Thrills, chills, dark and dangerous... These titles reflect some of the best books for teen and 'tween readers.
For our purposes, gothic fantasy characterizes the make-believe (as opposed to "horror," which features real-life possibility), and suspense stories are those that take us to the edge and leave us there.
THE CREEK by Jennifer L. Holm (HarperCollins, 2003). Penny Carson and the rest of the neighborhood kids just want to build their treehouse above the creek and have a fun summer. But the infamous Caleb Devlin - who was sent away after terrorizing the town - has returned. A realistic and suspenseful thriller. Ages 12-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.
THE KILLER'S COUSIN by Nancy Werlin (Delacorte, 1998). Having been acquitted of murdering his girlfriend, David, 17, becomes withdrawn from guilt, fear, and mourning. At his parents' prompting, he moves in with his aunt, uncle, and eleven-year-old cousin Lily to escape media attention and start anew. But this new beginning heightens family tensions, rekindles feelings of another loss, and triggers more than one kind of haunting. Fully realized characters. Convincingly contemporary in voice and setting. Suspenseful and brilliant. Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery. Ages 12-up. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. (Suspense.)
LOCKED INSIDE by Nancy Werlin (Delacorte, 2000). Marnie Skyedottir, 16, sees an online game, Paliopolis, as an escape from her exclusive boarding school and identity as a deceased icon's daughter. As the Sorceress Llewellyne, her rival is the quick-thinking Elf. As Marnie her grades are tumbling and interpersonal relations suffering. Then her attraction and uncertainty both rise when Elf finds out personal information about Marnie's real life, but when she is kidnapped by a psychotic, it's Elf who attempts rescue. His failure leaves him with a gunshot wound and both of them in locked inside the basement of a dangerous and delusional captor. Smart, and romantic in a non-clichéd way. This is a must-read for suspense fans and a refreshing portrayal of the strengths of characters who may not fit the norm. Ages 12-up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Suspense.)
note: author Nancy Werlin has written a number of suspense novels for young adult readers; they are all highly recommended. Read a chatlog from the YA Authors Cafe of a chat with Nancy Werlin.
MISSING ABBY by Lee Weatherly (David Fickling, 2004). Emma and Abby used to be best friends and share their love of fantasy and sci fi, but that was back when Karen Sipp called Emma a "freak." A new school offered a new chance to start over, to be cool, and so Emma left Abby and their friendship behind. Then one day Emma sees Abby on a bus, and the next she knows, no one may ever see Abby again. Ages 10-up.
THE MORGUE AND ME by John C. Ford (Viking, 2009). The summer after high school graduation, Christopher lands a job in the morgue of his small town in Michigan. But when he discovers the coroner apparently took money to cover up a murder, he takes action, and his efforts to uncover the murderer lead to a web of deceit and intrigue that reaches the town's highest levels of political power, as well as closer to home than he'd like. An intriguing tale of death, lies, blackmail, corruption, and the evils of golf. Ages 12-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Read The Story Behind The Story from John C. Ford.
RUNNING OUT OF TIME by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Jessie has always thought that she lived in a small frontier town. She always thought she knew what year it was. In this realism suspense thriller, Jessie finds out she was wrong. Children's lives are at risk as she runs to find help in a time and place very different than the world she thought she was growing up in. Compelling, high interest story. Ages 8-up.
THIS SIDE OF PARADISE by Steven L. Layne (Pelican, 2002). Jack Barrett's perfectionist dad has finally taken things too far — expecting his family to leave their whole lives behind and move to a corporate-owned town called Paradise, one ruled by Dad's obsessive CEO, Mr. Eden. But that's just the beginning. Paradise may be "perfect," but that perfection comes at the ultimate price. A fast-paced, fascinating read by a first-rate plotter. (See author site link in sidebar for reviews, awards, study guide, etc.) Ages 10-up.