12 YA Titles To Give You Thrills & Chills

With Halloween around the corner, consider highlighting these spine-tingling and suspenseful reads from Lauren Oliver, Nova Ren Suma, Courtney Summers, and more.

Missing girls, haunted houses, and high school politics—oh my! With Halloween around the corner, consider highlighting these spine-tingling and suspenseful reads from Lauren Oliver, Nova Ren Suma, Courtney Summers, and more.

Tracy Deebs. Phantom Wheel. 416p. (Hackers: Bk. 1). Little, Brown. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316474412; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780316474443.
Gr 9 Up–Six of the country’s elite teen hackers are invited to compete for a college scholarship and a guaranteed job with the CIA. A few weeks after their hacking “simulations,” Owen sends the five other hackers a message: “YOU’VE BEEN PLAYED.” It wasn’t a CIA competition, but an elaborate ruse by tech giant Jacento using the hackers to create a virus capable of creating a “digital apocalypse.” The teens try to destroy the virus Phantom Wheel, planning a major heist and putting themselves into very real danger. This breakneck thriller reads like a techy teen Mission Impossible, complete with comedic banter, budding romance, and saucy language. Deebs does not neglect character development in the name of action.

VERDICT A general purchase, recommend this tech-savvy heist thriller to fans of Ally Carter and Anthony Horowitz.–Elizabeth Lovsin, Deerfield Public Library, IL

Kit Frick. See All the Stars. 320p. S. & S./ Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Aug. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534404373. POP
Gr 10 Up–Then: four best friends are inseparable. Now: Ellory is alone. Then: Ellory meets her first boyfriend and falls head over heels in love. Now: Ellory is returning to school after time off with no boyfriend and no friends. This novel is told in alternating time periods between then and now, and readers will push forward to figure out what has left Ellory boyfriend- and friendless. Fans of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will enjoy this thriller/mystery/love story. Talk of underage drinking and hard drug use makes this more appropriate for older teens. The prose in Frick’s fast-paced debut will pull readers in immediately.

VERDICT A coming-of-age novel that hits all the stops—drama, friendships, and first love—and would be an excellent choice for YA shelves.–Morgan O’Reilly, Riverdale Country School, NY

Claire Legrand. Sawkill Girls. 464p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062696601.
Gr 9 Up–Girls have gone missing on Sawkill Island for so long that the wealthy residents have learned to carry on with a stiff upper lip when it happens. As the disappearances ramp up, three local girls with close ties to the missing young women, and varying degrees of intimacy with a sinister presence on the island, start to take action. Prickly Zoey and dreamy Marion have had loved ones disappear, and their investigations lead to queen bee Val, whose family is involved in a dark cycle she can’t seem to break. Legrand’s lush and pensive prose matches the murky, dangerous, and beautiful island setting, and shifting perspective among the three protagonists keeps things clipping along. Several queer relationships lift this otherwise dark, loamy horror story into the light. ­

VERDICT Rich and earthy horror for readers who wanted Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap to be a little scarier make this an essential purchase.–Beth McIntyre, Madison Public Library, WI

Catherine Lo. Easy Prey. 352p. Abrams/Amulet. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419731907. POP
Gr 9 Up–During the course of their law class, Drew, Jenna, and Mouse obtain racy and sexual pictures of their teacher Miss Bailey. They agree to delete them and never bring it up again, but when the pictures show up on an anonymous blog, they realize one of them is hiding something. This well-paced whodunit has plenty of twists and turns and revelations to keep readers on their toes. The characters feel completely authentic and tangible. When things start to unravel for the trio, teens will be emotionally invested in the protagonists’ fates. This book strikes a necessary and much-needed chord about sexting and the distribution of inappropriate material in high school.

VERDICT A relevant book and first selection for any public and high school library.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

Mary McCoy. I, Claudia. 424p. Carolrhoda Lab. Oct. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781512448467.
Gr 8 Up–Claudia McCarthy is the (possibly unreliable) narrator of this modern take on I, Claudius. She leads readers through four years at the exclusive Los Angeles Imperial Day Academy. The teen is an amateur historian and an outsider who becomes more and more enmeshed in the inner political circle of the student senate and honor council. There are no friends at Imperial Day, only potential supporters and adversaries; alliances and allegiances shift constantly. This Lord of the Flies–like work is packed with political intrigue and maneuvering. The plot twists and expert foreshadowing will keep teens guessing.

VERDICT A must-read for YA fans of political thrillers or school-based stories.–Suzanne Fondrie, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Gretchen McNeil. #MurderTrending. 352p. Freeform. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781368010023.
Gr 9 Up–This dystopian horror novel imagines a world where the height of entertainment is watching a livestream of convicted felons getting hunted down and murdered by professional executioners in the most macabre prison imaginable. The latest addition to the island is Dee Guerrera, a 16-year-old who has been framed for the murder of her stepsister. Now Dee and the other innocent inmates must band together and fight for their lives if they are to find a way out. The fast-paced action will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games. There are many graphic descriptions of blood, guts, and gore relating to the murders and lots of colorful language.

VERDICT A gory thriller that moves at breakneck speed, this book will be hard to put down for older teens with a penchant for horror.–Shannon O’Connor, Unami Middle School, Chalfont, PA

Kerri Maniscalco. Escaping from Houdini. 416p. Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316551700. POP
Gr 9 Up–Fresh from attending a forensics school housed in the castle once home to Vlad the Impaler, Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her soon-to-be betrothed, Thomas Cresswell, have set sail on a luxury cruise to America. The ship’s entertainment, the Moonlight Carnival, boasts illusions, acrobatics, fire-eating, swordplay, and more, and is led by a promising young escape artist. But when a pattern of deaths begins to emerge, each with a tarot card left at the scene, Audrey Rose and Cresswell start to wonder if the Ringmaster of the Carnival may be involved. Displaying her usual fierce determination and progressive ideals, Audrey Rose is once again a compelling protagonist; her lingering distress over the previous cases of Jack the Ripper and Vlad the Impaler, along with her relationship with the Ringmaster muddling her formerly solid bond with Cresswell, serves to successfully develop her character arc across the three works of the series even further.

