Mystery Books for Teens and Tweens

Mystery Books for Teens

Mysteries for teens, which is the YA market starting at age 12, so includes tweens, is an interesting genre. It combine suspense and sleuthing with all the teenage angst and social commentary you’d find in a regular young-adult novel. Mystery books for teens can have elements of different genres, such as dystopia, psychological thriller, and romance. They don’t need to be strictly about a crime.

As in other juvenile-market mysteries, the character solving the problems isn’t a professional detective, but a teen able to uncover clues that others can’t or don’t care enough to. With young adult books, the sky’s the limit with topics–unlike with books for younger kids, there’s no need to protect kids from the realities of the world. Violence, sex, death, bad parents –it’s all there.

But good mystery books for teens are far from lurid dime-store paperbacks; they’re explorations of the teen psyche, and help young adults process harsh reality. Their own reality is usually a lot less harsh, but fiction is rife with exaggeration for a purpose. It serves as a metapor, helping readers make sense of their own conflicts and desires.

mystery books for teens

One such example is NEED, aimed at kids age 12 and over, which takes a look at the dark side of social media. Clearly, the dark side isn’t fictional; online bullying has resulted in more than one death. The book shows how teens can become evil and almost zombie-like, obeying the demands of a social network.





One very popular, and good, mystery book for teens is John Green’s Paper Towns, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Mystery for Young Adults. It hooks you from the beginning with a sarcastic teen narrator’s keen observations of his high school peers. The writing really stands out with cleverness and keenly observed adolescent life.

YA is known for now being read by adults. Gone Girl is an example of crossover. The characters in it are older than teens, but they obey their less-than-mature impulses.  The directness and emotional zap of YA pulls in those much older.

As well, YA attracts very talented writers. Characters in it can live in the most romantic, risky, and fantastical worlds. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, main characters can occupy a vortex of hormones, humanity, and history or the future. So it’s no wonder that both authors and readers find teen books particularly appealing, and it’s not hard to find good mysteries for teens.

Books for teens and tweens are often read by those younger than the characters. The Rag and Bone Shop is renowned author Roger Cormier’s last book. It even has a page on Wikipedia. The protagonist here is a boy of only 12 who’s caught up in a murder mystery as both suspect and sleuth. Being a Yeats fan, I love the title. So even though many teens can read like adults, remember that you’re writing for a pretty large age range. There are also YA books read largely by aduls, such as Gone Girl. That book could be considered to be part of the “new adult” genre targets 18 to 30-year-olds.

A Madness So Discreet is a juicy Gothic thriller, something like Girl, Interrupted if it took place in a Victorian asylum in Boston. It’s got historical fiction and social commentary on the treatment of the mentally ill and of women. Protagonist Grace’s sharp memory and powers of observation make her a potent teen sleuth despite her label of madness.

Tips for Writing Good Mysteries for Teens

Like other children’s mysteries, mystery stories for teens will sprinkle clues throughout. They will offer a natural-sounding summary (not a laundry list) of clues at the end.

Also, as with other juvenile fiction, YA tends to have at least a hopeful ending, no matter how filled with despair the story is. Even The Hunger Games ends with SOME hope, despite all the killing. Adult novels can end on a total downer note.

Voice is of paramount importance. You have to capture how teens really talk. Don’t use archaic slang. Learn texting symbols.

The reading age for YA is 12 and up. Kids will read about a character who is older, but are less likely to read about a character who’s younger.

Girls will read novels starring boys, but boys are less likely to read novels with girls as the main characters. Be sure to vary your cast with interesting and diverse secondary characters.

Remember to build suspense. Raise the stakes. The main character should have progress and reversals. Don’t let them get too beaten down. The reader needs to identify with them. And remember that familiar writing techniques such as Chekhov’s gun, red herrings, and Macguffins also apply to teen and tween suspense.

Don’t get preachy or moralistic. Just tell an involving story. Mysteries for teenagers can be plot-driven. They should touch on deeper aspects of a teenager’s life, but they don’t have to deliver a moral or message.

end of Mystery Books for Teens

Also see my posts about picture book mysteries and chapter book and middle-grade mysteries.

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