The best YA mysteries that inspire writers (like me) to get to work

Who am I?

And Then the Sky Exploded came about after I traveled to Japan when my novel, Numbers, was awarded the Sakura Medal, a readers’ choice award voted on by the students in English speaking high school students in Japan. During my time touring and giving author presentations to schools in that wonderful country, I became interested in Japanese culture and history and eventually decided to write a novel exploring one of the most devastating moments of the 20th century—the exploding of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima during World War ll.

I wrote...


By David A. Poulsen,

Book cover of Numbers

What is my book about?

Numbers is a gripping account of a group of students in a high school where the most popular teacher in the school is also a holocaust denier. Fifteen-year-old Andy Crockett is one of those students. Andy wouldn't call himself the luckiest kid on earth. At home, his brother got all the looks and the smarts. And at school, he doesn't exactly fit: not with the Goths, not with the athletes, and certainly not with the brains. Not even, really, with The Six, a group of misfits who hang out with each other only because they can't stand hanging out with anyone else. Andy starts to realize that Mr. R's version of history doesn't quite match everyone else's, and that acing this particular class may cost more than he's willing to pay.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Why did I love this book?

Okay, so I’m cheating right off the bat because many will argue that the Flavia De Luce series, though it has an 11-year-old girl as its central character/narrator, is not YA. And, I admit, the brilliant Alan Bradley series is found in the general fiction section in many libraries. But, I don’t care. Teens who haven’t read the books should read the books. And for those readers who also want to write fiction, Bradley’s creation of the wonderful cast of characters, highlighted by the precocious, brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny Flavia is a creative writing class everyone needs to pay very close attention to. The mysteries are well crafted, the dialogue spot-on, the settings perfectly detailed and alive to the reader, but make no mistake, these books are Flavia and she is one of the truly wonderful achievements of recent fiction, YA or otherwise.

By Alan Bradley,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Flavia: Mystery Solver. Master Poisoner. 11 Years Old.

England 1950. At Buckshaw, the crumbling country seat of the de Luce family, very-nearly-eleven-year-old Flavia is plotting revenge on her older sisters.

Then a dead bird is left on the doorstep, which has an extraordinary effect on Flavia's eccentric father, and a body is found in the garden. As the police descend on Buckshaw, Flavia decides to do some investigating of her own.

Praise for the historical Flavia de Luce mysteries:
'The Flavia de Luce novels are now a cult favourite' Mail on Sunday

'A cross between Dodie Smith's I Capture…

I Killed Zoe Spanos

By Kit Frick,

Book cover of I Killed Zoe Spanos

Why did I love this book?

I Killed Zoe Spanos is absolutely contemporary, even using a true-crime podcast as a (successful) device in the telling of the story. I’m a sucker for false confession stories and in the story of Zoe, the victim who disappears on New Year’s Eve and whose body is found the following August; and Anna, who bears a strong resemblance to Zoe, and confesses to the murder, you have the makings of a potential can’t-put-it-down thriller. And author, Kit Frick, doesn’t miss the mark. A creepy cast of characters, wonderfully spooky settings, plenty of twists and turns—all brought to life by a gifted storyteller—make this one of my great favourites.

By Kit Frick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Killed Zoe Spanos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A People Best Book of Summer 2020
A Parade Best Book of Summer 2020
"The YA thriller of the summer." -Bustle

For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won't stay buried...

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the…

The Leaving

By Tara Altebrando,

Book cover of The Leaving

Why did I love this book?

So, what are the ingredients that make a thriller thrill? Well, let’s see. I’d probably start with suspense. It’s suspense that has us turning the pages late at night long after we should have turned out the lights and floated off into dreamland. Then there’s believability. I have to be able to believe that the things going on in the story actually happened or at least that they could have happened. Otherwise, why would I care? Then mix in characters that matter to me, twists and turns to set the mind spinning, and a well-told story…and that thriller should work. The Leaving works. The story of six kindergarten kids who disappear one day with five of them returning eleven years later—wow, that premise gives me chills just thinking about the possibilities. And Tara Altebrando takes us on a heart-grabbing thrill ride, brimming with suspense, believability, and those twists and turns I referred to, that will keep readers from leaving. This thriller thrills…in spades.

By Tara Altebrando,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Leaving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been. A riveting mystery for fans of We Were Liars.

Eleven years ago, six kindergartners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Today five of those kids return. They’re sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they’re entirely unable to…

The Cheerleaders

By Kara Thomas,

Book cover of The Cheerleaders

Why did I love this book?

You might get the idea that I lean to books with unexplained disappearances and/or deaths at the heart of the mystery. If you’re thinking that, you’re right. Except this time, instead of kindergarten kids, it’s five cheerleaders and they don’t all disappear at the same time or for the same reason. In fact, these victims don’t really disappear at all. But they are all gone—two killed in a car wreck, two murdered by the man next door (who is subsequently shot by police so no clues there) and the last girl dies by suicide. Five years later, as Monica, sister of the suicide victim, suddenly finds herself at the centre of a series of weird and scary circumstances, the reader soon realizes that Monica herself is in dire danger. What a terrific read.

By Kara Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cheerleaders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Cheerleaders is Kara Thomas' edge-of-your-seat thriller about an eerie sequence of seemingly unrelated events that leaves five cheerleaders dead.

'Sharp, brilliantly plotted, and totally engrossing' - Karen McManus, author of One of Us Is Lying

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident - two girls dead after hitting a tree on a rainy night.

Then the murders happened - two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it.

Monica's sister was the last cheerleader to die.…

None Shall Sleep

By Ellie Marney,

Book cover of None Shall Sleep

Why did I love this book?

Think Silence of the Lambs meets Veronica Mars. Same kind of tension with a great premise. The year is 1982. Emma Lewis, a serial killer survivor, and Travis Bell, a US Marshall trainee, are contracted by the FBI to interview juvenile killers to find possible solutions to cold cases. Cue the romantic music. Eventually the duo is asked to work on a current case with a deadly killer who is murdering teenagers and to do so they must co-opt the brutal convicted teenage killer, Simon Gutmunsson. This is a real bad dude and an expert in the art of manipulation. There are some predictable elements to this novel—like the inevitable attraction the ultra-dangerous Simon feels for Emma. But those issues are overcome by some darn good writing and the brilliant layering of the suspense by author, Ellie Marney.

By Ellie Marney,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked None Shall Sleep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1982, two teenagers-serial killer survivor Emma Lewis and US Marshal candidate Travis Bell-are recruited by the FBI to interview convicted juvenile killers and provide insight and advice on cold cases. From the start, Emma and Travis develop a quick friendship, gaining information from juvenile murderers that even the FBI can't crack. But when the team is called in to give advice on an active case-a serial killer who exclusively hunts teenagers-things begin to unravel. Working against the clock, they must turn to one of the country's most notorious incarcerated murderers for help: teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson.

Despite Travis's objections,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in criminal investigations, identity, and sisters?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about criminal investigations, identity, and sisters.

Criminal Investigations Explore 405 books about criminal investigations
Identity Explore 106 books about identity
Sisters Explore 177 books about sisters