November 17, 2017

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11 YA Thrillers That Would Make Lois Duncan Proud

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The queen of the teen thriller died on June 15, and the YA world will never be the same. The passing of Margaret Edwards Award winner Lois Duncan, the creator of gems like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1973), Killing Mr. Griffin (1978), and Daughters of Eve (1979), has created a void in the YA lit world that will be difficult to fill. In her remembrance, we share recent YA thrillers that share the same suspense, plot twists, and unforgettable characters that Duncan is celebrated for.

11-YA-Thrillers-Strip1redstarAltebrando, Tara. The Leaving. 432p. Bloomsbury. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619638037.

Gr 8 Up –One day, six kindergarteners disappear without a trace. Eleven years later, five of the kids, now teenagers, return, but the mysteries have only multiplied. Though Lucas, Scarlett, Kristen, Adam, and Sarah operate on a developmentally appropriate level (speaking, reading, and writing like typical adolescents), they have no memory of anything from the last 11 years—and no explanation of why Max, who also left, isn’t with them. Were they kidnapped? Abducted by aliens? Were they victims of some psychological experiment? Readers follow Lucas and Scarlett, who suspect that they might have had a romantic relationship in the past, and Avery, Max’s younger sister, who clings to the hope that her brother will return and who finds herself drawn to Lucas, as the teens try to piece together just what happened and why. Depicting characters with few memories, Altebrando has effectively established an often eerie and unsettling mood, and the creative use of typography adds to the feeling of disorientation. The prose has a sense of urgency, and brief chapters will keep teens turning the pages. However, this is no mere thriller; folded into this compulsively readable work are thought-provoking themes. What is the link between identity and memory? Are we better off without painful remembrances? As the book concludes, characters—and readers—will still be contemplating these challenging questions. VERDICT Teens who enjoy engrossing, contemplative titles such as Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not will devour this insightful musing on memory and identity.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2016 issue.

redstarBudhos, Marina. Watched. 272p. ebook available. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553534184; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553534191.

Gr 7 Up –Naeem Rahman is a Bangladeshi immigrant and high school senior who lives in a Muslim neighborhood in Queens, where everyone is under surveillance because of fear of terrorist activity. His parents are struggling to make a living from their corner store, and they hope Naeem will be more successful than they are. However, he is more interested in street life and taking chances with the law than he is in studying. When his friend Ibrahim entices him into shoplifting and then abandons him to the cops, the protagonist is offered a deal: he can become an informant and spy on his Muslim neighbors, or he can face charges and most likely go to prison. He chooses the former. At first, this doesn’t seem too bad. Naeem is making money, and he rationalizes that this is a way to do something good. He starts attending mosque and participating in a Muslim teen volunteer group, but when he doesn’t find anything particularly alarming to report, the cops begin pressuring him to come up with better leads. Eventually, Naeem becomes involved in a scheme to entrap Ibrahim into incriminating activity, and he has to make some hard moral choices. This is a fast-moving, gripping tale that conveys Naeem’s restlessness and the sense of paranoia that comes from being watched constantly. Budhos perfectly captures the gritty details of daily life in a Queens neighborhood, as well as the nuances of different immigrant groups. VERDICT Highly recommended because of its very timely subject matter; this would be a great choice for a book club or classroom discussion.–Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2016 issue.

Clark, Tracy. Mirage. 272p. ebook available. HMH. Jul. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544517905.

Gr 10 Up –In the beginning of this psychological thriller, Ryan Sharpe is a 17-year-old adrenaline junkie seeking the love and approval of her ex-army father, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and runs a sky-diving business. When Ryan’s latest reckless attempt at skydiving gets her put on restriction, she dives into experimentation with LSD. After a bad trip almost leaves her dead, Ryan sees life and herself very differently. As she fights the demons that chase her and tries to restore herself to the girl she once was, her journey to sanity is tested in many daunting ways. The action is breakneck. Told in first person, this novel takes readers into a mind-boggling world of hallucinogens and their effects. Ryan struggles to determine whether her terrorizing experiences are a result of the aftereffects of the drugs, a latent mental illness now surfacing, or something otherworldly. Readers are likely to walk away with an impression of the dangers and consequences of mind-altering drugs. Threads of supernatural elements are woven throughout, adding intrigue but also undermining a more realistic depiction of mental illness. Descriptions of Ryan’s physical features emphasize her biracial identity, though they sometimes border on stereotype. VERDICT An additional purchase where YA psychological thrillers are in high demand.–Margie Longoria, Mission High School, TX

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2016 issue.

