Choosing the best mystery books for teens is no easy task; the genre isn’t the most popular when it comes to young adult fiction, but of the many out there, there are just so many that are really, really great. And, unlike other genres, there is a good pedigree of classic stories that teens can enjoy too, a few of which are on this list. The list of the best mystery books for teens spans centuries – not just decades.
The best mystery books for teens
1. Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Ace of Spades is the last entry on this list, but it made a big splash in the YA book world, so it had to be included here. It’s Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut novel, and Ace of Spades is so good that people are already anxious to see what it will produce next.
At Niveus Private Academy, the anonymous Ace is determined to reveal dark secrets, and they have two students in their sights. Devon is a musician and Chiamaka is the principal, and both have things they prefer not to share with the students. There is one twist in Ace of Spades that is sure to get teens talking.
2. The arsonist – Stephanie Oakes
The Incendiary is a very strange book, dividing readers almost straight down the middle as to whether they really liked it or not. But the people who really, really love it love it – and it’s one of the best mystery books for teens who are confident readers who enjoy complex stories.
Molly is a teenage girl with a dad on death row. Pepper is a Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy about to miss school. Molly receives a mysterious package that brings them both together, and they end up trying to solve the mystery surrounding the murder of Ava Dreymon, an East German resistance fighter who died in 1989. The arsonist is a puzzle, and so much the better for this.
3. The Falcon Malteser – Anthony Horowitz
Anthony Horowitz, of Alex Rider fame, started his series The Diamond Brothers in the ’80s, long before Alex Rider was a glint in his eyes. In general, the Diamond Brothers’ books – on the world’s worst private investigator – are aimed at a younger audience, but there will be less confident teen readers they’re just perfect for.
In The Falcon’s Malteser, Detective Tim Diamond and his younger brother Nick are tasked with handling a mysterious package. When they attempt to investigate the package, they are arrested and questioned – and so begins a conspiracy filled with shenanigans worthy of any hard-core 1940s crime film. Horowitz is a funny writer, and reluctant readers will find his prose easy to understand. understand.
4. High Rise Mystery – Sharna Jackson
High-Rise Mystery is another perfect book for young teens or for less confident readers. Jackson is funny, keeps his story quick and lively, and the plot is smart. High-Rise Mystery comes from Knights Of, this shiny new publishing house focused on various stories, so you know that will be great in that regard as well.
Sister Nik and Norva find their community art teacher murdered in their field and immediately set about solving the crime. Even before the police intervene, they identify suspects and search for people with the means. The evidence takes them in a direction they’d rather not think about, but the sisters are sleuths at heart and determined to get to the bottom of it.
5. Holes – Louis Sacher
Holes is a modern classic when it comes to YA novels, and certainly one of the best mystery books for teenagers. So many teenagers read it in school that it has become a bit of an institution, but for anyone who missed this seminal experience, the book is ready and waiting to be appreciated.
Stanley Yelnat is sent to the Camp Green Lake juvenile detention center after a miscarriage of justice. Every day, he and his detained friends have to dig a hole and bring back whatever they find. The director says it’s good for them, but Stanley goes to find out the truth. Holes is a very unique book, endlessly memorable, and one that all teenagers should consult when they can.
6. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
And now for something completely different. Sherlock Holmes is, of course, an icon. The literary detective. It would be completely remiss not to include it on a list of the best mystery books for teenagers. The Hound of The Baskervilles is a classic, but it’s not even that hard to navigate; Conan Doyle writes quite simply.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is Sherlock Holmes’ third novel, but arguably the most famous and almost certainly the best. Holmes and Watson are on Dartmoor, trying to solve the mystery of a legend about a terrifying supernatural dog and the attempted murder that lured them to the moor. The Hound of the Baskervilles is just scary enough that teens would be rocked by the story, but not that scary too much.
7. The Tree of Lies – Frances Hardinge
The Lie Tree, by author extraordinary YA Hardinge, is a historical mystery that’s sure to keep more confident teen readers on the edge of their seat. Hardinge is a master of tone and direction; reading parts of this novel alone at night is likely to be a little scary, actually. It stages a remarkably frightening scene.
Faith Sunderly and her family have suddenly left England to live on Vane Island, where her father, Reverend Erasmus, can dig for fossils to add to his collection. Faith feels there is more to the story than just fossils, and as her parents manage to upset many of the island’s inhabitants in no time, her sense of dread only worsens. When Faith discovers the real reason for their move to the island – and her father is found dead – she knows she must unravel the mystery for herself.
8. The mystery of the London Eye – Siobhan Dowd
The London Eye Mystery is one more book on this list that’s perfect for less confident teenage readers, or those who just want an easier thriller of a novel to walk through. And they’ll read this quickly, that’s for sure; Dowd knows precisely how to keep his young readers on the edge of their seats and turn the pages.
Ted and Kat watch their cousin Salim board the London Eye, but when his pod returns to the ground half an hour later, Salim isn’t there. How could he disappear into thin air? Ted and Kat don’t always get along, but they manage to work together well enough to follow the clues across London as they search for Salim.
9. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie
There’s room for another classic on this list of the best teen mystery books, and just as no list is complete with Arthur Conan Doyle, she obviously needs Agatha Christie too. A lot of young readers who get into detective novels really take a look at Christie’s work; she’s always entertaining, and her mysteries are always just evil enough that the answer is out of reach.
The Mysterious Affair At Styles is as good a place as any place to start a job. This is Hercule Poirot’s very first novel and not as complicated as some of the later works tend to be, so it’s a great introduction to Christie’s work. An elderly woman is found poisoned in her mansion and Poirot is asked to help solve the mystery. All the key elements of Poirot’s novels are featured here, and young mystery fans are sure to love them.
10. Shadowshaper – Daniel José Older
Shadowshaper is an urban fantasy novel, short and sharp, and linked to the plot. While not a mystery story like many on this list, it does contain elements of mystery and could be the perfect compromise for teens who aren’t sure they like mysteries.
Sierra Santiago can’t wait for summer until a zombie guy shows up at the first party of the year. Then his very ill grandfather starts saying he’s sorry over and over again. Then the graffiti starts to cry and Sierra realizes that something very strange is going on. Sierra falls into a story that involves Shadowshaper spirits, magic used for nefarious purposes, and an ill-intentioned big bad guy to wipe out Sierra herself.
11. A study in Charlotte – Brittany Cavallaro
Sherlock Holmes is ripe for re-imaginations, and A Study In Charlotte is one such reinvention. Located in today’s Connecticut, Holmes’ great-great-great-granddaughter himself inherited his ancestor’s genius but also his lively temper. Jamie Watson, descendant of Holmes, is not thrilled to end up in the same school as Charlotte.
But then there is a mysterious death, and the two are charged with murder. Jamie and Charlotte are forced to deal with the strained energy of their almost rival relationship and reunite to try to clear their names. Sherlock Holmes fans were ecstatic when this book came out, and teens will love the reimagining of the classic tale.
12. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
We Were Liars has been huge on the book side of TikTok, a novel that young people can’t help but talk about despite being over seven now. The book is more of a psychological thriller than an outright mystery, but just like Shadowshaper, it might just be what it takes to introduce teens to the genre.
We Were Liars talks about mistakes and discusses their consequences. The seemingly perfect Sinclair family spend their summers on their private island. The older cousins are known as The Liars, and by the 15th summer, Cadence suffers from a serious head injury that makes her addicted to pain relievers. When she finally returns to the island in the 17th summer, things aren’t the same – and she’s determined to find out why.
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