In her memoir Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas describes sociopaths as “different from the average person, often in very dangerous or scary ways.” Other traits of sociopaths, according to the Hare Psychopathy checklist, include narcissism, juvenile delinquency, and a lack of empathy. In other words, qualities that make for a terrible friend…but an awesome fictional character. And when the sociopath is a young person, or someone who interacts chiefly with young people, the creep factor goes through the roof. Here are 7 of our favorite YA sociopaths to make you twitch, cringe, and maybe shudder with delight. (I won’t judge.)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Two words: arsenic sugar. 18-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her shut-in sister Constance are the subjects of a cruel chant recited by the local villagers. Constance is believed to be the possible mastermind behind a multi-family-member homicide that occurred years earlier, and the two young women live isolated, strange lives in their near-empty estate, that only become odder after a fire consumes most of their property. It’s masterfully creepy storytelling at its finest.
Dear Killer, by Katherine Ewell
London teenager Kit moonlights as “the Perfect Killer,” a hitman for hire, fond of “drama, darkness, and sickening brutality.” Like most sociopaths, she’s easily bored. Kit was trained from adolescence by her equally deadly mother and has learned to present a mask of “innocence and stupidity” to the world. But inside, she relishes her nefarious hidden role: “I was a queen looking out over her kingdom, because they were all bent to my will and marched to the beat of my murderous drum.” Slowly, however, her moral nihilism begins to show cracks…
Brutal Youth, by Anthony Breznican
Between the stressed-out staff and sadistic students, sociopaths are the norm at St. Michael’s, the school where this novel takes place. My favorite is probably Colin Vickler (aka “Clink”), who stars in the prologue. Having been pushed to the breaking point by bullies, he stands atop the high school’s roof, flinging jars of hideous science class specimens at his fleeing victims. But the heart of the book belongs to Peter, Noah, and Lorelei, three freshman students to love and root for, even as they’re forced to make tough choices and suffer through even tougher mistakes.
The Wig in the Window, by Kristen Kittscher
Is the Luna Vista Middle School guidance counselor an escaped fugitive and killer, or a misunderstood misfit with a penchant for violently chopping beets? That’s the question youthful sleuths and BFFs Grace Yang and Sophie Young have on their minds when the odd and sinister Dr. Charlotte Agford begins acting extra bizarrely. With help from tech-savvy classmate Trista Bottoms, Young and Yang investigate their nemesis with the precision of FBI agents in training (or at least, that’s their intention). Bonus: A clever, hilarious follow-up adventure, The Tiara on the Terrace, releases in January 2016.
Privilege, by Kate Brian
Ariana Osgood, a Georgia Peach and former queen bee at Easton Academy, has just escaped from a correctional facility. She concocts a new identity for herself as “Emma from Chicago,” and, based on a tip from her “prison” roommate Kaitlyn, buddies up to the evil Briana Leigh, whom she intends to fleece out of her family money. However, it turns out rumors of Briana Leigh’s inheritance have been greatly exaggerated, and the supposedly innocent Kaitlyn may be the true sociopathic threat to both girls’ freedom.
I Hunt Killers, by Barry Lyga
Jasper “Jazz” Dent is the son of Billy Dent, a notorious serial killer who is “pure brilliance and pure evil in one package.” Jazz’s unique perspective on horrific crime scenes—Dear Old Dad has shown him the ropes—brings with it the opportunity to assist the local police in Lobo’s Nod, a small town with a serial killer problem all its own. Jazz’s girlfriend, Connie, reassures him he’s not a sociopath like his father, but Jazz isn’t so sure; what if he carries within him the same “genetic mistake” that manifested in Grandma and Dad?
The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness
Book one of the Chaos Walking series tackles issues of gender, race, religious zealotry, and human nature. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, action-packed and occasionally terrifying, mainly due to Aaron, the Terminator-esque town preacher who pursues our heroes Todd and Viola, young teens trying to escape the horrors of Prentisstown to make a new life for themselves. Aaron’s sociopathic determination becomes clear when, after his nose is ripped off by a crocodile, he continues to chase his prey.