Twisty Teen Mysteries: Sara Shepard's YA Must-Reads

Posted by Marie on April 2, 2018
Goodreads Mystery & Thriller Week 2018

Mystery & Thriller Week is sponsored by Penguin Random House Audio. Enjoy the suspense on audio.

When it comes to teens who juggle solving crimes with acing class, there's no better expert than Sara Shepard. As the author of The New York Times-bestselling series and hit TV show Pretty Little Liars, Shepard is familiar with the unique challenges these young sleuths face. It's a theme she continues to explore in her upcoming New Adult mystery-thriller, The Elizas (available April 17). Here, she shares her take on the thrill of reading YA mysteries and some of her favorite recommendations.



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I haven't been stalked. I haven't been kidnapped. I haven't come upon a dead body in the woods. All things considered, I had a pretty idyllic childhood: roller-skating, summers at the pool, an obsession with my Golden Retriever. There was barely any strife in my family worth noting. So why then was I obsessed with books about mysteries and mayhem and secrets at a very early age?

Why did I devour Stephen King novels under the covers? And why, even in my earliest attempts at fiction, were my stories always about girls going missing, or friends found dead, or—my favorite—a young girl being gaslighted by her crazy older sister? It's a good thing my parents never read those stories. They might have been concerned.

I'm not the only person drawn to reading mysteries and thrillers, though. These stories give us a puzzle to solve and they thrill us. They're packed with twists and turns we can't predict. Their plots have a breathlessness to them. The stories offer us an escape, though it's the opposite of the escape we get from a romance novel because there is no way I'd ever want to be a detective, a victim, or even a side character in a thriller.

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But I'm still not totally sure why I loved thrillers as a teen even more than I loved my Converse All-Stars, my Nirvana CDs, or my dingy collection of vintage flannels (I was a child of the '90s). Maybe it's this: When I was a teen, my life sometimes felt like a thriller. Not much was in my control…and that was kind of scary.

There were a lot of plot twists about friends and boys and school and family I couldn't predict: some of it good, but some of it not so good. I could relate to that lack of control the characters in thrillers often felt; that horrible things were happening to them and they just wanted all of this to stop…but they couldn't. Sure, my dilemmas were way less dramatic than those I found on the page, but my emotions were big and bold in high school, so everything really did feel like life or death.

And also, so many thrillers feature secrets: kids covering up an awful crime they committed, the secret killer hiding in plain sight, a buried mistake that unravels everything. I had secrets in high school. I wasn't hoping that my secrets would lead to something horrible happening like they did in the books I loved, but it made me feel better that other people, even fictional characters, were keeping some too. Or maybe it's a lot simpler than that. Maybe I just liked the blood-pumping adrenalized feeling of being afraid!

So happy Mystery Week, everyone. Enjoy staying up late to finish your favorite book…and then being too freaked out to fall asleep. It's worth it.


Want to read a twisty mystery? Check out...

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Eager for a scary unreliable narrator? You'll enjoy...

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Is high school the scariest place ever? Find out in...

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Enjoy spooky historical mysteries? These are to die for...

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What are your favorite YA mystery must-reads? Let us know in the comments!

Check out the complete coverage of Mystery & Thriller Week:
20 Big Mysteries & Thrillers of Spring
50 Hidden Gems for the Well-Read Mystery Fan
Let's Play: How To Make An Ominous-Sounding Mystery Title

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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✨Jinglemarco✨  Маркуша - Мишутка (Nursery rhymes enthusiast)* Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars series, with which I was obsessed in 2013, is the one that got me to read in English. So it's only fair I'm trying to read in German with her The Amateurs... :)


message 2: by Riann (new)

Riann The "Pretty Little Liars" tv series was an obsession and led me to the books series which I devoured! I can't wait to read more of her books! I really enjoyed Sara Shepard's article as well as her book recommendations. :)


message 3: by Gabrielle (new)

Gabrielle I totally recommend "bag girls with perfect faces". ITS SO GOOD


message 4: by Christina (new)

Christina I read both We Were Liars and One of Us is Lying in the last two months and absolutely loved them!!!

and I really want to read the PLL series as well, but I haven't gotten around to it yet...


message 5: by NIRA (new)

NIRA I have seen PLL and when I realised there was book series I was sure to read but i have not got round to it yet. After my read right now my next read is 'one of us is lying', and I am super excited to read since I have heard a lot from it.
Nira x


message 6: by Hollyken3 (new)

Hollyken3 . We Were Liars is definitely one of my all time favorite books!


message 7: by NIRA (new)

NIRA Hollyken3 wrote: "We Were Liars is definitely one of my all time favorite books!"
Still have not got round to it but i hoping in the meantime though. NIra


message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim Toner Kara Thomas is an excellent author. She's the modern-day Joan Lowery Nixon. I also really like April Henry novels. I'm currently reading Brittany Cavallaro's novel A Study in Charlotte. E. Lockhart's novel We Were Liars is another great YA mystery.


message 9: by Karen (new)

Karen King My favorite YA book is "Revolution" by Jennifer Donnelly. I couldn't stop reading it. That's saying something because I'm a 72 yr old grandmother.


message 10: by Roe (new)

Roe Robin Stevens' Murder Most Unladylike series is absolutely wonderful. I hugely recommend it!


message 11: by Viktoria (new)

Viktoria Van der bilt this post is heaven-sent. keep the recommendations coming! 😌


message 12: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Boyce I have read all of Sara Shepard books and cannot wait to read The Elizas. I got the pleasure of meeting Sara May 20,2017 and she is so nice. It took me 6 years to meet her. I am a huge fan of hers.


message 13: by C.A. (new)

C.A. *On Hiatus* I love so many of these books!


message 14: by skye :) (new)

skye :) One Of Us Is Lying was amazing! I totally recommend it :)


message 15: by bjneary (new)

bjneary The 2 series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes - The Naturals and the Fixer.
Lamar Giles's books and April Henry's books


message 16: by Holly (new)

Holly Letson I used to read the new PLL volumes whenever the library got them, but after awhile, I stopped. I need to read the last few and finish the series.


message 17: by Adira (new)

Adira Karen wrote: "My favorite YA book is "Revolution" by Jennifer Donnelly. I couldn't stop reading it. That's saying something because I'm a 72 yr old grandmother."

That book was amazing! I loved how she paired the past wit the present.


message 18: by Gaty (new)

Gaty good book, we will review on my blog: Makalah-NKP so many Indonesian people know it


message 19: by Jade (new)

Jade Sara Shepard’s Amateurs series is amazing! I really want to read The Pretty Little Liars series but I haven’t gotten around to it yet 😢


message 20: by Prisha (new)

Prisha If you liked some of the books on this list, I would recommend Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terril. It is so underrated but so, so good. It’s full of a lot of suspense and tons of plot twists.


message 21: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Enz Loved we were liars and little monsters! Of course the PLLseries is great!


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