20 Must-Read Books Like The Grace Year (YA Thrillers)

Kim Liggett’s enthralling feminist thriller is embellished with colorful imagery, dystopian elements, and the perfect union of fantasy with historical horror. The Grace Year’s success speaks for itself as it shares a shelf alongside classics such as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Lord of Flies.

books like the grace year

Yet, the young adult protagonist, Tierney James, gave audiences an extraordinary tale of resilience and social autonomy most characters struggle to exude in this genre.

If the mystery of Garner County kept you turning pages, you must add these curated thrillers to your reading list.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood

McHugh nosedives into the horrors of small-town myths and local traditions. The story follows Lucy in Henbane, where she finds herself alone, abused, and haunted by the sudden disappearance of her mother and friend.  

McHugh’sgrit-lit book carries a tense atmosphere, split timelines, and multiple narratives. The Weight of Blood has drawn comparisons to the gripping dark novels of Gillian Flynn and Daniel Woodrell and continues to be crowned a riveting thriller by reviewers.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie: A Novel

Sadie may be Summer’s best work so far in YA, where a young lady and a podcaster set out to solve the mystery of a deceased girl. The framing device through two main narrators makes Sadie an endless page-turner as readers desperately wait for the tense climax.

Sadie does come with a trigger warning for pedophilia, sexual abuse, and other violent topics discussed. Yet, it is Summer’s incredible writing style in the book as she explores dark themes that remain in a reader’s memories. For the bravest YA thriller enthusiasts, Sadie is a complicated puzzle waiting to be solved.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

Like Liggett’s Tierney, Jackson’s Pippa is a captivating central character: headstrong, composed, unafraid, and rational. For fans of the Serial podcast, the story of missing Andie Bell and the framing of Sal Singh will be the perfect match. Even to the most seasoned veterans of mystery, Jackson remains several steps ahead, ending the book on a satisfying and unpredictable note.

Jackson’s book is unique in this list as the literary style of investigative journalism helps set a reader up for a real crime analysis journey. Sure to be one of your fastest reads, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder cannot be recommended enough, especially for real crime aficionados.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious: A Mystery (Truly Devious, 1)

While most thrillers tend to move swiftly, Truly Devious is much slower. Yet, the book delivers through stellar writing, character development, and perplexing mystery. The fictional private school of Ellingham Academy witnessed America’s most incredible cold case in 1936 when the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped. All that remained of the case was a bone-chilling note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present timeline, Stevie Bell decides to reopen the case, and oddly enough, ‘Devious’ returns to Ellingham Academy. Nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction (2018), Truly Devious is a slow burn that remains one of the most addictive reads.

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows (SISTERS OF THE SALT)

Arguably, the most terrifying book on the list, House of Salt and Sorrows, does not hold back on its pure gothic horror elements. A retelling of ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses,’ the book follows Annaleigh as she tries to figure out what or who is killing her sisters. Craig’s knack for creating visceral moments of utter shock, macabre, and suspense is commendable.

From dark magic, terrifying curses, and sprawling manors to eccentric characters and puzzling mysteries, the book remains 2019s most remarkable YA thriller. Adorned with a gorgeous cover, House of Salt and Sorrows cannot be predicted or fathomed in one read.

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain

Dark and Shallow Lies

Seventeen-year-old Grey lives in a small town that touts itself as the world’s Psychic Capital. However, when Grey’s friend disappears, no one has any answers, only secrets. Grey becomes aware that she is an outsider.

Much like King’s Derry (Maine), Sain’s La Cachette (Louisiana) is an intricately developed setting with memorable characters. Throughout the gripping suspense, red herrings lay plenty in the book that masterfully misdirects the most skeptical and cynical readers. Dark and Shallow Lies is a must-read for its instinctually stimulating suspense.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret

McManus keeps the small-town suspense trope fresh and exciting by splitting the mystery into many parts. The end of the book is the most satisfying convergence of all elements that took 300 pages to lay out. Two Can Keep a Secret is a mesmerizing ‘Whodunit?’ with intriguing characters.

