Author of Girl in Snow, Danya Kukafka, explains what is it that makes teenage mysteries such compelling reading, and shares just a few of her favourites.
I remember how it felt to be fifteen years old—everything little thing was explosive, volatile. It makes sense, then, that some of the best mysteries for adults are anchored by teenage lives. I’ve seen some more “literary” readers brush off books about high school, but I think there is legitimacy to what teenagers think and feel, a pureness of thought and feeling that we lose as we grow older. Mysteries about young people can be the most intriguing for adult readers—especially when the themes delve into the adult world and beyond. Here are some of my favorites.
Set in a high school, this book is about much more than cheerleading— Megan Abbott gives her teenage characters rich inner lives, and demonstrates how truly dangerous the high school girls can be. It’s quick, chilling, and the characters are beautifully drawn. She does great work reminding the reader of the physical dangers of cheerleading, and of growing up.
This is one of my favorite books. This novel is also about small communities, what we see about other people and what we can never truly know, and also the things we remember about adolescence many years later.
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This book begins with the death of sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee, and throughout examines complicated themes of family, marriage, sexism, race, social status. As Celeste Ng deftly jumps between the minds of her characters, teens and adults alike, we get a full portrait of a family in mourning, and we get to see everything that brought them there, along with what happened to Lydia.
Set in a dystopian school with initially vague parameters, these teenage protagonists give us carefully paced bits and pieces of a larger, terrifying mystery— I can’t say much without giving it all away, but what the reader learns about these students, where they live, and why, is completely devastating in the end.
This dark, atmospheric 90’s-set novel explores a dangerous, twisted friendship between two high school girls. Lacey is a Kurt Cobain-obsessed rebel who folds good-girl Hannah into her chaotic life. Together, they involve themselves in a sinister event that will intertwine them forever.
Susie Salmon, age fourteen, is one of the most iconic teenage protagonists of all time. This classic mystery spans from before Susie’s death to after, through the living world and the dead. This book was one of the first novels I read that told me: teenagers are people living legitimate lives, and as readers we can learn so much by taking them seriously.