Genre Guide: Mysteries for Teens


Image by Wikimedia Commons user Alterego
Image by Wikimedia Commons user Alterego

The definition for teen mysteries seems to be slightly less strictly defined as in comparison to their adult counterparts.  First, there is usually “something” to solve.  Generally, it is a crime, but in some cases it can be a secret that is not necessarily illegal or punishable by law.  For example, why someone killed themselves or discovering that someone is cheating in a contest or academic endeavor.  Also, while adult mystery novels usually have detectives at work at solving mysteries, in teen novels it is often an average teen with an inquisitive nature–someone who is a true amateur.

Teen mysteries are similar to their adult counterparts, however, when it comes to the plot unfolding.  The clues are presented to the main character(s) and to the reader, and steps are taken as to get more information to discover the how, what, why, who, and sometimes even the where and when.  Ultimately, we are given the final reveal at the end of the novel.

Authors to Know


Mysteries for teens present a puzzle or secret that lead readers (and usually protagonists) to gather clues presented in the story to solve the puzzle or learn the secret by the end of the book.  Usually mysteries for teens involve a lot of action and are fast paced.  However, recently we have seen a trend of psychological mysteries written for teens that are slower paced with a plot that reveals the true nature of someone or something that happened.

Teen mystery novels can cross genres. The most common are contemporary realistic fiction, historical fiction, and supernatural fiction.  Suspense as a genre is closely aligned with mysteries and are at times one in the same.  In recent years, we have seen the rise of mysteries presented in a series where the protagonist is the same character throughout the series.  Finally, most mysteries for teens have an ending that is resolved and tied up neatly, even in the individual titles in a series.


The appeal for teens to read a mystery is often the same as for anyone who likes to read mysteries: to be challenged to solve the puzzle, crime, or hidden secret by the end of the novel and oftentimes the reader wants to solve it before the protagonist does.  Additionally, when it comes to reading the forensic genre of mysteries, teens will like learning new ways to look at clues and evidence and maybe even learn more about forensic sciences.  Finally, other appeal factors include the fast pace, the action and adventure, the admirable main characters, and the high emotions and suspense of the story.


Teens of any age will read mysteries.  These stories also generally have equal appeal to male and female readers.


Some recent trends for teen mystery novels include the use of forensic science and other sciences involved to either commit the crime or solve the mystery.  Additionally, some authors have been pushing the limits of psychological horror in their novels compared to what we have previously seen published for teen readers.  Mystery series that are built around a single protagonist are also becoming more common. Finally, in recent years, authors have included technology that is either recent or speculative as part of their mystery.


Reference Books

  • Mind-Bending Mysteries and Thrillers for Teens: A Programming and Readers’ Advisory Guide by Amy J. Alessio (American Library Association, 2014).
  • The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Mystery, Second Edition byJohn Charles, Candace Clark, Joanne Hamilton-Selway, and Joanna Morrison (American Library Association, 2012).


Most teen publishers publish mysteries for teens.  Notably, Soho Teen, a new imprint of Soho Press, is currently publishing books for teens with a focus on mysteries and thrillers.


The Edgar Awards, includes a young adult award.

The Agatha Awards also has a young adult award.

The Thriller Awards, presented by the International Thriller Writers, has a young adult award.

Recommended Titles

As with many genre lists, this list could go on and on, so feel free to comment with some of your favorite mystery novels!

– Colleen Seisser, currently reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

4 thoughts on “Genre Guide: Mysteries for Teens”

    1. Thanks Tara! I haven’t read Paper Valentine yet, I will have to check it out!!

  1. Great list!! I’m going to file this under my “Book Display Ideas” Pinterest Board. :-) You might want to make a correction though – A Spy in the House is by Y. S. Lee, not Y. S. King. I love that whole series, too!

    1. Thanks Courtney! I am happy to read that this list inspired you!! Also, thanks for catching that mistake, it has been corrected :)

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