In addition to the mystery and suspense, the book profoundly explores survivors’ guilt. McManus also does not shy away from breaking down teenage guilt around blossoming sexuality and the impact of societal pressures on healing from trauma.

Two Can Keep a Secret is a read for the fall when things get cozy, and you are looking for a thrill.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the Species

The most violent book on this list, The Female of the Species, undoubtedly does not hold back in depicting traumatic themes such as rape culture and animal cruelty. McGinnis’ portrayal of Alex as the lead character is a confounding moralistic dilemma a reader has to undergo while dealing with the sheer realistic horror in play.

Choices have consequences, and three different perspectives perfectly demonstrate the variety of options that can go wrong. The Female of the Species has a Dexter-esque feel but with a female protagonist and may not be for everyone. 

The Corpse Queen by Heather Herrman

The Corpse Queen

Rebel female characters are rare, but one that is a grave robber and renegade is nearly unheard like in this book. Herrman’s medical thriller set in the 19th century cleverly brings the social issues of feminism to the realm of serial killing.

The historical timeline, the characters, and the plot twists spread out over specific chapters work well for the book. For readers that enjoy a revenge story packed with macabre and gore, The Corpse Queen offers the perfect story with ambitious protagonists. 

Contagion by Erin Bowman

Contagion (Contagion, 1)

Contagion is for a particular type of reader – one looking for non-stop action, a high-level science fiction narrative, and many deaths. A skeletal crew is dispatched in response to an SOS from a distant planet. When they arrive, a note attached to a corpse reads, “it got in… don’t trust the kid.” 

Contagion is a very well-thought-out plot. Even veteran readers may need help to keep up with the multiple POVs, yet, the realism, practicality, suspense, and mystery make the book worth the effort. Edgar Award Nominee Contagion will evoke the thrilling pace of classics such as 28 days later.

What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson

What Beauty There Is: A Novel

Anderson’s debut novel is brutal in portraying suffering. The story follows two young adults who struggle to survive poverty, abuse, and the burden of making moral choices. Despite the multi-dimensional characters and a haunting setting of the real world, What Beauty There Is rivals other thrillers in the genre impressively.

The book gives readers the most bone-chilling villains, a dark ambiance, and protagonists that are true underdogs in the underbelly of a crime-ridden world. What Beauty There Is will keep you on edge, rooting for Ava and Jack, till the last word is read.

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

City of Saints & Thieves

Through a story of revenge set in Kenya, Anderson masterfully unifies scenes of street crime with billionaire empires founded on corruption and injustices. Sixteen-year-old Tina joins a street gang to bring down a wealthy mining family that she believes killed her mother. 

With its visceral depiction of crime, prostitution, and sexual violence, Anderson’s Tina is at par with Larsson’s Lisbeth (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). A thrilling tale of female rage, revenge, and redemption, City of Saints & Thieves‘ is addictive. 

Killing November by Adriana Mather

Killing November

A thriller set in a dangerous boarding school, Killing November follows the life of November Adley, who has walked into traps, games, and fellow students training to be the deadliest humans who can wreak havoc on world systems. 

Of all the nail-biting thrills in the book, Killing November offers a delightful mix of mind games and deception, although not too many plot twists. With two books to complete the series, Killing November gives you a different social structure to unpack in the YA world.

Grown by Tiffany Jackson


Grown introduces Enchanted, a young black lady aspiring to be a singer. But after waking up with no memories of the previous night and blood on her hands, Enchanted’s life spirals. Grown is perhaps the only intersectional book in this list that provides a thriller accessible to the YA crowd while delving deeper into the issues of relationship power imbalance (if you’re looking for more YA-accessible thrillers, check out our guide to Natasha Preston).

Jackson also does not disappoint with the stellar ending of this book. Readers looking for psychological twists based in realistic settings will find Grown an excellent read.

