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Jeune filles fatales

reeves_slice of cherryAs Elissa and Shara have both noted, YA themes tend to be cyclical. Vampires, zombies, mermaids, cyborgs, even Emily Dickinson devotees have all had — are still having — major upswings in YA. Dia Reeves’s 2011 Slice of Cherry (Simon Pulse) starred sisters Kit and Fancy, who took after their serial killer father. Now with a slew of recent and upcoming YA novels featuring homicidal teen girls, are Heavenly Creatures–worthy protagonists the next big thing?

shimko_you know what you have to doIn You Know What You Have to Do by Bonnie Shimko (Amazon, March 2013; reviewed in the July/August 2013 Horn Book Magazine), protagonist Maggie hears a voice telling her to kill. It begins with a friend’s abusive father, but soon Maggie’s victims become more arbitrary and her motives even less defensible. Therapy for her nightmares doesn’t do much good — not surprising, since Maggie doesn’t consider her murderous internal voice a problem and never mentions it to her therapist.

another little pieceA supernatural element is at work in Kate Karyus Quinn’s Another Little Piece (HarperTeen, June 2013; also reviewed in the July/August 2013 Magazine). Amnesia-stricken “Annaliese” stumbles out of the woods, covered in blood, after having been missing for a year. As her memories begin to return, they reveal to reader and protagonist alike that the girl is not Annaliese at all, but Anna. Through a grotesque ritual involving both gore and the victim’s own secret and painful desires, Anna has been inhabiting the bodies of girl after girl in an attempt to remain forever young.

wasserman_waking darkIn Robin Wasserman’s The Waking Dark (Knopf, September 2013), the small town of Oleander, Kansas, is devastated first by a rash of murder-suicides, all committed on the same day, and just a year later by a tornado. Things go from bad to horrifying when the townspeople become suddenly, inexplicably violent. Cass — the only surviving killer of “the killing day” — and four other teens intimately effected by that day’s events unwillingly come together to protect each other and the town. This novel is reminiscent of some of Stephen King’s in its exploration of the darkness lurking within a small town.

jordan_uninvitedSophie Jordan’s Uninvited (HarperCollins, February 2014) is set in a dystopian future United States where citizens undergo mandatory genetic testing for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome. Protagonist Davina “Davy” Hamilton, a musical prodigy on her way to Julliard, tests positive for HTS. She suddenly finds herself sequestered in a special school for HTS-positive minors — some of whom, unlike herself, have already shown themselves to be violent. Will genetics prove to be destiny for Davy, too?

ewell_dear killerDear Killer (HarperCollins/Tegen, April 2014) by Katherine Ewell stars Kit, who, in her alter ego as “the Perfect Killer,” commits murder on demand. Everyone in London knows who the Perfect Killer is — but nobody knows it’s Kit. Her victims come to her attention via letters addressed “Dear Killer,” making a case for why someone in particular should die. The mailbox and the occupation itself were handed down to Kit from her mother, who years before had “seen a dire need for her unique morality in the world.” But when a letter requests that Kit murder her classmate Maggie, things get complicated.

green_killer instinctLane, main character of S. E. Green’s Killer Instinct (Simon Pulse, May 2014), studies serial killers because she identifies with them. Like Dexter, she finds an outlet for her violent urges in stalking and wreaking justice upon evil-doers (an animal abuser, a drunk driver, a rapist) who have gone unpunished. She’s never killed anyone — yet. Then the infamous Decapitator comes to town and reaches out to Lane. This might be the opportunity she needs to take her skills to the next level…

Why do you think so many new YA books have homicidal girl protagonists?

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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