February 25, 2018

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Spine-Chilling Whodunits for Summer Reading | Adult Books 4 Teens

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1506-Fic_AB4T_cover-stripWelcome to the new home of Adult Books 4 Teens (AB4T)! For the last five years, this column has run as a blog on School Library Journal’s website, where it was designed to replace SLJ’s print column Adult Books for High School Students. Now we’re back in the magazine, as well as keeping a presence on SLJ’s website. For those of you who have followed us here from the blog (or even all the way from the original print column), thank you for meeting us at our new locale. For those of you new to AB4T, I offer a brief introduction. As the blog’s founder, Angela Carstensen, explained in our first blog post:

“The adult book publishing world releases thousands of general and special interest titles every year. This blog is here to help librarians who work with teens find out about the best books published for the adult market that also have appeal to teen readers. The plan is to provide . . . recommendations and reviews, including books in all genres and formats: narrative nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, thrillers and mysteries, memoirs, fantasy and science fiction, contemporary realism, arts and crafts, and more.”

This column will carry on that same mission. And, like the blog, except in very rare cases, we will only be offering positive reviews—our purpose here is to provide recommendations to librarians and readers, not to be a comprehensive index of every adult book with teen appeal. For those interested in our previous reviews, you can find them archived on slj.com.

So, enough with the introductions: on to some great books. With summer upon us, what better summer reading for teens than some good old fashioned mysteries? Below you’ll find reviews of four recent mystery-thrillers that look deep into the dysfunctions of family life: a father accused of murdering his daughter; a family torn apart by a son’s possible involvement in a school shooting; two missing girls who return to their families after more than a decade; and a heavy dose of the sins of the parents being visited upon their children.

These are intense, nail-biting, page-turning novels that ask hard questions about what family life means in America today, including a new novel from Reconstructing Amelia’s Kimberly McCreight, and a Reconstructing Amelia readalike, Bryan Reardon’s Finding Jake. The remaining two books come from new–old hand Elizabeth Haynes (five first-rate mysteries in the last five years) and relative newcomer Michael Kardos, checking in with a very strong sophomore effort.

Unfortunately, none of these offer much for readers looking for the lighter side of mystery, but for teens who couldn’t put down Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Reconstructing Amelia, the following selections fit the bill.

Haynes, Elizabeth. Behind Closed Doors. 496p. HarperCollins/Harper. 2015. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780062276117; ebk. ISBN 9780062276124.

When a teenager goes missing on a family vacation, the usual questions are raised about whether her disappearance may be due to arguments within the family (running away) or having met a stranger (abduction). With the family of the missing girl being rather close-mouthed about their lives, and the knowledge that she didn’t have opportunities to go and meet anyone, the assumption is that she ran away. So when she reappears 10 years later during a raid on a brothel, why won’t she tell the police what happened in the intervening years? An even bigger question might be why aren’t the family members reuniting now? These are the questions that Detective Louisa Smith hopes to answer, but without much help from either Scarlett or her family. The chapters take place in the present day and through flashbacks, and Scarlett’s story and the investigation unfold in surprising ways. The hold human traffickers have on their victims can sometimes trump familial ties, particularly if those ties are frayed from the start. The secrets that the family chooses to keep will shock teens. VERDICT A solid choice for fans of darker mysteries, like those of Carol O’Connell or Gillian Flynn.Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT

Kardos, Michael. Before He Finds Her. 384p. Grove Atlantic/Mysterious. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9780802123190; ebk. ISBN 9780802191618.

In the New Jersey beach community of Silver Bay in 1991, the Miller family hosted a block party; later that night, Ramsey Miller murdered his wife and disappeared, along with their three-year-old daughter Meg. Fifteen years later, the case is still open. Most people believe that Ramsey also murdered his daughter and then fled the country. But no one knows except for Melanie Denison, the now 18-year-old who was once Meg Miller, and her adoptive parents, Uncle Wayne and Aunt Kendra. For 15 years, they have lived in Fredonia, WV, mostly staying off the grid, hoping that Ramsey doesn’t find them. But Melanie/Meg now has her own reasons for wanting to stop hiding and move out into the real world, and so she sets off for New Jersey to find some answers. Told in alternating sections between Melanie’s search in 2006 and Ramsey’s actions leading up to the murder in 1991, this is a compelling and layered story about truth and lies, and love and loss. Melanie is a typical teen, although more naïve than many, and her mistakes and blunders are as natural a part of her personality as her determination and resolve. VERDICT Teens who enjoy thrillers and mysteries that keep them guessing will gobble this one up.Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

McCreight, Kimberly. Where They Found Her. 352p. HarperCollins/Harper. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062225467; ebk. ISBN 9780062225481.

Another thriller for adults that teens will devour. As she did in Reconstructing Amelia (HarperCollins, 2013), McCreight explores how the mistakes made by parents when they themselves were teens are revealed to their children and the devastation they can wreak. Ridgedale looks like the perfect college town and reporter Molly certainly hopes it is the place where she and her husband can recover from the devastating stillbirth of their second child. But when Molly’s first assignment in their new town is to cover the discovery of a dead newborn in the campus woods, she has to quickly figure out if her investigation will bring her closure or return her to the depths of grief from which she’s just recovered. While the protagonist reports on the gruesome crime, teen Sandy is desperate to find her hard-partying mom before they’re evicted. In their parallel searches, Molly and Sandy begin to uncover some very dark secrets in Ridgedale’s past. McCreight plants seeds of doubt in all of the protagonists, from the police chief to a high-strung soccer mom. Although some of the plot and the twist ending are slightly predictable, readers will keep flipping through pages. VERDICT Young adult fans of Jodi Picoult or Elizabeth Berg will enjoy this mystery.Meghan Cirrito, formerly of Brooklyn Public Library

Reardon, Bryan. Finding Jake. 272p. Morrow. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062339485; ebk. ISBN 9780062339539.

Simon is a stay-at-home dad whose life changes when he gets an emergency text from his children’s high school: there has been a shooting, and all parents are requested to assemble at the church near the school. Simon watches tensely as the teens arrive and are reunited with their parents. His daughter shows up, but not his son, Jake. Soon word emerges that there were two shooters, one a boy named Doug. He has always been strange, but Jake, following Simon’s advice, has treated Doug kindly. The police believe that Jake was Doug’s accomplice. Over the next few days, he and his wife Rachel must cope with angry neighbors, predatory media, and suspicious police as they attempt to find out where Jake is and what really happened. The protagonist thinks back over his son’s life, trying to see if his memories of Jake’s relationships with his sister, friends, and parents carry any clues to the current tragedy. Alternating between these flashbacks and Simon’s actions following the shooting, this is a look at one family’s response to a harrowing experiences. VERDICT Pulse-pounding, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking, this fast-paced thriller will appeal to teens who enjoyed Tim Johnston’s Descent (Algonquin, 2015).Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Public Library, CA

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Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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