Much has been written about absentee, oblivious, or dead parents in YA lit. But what about the parents who are flat-out criminal? I’m talking serial killers, mobsters, con artists, thieves, and general psychopaths. What’s it like to grow up in a house where Mom and Dad are villains? For starters, the angst factor is beyond the norm and legit terrifying, leading our teen protags to wonder: “Do all rotten trees produce bad fruit?” To celebrate the release this week of Ann Redisch Stampler’s exciting YA thriller How to Disappear, we’ve compiled a list of young adult books with the most villainous parents around.
How to Disappear, by Ann Redisch Stampler
Eighteen-year-old Jack, a whip-smart A.P. student on the verge of graduating, was born into the family business, and the family business is deadly. Dad was a hit man, and older brother Don, “a low-life enforcer,” is serving time while attempting to follow in Dad’s footsteps. When Don orders Jack to carry out a hit on his behalf, Jack believes he has no choice but to comply, or his mother will pay the price. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Nicollete is on the run across state lines after witnessing—or possibly committing—a horrific crime. Channeling her heroine, Xena, Warrior Princess, Nicolette proves capable of doing anything to survive. When the two cross paths, they feel an intense attraction that can only end in love or murder.
Perfect Liars, by Kimberly Reid
As junior valedictorian of her exclusive private school in Peachland, Georgia, Andrea “Drea” Faraday appears to have the perfect life, complete with wealthy parents, European vacations, and “exotic” royally good looks. (Dad claims to be descended from a Nigerian prince; Mom from a Nordic king. Whether they’re lying is anyone’s guess, because Drea’s parents are con artists and thieves whose rare antiques business is a front.) Drea has no intention of emulating her folks, but when she becomes entangled with some local delinquents and a breaking-and-entering charge, she must admit she has more in common with her new frenemies than any of her private school classmates. Soon, they’re joining forces to outsmart a common enemy.
Dear Killer, by Katherine Ewell
London teenager Kit moonlights as “the Perfect Killer,” a hitman for hire, fond of “drama, darkness, and sickening brutality.” Her unusual, er, hobby was passed down from her mother, who trained Kit in the art of murder. Kit has also learned to present a mask of “innocence and stupidity” to the world. In reality, 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. Is there a chance she can change her fate?
Fake I.D., by Lamar Giles
In this witty, fast-paced mystery, a 2015 Edgar Award Nominee, Nick Pearson’s got a mob accountant for a dad and an assassin for a godfather, so it’s no wonder he and his family have wound up in witness protection. Their latest identities may be compromised after Nick’s friend Eli, editor of the school newspaper, winds up dead while in the midst of breaking a story. Stranger still, Nick’s the only person who seems to care about it. Determined to do right by his late friend—and his late friend’s beautiful sister—Nick temporarily embraces his criminal lineage to use his skills for good. But as Nick edges closer to the truth about the news story Eli was working on, he suspects and fears that all roads lead back to his dad.
The Rise of Renegade X, by Chelsea Campbell
The first in a series with humor and sarcasm to spare, Renegade X depicts the trials and tribulations of Damien Locke. His mom’s a mad scientist of nefarious intent, and Damien has happily embraced his role as her progeny. So when the aspiring villain discovers that his hitherto absentee dad is a superhero, he’s angry and horrified—especially when he’s forced to live with the entire Goody Two Shoes family in a “suburban hell-hole” until his 18th birthday. But after Damien’s mom concocts a plan so deliciously evil even Damien balks at it, he may just have to switch sides to stop her.
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 nothing like his gleefully disturbed father, but Jazz isn’t so sure; what if he carries within him the same “genetic mistake” that manifested in Grandma and Dad?
Runaways: The Complete Collection, Volume 1, by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa
Upon discovering their parents are actual supervillains and members of an evil organization called the Pride, a group of teens who only see each other at their parents’ annual meeting band together and flee, hoping to use their own burgeoning powers to fight back. It’s the ultimate kids vs. adults showdown, complete with clever dialogue and plenty of plot twists (no surprise, given that author Vaughn worked on Lost for three seasons). The initial 18 issues are collected here. Once you’re hooked, be sure to check out the Joss Whedon–helmed issues next.
Dark Eyes, by William Richter
Raised in a Russian orphanage and adopted by a rich American family at the age of five, rebellious, hardened Wallis Stonemason (real name: Valentina Mayakova) now prefers life on the streets to the “claustrophobia” and coddling effect of Manhattan luxury. A seemingly chance purchase of a fake I.D. leads to information about her mysterious birth mother, and Wallis decides to track her down. What she doesn’t realize is that her father is a notorious Russian gangster who has just escaped prison, and is convinced Wallis’s mother has stolen his fortune from him. Hellbent on revenge, he’s willing to kill his own daughter to get the fortune back.