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Just what constitutes a “nail-biter” is certainly open for debate, but librarians know they are highly sought after titles. Suspense and action are two main requisites, and a good thriller is structured to keep readers hanging at the end of almost every chapter, leaving them hungry for more. For those serving reluctant readers, these titles are gold. Fortunately, nail-biters can be found in almost every genre. Since YA lit has been dominated by dystopian, postapocalyptic, and paranormal titles of late, many of the more recent nail-biters fall into those categories, though historical fiction, science fiction, and horror are also represented. Using these labels is of course problematic. Librarians often can’t even agree among themselves what is or isn’t a genre and what defines each one. To complicate the matter, successful YA authors tell good stories and rarely adhere to narrow definitions of genres. Many of the books here could arguably be classified differently. Is Darkness Becomes Her a romance, a paranormal story, or is it postapocalyptic? It is all of those and even has some Greek mythology thrown in. Librarians may disagree with the classifications assigned, but all will agree that these are exciting stories guaranteed to hook teens and tweens and keep them turning pages.
PETRUCHA, Stefan. Ripper. Philomel. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25524-3; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-1-101-56055-6.
Gr 6-10–An orphan and would-be detective seeks clues to his father’s identity. Could Carver really be Jack the Ripper’s son? And is he up to the task of catching him? The author brings 19th-century New York to life and includes some steampunk elements.
PRIESTLEY, Chris. The Dead of Winter. Bloomsbury. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-745-1.
Gr 7-10–Michael, recently orphaned, is sent to live with Sir Stephen in his creepy house on the moors and is immediately beset by unsettling visions and other strange occurrences. To save himself he must solve the murder of Sir Stephen’s wife. A chilling homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
REEVES, Amy Carol. Ripper. Flux. 2012. pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-0-7387-3072-1.
Gr 8 Up–Here we have another orphan, another Jack the Ripper story, and another thrilling adventure. Part Victorian murder mystery, part supernatural thriller, this book features a strong heroine, 17-year-old Arabella Sharp, who faces down the world’s most notorious serial killer and a group of immortals with questionable scruples.
OLIVER, Lauren. Delirium. HarperCollins. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-172682-8; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-06-172683-5; ebook $7.99. ISBN 978-0-06-211403-7.
Gr 7 Up–Love is the problem. It has been classified “amor deliria nervosa,” and cured. All teens are inoculated on their 18th birthday, and Lena is anxious to get it over with. But, a few months shy of her the date, she finds love and must decide if she wants to give it up or lose everything. Audio version available from Listening Library.
ROSSI, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. HarperCollins. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-207203-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-207205-4.
Gr 7 Up–Aria is cast out of the domed city of Reverie into a world of savages, cannibals, and other horrors. But it is only with the help of the “savage” Perigrine that she survives. The two form an unlikely but well-matched couple, with each being instrumental to the other’s survival. This is an exciting and beautifully written novel. Audio version available from Listening Library.
ROTH, Veronica. Divergent. HarperCollins. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-202402-2; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-202403-9; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-207701-1.
Gr 9 Up–In a dystopian future Chicago, society is divided into factions based on aptitudes. The system has worked smoothly for generations—until now. Tris is “divergent” and must keep her status secret. Put through a hellish warrior-training program, she still may not be able to thwart a near-genocidal murder plot. Audio version available from Harper Audio.
–––– . Insurgent. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-202404-6; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-211445-7.
The sequel finds Tris, Tobias, and other members of the “factionless” fighting the conspiracy and mind control of the Erudite. A common assessment for this trilogy-in-the-making is “better than the Hunger Games.”
MCNAMEE, Graham. Beyond: A Ghost Story. Random. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73775-3; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89759-7.
Gr 7 Up–Is Jane accident prone, suicidal, or just plain crazy? She has survived many near-death experiences, several of them “accidents.” What she hasn’t told anyone but her best friend and fellow “creep sister” is that each “accident” was caused by her shadow trying to kill her. Creepy and exciting in equal parts.
