YA Mystery and Thrillers – Beyond Pretty Little Liars

This April the TV show Pretty Little Liars will premiere its second half of its 7th, and final, season. Fans of the teen mystery thriller franchise are preparing to say goodbye to the show based on Sara Shephard’s book series spanning 16 (!) novels.

While the Pretty Little Liars series is wonderfully crafted, Sara Shephard is not the only good YA mystery thriller writer.

In this post I will recommend three lesser known titles.


But first, why do readers much older than 18 enjoy and prefer YA mystery thrillers to adult novels of the same genre? I believe the appeal is two-fold.

Firstly, the brutality in acclaimed adult psychological thrillers is often very severe. For example, Karin Slaughter writes fantastic novels but it is not for the faint hearted. Her ‘Pretty Girls’ features sadistic torture, intercourse with corpses, and cattle branding on humans, just to name a few of the disturbing events.

Of course not all adult mysteries and thrillers are brutal and gory. Cozy mysteries are at the other end of the spectrum, featuring only mild violence. However, these books will often not satisfy readers that crave a psychologically interesting villain. Neither do FBI novels that are more concerned with explosions, car chase scenes and technological devices.

That’s where YA mystery thrillers come in. Adolescence is a tumultuous time period with lots of ups and downs. Betrayal hides behind each corner. It almost feels like every teen is Julius Ceasar desperate to protect their back from Brutus. Every decision, every misstep feels like the end of the world, aiding the tension building.

YA mystery thrillers dedicate a lot of time to internal monologue and the motivations of the torturer/killer, without featuring graphic violence.

Now that I’ve explored the appeal behind YA mystery thrillers let’s look at a few titles beyond the Pretty Little Liars series.

‘Between’ by Jessica Warman

Liz wakes up as a ghost. She can observe and follow her grieving friends and family everywhere, but only Alex, another ghost, can see her. In the novel Liz must remember the events that led to her and Alex’s deaths. She receives an opportunity to understand her mistakes and seek forgiveness.

‘Between’ is a captivating read. The mystery is very well plotted but beyond that Jessica Warman does a great job capturing the female, entitled, top-of-the-hierarchy teenage social class. Their concerns, worries and behavior are very believable and suck the reader into the coastal Connecticut town.


‘Don’t look back’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Samantha wakes up with amnesia, covered in blood from a weekend gone wrong. She has to remember what happened to her still missing best friend Cassie. As Samantha slowly regains her memories she realizes that just because she’s alive now doesn’t mean that she will stay alive.

The mystery of who hurt Cassie and why unfolds slowly. It is well plotted and believable. At one point or another everyone in ‘Don’t look back’ becomes a suspect. Samantha is rightfully terrified about trusting and opening up to the wrong person.

Almost every chapter ends on a cliffhanger. This novel held my attention from the very first page to the last.


‘The devil you know’ by Trish Doller

Stuck in a small town in Florida, filling the role of her deceased mother, Arcadia wants out. She itches to trade in her adult responsibilities for freedom to experience a normal teenage existence. When two guys on a road trip come through her town and invite her to go with them, she says yes. The trip starts out fun but soon turns dangerous. Arcadia realizes that one of the boys is not who he claims to be and has sinister intentions.

Trish Doller does a great job of creating empathy for Arcadia, who had to act beyond her age the last few years. When the fun road trip turns into a game of cat and mouse readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats rooting for Arcadia.


The above books are my top three YA mystery thrillers beyond Sara Shephard’s work. I hope you will enjoy my picks. Happy reading!

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