A good heist must be immaculately plotted and dazzlingly executed, starring complex and nuanced perps struggling with familiar human issues…on top of the not-so-familiar pressures of the crime at hand. Narrative sleight of hand and propulsive action are a must, which kind of makes heist stories perfect YA territory, since YA is often driven by vivid characters & propulsive plots interwoven in thrilling and innovative ways. Here are six of the best YA heist stories, ready to steal their place atop your all-times favorites list.
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Is book one in Bardugo’s Grishaverse duology the the ultimate heist—not just in YA, or in fiction, but in any category of pop culture? It just might be. It takes all the twisty, revelatory elements of stories like Ocean’s 11, Bourne Identity, and Skyfall, blends them with the thrilling, edge-of-your-seat tension of the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers, and channels all of that into one of the tightest, most atmospheric, richly imagined worlds and plots you’ve EVER seen, with an incredible cast of fascinating, morally complex, wounded characters to boot. Full of deception, misdirection, revelations and reversals, Six of Crows takes its damaged and driven crew—Kaz, Inej, Matthias, Nina, Wylan, and Jesper—on a wild ride from the streets of Ketterdam to the impenetrable Ice Court, on the trail of a truly impossible heist. The narrative never falters, never pauses, only becoming richer and more enthralling as the tension skyrockets.
City of Saints and Thieves, by Natalie C. Anderson
This fascinating thriller opens on the streets of the fictional Sangui City in Kenya, following orphaned Tina, brought up to be a master thief and street soldier. She moved there from the Congo with her mother, but when her mother is murdered before the action of the book begins, a lust for revenge inspires Tina’s turn toward a life of crime. Anderson’s debut is a heist, a murder mystery, a crime thriller, a gritty and visceral look at the plight of refugees, and a zig-zagging page-turner told in a smattering of languages and dialects (English, French, Swahili, street slang). The pulse-racing action finds the fierce, vulnerable, and determined Tina heading back to the Congo on a deadly mission to uncover the truth about what happened to her mother. Don’t miss this uncompromising, complex, and twisty read.
The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner
Loosely set in a fictionalized version of ancient Greece, the first book in Whalen Turner’s beloved Queen’s Thief series is a story of heists and gods, kings and mystical objects, stories and lies. Gen very much considers himself to be the greatest thief alive, and possibly in all of history. And even that, in his opinion, might be underselling it. Yes, he’s in prison, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of his personal myth-building. His sentence is cut short when the king’s frankly obnoxious magus pulls him out of his cell to take part in an essentially impossible heist (the best kind!). Gen’s task: to find an ancient stone that will give the king the ultimate right to rule the land. The king has heard Gen’s boasting, and so he puts Gen to the test, with his freedom as the prize. The drawback: no one who has set out to find the stone has ever returned, and also nobody else on the quest can stand Gen. As he leads their perilous mission, he deals also with his personal fight for redemption. This is a thrilling adventure, full of surprises to the very end.
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
Kat is so out of the game. She used to steal stuff—a lot of stuff—but she’s done with all that now. She’s focused on finishing high school unscathed, but her father’s enemies have other ideas. She’s framed for a heist she didn’t carry out, and there’s only one way she can make it right: by meeting with her father’s nemesis and agreeing to take on the most challenging heist she has ever faced. She has two weeks to steal some priceless paintings with her teen crew. It’s incredibly dangerous, it betrays everything her family stands for…and it’s the only way to save her father. Carter weaves a thrilling tale as Kat takes on the challenge of her life in this witty, globe-crossing art thriller.
Tokyo Heist, by Diana Renn
If you’re in the mood for another art-based heist—and why wouldn’t you be, they’re awesome!—here’s one set in Japan and served up with generous amounts of romantic intrigue, witty dialogue, and manga-inspired action (plus a sprinkling of FBI involvement). Violet, who normally spends her time reading—and creating—manga, finds herself drawn into the theft of some Van Gogh sketches. She’s forced to try her hand at stealing them back, lest assassins come for her father instead. The action moves between Seattle and Tokyo in this deftly told narrative.
As Red as Blood, by Salla Simukka
This Scandinavian page-turner has plenty of blood on snow, and on money, as it turns out. The story kicks in when hyperintelligent, isolated Lumikki discovers a huge, bloodstained stash of Euros in her high school’s darkroom. The money’s owners—ruthless criminals, of course—are violently keen on getting it back, so Lumikki, who has Lisbeth Salander–levels of resourcefulness, goes on the run in this reverse heist. Not content to stay one step ahead of her pursuers, Lumikki infiltrates their criminal organization in an attempt to save herself and solve the mystery of a dead woman found lying in the snow. With fairy tale overtones and ample helpings of lonely winter vistas, this is a fresh take on the genre.