Nail Biters

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!

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.

Death Cloud by Andrew Lane


2011
04.15


Death Cloud

There have been so many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes lately, you knew it was just a matter of time before we met up with Sherlock Holmes, age fourteen. The year is 1868, and Young Master Holmes has just been informed that due to his army officer father’s deployment to India, his mother’s illness and his big brother Mylock’s busy lawyer schedule, he won’t be going home for the summer holidays from school. Instead, he’ll be staying with a little known aunt and uncle in the English countryside, far from civilization and anything remotely interesting. Fortunately, his boredom is quickly eased by his new acquaintances: brash and brilliant American Amyus Crowe, who will be his summer tutor, Amyus’s beautiful red-headed daughter Virginia, and scrappy river rat Matty Arnett, an orphan boy the same age as Sherlock who lives off his wits and what he can steal. The four of them form an unlikely detective team when a body is discovered on Sherlock’s uncles’s property. The corpse is lumpy and swollen, and rumors of plague soon blanket the countryside, throwing everyone into a state of panic. But by using the powers of deduction that Amyus Crowe is teaching him, Sherlock soon realizes that while the stranger’s death was caused by something carried on the air, it wasn’t germs or disease. Another body was discovered in the nearby village in the same condition, and Matty claimed to have seen a mysterious black cloud hovering over the house where it was found. Could the two deaths be linked? If so, what was the black cloud and how did it cause two different people to drop dead miles from each other? As he digs deeper into the mystery, Sherlock discovers from a series of mostly innocuous clues a diabolical plan created by an evil genius mastermind to strike at the very foundations of the British Empire. Sherlock’s first foray into investigation becomes a terrifying adventure that threatens to end his life on more than one occasion. But he must prevail, or his entire country could be lost. Great period detail, loads of interesting scientific facts from the time, and the methodical, logical plotting that we expect from a traditional Sherlock Holmes novel are all here, plus some pretty heart-pounding fight scenes. My only issue is the odd cover–since when does Sherlock Holmes have Justin Bieber hair? A fun read nevertheless, and who knows? Maybe they’ll tap the Biebs to play Sherlock in the teen movie version. Stay tuned for the sequel, Rebel Fire, coming out November 2011.

The Julian Game by Adele Griffin


2010
10.05


julian game
Raye Archer is a lowly scholarship girl at swank private school Fulton. Her only friend is Star Trek geek Natalya, and Raye’s getting a little tired of spending Saturday nights at Nat’s house watching marathons of Next Generation on the Syfy channel while consuming copious amounts of Duncan Hines instant brownies. So when Ella Parker, one of the ruling members of the uber popular Group, offers Raye a shot at high school stardom by allowing Raye to become her Mandarin tutor, Raye jumps at the chance. But soon she starts losing Ella’s attention, so to keep the Queen Bee interested, Raye offers to help her get back at Julian Kilgarry, the hottest dude in school. Apparently, Julian had the gall to diss Ella at a party, and now Ella wants revenge. Julian’s comeuppance appears in the form of a blue-haired girl named Elizabeth, Raye’s online Facebook creation. Raye and Ella use Elizabeth to gain Julian’s trust in order to lure him places where he’s bound to run into trouble. But Raye’s conscience won’t let her keep up the ruse, so she ends up confessing to Julian, who is not only unexpectedly grateful, but ends up asking Raye out. Raye can’t believe her good luck. But just how long does she have before ruthless Ella discovers that she and Julian are more than just friends and her luck runs out? Ella will stop at nothing to show Raye who’s boss, even if it means using the Internet to cyberbully Raye into submission. What can you do when your frenemy is as elusive as a nasty email that can’t be deleted or website that won’t disappear? In terms of just really good writing, this mean girl thriller is heads and shoulders over those tired old Gossip Girls. Adele Griffin sums up so well how it feels to be drawn into the orbit of a dangerous girl who could kill your rep with a lift of her little finger: “I’d never had a bona fide girl crush, but something about Ella’s physical beauty and the way she was standing so close to me made me understand, with sharp and aching clarity, how you could fall wildly in love with a girl like Ella. She looked perfect as a daffodil. What did it matter if she was rotten at the root, if you could somehow get her to love you back?” Seriously, I’m rolling out “perfect as a daffodil” as my new catch phrase. Love it! Just like you will love this down and dirty story of best friends gone wrong and dudes done over. (And head over here for more information on the dangers of cyberbullying and how to stop it. Online harassment is no joke, be a part of the solution, NOT the problem!)

YOU by Charles Benoit


2010
04.05


Fifteen-year-old Kyle Chase knows the score. Just like you, he can almost recite his parents’ and teachers’ lectures as they’re saying them, because he’s heard them so many times before. “Is that all you’re going to do all day, sit in front of that computer?” “Why don’t you wear some clothes that fit for a change?” “Stop mumbling and speak up.” “Because I said so.” It’s funny how it never changes. Funny in a sad way. Kyle can’t find much to laugh about these days. His friends are idiots obsessed with partying, his teachers are robots, his parents don’t listen and the girl he’s secretly in love with doesn’t take him seriously. And he’s starting to suspect that it’s mostly his fault that his life is like this, his fault for letting important decisions slide by until the choices were made for him. Now there’s no going back. Kyle’s just floating through his days—until he meets Zack McDade. Zach is off-the-hook weird, with his strange airs, million dollar vocab and bright colored sports coats.  Kyle doesn’t like Zach, but his particular brand of smooth sarcasm and utter confidence does make school a little more interesting, a little more alive. Until he turns his massive powers of manipulation on Kyle. What happens next may be inevitable given what has come before, but Benoit’s explosive ending is not one that YOU will forget anytime soon.

