• By Jacquelyn White
  • Posted Tuesday, October 1, 2019

True Crime for Teens

For teens interested in mysteries and suspense, true crime may be a logical next step to stretch your reading boundaries.

"Alice and Freda forever: a murder in Memphis" by Alexis Coe

Young love and obsession make a tragic end in 1892 for Freda Ward, the 17-year-old who was publicly murdered by her lover and one time fiancée, 19-year-old Alice Mitchell. While Freda's bloody end captured the Victorian era's public imagination, Alice and Freda's volatile, impassioned, and socially taboo affair held it throughout Alice's trial and conviction. This historical episode provides an interesting reflection on public perception, social conventions, and the tipping point between heartbreak and heartlessness.

"The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the trial of the century" by Sarah Elizabeth Miller

Perhaps teens have heard her name, but they're unlikely to have scratched the surface of the sensational murders of the Borden parents and the surrounding questions that still remain about Lizzie's involvement. Miller's examination of Lizzie's childhood, her crime, each piece of evidence, and the sensational trial that followed is full of historical detail, suspense, and questions. Photographs and other historical documents are included.

"Chasing Lincoln's killer" by James L. Swanson

The assassination of the 16th American president is a part of our cultural history, but it's usually couched within the greater context of The American Civil War. Swanson is the author of several historical true crime books about political figures. In this adaptation of his bestselling Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer (2006), he takes a tense true crime angle by following the investigation and pursuit of John Wilkes Booth. Readers more accustomed to modern true crime will note similarities to other sensational murders: a media fervor, a suspenseful investigation, and insight from both the criminal's and the crime fighters' perspectives.

"The Freedom Summer murders" by Don Mitchell

Three men, two white and one black, all civil rights workers in the voter registration campaign of 1964, were brutally murdered by members of the KKK. Mitchell delves back into this 50-year-old crime, revisiting it not just as a murder, but as proof of a deeply racist and segregated society, the effects of which are seen in the trial and subsequent revelations around the case. Though the format of the book is less narrative than some others, the tense unfolding of the crime and case paired with compelling photographs will pull readers into the story and let them reflect on contemporary parallels.

"The 57 bus" by Dashka Slater

An everyday trip home from school on an Oakland city bus ends in tragedy and begins an incisive and multifaceted look at race, gender, violence, and the justice system. Sasha, a white agender private school student with Asperger's, is horribly burned by Richard, an African American teen. Slater's journalistic but evocative narrative of the crime, the trial, and the fallout that each teen (and their support circle) undergo is tense, compelling, and rich with discussable moments.

" Adnan's story: the search for truth and justice after Serial" by Rabia Chaudry

Adnan Syed was the subject of the first season of Serial, the podcast that redefined the true crime genre. Chaudry, a personal friend of Syed and a lawyer, who was involved in the podcast from its inception, tells the story of Adnan's arrest and conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Teen readers will be drawn in by images from Hae's handwritten journals, Chaudry's suspenseful and impassioned writing, Adnan's sympathetic portrayal, and the lingering questions around the case.

"Alligator candy" by David Kushner

When he was only four years old, Kushner begged his older brother to buy him a treat from a local convenience store. Eleven-year-old Jonathan cycled away and was never seen alive again. Protected by his well-meaning parents from the gritty aspects of the case, yet knowing this event has changed his family forever, Kushner began delving deep into library research around the crime as a teen, driven to piece together the truth. The intimacy of Kushner's writing from his childhood recollections is imbued with grief over the loss of his brother, and brief chapters keep the narrative moving when an adult Kushner learns that one of the convicted murderers might be paroled.

"Sickened: the memoir of a Munchausen by proxy childhood" by Julie Gregory

For those teens who entered the true crime arena through the sensational Gypsy Rose Blancharde case in the HBO movie, Mommy Dead and Dearest, Sickened provides a deeper look at the devastating lifelong implications of Munchausen by proxy. Gregory's memoir of hidden medical abuse at the hands of her mother and recovery into a healthier adulthood is harrowing and vivid, with a voice that will resonate with young readers.