It may be morbid, but some of us really like learning about horrible, gory events. They wouldn’t have invented a genre called “true crime” if there weren’t so many fans of it. While it would seem to be the domain of adult lit, there are plenty of YA books that shed light on real-life murderers of our far and recent past. With Halloween around the corner, we wanted to share five of our fave not-so-fictional YA murderers.
Erzebet Bathory in The Blood Confession, by Alisa M. Libby
In the late 16th century, a vain countess began to fear that one day her looks would fade. She noticed a lot of her maids were gorgeous, and got the idea that maybe their blood would keep her looking forever young. As with any slippery slope, it started with simple bloodletting akin to “medical practices” of yore (albeit with cosmetic intentions, not health ones), and then oops! It became serial murders. This is a chilling fictionalized account that will make you think the Evil Queen from Snow White was really not that bad.
Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf
No, seriously, the author of this book went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer. Yes, that serial killer/cannibal/animal murderer guy. But this memoir in comics form is about the awkwardness of being a teen, the pain of struggling with your sexuality, the deep wounds of bullying, and all the things that may have played a part in creating the monster Dahmer became.
Alice Mitchell in Alice + Freda Forever, by Alexis Coe and Sally Klann
This true story is like If You Could Be Mine gone terribly, terribly wrong. Two girls in the 1890s fall in love, and as you might imagine, their romance is not exactly condoned by society. So Alice comes up with the brilliant plan to impersonate a man so she and Freda can get married—until their parents find out and put the kibosh on that. Under the immense social pressures of the times, or maybe just because teenage love can be fickle, Freda moves on and becomes engaged to a man. And Alice is not having it. This book incorporates the real letters and court transcripts that carry the story from love affair to murder trial.
Charles Howard Schmid, Jr., in Half in Love With Death, by Emily Ross
You know how sometimes it’s just another day, and other times you wake up and just want to do something totally random? I think I’ll try sushi today, you might say. Or I want to learn fencing! Or maybe I want to kill a girl. Oh, is that last one just something Charles Schmid said? While this book about being drawn to someone with a dark side is technically about made-up people, the author is pretty clear on the fact that she was totally inspired by this charismatic chick magnet murderer, also known as the Pied Piper of Tucson.
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Lizzie Borden in The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century, by Sarah Miller
This is an honorary appearance, because this mysterious murder and circus of a trial has never been definitively solved. In 1892, Borden’s father and stepmother were found hacked to death by axes (so that’s where we get that phrase!), and Lizzie’s strained relationship with her stepmother, as well as her shady alibi (looking for fishing tackle and equipment…really?) made her a prime suspect. But in the days before fancy forensic science, and in a world where newspapers could make up anything (maybe we still live in that world) and where women were paradoxically assumed to be harmless yet also untrustworthy (not to mention feeble-minded), the trial was anything but simple.