Nail Biters

Announcement: Nail-Biters: Teen Psychological Thrillers


2007
05.03

They’re thrilling, chilling and should not be started after dark. Otherwise, you’ll be up all night with these mysterious, murderous nail biters! There’s no monsters here, except the manipulative human kind. Even so, you may want to enjoy the stories below with the light on!

Watched by Marina Budhos


2016
11.05


Naeem has run out of choices. Failing out of school and picked up for shoplifting with a bag of weed in his backpack, the Muslim teen is forced to turn informant for a pair of detectives looking for terrorists nests in the vibrant, immigrant NYC borough of Queens: “I love Queens. I love its smells, its layout. Maybe because its so big and prairie flat, the wild moody sky overhead. The blocks start to spread, stretching to all these other neighborhoods–Corona, Woodside, Flushing, Bayside. On and on the borough stretches. Northern Boulevard, pas the frayed silver flags of the car dealers, the jagged skyline of Manhattan rises like some wrecked and far-off city, a jagged Kryptonite kingdom, comic-book surreal.”At first Naeem feels awkward, sure that everyone can see right through what he’s doing. But soon he is dipping in and out of internet cafes and neighborhood mosques like a pro, checking browser histories on public computers and making small talk with the imams who wonder where this new bright young volunteer suddenly came from. He discovers he has a talent for making himself seen, yet not seen: “The best thing about being a kid at the back of the room is you’re already a spy. You know how to fake it. The other guys who are…involved could never do what I can. I’ve got all the moves, the feints, the angles. I know how to rearrange my face, make it attentive…Half listen while a camera coolly spools inside my head.” He’s even making enough money from the dubious enterprise to enroll in summer school and boost GPA. But Naeem still feels guilty spying on his own community.  Even though he tries to tell himself he’s one of the good guys, it gets harder and harder, especially when the detectives ask him to focus in on an old friend. No Naeem has to decide which side he’s on and who’s using who. Because nothing about this situation is what it seems. Author Marina Budhos has penned a richly atmospheric read full of vivid neighborhood descriptions  and complicated character motivations that couldn’t be more relevant as this brutal xenophobic election season comes to a close. This nuanced depiction of surveillance and profiling is a timely must-read for anyone who’s ever felt targeted or anyone who’s ever considered themselves safe from become a target. In other words, all of us.

Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl


2016
07.27



“It must be complicated, being a person with a conscience.” Fifteen year old Morgan is “cold.” She doesn’t know what it’s like to put herself  in someone else’s shoes, because the only feet she’s ever cared about are her own! That’s why when her parents finally get fed up with her self serving ways and decide to send her to a boarding school for “troubled teens,” Morgan makes a break for it. She meets a girl named Janelle at the airport who looks a lot like her, give or take a few pounds. She convinces lovelorn Janelle, who’s being sent to live with her rich aunt and uncle in order to separate her from her bad news boyfriend, to switch identities. With Janelle off in a love nest, Morgan is free to skip boarding school and take her place. Then the games really begin, as Morgan successfully convinces Janelle’s family that she is their niece, while running scam after scam that soon line her pockets with rolls of cash. But nothing good lasts forever. Morgan knows that sooner or later her parents or the real Janelle are going to show up feeling pretty angry and looking for answers. Does she have what it takes to pull off one last big con and head off in the sunset for fresh hunting grounds? You may not like Morgan, but you’re sure to be rooting for her by the surprising end of this snappy thriller. The plot is preposterous, but that’s precisely what makes it so much fun. Think Harriet the Spy meets The Grifters (I know I’m dating myself here, but trust me, they’re CLASSICS.) Coming your way this August, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered to get you through the dog days of summer.

Snow Job by Charles Benoit


2016
02.27


It’s the middle of winter in 1977 upstate New York, and seventeen year old Nick has decided he’s OVER being a burnout banger. So he ditches his pot-smoking friends, trades in his ratty concert tees for a shirt and tie and memorizes his new mantra: STAND OUT. STAND UP. STAND BY. STAND FAST. When his best friend makes a break for Florida, he makes a tentative plan to join once he has the cash. He starts logging serious hours at his crappy convince store job, but at a minimum wage of $2+ an hour, he’s hardly making any bank. Just as it looks like his beach dream may not come true, he is seduced by a Joan Jett look alike named Dawn who convinces him to dip back into the druggie world for one last big score. If Nick can pull it off, he will make enough for both he and Dawn to ride south into the sunset. Can he convince Dawn’s unstable drug lord boyfriend to trust him long enough to steal his stash AND his girl? This slow-burning thriller is full of twists and tension, with a setting that really captures the white 1970’s in rural/suburban America. I felt like I knew Nick and his crew pretty well, as they resembled the guys I stood next to at the school bus stop and watched trade cigarettes in the art and shop rooms at school. If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, check out these 1970’s film gems about being a kid and teen back in the day and read SNOW JOB when it hits the library and bookstore shelves March 2016.

