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I love a good mystery novel, and I especially love how the mystery genre is exploding in YA right now! From ripped-from-the-headlines premises to inventive and unique settings, we’re seeing a lot of variety in the genre in terms of both plot and character, and I am especially excited by all the diversity that can be found — with people of color and queer characters at the forefront of these mystery novels. I love to see these perspectives, considering that marginalized groups have traditionally only been included in mystery novels as the victims of crimes, not the ones investigating, surviving, or solving the crimes. It’s great to see the tables turned!
Since a lot of thrilling books with crime or secrets tend to get lumped under the mystery umbrella, for the purposes of this list, I’ve defined mystery as any book where a crime unfolds throughout the book and investigating the crime is the central focus for the protagonist. Not every mystery needs to be about murder — sometimes disappearances, blackmail, and extortion are at the center of these books — but in order to be considered, there is a perpetrator that our teenage sleuth is bent on unmasking.
Here are eight great diverse mysteries released in 2021 and 2022 that you won’t want to miss!
Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf
Najwa Bakri is one of the many talented teens who participate in the competitive Scrabble circuit, along with her best friend Trina, who was known as the Queen of the Tiles. When Trina dies during a competition, Najwa stops competing for a year, but now she’s ready to come back. Except, while she’s at her first tournament since Trina’s death, someone starts posting from Trina’s Instagram account, leading people to think her death was murder…and her killer won’t hesitate to strike again.
Cold by Mariko Tamaki
Georgia has just learned the tragic news that a teenage boy from her brother’s school has died. Todd Mayer was found dead and naked in a nearby park, in the middle of winter. The circumstances of his death have people gossiping and police investigating, and even Georgia’s curiosity is piqued. But when she sees a picture of Todd, she realizes with a jolt that she has seen him before…someplace where he didn’t belong. Georgia’s perspectives are interwoven with those of Todd’s ghost in this short, affecting novel about friendship, family, and coming of age against the backdrop of tragedy.
The New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Lia has just won a track scholarship to Draycott Academy, an exclusive boarding school for the ultra rich in Northern California. On her first day, she witnesses another girl being dragged away by campus security, only to never be seen again. That’s just a portent for all of the messed up and twisted secrets that Draycott is hiding, and Lia soon finds herself in way over her head as she tries to not just keep her scholarship, but survive the school’s twisted secrets.
The Red Palace by June Hur
June Hur is known for her compelling historical mysteries set in Korea, and in her latest book, she tells the story of Hyeon, a palace nurse in mid-eighteenth century Joseon. When a serial killer strikes at the palace and Hyeon’s mentor is accused, she begins her own investigation into the crime, and her path leads to a young police investigator. But their hunt for answers becomes much more dangerous when the evidence points to the crown prince himself.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Devon and Chiamaka have just been named prefects at the prestigious Niveus Private Academy, which is a personal coup for them both. They’ve got their eyes on great universities, and they’re officially running against each other for valedictorian. But it’s not long before an anonymous person called Aces starts sending them texts threatening to expose their secrets and ruin their future…but who is Aces, and what do they really want? This book explores the lives of queer, Black students in a predominantly white private school.
When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris
Jay lives with his sister Nic and grandma in Newport News, Virginia. He tries to be a good kid for his grandma, MiMi, who took him and Nic in after his dad died and his mom went to jail, and he can’t stand that Nic stays out all hours with her drug dealer boyfriend. After he ignores a muffled phone call from her, he decides he’s done trying to make her see reason…but she doesn’t come home. Jay slowly realizes that Nic might be in serious trouble, and it’s up to him to figure out how to find her and who to trust.
The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao (August 9)
Anna Xu is eager to head off to college, even if she’s just moving into a dorm across town. But she’s got an ulterior motive: She wants to look into the unsolved murder of her childhood babysitter, who was killed on campus. As she begins to look for clues, she reunites with her middle school rival, whose family owns a business that competes with her own parents’. They team up for the investigation, only for Anna’s family to become the targets of racist vandalism…but that vandalism has a clear connection to the murder case.
Undercover Latina by Aya de León (October 11)
In this upper MG/lower YA crossover, 14-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín is a part of The Factory, an international spy organization whose mission is to protect people of color. Her first mission is to go undercover as a white girl in order to befriend the son of a white supremacist, and she soon finds herself embroiled in a mystery plot to stop a terror attack while also hiding her crush on her mark’s Latino best friend.
Want more great YA mysteries on your TBR? Check out our round up of great LGBTQ+ mysteries and thrillers!