The best non-mystery youth novels that are really mysteries

Thomas B. Cavanagh Author Of Head Games
By Thomas B. Cavanagh

Who am I?

I am an award-winning mystery author of several private detective novels. All of my recommendations have an especially sentimental appeal since they were favorites of my son when he was younger. As we read them together, my mystery novelist sensibility couldn’t help but notice the classic crime story elements in all of these books. Dressed up as middle-grade fantasies, each of these novels uses the structures, tropes, and conventions of the mystery genre to propel its plot forward.


I wrote...

Head Games

By Thomas B. Cavanagh,

Book cover of Head Games

What is my book about?

With two ex-wives, a fifteen-year-old daughter who hates him, and a soon-to-be-fatal brain tumor nicknamed Bob, retired police detective Mike Garrity doesn’t have a lot to live for. However, when twenty-two-year-old TJ Sommerset, a millionaire member of the hit boy band Boyz Klub goes missing, Mike is offered the job of a lifetime to find him. It doesn’t hurt that Mike’s daughter is TJ’s biggest fan. So Mike is all too happy to make one last attempt to impress her. Yet, it isn’t long before Mike discovers that there are other people looking for TJ as well. And once a headless corpse shows up, it’s clear that they’re not just after him for his autograph.

The books I picked & why

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

By J.K. Rowling,

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Why this book?

Besides the fact that it is one of the most popular books ever written, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is also, at its heart, a mystery. The main characters of Harry, Ron, and Hermione become sleuths convinced that someone is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. There is danger, red herrings, and suspects, even revealing that their main suspect of Professor Snape wasn’t the villain they initially thought. In fact, several of the Harry Potter series books are essentially mysteries (e.g. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

By J.K. Rowling,

Why should I read it?

27 authors picked Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Galloping gargoyles ... 2022 is the silver anniversary of J.K. Rowling's magical classic Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone!

The boy wizard Harry Potter has been casting a spell over young readers and their families ever since 1997. Now the first book in this unmissable series celebrates 25 years in print! The paperback edition of the tale that introduced us to Harry, Ron and Hermione has been updated and dressed in silver to mark the occasion. It's time to take the magical journey of a lifetime ...

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping…


The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan,

Book cover of The Lightning Thief

Why this book?

Another family favorite when it was released, it purports to be an exciting contemporary fantasy novel (and it is). However, it is also very much a crime story. Zeus’ lightning bolt has been stolen and it is up to Percy Jackson and his friends to track it down. In a quasi-private detective assignment, Percy and his friends set out to solve the mystery and recover the bolt. And, like a true mystery, there are false suspects, twists, and surprises along the way.

The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Lightning Thief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Lightning Thief: the First book in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

The first bestselling book in Rick Riordan's phenomenally successful Percy Jackson series.

Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That's when things started really going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends, and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky,…


Artemis Fowl

By Eoin Colfer,

Book cover of Artemis Fowl

Why this book?

Yes, it’s about elves, centaurs, and gnomes. But it is also very much a mystery. Part police procedural with Capt. Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police, part ransom caper, and part ticking bomb suspense, Artemis Fowl mixes all of these classic crime components with fantasy, scatological humor, and unexpected twists to create a story both original and familiar. Another much-loved selection from the Cavanagh library.

Artemis Fowl

By Eoin Colfer,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Artemis Fowl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now an original movie on Disney+!

Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous--and extremely high-tech--fairies. He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family's fortune. But he may have underestimated the fairies' powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?

Disney's “Artemis Fowl” is directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonzo Anozie, with Josh Gad, and Judi Dench.


The City of Ember

By Jeanne DuPrau,

Book cover of The City of Ember

Why this book?

The central theme running through the book’s post-apocalyptic landscape is a series of clues that must be solved, in true mystery fashion. Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow follow the signs left behind by the original builders of the underground City of Ember to escape to the outside world. Along the way, the reader is pulled further and further into the story, trying to understand this strange world and decipher the meaning of the clues alongside our intrepid heroes. Also thrown in is some old-fashioned political corruption to add to the mystery feel.

The City of Ember

By Jeanne DuPrau,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The City of Ember as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ember is the only light in a dark world. But when its lamps begin to flicker, two friends must race to escape the dark. This highly acclaimed adventure series is a modern-day classic-with over 4 MILLION copies sold!

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to dim. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she's sure it holds a secret that will save the city. Now, she and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues to…


A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning

By Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Book cover of A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning

Why this book?

The first installment in the Series of Unfortunate Events collection, The Bad Beginning establishes the premise of the extended mystery throughline that runs through all the books. In this first novel, the crime in question is Count Olaf’s attempt to steal the orphans’ inheritance. Yet, a deeper and more complex mystery undergirds this and each of the novels, culminating in the meaning of the tattoos and the mysterious letters VFD.

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning

By Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked A Series of Unfortunate Events #1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning is the first book in the globally bestselling series A Series of Unfortunate Events. This exclusive gold foiled 20th anniversary hardback gift edition commemorates the miserable fact that every child in the world has wanted this brilliantly funny book for twenty years.

Perfect for fans of Roald Dahl and Mr Gum, young readers of 9 to 11 will adore the mischievously dark humour. Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' has been made into a blockbuster Hollywood film starring Jim Carrey and is also a hit Netflix TV series. Now with new anniversary blurb by…


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