5 Thrillers Reveal Small-Town Secrets | Adult Books 4 Teens

Murder, monsters, and skeletons in the closet: these recent thrillers delve into the seedier side of small-town living.
Born and raised south of I-80 in Illinois, I’m accustomed to explaining to acquaintances that I live almost four hours south of Chicago. And then clarifying that, yes, Illinois is that long. More by circumstance instead of choice, I’ve lived and taught in small towns for most of my adult life, and I’ve discovered firsthand how tight-lipped residents can be, as well as how bighearted they are in times of need. Today we’ll delve into the seedier side of small-town living and the skeletons that are often hiding in closets. First up is Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In. In Deer Valley, OR, young Jude goes missing but mysteriously returns days later, unable to explain his absence. Deer Valley is creepy—no one keeps pets, and years ago, another young child disappeared and was found murdered in the woods. Compared to a Stephen King novella by our reviewer, this horror title is recommended for all high school libraries. Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me To Be also deals with a missing young person—18-year-old Hattie. She’s found fatally stabbed, and as investigators learn more about her seemingly perfect life in Pine Valley, MN, they realize that her thrill-seeking behavior and online life might have led to her death. On her website, Mejia says that what she writes is what she likes to read: “contemporary, plot-driven books that deliver both entertainment and substance.” Librarians are still being asked for books similar to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Mejia’s sophomore effort should fit the bill. We all had that one high school friend who was great at getting us into trouble, and lately there have been a plethora of books about toxic friendships (such as Emma Cline’s The Girls or Megan Abbott’s Dare Me). Julie Buntin’s debut, Marlena, flashes back to Silver Lake, MN, where Cat spent a year with her neighbor drinking, smoking, and rebelling. However, that one year of high school is still causing the adult Catherine heartache. This powerful, literary wild-girl read reverberates with regret. The protagonist of The Barrowfields, Henry Aster, who grew up in Old Buckram, NC, is also full of regret, hardly ever returning to his Appalachian homestead after he leaves for college. Debut author Phillip Lewis, a lawyer in North Carolina, captures small-town Appalachian upbringing in this literary coming-of-age Southern gothic novel. While he didn’t base any of the book’s characters on real people, he did write his old golden retriever into the story—if you’re an animal lover, grab a tissue and read his tribute to his dog Buller in the Irish Times. Lisa Scottoline needs no introduction, and her most recent title, One Perfect Lie, is ideal for teens. Central Valley High School in rural Pennsylvania has a potentially deadly secret. Short chapters draw readers into a domestic thriller centered on high school students and a mysterious new teacher that won’t disappoint young adults.  


