“So many books, so little time” – with that, Frank Zappa surely spoke my mind, and I’m sure that thought resonates with you, too. There are so many “must-read” lists put out each week shortlisting a book or a certain genre, that discovering your next great read can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But if you’re looking for something different, something that’s more of a crossover between two genres, why not pick something with the lightheartedness of Young Adult (YA) and the edge-of-the-seat thrill that comes with suspense-driven novels? The next genre you should add to your TBR list is YA thriller.
While YA generally touches upon themes like love and friendship, they also often take us on a journey of self discovery and blooming identity. Thrillers, on the other hand, are plot-driven and usually feature adult characters facing real-life problems. All the elements of the individual genres – like theme mismatch, age opposition, and audience disparity – make it seem impossible to combine the two. “So, why YA thrillers?” you would wonder.
Opposites don’t just attract, they make magic too!
To give you an example, when I was learning to cook, someone with culinary expertise shared a tip with me. They said, “if you want to make something extraordinary, pick two completely unrelated elements, and creatively put them together”. And that’s the magic behind the YA thriller recipe as well. When (seemingly) diametrically opposite genres are married to create a YA thriller, the stark contrast between the two seems to mysteriously vanish. What remains are storylines that will make the audience salivate and beg for more. Perfect example: the Netflix show Stranger Things. Do you know anyone who isn’t obsessed with it?
While today’s YA audience still loves the angsty romance and finding yourself themes, they also crave dark, blood-soaked secrets uncovered through tension-packed storylines. When a young protagonist is thrown in the midst of a crisis that they need to fight their way out of – either physically or mentally – it makes the plot even more compelling. A lot of times we see the main character transition from a lively, spirited teen to someone who’s grim and guarded because of the things that have happened to them. It makes for a much more multi-dimensional character development and storyline.
While adult thrillers certainly have a very loyal audience, readers are increasingly being drawn towards mystery and thrillers that feature younger characters. Authors like Hannah Jayne and Vincent Ralph have flawlessly captured the essence of teenagers that are thrown into circumstances so much bigger than them, and are forced to grow up too soon. While these characters appeal to the younger audience that craves the fear and thrill of a killer read, more mature readers will appreciate the nostalgia of YA thrillers as these books bring about memories of readers’ teenage years.
And because it’s trending!
If you’re always the first one in your circle of friends to try something new and blaze a new trail, you’re definitely a trend setter! No doubt you’re probably a fan of Stranger Things and movie adaptations of blockbuster books like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. So it wouldn’t be surprising if you are the first of your friends to jump onto the YA thriller bandwagon! You know that stories featuring younger characters and cryptic, twisted plot lines are where it’s at (as witnessed by the everpopular streaming service Netflix whose TV show line-up is packed to the brim with this genre). Everyone from editors, agents, and even movie directors are touting this genre as one to watch due to its multi-dimensional appeal.
Here’s what Director of the Bent Agency’s U.K. office, Molly Ker Hawn had to say about Karen M. McManus’ 2017 debut One of Us Is Lying:
“One of Us Is Lying was a title I kept hearing foreign publishers say they were doing well with, or wished they’d bought.”
In speaking to the fear element of YA thrillers, Karen M. McManus’ Agent, Rosemary Stimola commented:
“Facing fears and crossing physical, social, cultural, racial, and psychological boundaries, YA novels have come of age—not just reflecting the world, but looking to change it.”
Stimola also noted:
“It is clear that YA thrillers have stepped into a high-market spotlight. Adult readers have begun to cross over, finding the same slow burn suspense and utter shock in pages featuring younger protagonists.”
It’s clear that YA thrillers are here to stay as so many of us crave the thrill of a good suspense novel with an intricately woven plot and characters that feel real. When talking about Jesse Q. Sutanto‘s The Obsession, Kirkus Reviews writes:
“Set against a Northern California private school backdrop, the sensational plot is riddled with twists that come at a furious pace…A suspenseful page-turner.”
While books like 14 Ways To Die, The Girl in the Headlines, Truly, Madly, Deadly, and The Obsession are astoundingly relevant today, another YA thriller subgenre holds a certain appeal for many readers. Historical fiction sales have gone through the roof in the past few years. This is particularly true for historical thrillers that intertwine true crime, which adds a fascinating twist to the story.
Bryce Moore’s debut novel, The Perfect Place To Die, for example, will appeal to fans of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series, with its dark ambiance and heart-pounding suspense and a storyline that prominently features a notorious serial killer. If true crime is your jam, you will devour this book!
While thrillers are not new to YA this relatively new trend is here to stay as are subgenres such as historical fiction and true crime. So if you’re extremely bookish like me, I bet you’re just as excited about what’s to come! Check out these YA thrillers and while you’re at it, enter our giveaway where you could win your own copy of these books along with some spooky bookish merchandise!