What’s so fantastic about this book isn’t the topic, which will be sadly familiar to many of you. It’s the way Benoit, a former high school English teacher and adult mystery author, tells Kyle’s story, from back to front (like Gail Gile’s amazing Shattering Glass) and in a rarely used second person voice that draws you uncomfortably close to Kyle’s troubled psyche. You may want to pull away from Kyle, or deny what’s happening to him. But you won’t be able to. Because Kyle’s not that different from you. Or one of your friends. Or that quiet guy who sits slumped in the back of your Algebra class. Though this book reminds me of several other outstanding titles, Benoit has also crafted something here that is so original and raw that I couldn’t put down until I finished the entire thing. The bad news: YOU isn’t coming to a library or bookstore near you until September 2010. The good news: YOU have a really amazing read to look forward to this fall.

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams


2009
05.25


reality check
Seventeen-year-old football quarterback Cody Laredo never considered himself a good student. He maintained grades just high enough to keep his butt off the bench, hoping that a college football scholarship would be his ticket to the NFL. But now that he’s blown out his knee, lost his gorgeous upper-crust girlfriend Clea to boarding school and missed so many classes that he has no idea what is going on, he’s decided to drop out. Which is why he’s free to skip town and head east when he hears on the local news that Clea’s gone missing. When her beloved horse Bud comes back rider-less, the local authorities assume Clea was thrown in the woods and a search party is quickly assembled. Cody quietly joins their ranks, initially concealing his identity from the townies. But when Clea isn’t found in a few days, the search is called off and Cody begins to conduct his own investigation, based on little more than commonsense and intuition. As he begins to collect clues about Clea’s disappearance, Cody struggles with who to suspect and who to trust. Among the possible perpetrators are: Ike, the crabby old stable hand at Clea’s fancy school who seems to know more than he’s letting on; Sergeant Orton, the local fuzz who appears to be playing Cody just as much as Cody is playing him; and finally Townes, the rich boy who stole Clea’s heart—and maybe more. One of these men know what happened to his best girl. And it’s up to Cody to find out who before it’s too late. Reality Check is a solid, satisfying mystery with an earnest, blue-collar teen sleuth at it’s center. I love how Cody, who readily admits he’s not the biggest intellectual in the world, operates from the heart and realistically struggles with putting the pieces of the puzzle together, instead of snapping his fingers and solving it all in one fell swoop. This is the first book I’ve read by mystery author Peter Abrahams, but you can bet it won’t be the last!

Liar by Justine Larbalestier


2009
05.20


liar
Micah is a liar. That is a fact. And the only thing you can be absolutely sure of in this dark, sexy thriller from Aussie author Larbalestier. For Micah, lying has become second nature, a way to distract herself from her outsider status, her parents’ indifference, the tiny NYC apartment that feels too small for her restless spirit. For Micah, there is only one truth. But it’s buried so deeply beneath all her lies she isn’t sure anyone would believe her if she ever found the courage to tell. “I am often in trouble. Mostly for things I have not done. I can’t expect to be believed. I am the girl who cried wolf.” Only two things calm her—running and spending time with her secret love Zach. Secret because he’s popular and she’s not. Secret because he has a real girlfriend who proudly calls him her own. But when Zach goes missing and later turns up dead, he and Micah’s relationship comes to unwelcome light. Suddenly Micah finds herself at the center of a storm of malicious gossip, unsubstantiated rumors and chilly silences. No one wants to find out what happened to Zach more than Micah, but to do so she’ll have to face some hard truths about herself, some of which are quite nasty indeed. Micah is a liar. That is a fact. But everything else in this suspenseful page-turner could be the truth or could be a lie, and it’s up to you, dear reader, to figure out which is which. With a surprise twist smack in the middle and a delightfully unreliable narrator, Liar is a delectably disturbing story from start to finish. My only complaint is the cover–the girl shown here looks nothing like the way Micah is described: half black and half white with short, curly hair. However, that’s small potatoes compared to how much I enjoyed this roller-coaster of a chill ride. (Editor’s Note: Shortly after this review and others were written, Justine’s publisher Bloomsbury decided to change the cover to more accurately reflect the narrator’s race.)

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn


2009
05.15


dog on it
Meet Bernie and Chet, the two hard-bitten P.I.’s  of the Little Detective Agency. Though one has two legs and the other four, both are tough, not easily fooled dudes with hearts of gold. Bernie Little is a down-on-his-luck detective with a big debt and small checking account. Chet “the Jet” is his loyal-to-the-bone mongrel sidekick whose wandering nose and lack of impulse control often gets him into trouble. Chet is the star of this mystery-series opener, as he narrates Bernie’s life in an uber-realistic, easily distracted canine voice that often comes across as barkingly funny. In their first adventure together, Bernie and Chet are hired to find wealthy teen Madison Chambliss, whose divorced mother reports her missing. But there’s more to this apparent runaway case that meets the eye (or nose, in Chet’s case), and the dedicated partners soon dig up connections between Madison’s disappearance, a real estate development that’s gone bottoms up, and the Russian mafia. To make matters more complicated, both have recently become smitten: Bernie with local investigative reporter Suzie Sanchez and Chet with a mysterious furry female he only knows by her come-hither bark. Unlike some other best-selling doggerel, this book nails the dog’s-eye point of view perfectly and also serves as an excellent introduction to the detective genre if you haven’t had the pleasure of dipping into it before. A doggone good book that even a cat person can love. I can’t wait to go on a stake-out with Chet and Bernie again!

Contact

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