Best Thriller Books for Teens & Their Murder-Loving Mamas

It’s weird but it’s true: Most people love to be scared.

As a little girl I crawled under my blankets at night to read Nancy Drew by the light of a dimming flashlight.

As a teen I discovered the gothic thrills that books like Jane Eyre, Jamaica Inn, and Mary Stewart titles could give me.

And now, as a grown up bookworm, I eat up thrillers like they’re going out of style (thankfully, they’re not).

In fact, if I do pick up the occasional chic lit, family drama, or self-help book, I end up bored and whispering,

Mama needs a good murder…

My family is leery of me, but what else is new?

So if you’re a teen, or you know a teen, who is obsessed with things that go bump in the night, here are 11 of my favorite teenage thriller books, plus 50 more that I haven’t personally read (most of them) but have heard are excellent.

11 Best Thriller Books for Teens

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A Taste for Monsters

By Matthew J. Kirby

It’s 1888. Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London. Evelyn, a disfigured young factory girl, is hired to take care of the Elephant Man in the hospital.

In A Taste for Monsters, the worlds of these three characters collide in a fascinating and clever way. The Elephant Man and Evelyn have a lovely friendship, there’s a hint of a romance, and there are lots of ghosts, chills, twists, and turns.

This is an unusual tale by a talented author.

The Other Side of Midnight

By Simone St. James

The Other Side of Midnight is a fun mystery centering around the world of psychics and mediums after the great war, when that kind of entertainment and desperation was in vogue and in demand.

The characters are fun and unusual, the love story is a nice slow burn, and the supernatural elements didn’t go too far over the top, but instead were creepy and nicely done.

Simone St. James is just a fun, fun author, and now that I have read all of her equally good thrillers, I am quite sad. While not a Young Adult book, per se, they remind me of the gothic thrillers I used to eat up as a teenager.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

By April Genevieve Tucholke

I read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in one day, so I must have been intrigued!

Tucholke is great with suspenseful stories. Usually YA is as predictable as the day is long, but I definitely didn’t know where this story was going and had to keep reading to find out.

Semi-spoiler alert… I’d take off a star just because when the outcome is some character you’ve never met or a story line has a back story you weren’t told about, it feels a little like cheating somehow. (Like reading a mystery and it’s revealed that the butler did it, and the butler wasn’t even mentioned in the book until the last two chapters.)

But that aside, I really had a great time reading this and couldn’t put it down. It went to the park while my son threw footballs past my head, it was in my hand as I stirred spaghetti sauce, and it went to bed with me until I turned the last page.

Anyone who can make me believe – without groaning – in teenage insta-romance, throw in some really goofy names (River West, Sunshine, Violet White), and then change the ghost aspects to supernatural/mind reading type aspects (which generally annoy me; why can’t we have some real ghosts, eh?) has this 42 year old’s respect.

There’s also a sequel, called Between the Spark and the Burn.

The Caged Graves

By Dianne K. Salerni

Here is a sweet historical mystery that would be excellent for pre-teens or younger teenagers who want something a little different. I think I would have found it rather swoon-worthy as a twelve or thirteen year old.

The impetus for the author writing The Caged Graves was very intriguing: graves having cages, why and who would do that? Were they keeping people out or keeping the dead in?

The beginning felt stronger than the last half, and I admit to skimming the last three chapters or so because my interest had waned.

It never got very scary though (in fact, I was thinking of a Scooby Doo ending – the bad guys would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!), so that’s why I would recommend to younger girls who want just a taste of romance and mystery. 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

By Cat Winters

It’s been a long while since I’ve read such a page turner! Especially one written for teens. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a good one.

I really had no idea where this book was going to go (I had all sorts of ideas – none of which were correct), and since the synopsis is rather vague and I didn’t read many reviews, it was a lovely kind of suspenseful.

