Teen mysteries: Four books that deliver summer thrills – USA TODAY
Summer break may be ticking away, but there’s still plenty of time for teens to escape into a few whodunits. Brian Truitt looks at four twisty young-adult reads for kids — and kids at heart — to check out before the fall.
By Emily Bain Murphy
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 400 pp.
***½ out of four stars
While there’s a little bit of Harry Potter and some familiar YA themes in Emily Bain Murphy’s intriguing debut, the period tale set in 1942 still feels fresh. After her mother dies and her dad is drafted into the war effort, teenage Aila is sent with younger brother Miles to live in Mom’s rural New England hometown of Sterling, a town that harbors an abundance of secrets. They quickly find that they’re not wanted: Many of the townsfolk blame their mother for the Disappearances, the vanishing of a new aspect of everyday life — from the sense of smell to being able to dream — that happens to Sterling’s citizens every seven years. On the eve of the next Disappearance Day, Aila digs into Shakespearean references that may unlock the big-picture mystery, becomes involved in a love triangle and learns of the Variants, scientific concoctions that give people their sensations back and much more. Aila is a solid protagonist amid a surprisingly subtle landscape where the fantastical lies just beneath the surface.
One of Us Is Lying
By Karen M. McManus
Delacorte, 368 pp.
What if one of the Breakfast Club kids never made it out of detention? That’s the entertaining and potboiling premise of Karen McManus’ mystery, which centers on Ivy League-bound Bronwyn, popular girl Addy, all-star jock Cooper, bad boy Nate and school gossip Simon. They all wind up having to stay after school for breaking the no-phone rule. Things get crazy when Simon dies suddenly in front of them, courtesy of someone taking advantage of his peanut allergy. The others then have to navigate the intrusion of social media, society and law enforcement into their lives due to their newfound fame, plus figure out what happened. The situation proves empowering for each kid. This is no ordinary whodunit, and the author finds a way to make the resolution both surprising and relevant.
The One Memory of Flora Banks
By Emily Barr
Philomel Books, 304 pp.
Emily Barr’s YA debut is a teen-girl spin on Memento: Flora is a 17-year-old English girl with no short-term memory, the result of a brain tumor that was removed seven years earlier. She scribbles notes on her arms and keeps a journal to remind her of who she is and what she needs to do in her daily life. That status quo is upended after she kisses her best friend’s boyfriend, Drake. She’s surprised to find she recalls it the next day. When her parents travel to France to visit her ailing brother, Flora follows Drake to Norway, thinking he might be the key to fixing her issues. Flora’s continual revisiting of her memory notes is integral to her adventure, though that gets redundant at times for a reader. Yet overall, this is a satisfying journey toward self-identity that reflects the three words on her right hand: “Flora, be brave.”
And Then There Were Four
By Nancy Werlin
Dial Books, 416 pp.
A clever title play on the Agatha Christie book, And Then There Were Four focuses on five teens at a prestigious academy who are inexplicably brought together, only to have their meeting place cave in on them. They start to wonder who tried to end them, and after one of them dies in a car accident — it’s right there in the title, folks — the survivors begin to suspect their parents and relatives might be to blame. The story’s structure is a little clunky — chapters pinball between the first-person point of view of introverted but goodhearted Saralinda and the odd second-person pattern of Caleb, who believes he has a hidden malevolent side. It also takes a good while for the plot to kick in, but this turns into an unpredictable adventure through New York, leading to an emotional climax.