Yes, I’m a 38-year-old who loves young adult mystery books. (I’m still young, right?!)
I’ve tried books of all genres – non-fiction, romance, thriller, historical fiction, women’s contemporary… you name it.
My favorite is always a psychological thriller or mystery. That includes books in the young adult section.
I’m honestly a little shocked that some of these books are considered young adult mysteries because they can be graphic, but I think because they center around high schoolers, it makes sense.
Some of the books listed here I’ve read and loved, others are on my to-be-read list, and some are crazy popular with other fellow readers I follow on #bookstagram.
One of the main reasons I wanted to make this list is because young adult mysteries are becoming best sellers because people of all ages are reading them.
I’ve tried (and failed) to filter results on Amazon for YA mysteries, Goodreads is so outdated (but I still use it on the regular), and I know not everyone loves walking around bookstores like I do, so let me help you out.
Scroll down for the list of my top 10, and please let me know what young adult thrillers and mysteries you’re reading and loving so I can add them to this post.
How do you choose a good mystery book for young adults?
There is no shortage of good mystery books, but how do you choose the right one?
First, it is essential to consider the age, the most appropriate type of narrative, and even the length and complexity of the story. As I said above, some of these could be a little disturbing for younger YA readers.
Remember, young adult readers can range from 12 years old to 17 years old. Now, adults (like myself) enjoy reading them too. For this reason, you want to be sure the book is age appropriate when it comes to the content in the book.
For the story to be a true page-turner, it needs to be fast-paced. My favorites are when you say, “I’m just going to read one more chapter,” but when that chapter ends, you can’t help but keep reading.
Nothing is more disappointing than trying to decipher a crime and finding several loose ends or information that doesn’t make sense.
10 Best YA Mystery Books for Teens
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
This is a great book-turned-series on Netflix. I read the book before I watched the show, and as usual, the book is better. Click here to see my review on Goodreads.
Detention ends in murder, but who killed Simon? The story begins with the detention of a group of five students: Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, Cooper, and Simon.
The group is composed of people with different attitudes and characteristics. Still, all are detained for the same reason: finding cell phones in their backpacks and being forbidden to use them at school.
Without a clear explanation of where the cell phones came from since they do not belong to the group of teenagers, many questions arise about the possibility of being a trap programmed by someone.
This fact generated suspicion among the students. The main suspect was Simon, the creator of the famous gossip website at school called “Talking About It.” Simon would post gossip about his classmates’ lives using only the initials of their names, making him hated by many.
On the day of detention, there were threats of an impactful piece of gossip related to one of the classmates in detention being posted on the website.
The restlessness in the room was growing until Simon ended up having an allergic reaction after drinking a cup of water… and died.
All the other students in detention were told the next day Simon’s autopsy showed evidence that his death was murder. How? He was allergic to peanuts and there was peanut oil in the cup – put there on purpose.
Now the four teenagers are murder suspects. Was it one of them? Or are they all involved?
This young adult mystery book will have you connecting the dots to unravel this murder.
The story addresses mental health, romantic relationships, and a criminal investigation.
It is narrated by the characters sharing their points of view.
So, who will you trust? As the title implies, One of Us is Lying.
If you liked this one, there is a sequel, One of Us is Next. Check it out on Amazon here.
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
This one brings back memories. If you’re a millennial, then you probably loved this movie that was a cult classic for teenagers in 1997. And yes, it’s a book.
Four teenagers try to escape from a killer who wants to avenge the death of a little boy.
After a night of partying, they accidentally run over a ten-year-old boy. Not wanting to deal with the consequences of their actions, they abandon the little boy’s body and decide to make a pact to keep what happened a secret.
However, it’s not that simple. The feeling of guilt will not be the only problem they will have to deal with.
The following year, one of the teenagers receives an anonymous note with a short message: “I know what you did last summer.”
In a mystery novel filled with twists and turns and constant obstacles, the four youngsters will have to fight for their lives by running away and hiding from a killer who is determined to make them pay for their terrible crime.
For more books like this one, check out the other popular stories by Lois Duncan here.
Jackaby by William Ritter
This book, Jackaby, is the first of four in a series.
If you’re into historical fiction and some supernatural elements in your stories, then you’ll be a fan of this book and the series.
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892 and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby. He is an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary, including the ability to see supernatural beings.
Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant.
On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain the foul deeds are the work of the kind of creature whose very existence the local authorities deny, with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane.
This is a book for fans of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who would love. It was voted the best young adult book in 2014 by Kirkus Reviews and one of the 40 best YA books of the season by CNN. It also won the 2015 Pacific Northwest award.
It’s no surprise this one turned into a series!
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard
Sounds familiar? That’s probably because this book was turned into a teen drama mystery thriller television series. It aired fun 2010-2017 and made stars like Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, and Shay Mitchell famous.
The main story is about five beautiful teenage girls from wealthy families who live in the same town as Rosewood and study at Rosewood Day College. Here are the characters:
Spencer is a smart, competitive, and perfectionist girl who doesn’t hesitate to use drugs to improve her grades.