The Agathas

The Agathas (An Agathas Mystery)

Alice Ogilvie is a fan of Agatha Christie. When she learns of her boyfriend’s infidelity, she fakes her disappearance with dire consequences. Later, when Brooke disappears, no one believes the missing case due to Alice’s previous lie. 

The book is a gripping tribute to Agatha Christie’s legacy in a YA setting. The Agathas does not disappoint when it comes to the thriller mystery incorporated into the intricate plot alongside very well-developed characters.

These Deadly Games by Diana Urban

These Deadly Games

Urban’s niche is game narratives, and it shows in These Deadly Games. Every other chapter in the book sees Crystal Donavan completing the most creative puzzles to save her kidnapped sister. While the characters may seem unlikeable and hard to empathize with, Urban makes them realistic in a high-stakes scenario.

These Deadly Games will take you on an exciting ride with several plot twists, morbid curiosities, and a psychologically thrilling story.

Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty

Blood and Moonlight (Blood and Moonlight, 1)

Beaty sets up a dark world with fascinating mythology in this YA thriller. Blood and Moonlight’s world-building is detailed, immersive, and engaging with characters, you begin to care for deeply. Following several brutal murders, Catrin begins investigating the source with her unique powers. 

While most people worship a Sun God, the moon grants Catrin’s powers of sight, making her an outlander. Although not a mystery, Blood and Moonlight is a thrilling read as the audience uncovers the brutal killings alongside the protagonist. 

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

The City Beautiful (Inkyard Press / Harlequin Teen)

In 1893, Alter Rosen dreams of a new life in Chicago. However, things change drastically when his friend is murdered. Bringing together Jewish mythology and the late 1800s is an impressive feat achieved in this book. 

Polydoros’ historical fiction with layers of terrifying paranormal elements comes with a challenge of different vocabularies supplemented by a detailed glossary at the end. The immersive quality of The City Beautiful is unparalleled in YA fiction.   

Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

Delicious Monsters

While Delicious Monsters is not a popular release this year, it has given the genre a true gem. Sambury pens a mystery-packed paranormal thriller about Daisy, who can see the dead walk beside her as she uncovers the secrets of a mansion. A decade later, Brittney finds herself in the same manor, discovering what happened to Daisy all those years ago.

Sambury masterfully pens a non-linear narrative filled with secrets, abuse, generational trauma, and sexual violence. The ominous layering of the paranormal with the horrors of real life is visible throughout each chapter. Find out what happens to Daisy and Brittney as they search for answers in the Delicious Monsters.

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan

As a witness of a mob hit, Sloane has changed her name multiple times. She is being protected by her family and the US witness protection program while on the run from her pursuers. 

When her path crosses with Jason, Sloane risks it all and attempts to free herself from the witness protection program and her pursuer. Filled to the brim with plot twists and thrills of an action-packed movie, The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan delivers on multiple levels.

Final Thoughts

This list has been curated to provide a large variety in YA thrillers that range from scifi to gothic horror. The authors of these books come from varied walks of life and the diversity of their work in YA is splendidly demonstrated through this precise collection we hope you will enjoy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What time period is The Grace Year?

Kim Liggett never clarifies the year in which The Grace Year is set. The book offers clues that allude to the 20th century, but the plot is also plausible in the present or distant future as Garner County is isolated from the rest of the world.

What reading level is The Grace Year?

The Grace Year is suitable for young adults in the age group of 14 – 18 years and above.

Is there romance in The Grace Year?

The Grace Year has a sub-plot that is romantic in nature but it is not central to the narrative.

What is the message of The Grace Year?

At the core of it, The Grace Year is a feminist thriller that delves into structural sexism and deep-rooted misogyny as well as the dissent from patriarchy through female bonding.

What religion is The Grace Year?

Religion is central to the book and while Liggett does not clarify which religion governs Garner County, it is safe to assume that it shares commonalities with orthodox Abrahamic religions.

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Ancita Gonzalez