Recently, The Hub ran a post about new trends in YA lit. Like any other roundup, I agreed with some of the suggestions wholeheartedly (Girl Sleuths, Space Opera), while disagreeing with others (Lack of Parental Units is too broad/longstanding to be considered a trend). At the top of my list—and first on theirs, though it isn’t numbered—is serial killers. They certainly aren’t new to the YA realm, but I’ve been seeing more and more of them lately—and as big fan of both crime fiction and mystery novels, I say bring ’em on!
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on 'Shadow and Bone.'
Up until recently, most* YA stories about serial killers were straight-up Lois Duncan throwbacks, like Todd Strasser’s Thrillogy; police procedurals like Alane Ferguson’s Cameryn Mahoney series; or paranormal mysteries like Kim Harrington’s Clarity Fern series and Kimberly Derting’s Body Finder books. But over the last year, I’ve been seeing two types of more specific story emerge: stories in which the main character is the child of a serial killer** and stories about Jack the Ripper.
While I’m focusing on Jack the Ripper in this column, Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper actually fits into both categories. On one of his last days in the orphanage, 14-year-old Carver Young discovers a letter that may have been written by his long-absent father. That, in addition to being adopted by a retired Pinkerton detective, spurs him to begin an investigation into his own past...which, it turns out, might be closely linked to the man who committed the Ripper murders almost a decade ago.
Running down clues across 1895 New York City, cameos by historical figures like Teddy and Alice Roosevelt, lots of action sequences and gadgetry galore make this a great pick for readers who’d like to read about the teen version of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. Readers, like me, who like to know What’s Real and What’s Fiction will be especially pleased with the author’s note at the end.
Amy Reeves’ Ripper shares a title, a villain and a time period with the Petrucha book, but that’s it for similarities. This one follows scrappy 17-year-old Arabella Sharp, recently orphaned and now living with her upper-crust grandmother in London. After getting into trouble one too many times, Abbie is put to work at Whitechapel Hospital...just before the Ripper murders begin.
The dialogue isn’t always believable, the romance seems more about proximity than lurrrve, and Abbie’s psychic visions seem superfluous until the last third of the book. Still, Ripper is an atmospheric mystery with a secret society, lots of period details—including a cameo by Christina Rossetti—and a dodo, so it’s likely to go over well with fans of the historical paranormal.
Last, of course, there’s last year’s fabulous The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, which is a Ripper story set in present-day London. Ghosts, boarding school and a new round of Ripper murders are all huge fun, but my favorite aspect of this book is the clear-eyed, honest exploration of our fascination with horror and violence. Highly recommended across the board.
Three books about the Ripper murders, all completely different! Pretty impressive, right?
Did I miss your favorite serial killer-themed YA novel? Let me know in the comments!
*I’m giving myself an out because there’s always going to be A Book I Missed. Case in point, Dan Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver books, which sound like they’re about a teenaged Dexter Morgan. You’d better believe I’m requesting those at the library POST-HASTE.
**See Dia Reeves’ Slice of Cherry for a sometimes-psychedelic story about sisters who follow in their father’s killing shoes, and Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers for a more straightforward (but EXCELLENT) tale about the son of a serial killer who struggles with his own violent urges on a daily basis.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.