5 True Crime YAs We Love

Hole in My LifeCalling all memoir, YA, and true crime fans: having trouble deciding what to read next? Why not try a book combining the best aspects of each? Nonfiction YA—think Aaron Hartzler’s Rapture Practice, Nic Sheff’s Tweak, and Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out—is becoming more prevalent, but it’s still rare. Nonfiction crime YA is even rarer, but I’ve got you covered. Think of these books as contemporary, realistic YA with a twist. The twisted part is, everything in these stories really happened.

The Year We Disappeared, by Cylin Busby
A memoir with alternating POVs, that of then-9-year-old Cylin and her then-30-something father, John, the story depicts the attempted murder of John, a Massachusetts cop targeted by a local mobster. In the aftermath of the disfiguring, heartbreaking crime, Cylin’s family is forced to flee the state.
Why it’s Amazing: Moving to a new town and attempting to fit in is already a relatable theme, but this time it’s coupled with family drama and the grownup realization that some of John’s brothers-in-blue might be corrupt.

A Girl’s Life Online, by Katherine Tarbox
This internationally best-selling memoir, originally published in 2000 under the name Katie.com, chronicles the author’s disturbing experience with an online relationship. Her “internet boyfriend” turns out to be a much older man who assaults her in a hotel room when they first meet up.
Why it’s Amazing: Only 17 when she wrote the book, Ms. Tarbox depicts her 13-year-old-self as an average, occasionally lonely teen growing up in suburban Connecticut: i.e., a classic coming-of-age setup. When her story turns tragic, she’s ostracized by the people in her town and bravely becomes the first person in history to prosecute an internet predator.

Hole in My Life, by Jack Gantos
Prolific, Printz Award–winning author Jack Gantos turns to true events in his own youth for this tale about dealing drugs and winding up in prison. Serving time alters his life trajectory and sparks his writing career.
Why it’s Amazing: Many YA books tackle the problem of how to pay for college, but few depict going to such extremes to do so; Jack sailed a boat filled with marijuana from St. Croix to New York for a payoff of just $10,000 (and a trip to the big house).

No Place Safe, by Kim Reid
Because her mother was one of the investigators in the Atlanta Child Murders of the late 1970s, young Kim was in the unique position of hearing details about the deaths that were not necessarily released to the public. While she struggled to fit in at an all-white private school several towns away (and struggled with her own guilt that she felt safer there than in her own black neighborhood, where the abductions and killings took place), she also worked a part-time job at a fast food restaurant and took care of her little sister while her mother was out investigating.
Why it’s Amazing: Half emotional coming-of-age tale, half riveting exposé of a deeply flawed criminal justice system.

Guys Read: True Stories, by Jon Scieszka
I’m sort of cheating with this one. (What do you expect from a shady crime-book compiler?) This anthology series features “ten stories that are 100% adventurous, 100% unbelievable—and 100% true,” including tales of tarantula hunting and shipwreck captivity. Editor Scieszka was the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, so while the stories don’t only depict young adults/crime, they have been specifically selected and written to appeal to young adults.
Why it’s Amazing: 12 different authors—from award-winning YA writers to journalists—contributed to the book, with high-octane stories such as “Sahara Shipwreck,” Dead Man Crawling”, and “Mojo, Moonshine, and the Blues.”

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