The rise of the YA Suspense/Thriller by Alexis Bass


[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Alexis Bass to the site today. She’s sharing her love for YA suspense. Take it away, Alexis!]

These days it’s not hard to walk into a bookstore and see a plethora of suspense and thriller novels in the Young Adult section. (Though these days ‘walk into a bookstore’ means ‘browse online.’) There’s no short supply of suspenseful mysteries and dark thrillers, and readers keep coming back for more. What is it about this genre that garners such ferocious fans and loyal readers? I polled some friends to look into this further. And, as a thriller fan myself, I discovered other insights from some of my favorite books and authors. 

The answer that was the most popular? Compulsive readability. Readers crave that instant hook. And since many suspense and thriller novels are built around a plot mystery that presents itself right on those opening pages, they have a reputation for providing an immediate pull. The hook of the story doesn’t have to be earned. The reader gets to know the characters based on this driving question, and this isn’t to say that character development takes a backseat, but that the plot only gets stronger as the story goes on. 

Another popular answer was the wild plot twists. (Of course!) This genre doesn’t shy away from pushing the envelope and taking stories in shocking and unexpected directions. The guessing game of ‘what happens next’ is part of the thrill. Readers love that feeling of being thrown off guard when they think they know what is about to happen and—surprise!—they’re wrong.

My friends also pointed out that these kinds of books are an exhilarating way to explore things that terrify them. Pieces of the real world that are too dark or dangerous to explore in reality, but are safe to be immersed in within the pages of a book, where one can entertain those fears in an electrifying way.  

In Kara Thomas’s books (Little Monsters, The Cheerleaders, etc.), you get the thrill of some familiar pulled-from-the-headlines plotlines, but completely flipped on their heads, with shocking twists. Her books provide that instant hook and have conclusions you don’t see coming, but are inevitable once you’ve completed the story.  

Stephanie Kuehn’s novels (The Smaller Evil, When I am Through With You, etc.) take the question ‘who can you trust’ to the next level. She delivers unreliable narrators and high-stakes plots with and chilling conclusions that let you submerge into the darkest parts of the story. 

In Sadie, by Courtney Summers, the reader is put in heart-stopping and uncomfortably tense scenarios. You root for the heroine as she does things most of us would not be brave enough to do in real life and makes shocking discoveries along the way. 

Something else I discussed with my friends when we were talking about the appeal of the suspense and thriller genre and why there is a rise in these books available for young adults, is the way these books make for a quick escape. A different world, someone else’s problems told with precise tension and cliffhangers in nearly chapter, in a place often darker than even our darkest reality—this is what we liked as teenagers, what we looked for in a story. We mused that no, we didn’t see this changing anytime soon.

Alexis Bass Headshot
About the Author:

Alexis Bass grew up in Washington, went to college in Arizona, and spent her early twenties in Seattle. She currently lives in northern California with her husband and a gorgeous and rambunctious golden retriever, Dylan McKay. She loves good fashion and good TV as much as a good book, and is a huge advocate of long beach vacations. For more information about her books visit or follow her on twitter @alexisbasswrite.

An Education in Ruin by Alexis Bass, out now!

The Mahoney brothers are the golden boys of Rutherford Institute.

Collins Pruitt is going to ruin them.

Theo Mahoney is well-connected and popular. He’s charming and beloved. But he’s hiding something.

Jasper Mahoney is lauded for his intellect and athleticism. He’s studious and focused. But he isn’t as impenetrable as he seems.

Collins will earn their trust―and then she’ll destroy them. But the closer she gets, the more she questions the reason she was sent to Rutherford in the first place…and if it’s possible to ruin the Mahoneys without also destroying herself.

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