It’s ironic. I understand—and champion—the importance, necessity and desire for dark themes in teen literature. When it comes to my own YA reading, though, I’m not often drawn to stories that deal with the troubling aspects of contemporary life.* No. When I want dark YA, I want YA noir. I want troubled heroes and untrustworthy dames (or vice versa, or any combination of the two!); I want atmosphere, plot twists and clever dialogue; I want a mystery that’ll keep me guessing.
Joanna Nadin’s Wonderland: Due to family complications, 16-year-old Jude has resigned herself to watching her dreams pass on out of sight. Until, that is, her dynamic childhood friend Stella reappears. But is Stella really trustworthy? Whose interests does she really have at heart? Nadin’s prose is spare, distinct and tighter than tight. Although I had the plot twist figured out by literally the second page, that didn’t affect the tension or my curiosity about how the story would unfold. Not to be missed, and Nadin is definitely an author to watch.
Holly Black’s Red Glove: This second installment in the Curse Workers series picks up a few months after White Cat ended, with Cassel Sharpe trying to navigate the waters of high school, romance, organized crime and his own newly discovered magical power. I was one of the very few who didn’t swoon over the first book in this series, but Red Glove brought me wholeheartedly into the fold. Like its predecessor, it has a classic noir feel while staying true to the age of the protagonist. Unlike its predecessor, it kept my attention with a mystery so twisty that every single time I made a prediction, I was wrong. I love that.
And here are two of my older favorites:
Michael Northrop’s Gentlemen: One member of a group of childhood friends disappears just before their much-despised English teacher introduces Crime and Punishment in a suspicious — and exceedingly creepy — manner. Micheal’s** voice is original and compelling, and the ultimate payoff is both terrible and strangely satisfying. Like its inspiration, though, Gentlemen requires patience—it’s all about the slow-building tension.
Norah McClintock’s Dooley Takes the Fall: Ryan Dooley is unlucky with the ladies and has a troubled past. In other words, he’s a classic noir hero. When he witnesses a crime, his history makes him the No. 1 suspect in the eyes of...well, pretty much everyone. It plays with the conventions of the genre, but also has a killer emotional core and believable, well-developed characters—kind of the opposite of Sean Beaudoin’s You Killed Wesley Payne***. In brief: Have you seen Brick? Did you love Brick? Yes? Okay, then. Read this book. If you haven’t seen Brick, well then. Get to it.
*Which is not uncommon among adults. I suspect it’s a part of what leads to the common “Why would you want to read that?” disconnect between adult and teen readers.
**Not a typo: His parents misspelled his name on his birth certificate. As Mike says, “...it's a bad way to start things out.”
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably engaged in yet-another pitched battle with her new cat.