Books by Theme: Underrated young adult books about suicide, murder, and mystery

books by theme                underrated

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Today, we continue the time-honored S&L tradition of highlighting books that didn't get a lot of press, but deserve to be recognized.  Today, we look at books about loss.  Tough books that make us deal with the realities of death, that help us deal with our emotions.  That let us cry and hope.  For past editions, check out:

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

And We Stay is a story about a girl finding her way at a new school and working through the ghosts of her past, the suicide of a fellow classmate.  New friends and Emily Dickinson help her to heal in this compelling mix of narrative and poetry.  I took a minute to warm up to Emily and her voice, perhaps because the beginning jumps liberally between Emily-now and Emily-then.  Once her focus turned more to the present, I was more drawn into her world and her voice.  That voice is often imaginative, lyrical, and captivatingly emotive.  Emily's is a world inside her head slowly turning outward.  Her poetry shows the early stabbings of youth with a maturity that comes from experiencing great pain.  It also adds a layer of extra emotional power to an already poignant story.   

Far From You by Tessa Sharpe

This book was a pleasant surprise.  We have a murdered best friend, a mystery the cops don't understand, a friend desperate to find the truth.  I was fearful of a cheesy, overwrought murder mystery plot.  Instead, I got a murder mystery wrapped up in friendship, struggle, love, and poignantly-expressed emotion.  Sophie's an addict out of rehab, restarting her life.  Her story is about solving her friend's death, but it's also very much about friendship.  She relies on Trev, Rachel, and Kyle to help her solve Mina's death.  Each of them feels fully realized and fleshed out.  And they trust her, instead of forcing her into the isolated martyr hero role.  The writing is starkly beautiful at times and very fluid.  What results is a beautiful exposition of growing up and first love.  The mystery is exciting, but it's as much about knowing Mina as it is about the killer.  This was not an easy book to put down.   

Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

"Rachel didn't wear shoes."  A puzzling and pretty beginning to a surprising book.  This book was thrilling, fast-paced, and unexpectedly heartfelt.  We start with a broken friendship, a mysterious death, and a best friend set on solving the mystery.  Jaycee is a sheltered girl driven apart from her wild friend.  But now that Rachel is dead, she has to investigate the dark secrets of Rachel's past, the seedy gangland underbelly of her small town, and the dangerous rituals of a cultlike football team.  Mixed up is a great portrayal of racism and classism, and how these not-so-hidden evils can hide truths much closer to home.  I was mesmerized.  Jaycee transformation from shy and timid to brave and empowered was fun to watch.  The bit of romance is also great, and more than just added fluff.   

The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

It's like Pretty Little Liars but darker, with suicide and rape playing center stage.  It's sensitive to triggers, but it's tough.  This book forces you to face some of the ugliest truths in high school.  The bullying.  The labeling.  The darkness behind the scenes.  Angie was a beautifully flawed character.  In her search for the truth about who drove her best friend to suicide, she finds out just as much about herself as she does Lizzie, and works through her own darkness.  Angie's insistence on finding the guilty parties masks her own guilt at abandoning her best friend in those last months.  It's a powerful story that puts a deeper spin on a murder mystery.  The plot twist?  I won't even hint, because it was so WOW that I had to put the book down for a second.  This book stayed with me long after I finished reading. 

Devil in the Corner by Patricia Elliott

Devil in the Corner A chilling gothic mystery steeped in romance, murder, and laudanum.   It's a languid, Victorian tale with an ornate style and a main character ambivalently teeterig between wicked and good.  Maud is not always the easiest to root for and I can see readers disliking her.  However, I loved her wickedness as much as her goodness.  She's clearly broken and driven by addiction as much as compassion.  The book really came into its own when the mystery became more important, tensions between the characters stretched to snapping, and the quasi-supernatural elements ramped up.  Is there a devil in the town?  Or a killer?  I read this book nearly fully over two nights--once it caught me, I couldn't go free without reaching the end.   

What are your favorite books about loss and mystery? 


  1. The S-Word has been on my e-reader for quite some time now. I thought it was just about bullying, but wow I didn't know it was deeper than that. I'd love to read that soon. :)

    Julie @ Books and Insomnia

    1. I thought it was extremely well done. Definitely tough to read, but SO much more than a bullying book. I hope you like it!