Hanna is the girl who always wants to be famous but was once very overweight, even suffering from bulimia.
Aria seems the most balanced of them all, with a certain artistic streak, and who used to be called a weirdo for wearing her hair dyed pink.
Emily, the swimmer, is hesitant to assume who she is.
Alison is the prettiest and most popular with whom the boys fall in love and the girls long to be like.
The girls ended up hurting a student named Jenna, then hid it, at Alison’s leadership. Allison also belittles the other girls and makes her friends do whatever she wants them to do. Then, she disappears.
After her disappearance, the four best friends, full of individual secrets only Alison knew about, end up being threatened by someone named “A.”
As the threats come, the four become more focused on finding out who is behind the messages, which makes them even more neurotic than they already were.
Inconsequentially, they end up hurting other people with their actions. As they try to cover up their old secrets, they get even more entangled and create even worse secrets.
Honestly, I haven’t read this book, but now I want to watch the show. (My sister was a big fan.)
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
This is my all-time favorite young adult mystery. The best part? It’s a three-book series. (The best books on this list!)
I listened to all three of the books. The narrator who reads Pip, Bailey Carr, is fantastic.
Everyone in Fairview knows the story.
Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.
But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her.
How could he possibly have been a killer?
Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent… and the line between past and present begins to blur.
Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
This story takes place in Amsterdam in 1943.
Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers. Her nights are spent hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents. Every waking moment she is mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded.
She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.
On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person–a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room.
Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
Beautifully written, intricately plotted, and meticulously researched, Girl in the Blue Coat is an extraordinary novel about bravery, grief, and love in impossible times.
People Like Us by Dana Mele
The story is set in an elite school for girls only, Bates Academy.
The triggering event, the death of a student, occurs on the outskirts of that elite boarding school during a Halloween dance called the Skeleton Dance.
A girl named Jessica is found floating in a nearby lake. At first, it is treated as a suicide, and then it is realized that there are elements that can confirm that it is a murder.
At the center of this event, we have Kay, Brie, Tricia, Tai, and Maddy, who are frenemies.
Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely.
The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation.
But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
Yes, it’s another Karen McManus book… because she deserves it. I thought I had this one figured out, but the twist got me!
Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery’s never been there, but she’s heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen.
And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.
The town is picture-perfect, but it’s hiding secrets.
And before school even begins for Ellery, someone has declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago.
Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.
Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she’s in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something.
The thing is, secrets are dangerous–and most people aren’t good at keeping them. This is why in Echo Ridge, it’s safest to keep your secrets to yourself.
They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman
This book has been on my TBR list for too long. I’ve heard so many great things.
In Gold Coast, Long Island, everything from the expensive downtown shops to the manicured beaches, to the pressed uniforms of Jill Newman and her friends, looks perfect. But as Jill found out three years ago, nothing is as it seems.
Freshman year Jill’s best friend, the brilliant, dazzling Shaila Arnold, was killed by her boyfriend.
After that dark night on the beach, Graham confessed, the case was closed, and Jill tried to move on.
Now, it’s Jill’s senior year and she’s determined to make it her best yet. After all, she’s a senior and a Player–a member of Gold Coast Prep’s exclusive, not-so-secret secret society. Senior Players have the best parties, the highest grades, and the admiration of the entire school.
This is going to be Jill’s year. She’s sure of it.
But when Jill starts getting texts proclaiming Graham’s innocence, her dreams of the perfect senior year start to crumble.
If Graham didn’t kill Shaila, who did? Jill vows to find out, but digging deeper could mean putting her friendships, and her future, in jeopardy.
To me, this sounds like the kind of Lifetime movie with Tiffani Amber Theissen or Tori Spelling that I loved!
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
Speaking of Lifetime movies, this book was made into one with Kellie Martin… and it was amazing.
No one ever really paid close attention to the faces of the missing children on the milk cartons.
But as Janie Johnson glanced at the face of the ordinary little girl with her hair in tight pigtails, wearing a dress with a narrow white collar—a three-year-old who had been kidnapped twelve years before from a shopping mall in New Jersey—she felt overcome with shock.
She recognized that little girl. It was her. How could it possibly be true?
Janie can’t believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she begins to piece things together, nothing makes sense. Something is terribly wrong.
Are Mr. and Mrs. Johnson really her parents? And if not, who is Janie Johnson, and what really happened?
Favorite YA Mystery Books
What are your favorite young adult mystery books? Most of them are something like this: a teenage girl becomes a missing girl, there is a prime suspect and real killer, and a plot twist nearing the last page. This all happens in a small town, there is probably a cell phone and social media involved, a queen bee, a star athlete, and a tragic accident with mysterious deaths.
Still, we can’t get enough!
Some other young adult mystery novels you should check out include:
- The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories Collection (I absolutely loved these when I was a younger reader.)
- The Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson
- Books by Agatha Christie
- The Charlotte Holmes Series by Brittany Cavallaro
Back to books… what are your favorite young adult fiction books and suspense books? Let me know here in the comments or on Instagram at @ChristinaAllDay.