Cook, Eileen. With Malice. 320p. ebook available. HMH. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544805095.
Gr 9 Up–Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room recovering from a broken leg and a traumatic brain injury with no memory of how she got there. She doesn’t remember anything about her study abroad trip to Italy six weeks ago with her best friend Simone. She doesn’t remember the car crash that killed Simone or the flight her wealthy father chartered to get her to an American hospital. She doesn’t remember why she might need the lawyer her father has hired. Everyone thinks they know what happened between Jill and Simone, thanks to eyewitness accounts and the sensational news coverage, but it’s up to Jill to figure out the truth for herself. This character-driven thriller teases out what might have happened between the two girls as the events leading to the accident slowly unfold. Jill’s recovery includes realistically portrayed rehab for her broken leg and speech therapy for the aphasia that leaves her forgetting words. Cook intersperses Jill’s first-person narration with police interviews, news coverage, and blog posts about the car crash. Travel guide excerpts are as close as readers will get to any Italian locations as Jill’s memories of the trip remain elusive for most of the novel. Flashbacks, Facebook posts, and emails help to further develop Jill and Simone’s complicated relationship. The rest of the cast fall more comfortably into stock character territory. Questions of what Jill remembers and what might have been a dream or suggested memory lend a chilling quality to the conclusion of this novel. VERDICT A solid thriller that will leave readers guessing until the very last page.–Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2016 issue.

11-YA-Thrillers-Strip2Jude, Sarah. The May Queen Murders. 304p. ebook available. HMH. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544640412.

Gr 9 Up –Jude’s dark and atmospheric debut novel features a secluded traditional community filled with superstition and secrets in the Missouri Ozarks. Ivy and Heather are cousins even though they don’t resemble each other at all with Ivy’s half-Mexican heritage and Heather’s red as fire hair. They have been best friends their whole lives, but lately Ivy can feel Heather pulling away from her and their community’s customs and folklore. As secrets tear them apart, their community deals with the possible return of Birch Markle, a murderer who has been living in the woods since before Ivy was born. Now, animals are turning up gruesomely killed, and the town is fearful that history will repeat itself and another girl will be murdered. Flowery prose and the distinct setting give this story a classic Gothic feel without becoming too heavy. It will appeal to readers of traditional horror titles as well as the more casual fan looking for an exciting, creepy read. The macabre descriptions sprinkled throughout are haunting and edgy and will thrill readers who like to be spooked. Unfortunately, the convoluted ending isn’t as successful as too much information is uncovered too quickly. VERDICT A solid choice for rabid horror fans.–Jenna Friebel, Deerfield Public Library, IL

This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2016 issue.

redstarKuehn, Stephanie. The Smaller Evil. 256p. ebook available. Dutton. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101994702.

Gr 9 Up –High school senior Arman Dukoff is in serious need of help. He hates his awkwardness, his social timidity, and how he feels trapped in his own head. When he meets Beau, who seems to see so much more potential within Arman, the protagonist jumps at the chance to follow him and his group. Once at the Compound, though, Arman is confronted by a confusing whirlwind of incomprehensible rituals and strangely technical jargon—but most confusing of all is Beau’s sudden disappearance during the program. Arman is devastated not just because of Beau’s insistent, optimistic belief in his potential but also due to a mysterious encounter they had right before he went missing. The teen is determined to find his friend and get answers—about Beau and himself. Young fans of the hairpin plot twists and turns of psychological thrillers will be drawn to Kuehn’s latest offering. In particular, readers familiar with her previous titles will find echoes of similar themes at work here—a teenage male protagonist who is also an unreliable narrator. Kuehn’s specialty in depicting mental illness and her sharp, quick writing are on display in her latest novel, but it is her satirical integration of New Age hippie rituals with the pseudoscientific jargon of the self-help retreat world that is the most compelling addition. VERDICT Fans of the author’s work will find familiar material in this book. Readers interested in a Gillian Flynn–style take on cults and self-help retreats will also be intrigued.–Evelyn Khoo Schwartz, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2016 issue.

McCreight, Kimberly. The Outliers. 352p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062359117.

Gr 9 Up –Wylie is worried about her former best friend Cassie. They haven’t gotten along since Cassie began dating Jasper and then started drinking and partying all the time. When she goes missing, her mother comes to Wylie’s home. The teen wants to help, but she hasn’t left her house in months, because she’s afraid to go outside. Jasper, also frightened for his girlfriend’s safety, arrives on Wylie’s doorstep with text message instructions to pick her up and drive 100 miles away. The protagonist must overcome her fear, and general dislike of her friend’s boyfriend, in order to save Cassie. As the road trip progresses, so does the mystery of who has their friend. With a slow-paced beginning, the novel gains traction once the highway journey gets underway. Unfortunately, Wylie is a frustrating protagonist. Her agoraphobia, which at first seems debilitating, is easily overcome several chapters into the book. Her near hatred of Jasper also seems extremely misplaced, as he goes out of his way to be nice and often makes her feel better despite the dire circumstances surrounding his girlfriend’s potential kidnapping. Some of her fears seem to be well-founded, as nearly every individual she encounters after leaving her house turns out to be involved in her friend’s disappearance. VERDICT A great supplemental read for angsty teens but otherwise without broad appeal.–Ryan P. Donovan, Southborough Public Library, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal  May 2016 issue.

11-YA-Thrillers-Strip3Panitch, Amanda. Never Missing, Never Found. 320p. ebook available. Random. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553507645; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553507669.

