YA readers have a voracious appetite for murder and suspense these days, and this trend shows no signs of abating. Shannon DeVito, director of books for Barnes & Noble, says, “If you look any given week at our top books [in YA], thrillers make up at least one-third of the list—a large swing considering the dominance of fantasy and science fiction categories over the last decade.” The thriller genre has been performing “extremely well” for B&N, “specifically over the last two years,” DeVito adds. “YA readers are gravitating toward the fast-paced nature of mysteries, and #BookTok has absolutely been a contributing factor to the sustained success in the category.”

Kelsey Horton, senior editor at Delacorte Press, believes that YA thrillers are booming because they fit right in with a general pop culture shift toward similar fare. “People can’t get enough of those ripped-from-the-headlines type of stories,” she says. “The same kind of person who is obsessed with true crime documentaries, murder shows, and/or podcasts is going to love [Holly Jackson’s] A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series.”

According to Steve Geck, editor-at-large for Sourcebooks, thrillers often provide a pleasantly predictable reading experience that keeps the genre’s fans coming back for more. “Readers are always looking for escape,” he says. “And a good thriller can be as comforting as a romance novel in that, no matter how high the body count is or how big the stakes are, you still go in knowing what you’re going to get. In addition, books such as 14 Ways to Die [by Vince Ralph] and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder have great emotional depth in exploring the nature of grief. For readers, this is a catharsis for the turbulence they’re experiencing in their daily lives.”

Contemporary settings rule the day for this genre, and Horton points out that two of the bestselling titles on Delacorte’s list “feel solidly high school. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder starts with a school project. One of Us Is Lying [by Karen M. McManus] starts in detention,” she says. Though she believes that adult readers can enjoy these books, too, Horton notes that “the YA thriller genre is directly appealing to teens who want to see their own life on the page with a compelling mystery.”

At B&N, “anything addressing the uncomfortable questions around the human condition, and how early—or young—psychopathic tendencies can crop up, is working really well,” DeVito says. “The majority of the books at the top of our list are set in modern times—often at school or on vacation—and they deal with situational horror and the breakdown, often in a violent way, of relationships.”

Geck says, “We’re seeing more thrillers that explore the dangers of the day—things like the impact of social media, vanity, and the desire for instant validation. Dark academia continues to be a big hit.” And he’s noticed “more diverse representation within the genre.”

Trade paperbacks are driving the category, in DeVito’s assessment. She names One of Us Is Lying, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, 14 Ways to Die, and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder as standouts in that format. “We’re also seeing audience crossover from other media, with movies like Knives Out bringing readers to books like [Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s] The Inheritance Games and pushing it to huge success—which we hope to repeat with the follow-up in the series, The Hawthorne Legacy,” she says. “We’re excited about Kendare Blake’s move to mystery/thriller with All These Bodies, coming out at the end of September [from Quill Tree], as well as As Good as Dead, the finale in Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series.”

Geck is looking forward to The Violent Season, by debut author Sara Walters, the story of a town called Wolf Creek that is hit with a string of violence every November—including the murder of the protagonist’s mother. The girl sets out to solve the crime and uncover the mystery behind the town. “We’re also highly anticipating Seven Dirty Secrets, the next thriller from Natalie D. Richards, about a girl and her friend who embark on a scavenger hunt only to discover that they are being hunted by someone who knows their worst secret,” he adds.

The prediction is that teen thrillers will continue to ride high. “YA fiction in general is unafraid to address really tough questions and winless situations, and I think readers appreciate it,” DeVito says. “The growth we’re seeing is not a trend that will go anywhere anytime soon.”

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