AHLBORN, Ania. The Devil Crept In. 384p. Gallery. Feb. 2017. pap. $16. ISBN 9781476783758. Fans of all ages will be enthralled by Ahlborn’s latest thriller. When 12-year-old Jude goes missing in the small, quiet town of Deer Valley, OR, the residents are reminded of another incident years ago, when a young boy was found murdered in the surrounding woods. Ahlborn tells this intriguing tale from two points of view, that of Jude’s 10-year-old cousin and best friend, Stevie, and that of Rosie, an older woman who lives in the woods. Stevie, an odd, unpopular boy who sees shadow people and has echolalia (a condition that compels him to repeat other people’s words), is a likable protagonist who evokes sympathy as he is teased by his stepfather and older brother. His perspective is sometimes naive and often humorous, yet his perceptions are more reliable than those of the adults around him. Suspense steadily builds as Stevie tries to discover what has happened to Jude, all while encountering unfriendly townsfolk; sickly, skittish stray cats; and what is obviously a monster in the woods. With an especially creepy backstory that satisfyingly ties all the elements together, this book evokes a Stephen King novella. VERDICT A fantastically creepy coming-of-age narrative that is sure to have readers clamoring for more titles by this author. A first purchase, especially where horror writers such as Stephen King or Joe Hill are popular.–Sherry J. Mills, Hazelwood East High School, St. Louis BUNTIN, Julie. Marlena. 288p. Holt. Apr. 2017. Tr $26. ISBN 9781627797641. When Catherine was a teenager, she moved to the small, economically depressed town of Silver Lake, MN, following her mom's divorce. Now in her 30s, Catherine is still haunted by her past. Even a good job and a great husband can’t compensate for a pain that won’t fade completely and a powerful drinking problem that arose as a result of her best friend’s death by drowning. Catherine is consumed by the memory of a girl who made having nothing seem like everything. As chapters deftly alternate between the protagonist’s adult life and her adolescence, readers encounter teenage Cat: angry at her dad and unappreciative of her mom’s efforts, the 15-year-old is primed for reinvention. A bookish girl on partial scholarship at a private high school, Cat meets Marlena, a force of nature: blonde, sexy, and unapologetically brash and worldly. Cat is soon ditching school to hang out with her friend, who’s looked down on by many: Marlena is the daughter of a menacing meth cook who is not above trading his daughter’s sexual favors to a drug partner. Drinking, pills, smoking, sex—all the staples of Marlena’s life, once glamorous to Cat, become routine as Marlena’s sketchy friends and dangerous behavior affect both girls. This searing work from debut author Buntin adroitly captures the dark side of friendship and the turmoil of young adulthood. VERDICT Hand this unflinching tale to savvy teens starting to look beyond Ellen Hopkins or to readers who appreciate gritty fare, such as E.R. Frank’s Dime.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Gwinnett County, GA LEWIS, Phillip. The Barrowfields. 368p. Crown/Hogarth. Apr. 2017. Tr $26. ISBN 9780451495648. Henry Aster, whom readers meet in childhood and follow into young adulthood, tells the story of his family and their path of loss and dysfunction. Living in a gothic mansion high in the mountains of North Carolina, the Asters experience happiness despite a sense of looming tragedy. However, after the death of Henry’s grandmother, Henry’s father, a brilliant writer and lawyer, spirals into despair and depression—which Henry and the rest of the family don’t know how to address. This often dark narrative examines themes such as how children deal with family responsibilities as they mature. Teens will appreciate the complexity of this work and find Henry a genuine, relatable protagonist who makes mistakes and attempts to heal childhood wounds. VERDICT A candid novel that offers an intimate view of depression’s effects on family members, this is a must-read for fans of Pat Conroy or William Faulkner and those who enjoy Southern gothic literature.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL MEJIA, Mindy. Everything You Want Me To Be. 352p. Atria/Emily Bestler Bks. Jan. 2017. Tr $26. ISBN 9781501123429. Eighteen-year-old Hattie has it made: a loving family, excellent grades, a good job, a wonderful boyfriend, a lead role in the school play, and plans to head off to New York after graduation. When she is found murdered one Saturday in April of her senior year, everyone is shocked. Hattie’s father’s best friend, Del, is the county sheriff in their southern Minnesota town, and as he investigates the murder, it soon becomes clear that Hattie was not who she appeared to be. Facts about her life and relationships are revealed bit by bit in this story told from three points of view: Hattie’s, Del’s, and Hattie’s English teacher Peter’s. Taut writing, plot twists and turns, and fully developed characters all combine for a gripping thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seats. VERDICT Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train will snap up this book.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Public Library, CA SCOTTOLINE, Lisa. One Perfect Lie. 384p. St. Martin's. Apr. 2017. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781250099563. Readers meet Chris Brennan just in time for his job interview at Central Valley High School, where he hopes to teach government, economics, and criminal justice and serve as the assistant varsity baseball coach. The second sentence of the novel makes it clear that he is a fraud, but Scottoline doesn’t expand. After obtaining the job, Chris gets to know his students, particularly the baseball players, and readers discover that he has a criminal act in mind. Teens are introduced to some of the players on the baseball team and find out a bit about their family lives, but it’s not until a third of the way through the narrative that they learn who Chris really is. Something big is stirring in this small town in Pennsylvania, and a plot with nationwide consequences could create an uproar in the lives of the baseball players and their families. As Scottoline tracks the progress of the investigation step-by-step, readers will be drawn into this exciting and absorbing page-turner. VERDICT Recommend this fast-paced read to teens who enjoy tales of espionage and action.–Marlyn K. Beebe, Los Alamitos, CA

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