Sweet by Emmy Laybourne


2015
05.14



Laurel should be grateful that her best friend Viv’s wealthy dad footed the bill for the two of them to join the SOLU luxury cruise. After all, the producers of the brand new sweetener promise that anyone who sprinkles it on their cereal will drop 5% of their body weight in the first week, and even though Laurel has come to terms with her size 14 jeans, Viv is convinced that they both need to lose at least a dress size. So Laurel agrees to go, even though she secretly thinks that she and Viv look just fine the way they are. Soon they are partying with the likes of Tom Fiorelli, a hot teen celebrity spokesperson who wants to become the next Ryan Seacrest, and downing SOLU like water at every meal. Well, at least Viv is. Laurel is too seasick to eat anything for the first few days and by then, it’s clear that SOLU works, maybe a little too well. Laurel notices that within hours,  all newly thin Viv wants to eat is SOLU. In fact, the fake sweetener is so addictive that soon everyone that has been eating it craves more. And when there isn’t any more, they begin to turn on each other in order to get their fix–in blood. The only ones who remain sane are those who never developed the craving, including Laurel, Tom and a few smart crew members. Now it’s up to them to ditch the cruise and warn the world that the greatest weight loss drug ever created has fatal side effects. There’s only one problem: the passengers are hungry. And the chance that Laurel and Tom will escape the ship with their lives is slim to none. But they have to try, because when it comes to SOLU, slim is better than DEAD! This highly entertaining dietary horror story manages to be compulsively readable while also imparting serious messages about identity, body image and the drug industry. If you like humor/horror mashups like Scream or Shaun of the Dead, then you will devour SWEET. Skip the latest dystopian blah blah, THIS should be the first book to grace your beach bag this summer. Get ready to become addicted when SWEET comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2015.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


2014
12.13



“Reeve was the most special thing that every happened to me. Now I’m just an apathetic, long-haired girl who doesn’t care about anything but my own grief.” Jam Gallahue loved a boy named Reeve. Now he’s gone and Jam can’t figure out how to live her life without him. So her parents have sent her to the Wooden Barn in Vermont, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers,” in hopes that a new environment will shake Jam out of her depression. But Jam isn’t very optimistic. “…supposedly a combination of the Vermont air, maple syrup, no psychiatric medication, and no Internet will cure me. But I’m not curable.” Then Jam attends her first Special Topics in English class, an exclusive elective with only five members taught by the mysterious Mrs. Quenell. She learns they are going to study Sylvia Plath, another long haired girl who suffered from depression and wrote a now classic book about her experience called The Bell Jar. She learns that each student is required to keep a special journal that the must turn in to Mrs. Q by the end of the semester. The last thing Jam wants to do is record her misery. But when she opens the pages and begins to write, she finds the process to be transformative…in more ways than one. She discovers her classmates are having the same experience, that the journals have become portals to another world where they can fix the issue that brought them to the Wooden Barn and in that moment, forget their current problems. But one by one, they each painfully come to understand that it is impossible to live in the past if they ever want to move forward. Jam is the last one to learn this lesson, and when she finally faces her fear and loss, the results are both devastating and enlightening. Critically acclaimed adult author Meg Wolitizer has penned a strong, spare, magically real YA novel about the power words and books can have over despair that will no doubt inspire a wave of new interest in the prose and poetry of Sylvia Plath.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll


