Call me a terrible person, call me a bad bisexual, but nothing makes me happier than reading about queer people living their most devious lives. I love stories about LGBTQIA+ teens getting roped into crimes—or doing the roping. I blame all the hot villains in the Disney movies I was exposed to as a child. Come on. Ursula? Maleficent? Also, my sixth-grade choir director selected The Phantom of the Opera for us to learn and perform, which couldn’t have helped matters. Okay, if we’re being honest, the fact that they were doing The Phantom was the only reason I joined choir. And then there was Rocky Horror. I was doomed to side with people on the wrong side of the law.
Thankfully, I’m not alone. Turns out, the world is full of villain-loving queers. For those looking to scratch the itch, here is a (not comprehensive) list of some delightful YA novels featuring LGBTQIA+ folks getting into trouble.
YA Thrillers Coming Soon
Set on a luxurious island accessible only to the one percent, Bad Things Happen Here follows Luca, who is thrust into a historical curse when her sister falls victim to the same mysterious fate that befalls girls here. Literally cannot wait for this one.
Serving major Yellow Jackets vibes, this summer camp thriller is brought to you by the author of Trouble Girls, so you know it’s going to go off the rails in the best way. Primal Animals is about a secret society with a stronghold on the sleepaway camp that teen Arlee has been sent to—which threatens the lives of her and her crush.
In this queer contemporary YA mystery, a nonbinary teen with autism realizes they must not only solve a 30-year-old mystery but also face the demons lurking in their past in order to live a satisfying life. I love the promise of a murder mystery from the 1980s bleeding over into the recently disrupted live of the main character.
Described as a haunted I Know What You Did Last Summer, this YA suspense novel follows Emily as she tries to put the pieces back together after a close friend’s death last summer. But when she starts being haunted by her dead friend, it becomes clear that the death may have been no accident, and the killer or killers are closer than she might have expected.
Is unleashing your newfound monstrousness as a means to exact vengeance on your oppressors a crime? I think this book definitely fits into the spirit of this list. When young Benji finds himself turning into a monster after being infected with a bioweapon belonging to the cult that raised him, he has to make some tough decisions, not the least of which being who to trust.
YA Thrillers Out Now
A historical novel set in the 1940s, The Savage Kind follows two teenage girls who become entangled in the death of a classmate and the mysterious attack on a teacher. As the clues unfold, so do their feelings for each other…but how much darkness lurks inside themselves?
Not to be rude, but if you haven’t heard of this one, where have you been? The thriller that took the pandemic by storm, Ace of Spades deserves every ounce of publicity it got. For those who like creepy games and cruel, faceless puppeteers, this book unpacks the institutionalized racism lurking in upscale private schools while delivering a compelling, page-turning mystery around the identity of the puppeteer.
What we have here is a heist book featuring a gang of drag queens. I’m just going to go ahead and say that again. A heist book with a gang of drag queens. The main character is a teen socialite leading a double life. By day, she’s the picture of teenage perfection. By night, she’s a thief, working in concert with (again) a team of drag queens. The stakes are real; the heists are glorious. The author is also responsible for The Fell of Dark, a delicious vampire story if you like your queer teens undead.
I absolutely love that Adam turned the horror that is conversion camps into a thriller with a fantastic gay teen as the main character. Kidnapped and shipped to Nightlight Ministries’ private island, Connor finds himself at the center of a story that’s painfully real. When Connor starts to uncover all the dark happenings at Nightlight, he decides he must break all the rules to take the camp down and expose them for what they really are.
When Caroline’s best friend Madison goes missing, she has some tough choices to make. For one, she’s just to graduate from the rigid prep school where her parents hope she’s being converted to heterosexuality. For another, she has her own reasons for not trusting the cops. But when she starts turning up other girls who went missing like Madison, she realizes she herself may be the common link between them.
Flora has a history of turning up bodies, starting with finding her dead classmate years ago. When a beautiful girl is killed in front of her, she goes on a quest for justice, determined to get to the bottom of girls whose murders are never solved. Her snooping turns up a conspiracy involving her own school…and the unwelcome attention of the killer.
A bisexual masterpiece. When main character Nora is held hostage in a bank robbery, a series of events is unleashed that flashes us back to her past, showing us why she is uniquely qualified to manage the current situation. The pacing in this one is fabulous, as is the characterization of the unforgettable Nora, who dishes out wisdom about trauma and resilience while managing to scare us a little with her Extreme Con Artist Skills.
About the Author
Wendy Heard is the author of the acclaimed She’s Too Pretty to Burn and the upcoming Dead End Girls, which Kirkus reviews lauded as “a romantic thriller that takes “Be Gay, Do Crime” to heart.” Dead End Girls follows queer teenagers Maude and Frankie, who fake their own deaths and go on the run, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.
In one week, Maude will be dead. At least, that’s what she wants everyone to think. After years of research, Maude has decided to fake her own death. She’s figured out the how, the when, the where, and who will help her unsuspectingly. The why is complex: revenge, partly. Her terrible parents deserve this. But there’s also l’appel du vide, the call of the void, that beckons her toward a new life where she will be tied to no one, free and adrift. Then Frankie, a step-cousin she barely knows, figures out what she’s plotting, and the plan seems like it’s ruined. Except Frankie doesn’t want to rat her out. Frankie wants in.
The girls vault into the unknown, risking everything for a new and limitless life. But there are some things you can never run away from. What if the poison is not in the soil, but in the roots? This pulse-pounding thriller offers a nuanced exploration of identity, freedom, and falling in love while your world falls apart.