Young Adult Mysteries

This panel at Bouchercon was titled “Importance of Book Clubs and Young Adult Literacy.” Speakers included Destiny Geddis, Matthew McGrath, B.K. Stevens, and Kaley Whittle, with Tina Whittle moderating.

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Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretation and any errors are mine.

· This panel included YA readers. They do reviews and have a book club at their charter school. Here is what they wish writers and editors knew about YA.

· YA mysteries have a teenage sleuth. The crime doesn’t have to be a murder. These stories often include elements of self-discovery and current issues for teens.

· Panelists advised authors to talk to young people to see how they speak. TV teens are as accurate as CSI teams on TV. Know your audience. Do the research. Talk to young adults to see what they do and what their friends do. “We don’t use certain words that have become antiques. We talk differently.” They also use different languages between texting, e-mail, talking in person to friends and to adults.

· Not all teen protagonists need a tragic backstory. They don’t have to be misunderstood. They don’t have to be loners, either. There’s lots of diversity in high school.

· Adults are not always evil, mean, unlikable, or uncaring. Avoid clichés like “I’m a teenager and I hate my parents.” Teens don’t rebel against authority in high school. They have to be respectful to teachers. Parents don’t always have to be divorced or dead. Nor does the family dog have to die. Most parents love their kids and try to be good parents and sometimes make mistakes.

· Don’t force the romantic elements. Have your characters be strong on their own, and then they can fall in love. You don’t need a lot of angst. The romance doesn’t always mean boy/girl, or white guy/white girl. Platonic relationships work too. Friendships are also desirable. The romance can lead to character growth when the protagonist has to make a choice.

· Don’t kill off a pet just to elicit an emotional response. Make the emotion natural and realistic to a character who’s connected to readers. Don’t throw in a baby either for the emotional response. Look at http://doesthedogdie.com for a guide to movies.

· Create a diverse cast of characters.

· Treat YA mysteries as seriously as adult mysteries. Readers should have access to clues, and the protagonist should solve the mystery on her own. “We figure things out really quickly and we want surprises. Don’t dumb down the mystery. Give us challenges. Develop the villains as fully as other characters.” Avoid dialogue such as “as you know…”

· Strong female characters do not act like stereotypical men. They can be feminine but strong. Males will read books with a female lead. Don’t follow gender clichés. Guys can be sensitive, and girls can like sports.

· Leave your moral soapbox at home. Subtlety is appreciated. Talk to the reader, not at the reader, otherwise it feels preachy.

· It’s okay to be both serious and funny.

YA writers or readers, what would you add?

August Reads

If you’re looking for some new reads, or are just curious about what I’m reading these days, take a look below. Usually I read more than one book at a time. Currently I’m reading the next C.S. Harris historical mystery, another Alex Rider installment, and a historical romance. How many books do you have going at one time? 

SCORPIA by Anthony Horowitz (Teen Spy Fiction)
Fourteen-year-old British agent Alex Rider is ostensibly on vacation in Italy but he’s really following a clue as to how his father died. When he learns the truth, he joins the criminal organization known as Scorpia. He knows they’re trained assassins, but he’s unaware of their terrifying plan to murder millions of London schoolchildren with a secret weapon.   Scorpia (Alex Rider)

Bent on personal revenge, Alex returns to England with only one mission: kill the person who shot his father. It’s none other than his former MI6 boss, Mrs. Jones. But then his plans start to go awry, and he ends up fighting for his home turf once again. Scorpia isn’t an organization to be thwarted, though, and they’ve made contingencies in case he betrays them.

This story is another exciting adventure in the rousing Alex Rider series, who’s like a junior James Bond fighting evil on a global scale. The fast-paced action will have you turning pages and rushing out to get the sequel. Pure escapist entertainment!

HOW TO PROPOSE TO A PRINCE by Kathryn Caskie (Historical Romance)
Elizabeth Royle is convinced she’s destined to marry a prince, so when she meets a man claiming to be Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, she knows it’s Fate. Little does she realize that her handsome prince is a decoy. His cousin, Lord Whitevale, is actually the prince, and Sumner—the real Marquess of Whitevale—is posing as the royal to draw assassins away.

Elizabeth falls in love with a man whose duty supposedly dictates he wed Princess Charlotte, possibly her half-sister. She despairs when Sumner seems to care for her but keeps getting pulled away for affairs of state. Should she believe her senses or what others are telling her about his need for a political match? She can’t compete against a royal princess.    How to Propose to a Prince (Avon Romantic Treasure)

Her association with the prince proves dangerous when a sniper shoots at them. But even though he isn’t meant for her, Elizabeth seeks to protect him. She has to have faith that he’ll find a way back to her as promised.

Secret identity stories are always engaging. Although the reader knows what’s going on, the anticipation is high for when Elizabeth learns the truth. Will she feel betrayed, or will she believe Sumner’s declarations when he says she’s the one who captured his heart?

LOUISA AND THE COUNTRY BACHELOR by Anna Maclean (Historical Mystery)
This is the second Louisa May Alcott mystery where we read about Louisa’s life as a young woman before she became a famous author. Louisa and her family are vacationing with cousins in New Hampshire. Their rural village suffers a tragedy when a young laborer is found dead, pushed down a ravine. His sister believes one of the shopkeepers killed him so as to buy their piece of land by the railroad track, but Louisa isn’t so easily convinced. Their neighbors harbor secrets, and all isn’t what it seems in this sleepy little town. The questions build as she investigates, especially when the local sheriff suspects her close friend of being the murderer. To prove his innocence, Louisa probes into people’s lives, not realizing she’s putting her own safety at stake. Another delightful installment in a charming series.
Louisa and the Country Bachelor: A Louisa May Alcott Mystery

NORWAY TO HIDE by Maddy Hunter (Mystery)
This entry in Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series is just as amusing as the other stories in her repertoire. You’ll smile as you read about the antics of tour Norway to Hide (Passport to Peril Mysteries)guide Emily Andrews and her senior citizens on their trip to Scandinavia. The Iowan group is dismayed to be thrown in with a bunch of Floridians, even more so when a guest turns up dead. What secrets is this troupe hiding that they’d kill to keep quiet? Norway to Hide is a humorous tale that will have you chuckling and guessing until the final clue.

WHAT ANGELS FEAR by C.S. Harris (Historical Mystery)
This first title in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series will hook you and reel you in. Accused of a heinous rape/murder, Viscount Devlin flees the authorities and takes refuge in 1811 London where he seeks to clear his name. With various allies to help him, he unravels a scheme involving French spies, political intrigue, blackmail, and greed. Evocative setting details will have you believing you’re in fog-shrouded London as you follow the hero’s adventures into disreputable alleyways and slummy inns as he searches for the killer before the man strikes again. Devlin can’t even trust his own family who harbors damaging secrets. At stake is the life of a woman he once loved and who loves him still. Can he unmask the villain, save the Regency, and avoid the hangman’s noose? Once you read this book, you’ll want to find more stories in Harris’s engaging series.

What Angels Fear: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Book 1