Small Towns, Big Mysteries: A YA Reading List


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By Julia Bergen

You may think that big cities would have more mysteries than cozy little hamlets nestled among snow-capped mountain ranges, and maybe you would have the statistical data to back that up. However, if you consult YA literature, you know that even the smallest, most innocent, most mundane town can have the deepest, darkest mystery brooding behind those picket fences and underneath that perfect buttercream frosting.

For further investigation, we put forth these titles as evidence, with some expert tips:


Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre

A sleepy New England town chockA sleepy New England town chock full of quaint Victorian houses, what could go wrong? Plenty, when those creaky old Victorians have attics full of secrets. When Araceli goes to live with her great-aunt, she thinks she’ll be finishing out high school in peace and quiet. Clearly, she has not read this listicle. Otherwise she would know to anticipate unexplained lights in the woods, and letters from the past seemingly trying to communicate with her.

Expert tip: YA listicles, not just for fun, can also save your life if the past is trying to drive you insane.


In the Woods by Carrie Jones and Steven Wedell

which is pretty much guaranteeingChrystal is a little more informed when her father drags her to Oklahoma to investigate a mysterious creature sighting. Since her dad has been an amateur cryptozoologist her entire life, she knows all the details on Big Foot sightings, UFO encounters, etc. But, she makes the mistake of being a cynic in a story about monsters, which is pretty much guaranteeing that soon monsters will be all up in your business.

Expert tip: Should you find yourself in a monster story, pretend you’re driving on ice and just turn into the slide.


Don’t Say a Word by Amber Lynn Natusch

they have to call her and makeAfter solving some of her small town’s mysteries in Dare You to Lie, Ky is back to the game. Someone has information on missing girls being classified as runaways when they’re actually murdered, but in true small-town fashion, they can’t just tell her, not when everyone knows everyone. Instead, they have to call her and make sure she has no idea where the information is coming from. In a big city, you could live right next door to someone, they could tell you to your face, and you would have no idea who that person is.

Expert tip: Sometimes it pays not to answer your phone. Unless you want to get involved in a murder investigation. Then go for it.


To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

Because if one murder happens

Erin doesn’t need a mystery to come to her small town—she’s been living with one since she was a toddler. Her mom was murdered years ago, and the killer has never been caught. In a town of any size, being linked to a crime like that will make you stand out, but Erin has managed to have a fairly normal childhood…until her teacher is murdered in a way that connects her death to Erin’s mother’s grizzly demise. Because if one murder happens in a small town, sooner or later there is definitely going to be another, and it is absolutely going to be connected.

Expert tip: If one crazy unexpected thing happens, do not assume it’s a one-off!


Dive Smack by Demetra Brodsky

more to that night than anyone

Theo also lost his mother (teenage sleuths have more dead moms than Disney princesses do). For him, the biggest mystery isn’t something happening now, it’s what happened the night his mom died years ago. Everyone thinks the house fire that killed her was an accident, but his memories of that night are full of gaps. When his memories start coming back, he starts to realize that there was more to that night than anyone realized.

Expert tip: In a mystery, there are never any accidents. Even paper cuts. Especially fires.

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