I read it all in one day (with visions of the author growling at me, since I know how annoying it is when it takes years to write something and your reader blows through it). A spooky, supernatural, historical YA.


Paper Valentine

By Brenna Yovanoff

Yovanoff is one of the Scream Queens of YA literature, and for good reason. Her stories are freaky, scary, bloody, slightly gory, and you’ll read them at a fast rate while your heart races.

In Paper Valentine, Hannah’s best friend Lillian has been murdered by a serial killer during the hottest summer on record. Hannah would like to forget Lillian and move on, but she is haunted by ghost girls and terrifying secrets.

It’s up to her to confront the Valentine Killer… without becoming his next victim.

Anna Dressed in Blood

By Kendare Blake

I loved the plot right off the bat: the teenage ghost hunter who falls in love with the tragically murdered (and murdering) girl in a haunted house.

This is definitely a thriller and is not for the faint of heart!

Cas is a teenage ghost hunter, and Anna is the murdered ghost he is determined to find.

The problem? She’s got quite a rage problem, and who can blame her!

Anna Dressed in Blood is a creepy tale that will keep your teen up late at night, afraid to go get a midnight snack in the dark kitchen.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

By Holly Black

Black is a force to be reckoned with in the world of teen thrillers. She writes scary and sexy, so her books are best for older teens.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown one tells the story of Tana, a girl who lives in a world of monsters, corpses, predators, prey, vampires, and ex-boyfriends. Coldtown is a walled city, and once you get in, you’ll never leave…

Shadow and Bone

By Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo is a master world builder, and Shadow and Bone sucked in me from the very beginning.

There are monsters, impenetrable darkness, refugees, war-ravaged countries, lavish kingdoms, and royal courts.

I am about to reread this one – it was THAT good – and then move onto Book Two, Siege and Storm, and Book Three, Ruin and Rising.

Oh, and it’s getting the series treatment from Netflix.

These Shallow Graves

By Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly is one of my favorite authors (the Tea Rose series, oh my stars and garters, so good). So I was delighted to find her very first YA novel.

While it may be a tad predictable for grown-ups, These Shallow Graves is a great book for the teen crowd, especially if they love some angst, murder, love triangles, kick-butt sidekicks, insta-love, evil family members, Jack the Ripper, creepy asylums, and witty banter.

If you love Donnelly: She appears on my list of What to Read Next If You Loved Outlander, along with some other great books and series. Just sayin’.

Shadows Gray

By Melyssa Williams (hey, that’s me!)

Sonnet Gray has problems, and not just those of a typical 18 year old. Her family is one of the Lost; time travelers who have no power over their journeys.

Hopelessly old-fashioned and yet more modern than most girls, Sonnet speaks several languages and takes care of her motley crew back home by working in a coffee shop and playing guitar.

Over time, the Lost leave behind those they love and pick up new characters along the way. In twenty-first century America, Sonnet meets Emme, a Lost young woman with a questionable line of work; Luke, a mysterious photographer; and Israel, a young doctor.

But no one can take the place of Sonnet’s sister, Rose, who was left behind as a baby in the fifteenth century. The ghost of her sister beckons from each time and place; but what’s real and what isn’t? Is Rose Gray trying to contact her before it’s too late?

A ghost story with a sci-fi, Gothic romance twist, Shadows Gray will keep you up at night, wondering: is the redemptive power of love enough to change history?

While not a thriller, per se, it’s the beginning of a pretty creepy trilogy. Book Two, Shadows Falling, I’ve been told has given several grown adults nightmares for weeks.

Are YA Thrilled Yet?

There you have it…

Eleven great and murder-y YA thrillers to keep your teen up at night.

It’s okay, they sleep all day anyway.

And while they sleep, mama can steal their books….

51 More Exciting Teen Thrillers

Look! More books! These are all from my list, either have-read or to-read. Maybe this will help both of your lists grow too.

* denotes ones I have personally read and recommend

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Best YA Thriller Books for Teens