When I think back on my early reading experience, I can see that my tastes were clear even back then. I loved mysteries, and I especially loved series of mysteries. I also liked stories about teenaged girls, and while you’d think this would be the one that would’ve changed over the decades . . . it really hasn’t. I may have graduated from reading about Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Bobbsey Twins, but I do still love reading about girls solving mysteries.
(I’m also pretty sure we can trace my love of cozy mysteries and procedural shows on TV to the hours I spent sleuthing vicariously through my fictional friends — but that’s a mystery for another day.)
A few years ago I discovered the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter — and suddenly rediscovered my love of teen detectives. I then went on to read — and re-read — her Heist Society series, and then anxiously waited for each book in her latest series, Embassy Row. And today I’m heading to the library to pick up her newest novel, Not If I Save You First. As excited as I am to finally get my hands on it, I know I’ll read it in just a few days — and it’s reportedly a standalone novel, so I won’t even have a next installment to look forward to. How soon can Ally Carter write another book?!
Lucky for me — and for you, if you’re also a fan of Nancy Drew (or Ally Carter) — the teen spy and sleuth genre is a growing one. Every time I think I’ve read all the YA mystery series out there, I discover a new author or a new book from a favorite author. So even when our favorite authors take FOREVER AND A DAY to write a new installment in a beloved series (or start a new series altogether), we still have lots of great stories to read.
(That’s not to say every book about a teenaged detective or spy is good. For the love of Nancy, Bess, and George, steer clear of the Circle of Spies series by Laura Pauling. And while I’ve read both books in The Squad series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, I wouldn’t recommend them. Unless you really have a hankering to read about spies posing as high school cheerleaders.)
We still have tons of series to choose from, and I’m here to tell you which ones are the best. Whether you’ve made your way through several books and series about teen spies and need help finding something new, or you feel overwhelmed by all the choices in this fun genre and want some guidance from a friend, I’ve got you covered!
Books to Read if You Love Teen Spy or Detective Stories
Because I love reading series of books — and because I am a fast reader and an impatient person — my favorite thing is to find a series that’s completely published. I do not want to wait a year in between installments! (If I have to wait, I almost always have to re-read books to remind myself of the story line. #booknerdproblems) Anyway. These are my favorite spy/detective series that you can read straight through, because the whole thing has been written and published.
- The Conspiracy of Us series by Maggie Hall: This is one of my favorite series ever, of all the books in all the genres. It’s basically a teen version of the Da Vinci Code, with a love triangle thrown in for good measure. I looooove it. (3 books)
- The Fixer series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: I was really hoping this series would be longer than the two books I’ve read, but it looks like I’m out of luck. This is essentially a teen version of Scandal, without all the really bonkers stuff. It’s REALLY GOOD. (2 books)
- Two Lies & a Spy series by Kat Carlton: The main character’s parents are spies who’ve been accused of being traitors. She leaves her private school to join her brother and a few other teens to solve the mystery and clear her parents’ names. And yes, there’s love triangle business going on here, too. (2 books)
- Prep School Confidential series by Kara Taylor: Veronica Mars meets Gossip Girl, anyone? Murder mystery solving, set in a prep school (if you couldn’t figure that out), which sounds cliche and dull — but it’s really good. And the author, I believe, wrote the whole series as her thesis in grad school. (3 books)
- Trust Me series by Mary Elizabeth Summer: This series is about a teen con artist who has to solve a mystery, so it’s more like Heist Society than Gallagher Girls. It has a darker tone than some of these other series, but I enjoyed it. (2 books plus a novella)
- Digit series by Annabel Monaghan: Math genius helps the FBI prevent terrorism. Yes, please! (2 books)
- Also Known As series by Robin Benway: Maggie is a safe cracker who works with her super spy parents, and she has to go undercover as a . . . high school student. The books are fun, with great characters and dialogue, and I wish the series was longer. (2 books)
- The Specialists series by Shannon Greenland: Secret government spy agency trains teen agents to go undercover to solve mysteries and prevent crimes. I don’t think I finished this series. It’s okay, but more for younger readers. Although it’s only $4.99 for the whole series, so that’s something… (5 books)
- The Naturals series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The FBI trains exceptional teens to solve cold cases. Sound familiar? This is another series I haven’t finished, but I plan to. It’s darker and grittier than The Specialists, and held my interest more. (5 books)
I’m currently reading a couple series that aren’t complete yet. And, of course, since I’m in the middle of them, I don’t want them to end anytime soon! I really like Stephanie Tromly’s Trouble series about a pair of unlikely friends (or…more…?) who are trying to solve a kidnapping. The third book in this series came out this week, and I have it on reserve at the library.
Another series is a creative YA take on Sherlock Holmes. The Charlotte Holmes series by Brittany Cavallaro features the descendants of Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty — who, in this world, were real people as well as literary characters. The series is dark and twisty and wonderful, and I just finished the third book. I hope there are more stories to come, though!
If you’d rather read a standalone novel, I do have one for you: Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance. If you guessed that it’s a teen spy version of Pride and Prejudice, you are correct. This has all the genres! And, even though I have gone on the record not loving Jane Austen (that’s right, I said it, again), I did enjoy this book.
Lastly, if you don’t mind a little paranormal in your mysteries, I’ve got a few series for you that kinda, sorta fall into this spy/sleuth genre.
- The Arkwell Academy series by Mindee Arnett: Private school for magical teens? Check. Murder mystery to solve? Check. Blossoming romance in the midst of hijinks and adventure? Check.
- The Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan: A family curse, a town filled with feuding families of sorcerers, a love triangle, a mysterious connection between a boy and a girl — this series has it all! (It also has three novellas in addition to the three books, so if you really love the series you have that bonus content to enjoy.)
- The Mediator series by Meg Cabot: A girl who sees ghosts…falls in love with one of them. It seems like a ridiculous plot that couldn’t possibly span six books, but I tell you what — I’ve read this series more than once and loved it every time. I have no explanation. The heart wants what the heart wants, maybe? Regardless, it’s a fun series. (Although, excited as I was when a seventh book came out with the characters as adults, I didn’t even finish reading it because it bored me. So, there is that.)
- Curse Workers series by Holly Black: It’s like the mob with magic . . . kind of? This magical story is dark and creative and heartbreaking and fascinating. I actually think of it fairly frequently, though I read it several years ago. Maybe I should read it again!
Obviously I haven’t read every single teen spy or detective story out there. Here’s a list of books and series that come highly recommended (according to the internet) and are on my to-read list:
- The Agency series by Y.S. Lee
- Finishing School series by Gail Carriger
- Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown
- Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart
- The Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin
- Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud
- I Am Her Revenge by Meredith Moore
- The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
- The Girl is Murder series by Kathryn Miller Haines
- Remembrandt series by Robin M. King
- Alexandra Gastone series by T.A. Maclagan
Do you like reading books about teen spies and sleuths? Who’s your favorite young detective?
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Thanks Mary! I love YA lit and especially teen sleuths and boarding school stories. I am in my forties and picked up YA lit again when my kids hit their tweens a few years back. Rediscovered why I love this genre so much. Ally Carter is one of my favs and the Gallagher series was so awesome! I’ve read about half of what you recommended already so am looking forward to discovering some of these new authors! I loved the Trouble is a Friend of Mine series and can’t wait to read the 3rd book! Spies and Prejudice I just picked up from the library on the weekend. I work at the library shelving books so I have a lot of to read books! The Agency series is really good – highly recommend. Thanks again for such a great blog!
I just got the first book in the Agency series. Can’t wait to dive in! Thanks for reading, Jennifer!