VERDICT Another delightfully mysterious addition to the series. A strong choice for YA shelves.–Maggie Mason Smith, Clemson University, SC

Lauren Oliver. Broken Things. 416p. HarperCollins/Harper. Oct. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062224132.
Gr 10 Up–Oliver’s latest thriller brings readers into the outskirts of Vermont, where two girls must work together to solve the cold case of their best friend’s murder by locating her killer and simultaneously exonerating themselves in the public eye. Brynn, Mia, and Summer are an inseparable trio until the day that Summer is found viciously murdered, left as a sacrifice to someone—or something. In the aftermath, Brynn and Mia are never formally convicted, but they are found guilty in the court of public opinion. Years after, a wedge has been driven between them. At odds with the rest of the town, and even with their families, the two girls begrudgingly reconnect to sort out the truth of what happened. Their best clues are also the items that led the town to judge them as killers—the pages of a book the three had been writing together, in which the protagonist is brutally murdered. Captivating and sinister from the start, the novel’s depiction of female frenemies and villains is fresh and complex, even if the resolution is a little tidy. The novel deals pretty heavily in sex, violence, and emotional cruelty—it’s done well, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Summer is like the second coming of Alison DiLaurentis from “Pretty Little Liars,” except prone to animal abuse and even more unhinged.

VERDICT Recommended for mature teens interested in reading about the everyday monsters they may encounter without ever knowing it. A must-have.–Emily Grace Le May, Williams School, Information Services Associate

Cherie Priest. The Agony House. illus. by Tara O’Connor. 272p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545934299.
Gr 7-10–When 17-year-old Denise’s parents move her to New Orleans, planning to fix up an old house and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast, accidents start occurring and Denise quickly realizes that the house is haunted. The classic haunted house story gets an update with a story line involving a 1950s-era comic book featuring a female hero that is atypical for its time. Scenes from the comic book, which are sporadically interspersed into the narrative, add visual variety to the story and intensify the mood. Each small horror within the house builds to a large climax and a twist ending as Denise uses the comics to solve a mystery.

VERDICT The format of this ghost story is inviting and while never truly horrifying, younger YA readers will be satisfied with the chills provided.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, NJ

Rebecca Schaeffer. Not Even Bones. 368p. HMH. Sept. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781328863546.
Gr 9 Up–Sixteen-year-old Nita dissects bodies for a living—her mother captures and kills Unnaturals and sells their parts on the black market, and it is Nita’s job to harvest the organs. But when her mother brings home a living boy, Nita has reached her breaking point. Helping the boy escape turns out to be her undoing, and Nita, who has been hiding her own abilities, is captured to be sold instead. Now she must survive with people trying to cut off her extremities, getting out the cage she’s held in, and escaping from the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Readers who are tired of the same recycled story lines will find something original here. Despite how dark and graphic the book gets—scenes of dissection on living and dead characters occur multiple times throughout—the story is so compelling that readers have to keep going to find out how, or if Nita gets out of this mess.

VERDICT Recommended for budding horror fans.–Amanda Toth, Lane Libraries, Fairfield, OH

Nova Ren Suma. A Room Away from the Wolves. 336p. Algonquin. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781616203733.
Gr 9 Up–A gorgeously written and evocative ghost tale set in a storied boardinghouse for troubled young women. Seventeen-year-old Sabina Tremper and her mother have always been thick as thieves, embarking on bold adventures, including running away from their first home. However, after Bina gets caught in a series of lies and destructive behavior, their bond becomes strained. When her mother decides to send her away for the summer to ease tensions with her new husband and teenage stepdaughters, Bina feels betrayed. She takes all the cash she can find and steals off into the night. Her plan is to go to New York City and rent a room at Catherine House, just as her mother did the summer before she was born. Suma is a masterly storyteller, here creating a thoroughly unreliable modern narrator in a deliciously creepy Gothic haunt.

VERDICT With much to mull over and discuss, this is a taut and nuanced coming-of-age tale perfect for fans of E. Lockhart’s When We Were Liars and Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Courtney Summers. Sadie. 320p. Wednesday Bks. Sept. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250105714.
Gr 9 Up–Nineteen-year-old Sadie Hunter is going to kill the man who murdered her 13-year-old sister, Mattie. So begins the latest compelling work by Summers (All the Rage). The book alternates between Sadie’s first-person perspective as she crisscrosses Colorado in search of Keith, who sexually abused her when he dated her mother and who she believes murdered Mattie, and the transcript of a serialized podcast called The Girls. The podcast, set in the future after Sadie’s car has been found abandoned with her belongings inside, details a New York City radio host’s search for her. His interviews with her family and those who crossed her path provide an outsider’s perspective to Sadie’s actions and interior monologue, expanding on themes of revenge, ineffective policing, poverty, and addiction and its impact on parenting. Both story lines propel the plot and provide context. The book touches often on the fallacies of how we perceive and judge others, notably in the way Sadie is judged for her stutter, which also further isolates her on her journey. The fresh, nuanced, and fast-moving narrative will appeal to a range of YA and new adult readers.

VERDICT It’s impossible to not be drawn into this haunting thriller of a book. A heartrending must-have.–Amanda Mastrull, Library Journal

These reviews have been excerpted from the School Library Journal August 2018 issue.

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Shelley Diaz


Shelley Diaz (sdiaz@mediasource.com) is the Reviews Editor at School Library Journal.

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