SEDGWICK, Marcus. White Crow. Roaring Brook. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-594-0; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-25001-029-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-42997-634-3.
Gr 9 Up–Three very different voices narrate this chilling tale that explores the secrets of death. Rebecca moves from trendy London to lonely Winterfold where the enigmatic Ferelith, a local girl, introduces the dark secrets and legends of the village. A parallel story unfolds through the 200-year-old journals of a priest participating in a ghoulish experiment.
BRUCHAC, Joseph. Wolf Mark. Lee & Low/Tu Books. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-60060-661-8.
Gr 7 Up–A teen on the run after his father (a black ops agent) is kidnapped discovers that he is a shape-shifter. He will need all his abilities and the help of some Russian vampires to stay alive and save his father. The very complex plot is saved by action, action, action.
CLEMENT-MOORE, Rosemary. Texas Gothic. Delacorte. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73693-0; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73694-7; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89810-5.
Gr 8 Up–What could go wrong when Amy Goodnight agrees to house-sit on her aunt’s Texas ranch? Quite a bit when you come from a family of witches and then accidentally bind yourself to a ghost. Clement-Moore’s signature snarky humor pervades this exciting mystery.
KEATON, Kelly. Darkness Becomes Her. S & S/Pulse. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0924-8; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0926-2.
Gr 9 Up–Ari is weird. She has teal-colored eyes, silver hair, and very unconventional foster parents. Fitting in has never been an option—until she ventures into postapocalypse New Orleans to find out why her mother and all of her female ancestors killed themselves.
–––– . A Beautiful Evil. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0927-9; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0929-3.
In this sequel, Ari is living in New 2, the former New Orleans, where her frightening powers make her both dangerous and sought after. She must find a way to defeat a goddess and avoid becoming the latest victim of her family’s curse.
MILLER, Kirsten. The Eternal Ones. Penguin/Razorbill. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59514-308-2; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-159514-375-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-10146-003-0.
Gr 8 Up–Haven Moore has visions of her previous life and, possibly, her murder. She leaves her small Tennessee town for New York to pursue the man she believes is the reincarnation of her true love. But could he be the murderer tabloids claim he is? A mix of mystery, adventure, and romance.
PLUM, Amy. Die for Me. HarperCollins. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-200401-7; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-200402-4; ebook $6.99. ISBN 978-0-06-207700-4.
Gr 9 Up–Two orphaned teens move to their grandmother’s home in Paris and discover a hidden world of “revenants” (good looking zombies). The girls become romantically involved with two revenants on opposing sides of a battle between good and evil, leaving the young women caught in the middle. Audio version available from Harper Audio.
BACIGALUPI, Paolo. Ship Breaker. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-316-05621-2; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-316-05619-9; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-0-316-08168-9.
Gr 7 Up–In a devastated future America, a teen barely survives, risking his life daily on a salvage crew. A stroke of good luck quickly turns bad and sends him on the run from lots of very bad people, including his own father.
–––– . The Drowned Cities. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-316-05624-3; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-316-20261-9.
Set in the same world, this companion to Ship Breaker introduces Mahlia, the half-breed daughter of a Chinese peacekeeper, a “castoff” left behind when attempts to reintroduce civilization to U.S. cities were abandoned. Reviled and constantly in danger, Mahlia sees an opportunity to escape when she finds the injured genetic half-man, Tool.
MABERRY, Jonathan. Rot & Ruin. S & S. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0232-4; pap. $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4424-0233-1; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0234-8.
Gr 8 Up–Benny Imura was a baby when the Zombie apocalypse hit. As a teen he becomes a very reluctant apprentice zombie hunter to his older brother, Samurai-sword-wielding Tom. Benny learns some disturbing truths when they leave their fenced-in town and travel through zombie country. An extremely exciting and emotionally satisfying read. Audio version available from Recorded Books.
WILSON, Daniel. Robopocalypse. Doubleday. 2011. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-385-53385-0; pap. $15.95. ISBN 978-0-307-74080-9; ebook $11.99. ISBN 978-0-385-53386-7.
