If you want a book that will lead you through numerous plot twists and switchbacks, but also explore big concepts like identity, marginalization, and injustice, then YA thrillers starring marginalized teens are your jam. As the YA thriller genre has grown, we are seeing more diverse and compelling books from a wide spectrum of voices that dive deep into how characters from various marginalized identities experience injustice and crime, and they run the range from dark and twisting to fast-paced and exciting. Dive in with any of these ten great YA thrillers!
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
Nora is the daughter of a con artist, but no one is supposed to know that. When she walks into a bank with her ex-boyfriend Wes and current girlfriend Iris, she’s hoping that it’ll be a few awkward minutes of depositing money from a fundraiser before they can part ways…but then two men hold up the bank with all three of them still inside. As they face a suddenly deadly situation, Nora is already strategizing a way out for them all — because there’s not a chance in hell that she trusts the two robbers not to kill them first. But when her past begins to peek through, Nora will have to make some potentially life-or-death decisions.
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
Jess is in love with her best friend Angie, but Angie doesn’t know it. That’s okay — Jess is content to wait for the perfect moment to make her feelings known. But when Angie begins dating a prep school girl, Jess is suspicious. The prep school girls have secrets, and they’re not from Jess and Angie’s world. Jess sticks close to Angie’s side, no matter how much is hurts, because she knows it’ll be a matter of time before they break up. And when someone is murdered, Jess is prepared to do what she has to in order to protect her best friend.
Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman
Aidan did not expect to find himself alone with an amazing hotel room for one night only in New York City, so he does what many teens might do — tries to find someone to hook up with. But when a right swipe on a dating app leads him to a hotel room where he finds a murdered guy and a flash drive, a case of mistaken identity sets the FBI on Aidan’s trail. Now he’s on the run through the city that never sleeps, and he can’t trust anyone — his friends, the authorities, or his family — as he tries to stay on step ahead of the people who killed his date, and prove his true identity!
The Obsession by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Logan is in love with Delilah…she just doesn’t know it yet. That’s okay. Logan can bide his time while he waits to convince Delilah they’re meant to be. And in the meantime, he’ll keep a close eye on her. But when Logan catches Delilah killing her mom’s abusive boyfriend on camera, he suddenly realizes that his beloved is no delicate flower. Meanwhile, Delilah has had enough of men trying to control her. She got rid of her mom’s boyfriend, and is excited to see that cute Logan is into her. But when Logan reveals himself to be just another controlling jerk, Delilah realizes that not even fleeing to her father’s home city of Singapore will get her out from under Logan’s thumb. But can she really get rid of him when he knows the worst thing she’s done?
You’re Next by Kylie Schachte
Flora once stumbled upon a classmate’s dead body, and that discovery — and the police force’s failure to find a killer — have haunted her for years. When she receives a text from Ava, a girl she’s been crushing on for ages, she agrees to meet Ava but instead arrives just in time to witness her murder. Now Flora is set on finding out who keeps killing her classmates, and why. Her investigation leads her close and closer to a dark conspiracy that has infiltrated her school, and if Flora keeps poking her nose into it, she could be next on the killer’s list.
Fake I.D. by Lamar Giles
Nick Pearson is not really his name. But it’s the name given to him by the Program when Nick and his family had to go undercover to escape some very bad things. And now in his new town and new school, Nick knows he should keep his head down and not act suspicious. But when his new friend Eli begins to pull back the layers of a massive conspiracy and then is murdered for what he discovered, Nick teams up with Eli’s sister Reya to solve Eli’s murder, even if it blows Nick’s family’s cover.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
Enchanted Jones wants nothing more than to sing. So when she’s plucked from obscurity at a national audition by none other than the Korey Fields, who offers to mentor her, it seems like a dream come true. He says all the rights things to make her parents trust him. So why does Enchanted wake up in his apartment with blood all over her hands and no memory of what happened the night before? It’s not long before the police close in on her, and finding out the truth may be the only thing that sets her free. Weaving back and forth between the past and present, this is a powerful thriller about power, influence, and abuse.
All Eyes On Us by Kit Frick
Amanda and Rosalie are both dating Carter Shaw, although they don’t know that. Not at first. Amanda is serious about Carter, but for Rosalie the relationship is just a decoy so her religious parents don’t find out about her secret girlfriend. When both girls start to receive anonymous text messages from someone who wants to take Carter down and demands their help, they’re not sure what to do. Is anonymous really someone that they can trust? But perhaps a better question is — can they really afford to get on anonymous’s bad side?
The Best Lies by Sarah Liu
Remy Tsai thought she had the most perfect life. She had an amazing best friend named Elise, and a perfect boyfriend named Jack. But in an instant, her entire life changes when Jack is shot dead…and Elise is the one who did it. Now the police are questioning Remy, trying to get at the heart of what happened. But each question forces Remy to reconsider everything she thought she knew about her relationships. Were things really as perfect as they seemed, or was she just imagining that they were?
Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass
When Connor bombs the SATs and then learns that the old man he delivers meals to has died, he comes out to his mom. But his mom does not take it well — she has him kidnapped and taken to Nightlight Ministries, a conversion “therapy” camp set on a secluded island where he can’t leave and he and his fellow campers are treated miserably. Not only that, but everyone is keeping secrets, and it’s apparent that the camp director can’t keep them safe. Connor hatches a plan for escape for not just him, but everyone who will come. And he’s going to take the entire camp down on the way.
Looking for more great YA thrillers? We’ve got you covered.