I’ll admit it. I was way too chicken to read Lois Duncan when I was a teen. I was the kid who made my mom hide a beloved (but scary!) picture book in the closet so the Yeller Belly Swamp monsters couldn’t get me. I kept my eyes closed through the entirety of Jurassic Park in the theater. (It was 1993. I was eleven. It’s still embarrassing.) I had to secretly ask my fifth grade teacher to stop reading an R.L. Stine novel out loud to the class because it was giving me nightmares. By the time I was in high school, my tolerance for all things scary wasn’t much higher. The only Stephen King I could read was Carrie. I still haven’t seen Nightmare on Elm Street or even Silence of the Lambs. (To my credit, I did check the latter out of my college library for an entire semester. It sat on top of my TV/VCR mocking me for months.)
But here’s the twist: I’m all grown up now, and I love thrillers. Don’t get me wrong—I still can’t watch a horror movie without freaking myself out every time the floor creaks for a solid week. But give me a good suspense novel or psychological thriller, and I’ll be turning the pages so fast you’d think my fingers were racing my heart. I love an unreliable narrator and a toxic friendship and a plot twist I didn’t see coming. I especially love a young adult thriller, so in honor of Lois Duncan, a master of YA suspense who passed away on June 15th of this year, I’ve pulled together a round-up of some of my favorite character-driven, suspenseful, and psychologically thrilling YA novels from the past two years.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte 2014)
After her accident, Cadence Sinclair Eastman suffers from migraines and the stubborn shadow eclipsing her memories of what happened the summer she was sixteen. In this lyrical, riveting suspense novel, Lockhart masterfully steers us through the spectrum of trauma, recovery, and letting go and delivers an ending that will make you flip back to page one.
Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Disney-Hyperion 2014)
Armentrout spins a compelling “whodunit” about a girl suffering from total amnesia following a traumatic incident that left her damaged and her best friend Cassie missing, presumed dead. Samantha’s new life is a puzzle, but she’s not sure she wants to put the pieces back together if it means returning to the person she used to be. But Cassie is still missing, and someone wants Samantha to know the truth about what happened.
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (St. Martin’s Griffin 2014)
Jamie’s sister Cate went off the rails two years ago, and now that she’s been released from juvie, Jamie isn’t sure he wants his big sister back in his life. Now that she’s out, bad things have started to happen all over again, just like they did before Cate was locked away. Cate’s reappearance stirs up memories from Jamie’s past, and he’s not sure how much remembering he can take. In this compelling, character-driven psychological thriller, Kuehn tugs at the threads that tether the human psyche until everything comes undone.
Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion 2014)
After almost dying for the second time, Sophie resolves to find her best friend’s killer, even when it means endangering herself all over again. In this suspenseful murder mystery with an intricately wrought non-linear structure, Sharpe presents readers with an alluring, unexpected love triangle, a compelling voice, and a heart-thudding race to a conclusion that doesn’t disappoint.
We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean (HMH Books for Young Readers 2015)
Alice Monroe is doing time in a mental ward, but it’s her twin sister Cellie who set the fire that killed Alice’s boyfriend and endangered Alice’s life. Fed up after spending years as her twin’s protector, Alice resolves to get revenge. But as she puts her plan in motion, Alice begins to realize she may only know a fraction of the truth.
Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul (Balzer + Bray 2015)
Mattie swore off Jolene and her dangerous, intoxicating brand of friendship the summer after sophomore year. But now that high school’s almost over, Mattie finds herself tempted by the revelry of senior year and by the former best friend she could never really quit, no matter how toxic their relationship might have been. Drawn back into Jolene’s web, Mattie struggles to draw the line between reality and delusion, devotion and poison.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers 2015)
In this thrilling, contemporary ghost story, Suma takes us deep inside the very different worlds of Violet, Orianna, and Amber. Violet has clawed her way to the brink of breakout career in ballet. Amber has been locked inside the walls of a juvenile detention center for years on a manslaughter charge. Ori is the girl who touches both of their lives, whose own story may be over before it’s even begun. With justice holding a mirror to each girls’ face, questions of guilt and innocence become tangled and unwound in the resolution of their three stories.
Damage Done by Amanda Panitch (Random House Books for Young Readers 2015)
Lucy Black used to be Julia Vann. She used to be a lot of things: a twin, a girlfriend, a “normal” high school girl. But then 22 seconds in a locked band room with her twin brother and a loaded gun changed everything. Now, 11 people are dead, her brother is behind bars, and Lucy has a new name and a new life. As Lucy is compelled to confront the darkness in her past, her new identity begins to unravel, revealing all the secrets she’s tried so hard to keep hidden.
What to Read Next
There’s a fresh crop of delicious-sounding YA thrillers that have just been released or are coming out soon! Here’s what’s on the top of my reading list for 2016:
Mirage by Tracy Clark (HMH Books for Young Readers 2016)
With Malice by Eileen Cook (HMH Books for Young Readers 2016)
Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda Panitch (Random House Books for Young Readers 2016)
How to Disappear by Ann Redisch Stampler (Simon Pulse 2016)
The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas (Delacorte 2016)
Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten (Doubleday Canada 2016)
The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn (Dutton Books for Young Readers, forthcoming August 2016)
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig (Feiwel & Friends, forthcoming October 2016)