lot of genre crossover: historical mysteries (YS Lee’s The Agency series, Kathryn Miller Haines’ The Girl is Murder series); paranormal (Kim Harrington’s Clarity series, plus lots of ghost stories); science fiction (especially with technology, such as Michelle Gagnon’s Don’t Turn Around); humor (Heist Society, Marlene Perez).

Mysteries are also heavy on series, and they lend themselves well to the form. They provide an easy way to build long character arcs over many books while also telling a complete story in one volume. There’s plenty of crossover between teen and adult mysteries as well, particularly with the cozies, which tend to be cleaner and less gruesome. (As any librarian who serves adults knows, mysteries are HUGE in the adult market.) The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley is a great example of an adult series with teen crossover appeal.

Below is a list of recently-published YA novels that can all be classified as mysteries or thrillers. It really shows just how broad this category can be – historical, contemporary, paranormal, horror, literary. All descriptions come from either WorldCat or Goodreads. If you know of any more notable titles, please leave us a comment!

Heist Society by Ally Carter (sequels: Uncommon Criminals, Perfect Scoundrels): A group of teenagers uses their combined talents to re-steal several
priceless paintings and save fifteen-year-old Kat Bishop’s father,
himself an international art thief, from a vengeful collector. Kimberly’s reviews

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield: Unveils the details of a horrific murder, its effects on permanent and
summer residents of the small Appalachian town where the body is
discovered, and especially how the related violence shakes
eighteen-year-old Becca’s determination to leave home as soon as
possible. Kelly’s review

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab: After the death of his ex-girlfriend Carly, Northern California high
school student Neily joins forces with Carly’s cousin Audrey to try to
solve her murder.

Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday (sequel: Social Suicide): When sixteen-year-old Hartley Featherstone finds out that her boyfriend
is cheating on her, she goes to his house to confront him and suddenly
finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery. Kelly’s review

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (sequel: Game): Seventeen-year-old Jazz learned all about being a serial killer from his
notorious “Dear Old Dad,” but believes he has a conscience that will
help fight his own urges and right some of his father’s wrongs, so he
secretly helps the police apprehend the town’s newest murderer, “The
Impressionist.” Kimberly’s review

Clarity by Kim Harrington (sequel: Perception): Sixteen-year-old Clare Fern, a member of a family of psychics, helps the
mayor and a skeptical detective solve a murder in a Cape Cod town
during the height of tourist season–with her brother a prime suspect. Kimberly’s review

The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington: New student Jade uncovers a murder mystery when she moves into a house
haunted by the ghost of a beautiful, mean girl who ruled Jade’s high

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison: Having experienced compulsive behavior all her life, Lo’s symptoms are
getting her into trouble when she witnesses a murder while wandering
dangerous quarters of Cleveland, Ohio, collecting things that do not
belong to her, obsessing about her brother’s death.

Notes From Ghost Town by Kate Ellison: Young artist Olivia Tithe struggles to keep her sanity as she unravels
the mystery of her first love’s death through his ghostly visits.

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting (sequels: Desires of the Dead, The Last Echo, Dead Silence): High school junior Violet uses her uncanny ability to sense murderers
and their victims to try to stop a serial killer who is terrorizing her
town, and although her best friend and would-be boyfriend Jay promises
to keep her safe, she becomes a target.

The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams: When the body of a classmate is discovered in the woods,
sixteen-year-old Evie’s lies wind up involving her with the girl’s best
friend, trying to track down the killer.

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry: Told from various viewpoints, Gabie and Drew set out to prove that their
missing co-worker Kayla is not dead, and to find her before she is,
while the police search for her body and the man who abducted her. Kimberly’s review

Shelter by Harlan Coben (sequel: Seconds Away): After tragic events tear Mickey Bolitar away from his parents, he is
forced to live with his estranged Uncle Myron and switch high schools,
where he finds both friends and enemies, but when his new new
girlfriend, Ashley, vanishes, he follows her trail into a seedy
underworld that reveals she is not what she seems to be. Kimberly’s review

Crusher by Niall Leonard: After he discovers his father murdered, Finn, now the prime suspect,
scours the London underworld, exposing secrets and facing danger, to
determine the true killer. Kimberly’s review

A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (sequels: The Body at the Tower, The Traitor in the Tunnel): Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan and thief Mary
Quinn is offered a place at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls where she
is trained to be part of an all-female investigative unit called The
Agency and, at age seventeen, she infiltrates a rich merchant’s home in
hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. Kimberly’s review

Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon: After waking up on an operating table with no memory of how she got
there, Noa must team up with computer hacker Peter to stop a corrupt
corporation with a deadly secret. Kimberly’s review