Adult/HS–A small group of hardy survivors manages to destroy Archos, the malignant AI directing the machines that turned on humanity. Written in the form of reports and video transcripts from the war, this book has no shortage of action. It will resonate with many teens in our ever-more-networked and automated world. Audio version available from Random House Audio.
BREESE, K. Ryer. Future Imperfect. St. Martin’s/Griffin. 2011. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-312-64151-1; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-429-97819-4.
Gr 10 Up–When Ade suffers concussions, he glimpses the future and gets a high he calls the Buzz. Addicted, the teen looks for ways to bash his skull—hammers, car crashes, swan dives off the school roof—whatever it takes. A vision of himself murdering a classmate leads Ade to try the impossible—changing the future. A thrill ride for older teens.
CROSS, Julie. Tempest. St. Martin’s/Griffin. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-312-56889-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-42999059-2.
Gr 8 Up–Jackson can travel back in time, but he seems unable to alter anything. When his girlfriend dies in his arms, shot by temporal thugs chasing him, Jackson must find a way to change history to prevent her murder. But what price will he have to pay to save her? Audio version available from Macmillan Audio.
ÓGUILÍN, Peadar. The Inferior. Random/David Fickling Bks. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-385-75145-2; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73717-3; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84952-7.
Gr 8 Up–What seems to be a grisly fantasy featuring cannibals turns out to be grisly science fiction (still featuring cannibals). Stopmouth, named for his stutter, must constantly prove his worth as a hunter or he will become a “volunteer,” traded as food to the intelligent beasts that are both prey and predator in their world.
–––– . The Deserter. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-385-75149-0; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-98936-0.
As Stopmouth’s new tribe struggles to survive, he must do the unthinkable and leave them. Only the weapons of the technologically advanced Roof dwellers can save his people. But things in the Roof are far stranger and more dangerous than he could ever imagine.
WARD, Rachel. Numbers. Scholastic/Chicken House. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-14299-1; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-545-14300-4.
Gr 8 Up–When Jem looks into another’s eyes, the number she sees is the date of the person’s death. This dubious talent saves her and her friend Spider from a terrorist attack but also puts them on the run from the government and drug dealers. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.
–––– . The Chaos. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-24269-1; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-545-26355-9.
Adam, the product of the one night Jem and Spider spent together, is struggling with the “gift” he inherited from his mother. When he moves back to London with his great-grandmother, Adam notices that many people share the same number. Can Sarah, another troubled teen, help him deal with this burden?
–––– . Infinity. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-35092-1.
Two years after the New Year’s Day disaster Adam, Sarah, and Sarah’s daughter, Mia, are living in the woods of a devastated, dystopic England, on the run and trying to survive. Somehow baby Mia survived the disaster and changed her number. Does she hold the secret to immortality?
VAN TOL, Alex. Knifepoint. (Orca Soundings Series). Orca. 2010. PLB $16.95. ISBN 978-1-55469-306-1; pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-55469-305-4.
Gr 7 Up–Jill, working a summer job at a horse ranch, finds herself alone in the woods with a killer. But she is no damsel in distress. She uses her wits—and anything she can get her hands on—to survive. A quick, exciting read about a resourceful teen and a great choice for readers who don’t like “big” books.
VRETTOS, Adrienne Maria. Burnout. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-9469-5; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-9470-1; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-1-4391-6312-2.
Gr 9 Up–Nan, a graduate from rehab, wakes up on the subway with no memory of how she got there or why she is wearing a too-small Halloween costume and bizarre makeup. Did she relapse or is something worse going on? And where is her only friend, Seemy? A gripping thriller with a flawed but sympathetic protagonist.
WYNNE-JONES, Tim. Blink & Caution. Candlewick. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3983-9; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5697-3; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5455-9.
Gr 9 Up–Blink stumbles into a political plot disguised as a kidnapping while stealing breakfast from trays in a hotel corridor. Caution is on the run from her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend. When their paths cross, they each might be just what the other needs. Action-packed, well-written, and sporting an eye-catching cover sure to draw teens. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.
