7 Most-Anticipated YA Mysteries To Dive Into This Winter

When you have a hit series, branch out to something different can be a challenge. After all, “write what you know” is one of the cardinal commands taught to authors, and the commercial part of the industry—the part that cares about book sales—is inclined to squeeze as many sequels as possible out of the same beloved characters by the same readers.

Now that’s not to say that sequels aren’t good. They’re often excellent, as was the case for Holly Jackson’s Good Girls’ Guide to Murder series. Each one painted a fuller picture of the protagonist and the series’ overarching question of whether the ends justify the means.

But Jackson goes outside that series for her latest book, Five Survive. And it’s just as gripping, puzzling and exciting as her previous trilogy. Readers seem to agree—survive debuted atop the New York Times bestseller list and has sold briskly in its first few weeks.

“After finishing the A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series, I knew I wanted to write a very different kind of thriller for my first standalone. A chance to work some different writing muscles,” Jackson says. “I have always wanted to write a book based in real time — the story unfolding in the same number of hours it takes to read it.”

survive follows six friends who take a road trip and find themselves in a nightmare scenario: Trapped in an RV in an active shooter situation, where not everyone or everything is as it seems.

Jackson showed her ability to build a mystery in good girl. In survive, she ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels. “This probably harks back to my love of the 24 TV show as a kid and other films that take place over one night or just a few hours, like Panic Room,” she says. “I’ve always loved the intensity of those kinds of stories and how those tense situations can become incredible character studies. So that was the challenge I set myself when first planning this book: that it had to take place over eight hours with no cheating (no flashbacks or time skipping or dilation at all) and all in the same setting.”

She stuck to her plan so resolutely, she even follows her main character to the bathroom (twice!).

Just as Jackson created memorable characters in girls (supportive Ravi, unflappable Nat), she unspools a new group of young adults with unique backstories and a bit of trauma. The main character, Red, quickly finds herself at odds with her best friend’s brother, the overbearing Oliver. “Guilt and blame are central themes running through the book. In fact, those two concepts are absolutely key to the main character — Red — and her character arc,” Jackson says. “They are explored early on as Red’s misbelief about her mother’s death five years ago and the role she may have played in it. The reader can see how much this negatively affects her life, clinging to an idea about herself and her mom, and how that impacts her decision-making as the tense plot unfolds.”

Ultimately, branching out paid off in a great mystery/thriller and a reward for Jackson in writing the book. “Five Survive was the most fun I’ve had writing a book yet, and I’m very proud of it and that I met that tricky challenge I set for myself,” she says.

survive is one of the highest-profile young adult (YA) books out this winter. Here are six other excellent YA recently released or upcoming mysteries that will make a splash.

nine liars by Maureen Johnson

Johnson’s popular Stevie Bell series resumes in late December with a standalone set in London, where teen detective Stevie’s boyfriend is studying for the semester. Johnson once again works her magic with a mystery set in the past that Stevie unravels in the present. “The first three books—Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stairand The Hand on the Wall—were a large, three-part mystery,” Johnson says. “I had planned it out, but the stakes got higher and higher. After those books, the mysteries are stand alone. Each one is a new challenge. A new puzzle. It really does feel fresh each time.”

The book shows Stevie’s reputation continuing to grow, which leads to the murder mystery. “As nine liars begins, we find that Stevie has been inundated by people from the internet who think they know someone who has committed a murder because they’ve just bought a big cooler or put in a new patio,” Johnson says. “So when Stevie gets to London to see David and do a week study abroad, the first person she’s confronted with—Izzy—also wants to meet her because she thinks she knows about a murder.” In this case, it turns out to be true.

The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

Who killed Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High? Duchess Simmons thinks her best friend was killed by Tinsley McArthur, the entitled white girl who coveted the crown. Duchess’ dad is the town police captain, but his investigation doesn’t seem to be focusing on Tinsley—so it may be time for Duchess to step in. This layered novel comes out in January.

Everything You Left Me by Paige Classey

Does a mystery told in verse sound appealing? Coming in February, Everything You Left Me follows a teen whose father is the lead suspect in a string of murders. She worries about what that might mean about her.

wait for me by Sara Shepard

A young woman hears voices in her head that compel her to leave the big city and head to a small town where she feels like she knows the people and places. The paranormal mystery marks a new direction for author Sara Shepard, who wrote the wildly popular pretty Little Liars other Lying Game series. The book came out in November.

Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

This novel, coming out in January, follows a trio of friends who become suspects in the murder of their school’s principal. The three young men, all people of color, discover that the extreme discipline their principal handed out might not have been done fairly. YA mystery queen Karen McManus praised this book as “thrilling, captivating and blade-sharp.”

going dark by Melissa de la Cruz

A mystery of our time: When a famous (white) influencer goes missing, attention focuses on her boyfriend, but there may be ties to an earlier case where another young woman went missing—but got none of the attention. The book, out in January, is the perfect blend of ripped-from-the-headlines drama and insightful writing.

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