The best YA mysteries that will have you channeling your inner Nancy Drew

Candice Marley Conner Author Of The Existence of Bea Pearl
By Candice Marley Conner

Who am I?

I grew up reading Nancy Drew books creekside in an Alabama swamp and developed a deep adoration of mysteries with atmospheric, creepy settings. I love the idea of strong female protagonists who take matters into their own hands and don’t sit idly by, so not only do I read books that have them as main characters, but I write them too. In addition to writing, I’m lucky enough to be a kidlit haint at a haunted indie bookshop, so reading and recommending the books I enjoy is literally my job!

I wrote...

The Existence of Bea Pearl

By Candice Marley Conner,

Book cover of The Existence of Bea Pearl

What is my book about?

If her brother could stop existing, could she too?

Sixteen-year-old Bea Pearl knows her brother isn’t dead—even if her parents don’t agree. Even if the entire town doesn’t believe her. She knows it’s true. When orders came to evacuate Lake George, Alabama due to rising floodwaters, Bea Pearl saw Jim head toward the river. She followed him. Only she returned. 

The books I picked & why

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Pride and Premeditation

By Tirzah Price,

Book cover of Pride and Premeditation

Why this book?

If you like your mysteries paired with retold classics—think Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie for tea—I highly recommend this one! Price superbly captured the essence of Austen's characters and made them all her own. Instead of Bingley's purchase of Netherfield starting the story, he’s accused of murdering his brother-in-law. Quick-witted and resourceful Lizzie Bennet is eager to prove her worth as a solicitor in her father's barrister office and takes on the case to the prideful Darcy's dismay. Collins' character is just as cringy, and charming Wickham is a Bow Street Runner, helping Lizzie on her case. (You want him to be good! Just this once, Wickham!)

No Beauties or Monsters

By Tara Goedjen,

Book cover of No Beauties or Monsters

Why this book?

Read this if you devour mysteries served with a side of science fiction. The main character, Rylie, moves back to Twentynine Palms in her grandfather’s old house in the Mojave Desert. Weird things are happening. Then Rylie finds out that her childhood best friend’s sister disappeared and her grandfather may be involved. Rylie keeps losing time. Who is the bad guy?? Nobody knows. Is it the grandfather? The guy on the news? The government Rylie’s mom works for? Her new stepbrother who may be too helpful? Her childhood bestie? Rylie herself? I couldn’t put this one down!

Dark and Shallow Lies

By Ginny Myers Sain,

Book cover of Dark and Shallow Lies

Why this book?

Dark and Shallow Lies is the perfect atmospheric thriller if you crave a mystery festering with swampy paranormal undercurrents. Set in a small coastal Louisiana town, Grey returns home intent on finding out what happened to her best friend Elora who disappeared six months earlier. You get to meet the Summer Children, eleven (but there used to be more!) psychic children who all have different gifts, like Evie’s ability to listen to the dead, Hart’s empathy, and Case’s knack to be in two places at once. This is another one where I wasn’t sure who was the bad guy. The plot twists are thicker than a mosquito swarm and faster than Willie Nelson’s alligator death roll.


By Maryanne Melloan Woods,

Book cover of Lazarus

Why this book?

Another good small-town mystery, I recommend Lazarus if you prefer your whodunits full of heart and humor. Margo and Hank are the sweetest teen detective couple since Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson. Only problem is Hank’s dead. 

The book is a dual POV, and their love for each other comes out of the pages as they grapple with what haunts them. In Margo's situation, the cold case death of her mother, and in Hank's, his accidental murderers plotting something nefarious, and wondering what's best for Margo--stay with her to protect her, or move on so she can too.

Every time I thought I figured out who the killer could be, Hank or Margo brought another neighbor’s secrets to light. The cornfield-filled, rural Nebraska setting lent creepy vibes.

These Wicked Waters

By Emily Layne,

Book cover of These Wicked Waters

Why this book?

If you like your sleuthing seaside—with mermaids!—I recommend These Wicked Waters. Our main character, Annie, reluctantly spends her summer working at her mother’s new island resort, but things get super mysterious when the staff starts disappearing and she learns about the island’s curse. Cursed islands give me immediate grabby hands. With nods to The Odyssey, the sirens in this story are not your friendly, musical-loving mermaids. And the hurricane at the end will have you on the edge of your seat. 

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