With 16 main series books and a television series that spanned 7 seasons, Pretty Little Liars has made a significant impact on the teen mystery genre, despite some of its controversial subplots. The series follows a tight knit friend group that falls apart after their popular leader turns up dead. When the girls begin to receive letters from the anonymous “A” disclosing their deepest and darkest confessions and crimes, they begrudgingly join forces to unveil the culprit even as past grief resurges. If you like stories about messy friendships and dangerous secrets, you might dare to read these 10 YA Mystery/Thriller books that will have your heart racing with every twist and turn.
1. The Ivies, by Alexa Donne
Olivia and her clique of perfect friends are known as “the Ivies.” Each of them calls dibs on an Ivy League college and work together to sabotage other potential applicants. But Olivia secretly applies to Harvard and gets in, terrified she’ll be found out. When another girl in the group, Emma, does the exact same thing and fights with their queen bee leader over her stolen spot, her corpse turns up in the boat house hours later. While struggling to fit in among her twisted social circle, Olivia must figure out who killed Emma before she succumbs to the same fate. The Ivies depicts the competitiveness of American college admissions with a deadly twist.
2. The Inheritance Games, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
After her mother’s death, Avery Grambs is struggling to make ends meet. Her life changes drastically when she is named the sole inheritor of a billionaire’s fortune, a man she has never met. However, the conditions of the will stipulate that Avery must move into the late Tobias Hawthorne’s mansion alongside his disinherited children and grandchildren. Naturally, the family is suspicious of Avery and presumes she has cheated them out of their inheritance. Avery teams up with the four handsome Hawthorne brothers to decode the puzzles and riddles their grandfather left behind and figure out how they are connected. With a combination of mystery and romance, The Inheritance Games has often been compared to the blockbuster film Knives Out.
3. How We Fall Apart, by Katie Zhao
Nancy Luo is excelling at her competitive prep school, in part because of extreme parental pressure. Because her classmates are also trying to measure up to high expectations, their academic environment fosters betrayal and lies. When Jamie, a popular girl who uses her position of power to manipulate and climb the social ladder, is found dead, Nancy and her group of friends are pegged as the culprits. As a mysterious figure called “The Proctor” starts spreading rumours around the school and threatening them with closely held secrets, they must uncover the truth before their promising futures are ruined forever. Featuring an all-Asian cast, How We Fall Apart is a dark academia murder mystery to die for.
4. Ace of Spades, by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
At Niveus Academy, an elite school dominated by rich white kids, the only common thread between Chiamaka and Devon is that they’re the only two Black kids enrolled. Chiamaka is a popular perfectionist, while scholarship student Devon focuses on his music and tries to keep his head down. At the beginning of senior year, they are targeted by “Aces,” an anonymous texter who threatens to reveal personal secrets that could destroy their futures. Chiamaka and Devon join forces to investigate whoever is responsible for the messages, but soon find themselves in a more dangerous situation than they ever anticipated. Regularly appearing on the NYT Best Sellers list since its release, Ace of Spades is a brilliantly creepy debut that tackles the horrors of systemic racism and just how deep it runs, while also incorporating notions of Black/queer intersectionality.
5. Two Can Keep a Secret, by Karen M. McManus
After her mother ends up back in rehab, Ellery and her twin are shuttled off to a small town to live with their estranged grandmother. Upon arrival, they come across the body of a beloved high school teacher killed in a hit and run, and soon discover Echo Ridge is full of secrets. Notably, two homecoming queens go missing on separate occasions: Ellery’s aunt and another popular girl five years prior. When someone threatens to target the newest homecoming queen, true crime enthusiast Ellery throws herself into solving the mystery. But the town won’t give up its secrets without resistance. Two Can Keep a Secret is a splashing sophomore novel by the bestselling Karen M. McManus.
6. The Cheerleaders, by Kara Thomas
Five cheerleaders die within weeks of each other – two were killed in a car crash, two were murdered by their neighbour, and one took her own life. Allegedly. Five years later, the school decides to organize a memorial, and Monica is invited to participate as Jen’s younger sister. As past wounds resurface, Monica refuses to believe her sister truly killed herself and goes hunting for answers. The deeper she digs, the more she wonders if the suspicious deaths of the cheerleaders were connected after all. Told in alternating points of view from past to present, The Cheerleaders touches upon numerous dark topics and wraps up multiple plot threads in a stunning conclusion.
7. The Takedown, by Corrie Wang
Kyla Cheng is popular and at the top of her class, but she and her friends don’t care who they hurt on their quest for success and validation. When an explicit video of Kyla and her teacher goes viral, her social reputation is at stake, even though she insists it has been doctored. To prove she was framed, Kyla sets off to find a hacker who will help her uncover the creator of the video. The Takedown is set in a near-future society where technology exists at the centre of the universe and considers the drastic way in which constant connection at one’s fingertips can impact privacy and personal life.
8. All Your Twisted Secrets, by Diana Urban
In All Your Twisted Secrets, a mismatched group of six students are invited to a scholarship dinner, only to find out it’s a deadly trap. Locked in a room together with a note, a bomb, and a syringe of poison, they must choose to kill someone within the hour, or else they all die. Each of them reminisces on past events to figure out what they did to get on their captor’s radar. However, their carefully held secrets slip into the open as they try to find a way for everyone to escape alive.
9. I Hope You’re Listening, by Tom Ryan
After witnessing her best friend’s kidnapping as a child, Delia “Dee” Skinner still feels guilty for letting it happen. To cope, she runs an anonymous radio show where she investigates missing person cases and collects facts from her listeners to solve the cases. But when another young girl goes missing under circumstances eerily similar to a decade ago, Dee plunges into the details of the case. With the help of her podcast’s listeners and the new girl at school, Dee must discover the truth, even if it means facing the trauma of her past. I Hope You’re Listening is an award-winning novel with sapphic representation bound to keep you on the edge of your seat.
10. This Is Why We Lie, by Gabriella Lepore
On what starts as an ordinary day, Jenna and Adam stumble upon the drowned body of a popular girl from the local prep school. As the only witnesses, they are brought in for questioning, since police believe it to be a homicide. When Jenna’s best friend is accused, she dives into her own investigation with Adam’s help, but he and his friends are protecting each other’s secrets to avoid getting in trouble again. With suspects from both the girls’ prep school and the boys’ reform school, the truth may never come to light. Set in an isolated coastal town and riddled with clues, This Is Why We Lie delivers a riveting thriller/mystery.