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6 Great Heart-Thumping, Brain-Bending Young Adult Mystery Novels

I am a mystery writer whose first loves as a reader were fantasy and romance, so it is probably not surprising that my favorite young adult mysteries don’t just feature mind-blowing twists; they also offer engrossing worlds and the kinds of relationships — romantic and otherwise — that I just can’t stop thinking about.

Here are six that gripped me from Page 1 and never let go.


Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

After 18-year-old Daunis witnesses her best friend’s murder, she agrees to work with the F.B.I. and a young undercover agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to track down the source of a devastating strain of meth that they believe is being mixed with ingredients connected to her Ojibwe culture. Daunis is a scientist, determined to use her knowledge and skills to find the truth, but the further into the investigation she gets, the more personal it becomes. “Firekeeper’s Daughter” is a master class in craft with its rich world-building, compelling plot and unforgettable characters. It’s the kind of book that will make you feel rage, shock and grief, as well as the almost visceral power of community, of being seen, of being accepted as you are.

None Shall Sleep,by Ellie Marney

This novel follows two teenagers recruited by the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Science Unit to interview and peek into the minds of young serial killers. But when one of those criminals begins sharing disturbingly accurate insights into an active case, the game changes. “None Shall Sleep” is a don’t-blink, can’t-breathe, tear-through-the-pages kind of read, anchored by skillfully drawn characters: the brilliant, elegant and monstrous killer, Simon; Emma, the lone survivor of a serial killer herself; and Travis, Emma’s partner, whose father was one of Simon’s victims. Pick this one up and, as the title promises, you really won’t sleep.

Spin, by Lamar Giles

Three teenage girlstake center stage in this layered, edge-of-your-seat mystery about the dark side of fame and fandom. D.J. ParSec, whose ascent to celebrity status left a trail of broken relationships in her wake, has been murdered, her body discovered by two people she’d betrayed: her lifelong best friend, Kya, now caught between a wall of grief and the sting of ParSec’s abandonment, and Fuse, a fan in #ParSecNation who was ousted from ParSec’s inner circle shortly before she was killed. Kya and Fuse decidedly aren’t friends but when they set aside their rivalry to uncover the murderer, the result is an intense, heart-pounding meditation on the ties that bind us and the cost of becoming larger than life.

This Is Our Story, by Ashley Elston

The five teenagers dubbed the River Point Boys are rich, charismatic and live on the edge. And now, after a hunting trip, one of them is dead, while the other four have closed ranks. To fend off public scrutiny, the town’s district attorney, who is in the pocket of the boys’ wealthy parents, hands the case off to an aging prosecutor, giving him a tight deadline and no resources to find the truth. Enter Kate, a high school intern in the prosecutor’s office who has a history with at least one of the boys. Told from Kate’s perspective, with interstitials from the point of view of the killer, this is a gasp-inducing, darkly romantic read.

Queen of the Tiles, by Hanna Alkaf

Najwa Bakri is a competitive Scrabble player. So was her best friend, the Instagram darling Trina Low, who dominated the tournament circuit and the accompanying social scene — until she fell over dead, mid-match. A year later, Najwa is back at the same competition where Trina died, ready to prove to herself that she is more than just her spiraling panic and unending grief. But as repressed memories begin to resurface, Najwa can’t stop herself from investigating Trina’s death. “Queen of the Tiles” is dedicated to “word nerds.” It will give you your daily dose of puzzles while also punching you in the gut with a beautiful, aching depiction of adolescence and grief.

Royal Blood, by Aimée Carter

“Royal Blood” takes place in an alternate world in which King Edward VIII never abdicated, resulting in a new line of British rulers. Now, years later, a different monarch sits on the throne of England. Seventeen-year-old Evan is that king’s secret American daughter, born out of wedlock, her existence hidden — until, suddenly, it isn’t. Thrown onto the world’s stage, Evan finds herself at the mercy of the media, her royal half sister and the palace publicity machine, and that’s before she becomes the lead suspect in a murder that she doesn’t remember and that she didn’t commit. Probably. Two-thirds royal drama, one-third mystery, Evan’s story is wholly captivating, delivering twist upon twist, like a much darker “Princess Diaries.”


Jennifer Lynn Barnes is the author of more than 20 young adult novels, including The Inheritance Games trilogy and its sequel, “The Brothers Hawthorne.”

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