Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teens: Mystery or Thriller?

Young Adult authors and book publishers seem to think older teens won’t read a regular mystery. I recently went looking for mystery titles for teens, since the high school and middle school book clubs will be reading books during October to go along with the Burbank Reads theme (Goodnight Irene, a mystery by Jan Burke). But of all the books I checked out—and that was about a dozen—that were billed as mysteries, I would have agreed with that label maybe three or four times. The rest seemed to me to be thrillers, and many had the added genre confusion of the supernatural. There even seems to be an actual trend towards including the supernatural, which is probably, well, natural, given the recent glut of otherworldly creatures populating the mainstream teen fiction market.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the books I read along the way, because I did—some of them quite a lot. For instance…

I read The Body of Christopher Creed, by Carol Plum-Ucci, which is a smart and interesting take on the whole popular/unpopular discussion that seems to dominate high school (and teen fiction). An unpopular boy disappears from his town, and a popular one actually stops and thinks about it, wonders where he went, why, and whether he himself has some culpability in Christopher’s disappearance, and then he does something about it. The ghost of an Iroquois warrior and an ancient Native American burial ground play the supernatural role in this one.

There’s The Killer’s Cousin, by Nancy Werlin, in which a boy is accused—and acquitted—of killing his girlfriend. To escape from a town of accusing eyes, he goes to another city to live with his aunt, uncle, and young cousin Lily to finish out his last year of high school, only to encounter the ghost of Lily’s older sister Kathy, who committed suicide several years before…or did she?


For more mature teens, I enjoyed The Road of the Dead, by Kevin Brooks, in which two brothers, Ruben and Cole, lose their sister Rachel to a killer called the “Dead Man”--and they know this because Ruben senses the crime as it happens. Fueled by Ruben’s psychic abilities and Cole’s pure rage, they head to the town where she was killed, and try to solve her murder so they can claim her body and lay her to rest. This book was a contradictory mix of sweetness (the brothers’ relationship is lovely) and somewhat graphic violence that actually worked.


Without the supernatural element but definitely more of a creepy thriller than a mystery is Acceleration, by Graham McNamee. Duncan gets a summer job in the lost-and-found department deep in the tunnels of the Toronto subway. There, he discovers a journal that some subway rider has mislaid, which turns out to be the private musings and plans of a serial killer. When the police won’t take his find seriously, he sets out to find and stop its sinister author himself.

For younger readers, there is Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison, in which Gilda uses her psychic (and other) abilities to solve a mystery about a ghost haunting a relative’s spooky San Francisco mansion.

In the more straightforward mystery category, I enjoyed Nancy Springer’s series introducing Enola Holmes, (mythical) younger sister to the great Sherlock, which begins with The Case of the Missing Marquess; and a fun art caper by Susan Runholt, first in the “Kari + Lucas” books, The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, which features two self-styled girl detectives who specialize in disguises, an art forger, and lots of international travel. For an older version of this one, try Heist Society by Ally Carter, previously reviewed (both book and audiobook) in this blog.

I’m sure that as soon as I post this, there will be a host of comments along the lines of “But what about…?” and I will stand corrected that there are in fact mainstream teen mysteries I have missed. I will be happy to receive any suggestions of good ones to add to the list!

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