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (sequel: The Girl is Trouble): In 1942 New York City, fifteen-year-old Iris grieves for her mother
who committed suicide and for the loss of her life of privilege, and
secretly helps her father with his detective business since he, having
lost a leg at Pearl Harbor, struggles to make ends meet. Kimberly’s review

Kill You Last by Todd Strasser: When three teenage clients of her fashion photographer dad go
missing, Shelby’s near perfect life crumbles when her dad is named a
prime suspect in the girls’ disappearance. Kimberly’s review

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore: Seventeen-year-old Amy Goodnight has long been the one who makes her
family of witches seem somewhat normal to others, but while spending a
summer with her sister caring for their aunt’s farm, Amy becomes the
center of weirdness when she becomes tied to a powerful ghost. Kimberly’s review

Escape Theory by Margaux Froley: Bound by her oath of confidentiality and tortured by unrequited love,
sixteen-year-old Devon, a peer counselor at a prestigious California
boarding school, finds herself on a solitary mission to get to the
bottom of a popular student’s apparent suicide.

Be sure to also check out Kelly’s guide to YA mysteries and thrillers on Scribd, in handy printable brochure form.

Here are a few forthcoming titles to look out for later this year.

Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance: Berry Fields’s life working for her dad’s investigation firm and
searching for clues to her mother’s death unravels when gorgeous Tanner
arrives in town and changes everything.

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman: After a series of suicide-killings and a deadly storm, the residents of
the town of Oleander, Kansas, start acting even more strangely than
would be expected. Only the 5 witnesses of the murders retain their
sound minds, and must band together to save the town from whatever has
come over it

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas: It’s Spring Break of
senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few
other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that
promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found
brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own,
fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to
find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her
friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

Absent by Katie Williams: Seventeen-year-old Paige Wheeler died in a fall off the high school
roof and now her spirit seems bound to the school grounds, along with
Brooke and Evan, two other teen ghosts who died there–but maybe if she
can solve the mystery of her apparent suicide they will all be able to
move on.

Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green: In the affluent seaside town of Echo Bay, Massachusetts, mysterious
dares sent to three very different girls–loner Sydney Morgan, Caitlin
“Angel” Thomas, and beautiful Tenley Reed–threaten both their
reputations and their lives.

Strangelets by Michelle Gagnon: Forcibly sucked into an abyss at the moment of their deaths, six
smarter-than-most teenagers wake up in a deadly, desolate future world,
where only one of them holds the key to getting everyone back home.

The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble: After dying in a car accident, fourteen-year-old Jenna’s older brother
returns as an angel to help Jenna solve a mystery that not only holds
the key to her survival, but also to their mother’s mysterious
depression and their father’s disappearance.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry: When Cady wakes up, she
has no memory of who she is. All she knows is that there is a pillowcase
over her head and a person in the room has instructed another to “take
her out back and finish her off.” Cady must find a way to save herself.
But how can she do this when she doesn’t even know her name?

Like other genres we’ve focused on, there are many resources to turn to broaden your knowledge.

  • The Edgar Awards (given by the Mystery Writers of America) and the Agatha Awards are probably the two most well-known awards given to mystery novels, and they both feature young adult titles. The Edgar Awards guidelines are fairly broad, honoring books that are classified as mystery, crime, suspense, or intrigue. The Agatha Awards are noteworthy because they honor titles that are what they call “traditional mysteries” in the vein of Agatha Christie. To them, this means closed mysteries with no gratuitous sex, violence, or gore. This might make some of the adult titles honored suitable for younger readers as well.
  • The Crime Writers Association gives the Dagger Awards for crime writing. These aren’t necessarily mysteries, but many are, and most can at least be classified as thrillers. They do not give out an award for YA or children’s books, though some titles with crossover appeal have been honored (such as Alan Bradley in 2007).
  • I’m going to plug Fantastic Fiction again, since there are so many mystery series and this is the best resource I know of for keeping track of them accurately.
  • Generally speaking, all publishing houses publish mysteries and thrillers, though there are some imprints that specialize. Soho Teen, a newly launched imprint of independent publishing house Soho Press, is one of these, focusing on mysteries and thrillers for young adults. 
  • Sleuths, Spies, and Alibis is a new-to-us blog resource run by thirteen middle grade and YA authors who have books out in 2012 or 2013. 
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  1. says

    Great post! Mystery certainly crosses with many other genres these days; I'm always interested in those genre-crossovers. And thank you for mentioning Sleuths Spies and Alibis! (All of us on that blog write mysteries and thrillers for young readers; some of our books are out now and others coming later this year and early next year).

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