2014
09.28



Three sisters left alone for three days in a wintery cabin, each visited by a mysterious stranger who lures them into the snow. A beautiful young bride who makes a grisly discovery in the walls of her new husband’s grand house. A jealous man who commits murder in the dark of the forest and then is visited by the victim of his crime. These are a few of the deliciously creepy, folklore-gone-wrong stories written and illustrated by the incredibly talented Emily Carroll.  Mostly inked in red, black and a chilly cobalt blue, these graphic vignettes about love, death and revenge ooze with tension until they quietly detonate, usually in a silent moment of terrifying realization or a shocking splatter of crimson blood. Though I have read through the collection over half a dozen times by now, I just can’t stop poring over the gorgeously gory pages in fear and fascination. This assemblage of gothic-themed dread is a boon to my YA horror peeps who are always looking for a good literary scare, and to any nervous reader who’s ever been convinced that they just missed being snatched on the way back to bed by the something that lives under it. Because as the fanged shadow warns Red Riding Hood at the end of her journey through the forest, “You must travel through these woods again & again…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Here’s hoping that the wolf never gets lucky and you relish these darkly delightful tales as much as I did. Want a taste of Emily Carroll’s disturbing visions? Read this interactive horror story and try not to shiver uncontrollably at the end.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart


2013
11.25



You know when sometimes you discover that amazing book that is ALL THE THINGS? Mystery? Check. Romance? Check. Family DRA-mah? Check. Unexpectedly awesome, never-saw-it-coming ending? Check, check! I wish I could tell you more about this book about a girl, her two cousins and the love of her life. But to say too much about this story of a family slowly rotting from the inside out because of greed and fear would be a great disservice. You should get the chance to savor this delicious narrative of privilege, love and madness on a private island for yourself. Suffice it to say that it contains shades of King Lear, Wuthering Heights and The Virgin Suicides. That the small, perfect characterizations: “Bounce, effort, and snark.” “Sugar, curiosity, and rain.” “Ambition and strong coffee” will have you pulling out your own writer’s notebook to follow the pattern. That not only people but HOUSES in this story have their own personalities and strange little quirks. That the plot rug is pulled out from under you the minute you think you understand what is going on. And try not to scream when I tell you this terrific little tension filled package is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2014.

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks


2012
04.25



Rain has no problem hanging at the back of the crowd in her posh Manhattan private school. Though she has had extensive speech therapy to overcome the cleft palate she was born with, she’s still insecure about her “mushmouthed and nasal” sounding voice.  But when her former best friend and notorious party girl Wendy is found strangled to death in Central Park, Rain finds herself coming forward to defend the needy girl who hid her pain behind her boisterous personality. She wants justice for Wendy, who the newspapers have reduced to the dead girl, “The girl  in Central Park.” So Rain forces herself to leave the audience and step into the spotlight. She starts questioning people about Wendy’s death: namely bad boy Nico Phelps, who Wendy stalked on Facebook, and his cold, classy girlfriend Sasha Meloni. She must also deal with the police’s questions about her own lapsed relationship with her ex-bestie, and confront a nosy reporter who seems bent on trashing Wendy’s already damaged reputation. As she circles closer and closer to the terrible truth about what really happened in the park that night, Rain discovers that in speaking up for someone else, she has finally found her true voice. But will she solve the case only to endanger herself? Partially inspired by the Central Park Preppy Murder, this unusual crime mystery with an unlikely and admirable sleuth at its center is a tight thriller that stands out from the rest of the pink-dust-jacketed pack.


White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick


2011
12.08


crow
Rebecca’s summer is sucking–hard. She and her police officer dad have rented a vacation house in an attempt to escape the crowds of London and her father’s work troubles. Except the gloomy little village of Winterfold is full of suspicious locals and is itself in danger of disappearing as more and more of it falls into the sea that is slowly washing it away. Bored, Rebecca spends most of her time reading the same shabby paperbacks over and over or dialing her ex-boyfriend and hanging up. Then one day she meets reckless goth girl Ferelith who introduces Rebecca to all of  Winterfold’s dark secrets–including the strange chair with manacled armrests in the basement of abandoned Winterfold Hall. Who knows what horrors occurred there? The title, which refers to a quote by psychologist and philosopher William James about the possibility of an after life, gives some clue: “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.”  No one has ever returned from the dead to tell us if there is an afterlife or not, so logic says there probably isn’t. But what if there was one soul, one “white crow” that could prove that logic wrong? Rebecca’s about to find out–because Ferelith has some dark secrets of her own. Told in three distinct voices (Rebecca’s, Ferelith’s and that of a shady church rector who witnessed the basement atrocities back in 1798) this gruesome page turner will keep you up way past your bedtime. I read it all on one gulp one rainy afternoon and had a case of creepies all evening.

Contact

Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict
swampophelia27@yahoo.com