CHANTLER, Scott. Tower of Treasure. Bk. 1. illus. by author. (Three Thieves Series). Kids Can. 2010. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-55453-414-2; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-55453-415-9.
Gr 5-10–A 14-year-old girl searches for her kidnapped twin brother as she works in a traveling circus. Desperate for money, she agrees to help two other performers rob the king’s treasury.
–––– . The Sign of the Black Rock. Bk. 2. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-55453-416-6; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-55453-417-3.
The three fugitive circus performers wait out a storm by hiding in an inn but find themselves in uncomfortably close quarters with smugglers, a greedy innkeeper, and the soldiers who are hunting them. Chantler’s drawings harken back to classic comic books with very detailed backgrounds and plenty of action scenes.
RENIER, Aaron. The Unsinkable Walker Bean. illus. by author. First Second. 2010. pap. $13.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-453-0.
Gr 5-8–Walker is not your typical action hero, but to save his grandfather from a witch’s curse, he will take to the high seas and face pirates and witches with determination and his wits. Glossy pages full of bold colors and lots of detail bring the story to life in this rollicking adventure.
TENNAPEL, Doug. Bad Island. illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. 2011. RTE $24.99. ISBN 978-0-545-31479-4; pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-545-31480-0.
Gr 6 Up–Think Swiss Family Robinson meets Lost meets Transformers. A family, shipwrecked on an island with dangerous creatures discovers that the island itself is alive. Adventure abounds, as do parent-child conflicts. Colorful island scenes contrast sharply with the muted palette of the alien planet drawings.
–––– . Ghostopolis. 2010. RTE $24.99. ISBN 978-0-545-21027-0; pap. $12.99. ISBN ISBN 978-0-545-21028-7.
Garth, afflicted by an incurable disease, is accidentally zapped into the afterlife by a ghost hunter. On the other side, Garth discovers he has powers the ghosts don’t possess, making the young hero a threat to the evil ruler of Ghostopolis and prey to his minions. Expressive, action-packed cartoons carry the adventure.
TSANG, Evonne. I Love Him to Pieces. Bk. 1. illus. by Janina Görrissen. (My Boyfriend Is a Monster Series). Graphic Universe/Lerner. 2011. PLB $29.27. ISBN 978-0-7613-6004-9; pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-7079-6; ebook $21.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-7185-4.
Gr 7 Up–A baseball-playing girl and a nerdy boy begin an improbable romance after being teamed up in a school project. Then the zombies arrive. Görrissen’s black-and-white drawings make skillful use of facial expressions and body language to convey the characters’ thoughts and emotions, adding much to the story.
For Librarians and Teachers
No Flying No Tights: A Graphic Novel Review Site. noflyingnotights.com
. Robin E. Brenner. (Accessed 8/22/12).
A project of a public librarian and comics expert from Brookline, Massachusetts, this site is a great resource for librarians serving fans of manga, anime, and comics. Reviews are arranged by age group and genre and include “horror” and “mysteries and thrillers.”
Guys Read. www.guysread.com.
Jon Scieszka. (Accessed 8/22/12).
Gr 5 Up–Developed “to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers,” Scieszka’s site offers reviews and recommendations for plenty of nail-biters with particular appeal for boys.
ReadingRants! Out of the Ordinary Teen Booklists! Nail-Biters. www.readingrants.org/category/nail-biters. Jennifer Hubert Swan. (Accessed 8/18/12).
Gr 7 Up–Maintained by an independent New York City school librarian with over 10 years of reviewing experience and a love of YA literature, this site is a good resource for fans of all genres. Teen comments are included.
Teenreads. www.teenreads.com. The Book Report Network. (Accessed 8/18/12).
Gr 7 Up–While there isn’t a nail-biters category, there are reviews and recommendations under a plethora of genre labels such as adventure, action adventure, dystopian, and gothic horror, along with author interviews and upcoming publications.
Anthony C. Doyle is a Teacher Librarian at Livingston High School, Livingston, CA.