With deadly friends, spooky lights and literary clues, four new YA thrillers get twisted.
Reminiscent of Big Little Lies, The Best Lies starts off with a bang. A police detective is interrogating 17-year-old Remy Tsai about the murder of her boyfriend, Jack, who’s been shot by her best friend, Elise. Through alternating timelines, debut author Sarah Lyu compellingly builds a gripping slow burn of a psychological thriller.
When Remy meets Elise in her suburban Atlanta town, Remy rejoices that she’s met her “soulmate” because both girls feel like “misfit toys who don’t belong anywhere.” Remy’s highly successful but constantly feuding Chinese–American parents are unable to escape their toxic marriage, while Remy’s older brother, Christian, is their golden child as well as the senior class president. Elise’s mother abandoned her years ago and later died, and her father, who’s rarely around, physically abuses her. Believing that revenge is power, Elise starts a gang called the Deadly Vipers and dreams up a series of increasingly destructive, illegal pranks to play on students, teachers and, eventually, her father. As Remy finds herself drawn to Jack, she slowly realizes that her friendship with Elise is as poisonous as her parents’ long-dead marriage. Remy begins to understand that Elise’s “secrets were unmapped mines that exploded when discovered,” and tensions rapidly escalate once she tries to extricate herself from Elise’s clawlike grip. Lyu, who suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, has created a powerful spiderweb of toxic relationships in this intricate, page-turning thriller.
Araceli Flores Harper is the globe–trotting daughter of two journalists reporting from perilous parts of the world. When they head to Venezuela, they send Araceli to her great-aunt Ottilie’s Victorian home, where they trust she’ll be safe. But the New York town at the center of Heartwood Box has a “Stranger Things” vibe, with weird “ghost lights” shining in the woods, people disappearing (including Ottilie’s husband, 20 years ago) and ultrasecretive work carried out in a heavily guarded laboratory. Inexplicably, after discovering a decorative wooden box in a room full of junk, Araceli finds herself corresponding—and falling in love—with a World War I soldier named Oliver. Meanwhile, she befriends Logan, the boy across the street whose sheriff father physically abuses him. As friendships deepen, so do the mysteries, and several of Araceli’s new friends disappear. Author Ann Aguirre skillfully weaves a multitude of plot threads into a taut thriller of time travel, history and heroic teens. As likable, capable Araceli notes: “Never underrate the power of determined teenagers.”
Fear Him. Those two words painted on an underpass greet Clara Morrison soon after she arrives in a fictional New England town in The Missing Season, Edgar Award finalist Gillian French’s tensely seductive novel of friendship, love and unexplained teen disappearances.
Clara has moved yet again, this time to the dying town of Pender, Maine, where her father is helping to demolish the town’s mill. As Halloween approaches, townies caution her to beware, because that’s when the legendary Mumbler rises out of the marsh to grab unsuspecting teens. The warnings make Clara uneasy, but she tries to focus on making new friends. When she cuts class with two of them, Bree and Sage, she realizes “how badly I want to be in on this, part of them, the third weird sister.” She also falls for Kincaid, a kindhearted but increasingly enigmatic skateboarder. When another girl goes missing, Clara and her new crew are led into danger as they search for her body. As Kincaid explains, “When you’re scared so much, it gets to be part of you.” Readers will find themselves quickly drawn into French’s evocative mystery.
Poor Lucinda Leavitt. She’s bored out of her mind in her numbing role of being ladylike in 1861 England in The Last Word, Samantha Hastings’ refreshing, intriguing debut historical mystery. Lucinda has just graduated from Miss Holley’s Finishing School for Young Ladies and is supposed to be attracting a suitor, but what she’d rather be doing is working in her father’s accounting firm, putting her mathematical skills to use. Her only salvation is reading each installment of a romance called She Knew She Was Right. When she eagerly sits down to read the last chapter, Lucinda is in for a shock: The author, Mrs. Smith, has died, leaving her work unfinished. Lucinda decides to investigate, and knowing that she’s unlikely to get far in her world without the help of a man, she enlists her father’s young partner, handsome David Randall, once her childhood friend. Their explorations are full of fascinating historical details and literary allusions, and interestingly, an author’s note explains that Hastings was inspired by a real-life Victorian serial, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, which was left unfinished.
Lucinda, a young Victorian woman with a modern sensibility well ahead of her time, has plenty of pluck and determination. Hastings’ breezy prose and crafty plotting will leave readers racing to uncover her own last installment.