Gr 8 Up –Scarlett Contreras was once a missing child. She was stolen and forced to live in a basement with another girl her age. They were made to clean house for the cruel proprietress of a brothel. But she escaped and now, at 17, has her first summer job at the local theme park. She doesn’t like to talk about her past, so she avoids getting too close, but she wants this job and is determined to try fitting in. Scarlett’s first day at work, however, is marked by an ironic tragedy. The teen who interviewed Scarlett for the job goes missing after her last shift, and almost everyone on staff seems to be in shock. Attractive assistant manager Connor takes Scarlett under his wing, making sure she isn’t left to fend for herself. But it is recent employee Katharina who designates herself as Scarlett’s trainer, and there is something oddly disturbing about her. When Scarlett’s estranged sister Melody strikes up a friendship with Katharina, bizarre events leave Scarlett (and readers) fearing for her sanity. The story evolves in a series of shifting perspectives that alternate between Scarlett’s life now and her life during her abduction, with each perspective markedly different in tone. One is occasionally frightening but mostly a pedestrian romance, while the other evolves into an intriguing psychological thriller. Both lead to a surprising plot twist that readers will not have seen coming. VERDICT Teens who make it to the end of this twisty offering will be recommending it to their friends; purchase where suspense YA is popular.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

This review was published in the School Library Journal  May 2016 issue.

Stampler, Ann Redisch. How To Disappear. 416p. ebook available. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481443937.

Gr 9 Up –Jack Manx, son of an infamous Vegas hitman, has always fought against the assumption that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. A month before his high school graduation, straight-A student Jack visits his brother in jail and is met with an impossible ultimatum: find and kill a young woman named Nicolette, or watch his mom die. Implausibly, Jack agrees to this, rather than going to the police, and begins researching the young woman who’s run away from her home in Ohio. Meanwhile, halfway across the country, a girl named Cat is desperately trying to outrun her past, change her physical appearance, and disappear into anonymity. Jack tracks Cat’s movements across the country, but even attentive readers will be mystified by the hazy geography. Most of the events take place in Las Vegas or Ohio, but it isn’t always clear what is supposed to be happening where in the time line. Plus, many rushed or missing transitions make comprehension a real challenge. For example, in one scene, Cat is thinking about going to pick up some essential items for life on the run. Suddenly, she is at the Goodwill, picking out dresses without even hinting at a change of scene or action. The plot does, however, pick up speed when the protagonists finally meet. The tension between them is well written, steamy, and fun to read. VERDICT This romantic psychological thriller would appeal to reluctant readers, but its flaws and length might make it a hard sell.–Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

This review was published in the School Library Journal  May 2016 issue.

Thomas, Kara. The Darkest Corners. 336p. ebook available. Delacorte. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553521450; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553521474.

Gr 9 Up –Ten years after leaving the state and losing touch with everyone she knew and loved, Tessa Lowell returns to small-town Fayette to say goodbye to her father, who’s dying in prison. She is too late to see her father but ends up with too many questions about her past to return home to Florida right away. Joining forces with her childhood best friend, Callie, Tessa begins looking for answers in this exciting psychological thriller. Callie and Tessa haven’t talked since Tessa left after the strain testifying in the trial of Wyatt Stokes when she was eight years old, a trial that ended with him on death row. Working through the pain of lost friendship and unshared secrets, the girls collaborate to search for the truth when another girl is killed. Did they help convict an innocent man? Has the real killer returned to Fayette? How does Tessa’s long-lost sister fit into all this, and what happened to her mother? The world of a working-class town in Pennsylvania comes alive as Callie deals with her pain through hard partying and Tessa attempts to escape her guilty disquiet by immersing herself in her sleuthing. Through strong character development and thrilling reveals, readers become as engrossed as Tessa as she searches for the truth and deals with the emotions of her past. VERDICT As a dark psychological thriller with a compelling story and an unexpected but satisfying ending, this novel is a sure bet.–Genevieve Feldman, San Francisco Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal  March 2016 issue.

oten, Teresa. Beware That Girl. 336p. ebook available. photos. Delacorte. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553507904; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553507911. POP

Gr 10 Up –Street smart and already world-weary, 17-year-old Kate is an admitted liar. She lies with the goal of one day attending Yale University, her dream school. As a new scholarship student at the prestigious Waverly School in New York, she relies heavily on her smarts, good looks, and experience to get by. Kate searches for a target, someone to befriend who has influence and money. She spots Olivia, a beautiful and rich girl who missed a year of school because of a mystery illness. Kate moves into Olivia’s absent father’s penthouse, with only a housekeeper as parental guidance. The friendship blossoms, until a mysterious man, Mark Redkin, enters their lives. The handsome Mark charms Olivia, but Kate senses that there is something terribly wrong. She discovers that he is a dangerous psychopath with a past as dark and carefully concealed as Kate’s and Olivia’s. Alternating chapters between the two teens keep the story fresh and make readers feel privy to secrets. Kate’s tragic history is revealed with flashbacks. The plot develops at a steady pace until the game being played among all three characters finally blows up with tragedy and murder. In this book for older teens, the author skillfully reveals gritty and tantalizing details in meager bites, keeping readers captivated. VERDICT Complete with a disturbing yet satisfying conclusion, this is a must-have for teen fans of psychological thrillers such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.–Mindy Hiatt, Salt Lake County Library Services

This review was published in the School Library Journal  May 2016 issue.

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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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