The best books for young readers with hidden places, secret lairs, and haunted hideouts

Who am I?

I’ve always loved mysterious and hidden places — and they often appear in my writing. My Summer (with Robots) is a great example, as both an underground desert fort and a mysterious house inhabited by robots play significant roles. Both were inspired by events from my childhood in Tucson, Arizona, but who hasn’t created secret places of their own? How about a blanket fort? Or a treehouse? Or maybe you were that kid who made a private den by pulling the covers up over your head and reading your favorite book by flashlight? I hope my selections help you recapture this simple thrill of discovering mysterious places!

I wrote...

My Summer (with Robots)

By Marsh Myers,

Book cover of My Summer (with Robots)

What is my book about?

Quinton Wyatt's summer break before high school should be nothing but wall-to-wall fun. Instead, his best friend has stopped talking to him; his fiendish older sister has filled his head with tales of a sadistic high school ritual called "The Freshman Stomp"; and his divorced father has started dating the city's most notorious barfly. Maybe a robot rabbit and a boy from his past can help salvage Quinton's vacation and launch him into the difficult — but often hilarious — world of young adulthood. This is Book 1 in the Quinton’s Curious Mind young adult series.

The books I picked & why

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The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

By Maggie Stiefvater,

Book cover of The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

Why this book?

This is by far one of my favorite YA series due to its strong characterizations and amazing world-building. Stiefvater takes a prep school in a small Virginia town and populates it with psychics, restless spirits, secret societies, menacing professors, and a professional assassin. The titular “Raven Boys” are three students pulled into the town’s supernatural intrigue either by design or necessity. Needless to say, this four-book series provides us with plenty of mysterious places, but Book 1 introduces us to one of the best: the boys’ off-campus home located in a long-abandoned warehouse. The old building is primarily uninhabitable, but the boys create a comfortable “apartment” in its midst — and it even comes with a resident ghost!

The Egypt Game

By Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Alton Raible (illustrator),

Book cover of The Egypt Game

Why this book?

As a kid, I was fascinated by the mysteries of ancient Egypt. My mother, an elementary school librarian, introduced me to this book when I was in the fifth grade — and I’ve loved it ever since. The story centers around April Hall, the daughter of a famous movie actress. When the girl goes to live with her grandmother, she and two neighbor kids amuse themselves by creating their own ancient Egyptian “society” based on a shared fascination with archaeology. They make costumes, devise rituals, and even choose a pharaoh to rule them. Their “Egypt” is located in the forgotten storage yard behind a creepy antique shop, but this secret world is threatened first by neighborhood bullies and later by a serial killer who’s stalking children.

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tasha Tudor (illustrator),

Book cover of The Secret Garden

Why this book?

Now over 100 years old, The Secret Garden may be one of the first true YA novels — and a model for those featuring secret and mysterious places. The book’s protagonist is 10-year-old Mary Lennox, a spoiled, neglected child whose parents died during a cholera epidemic in India. Sent to England to live with her cold and neglectful uncle, Mary is isolated in a vast manor house surrounded by sprawling gardens. Slowly, her demeanor softens, and she befriends a local boy named Dickon, who helps her discover and restore a mysterious garden walled up by her uncle years earlier. But her new home has other surprises — including a previously unknown cousin locked away in a secret room of his own.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

By e. l. konigsburg,

Book cover of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Why this book?

Who wouldn’t want to spend a night alone in a natural history museum? Or maybe a week? Or a month? Claudia and Jamie Kincaid purposely choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as their new home when they run away from their parents. Using their intelligence, guile, and a fair amount of luck, they manage to live successfully among the museum’s priceless artifacts and fascinating exhibits — all the while eluding museum security. The brother and sister become obsessed with a mysterious statue presumably carved by Michelangelo, leading them to the doorstep of the reclusive heiress who donated it — Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Their discoveries about the statue help reunite them with their family and bring the promise of unimaginable wealth.

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Why this book?

Imagine your secret lair is actually a cemetery? For most of us, graveyards can produce very mixed feelings. They enshrine death but are also unintentional wildlife preserves, botanical gardens, and natural habitats. Neil Gaiman seemed acutely aware of this dual nature in his YA novel The Graveyard Book. Nobody "Bod" Owens is an orphaned boy who lives in an ancient English cemetery and has been raised by its resident ghosts and a benevolent vampire. For Bod, the cemetery is anything but a dreary place. It is a flourishing sanctuary that has protected and cared for him and may ultimately help him unravel the mystery of his parents’ brutal murder.

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