Kim Savage loves thrillers almost as much as she loves romance. Her books seamlessly blend the two together, mixing gripping mysteries with sizzling passion. In her latest, Beautiful Broken Girls, Ben is left shocked when he learns that the girl he loves drowned with her sister. When he finds a note from her, addressed to him, he sets off on a mission to find out what happened to the girl he thought he knew. In honor of the book’s publication, Savage shares with Bookish readers her favorite romantic YA thrillers.
Heat and sweet go together perfectly (witness the chocolate-covered jalapeño). A more bookish example is the winning combination of thriller and the romance. The best of these give the reader a visceral reaction. In a thriller, when we follow our protagonist’s quest, our brain releases chemicals like adrenalin and oxytocin that make our hearts pound. In a romance novel, we fall in, and out, and back in love alongside our main character, and we’re rewarded with a dopamine rush.
A thriller that features a meaningful romance—quality over quantity, in many cases—is like a double whammy for the reward system that we’re hard-wired for. And that makes thrillers and romances the perfect pairing.
Here are my recommendations for young adult novels that get the mix just right:
Imagine your beloved mom was a teacher who had an affair with a student. Now imagine she’s taken her own life. That’s what CeCe Brooks has to contend with, and she’s spiraling. Determined to clear her mom’s name, she enlists the help of Sam, the new guy at school with a useful internship at a local newspaper. CeCe and Sam begin to suspect her mother’s death may have been murder. You’ll be turning pages not only for the truth, but for the evolution of CeCe and Sam’s relationship.
The Teton Range in Wyoming is the setting for this thriller. Backpackers Britt and Korbie are forced by a blizzard into a cabin, but the blizzard was safer than the two guys they find there: baddies who force Britt to march them out of the mountains on condition of the girls’ lives. Sounds dire, but Britt’s hopes to reunite with her ex Calvin are enough to sustain her, as well as a flirtation with Mason, one of her captors. Becca Fitzpatrick isn’t writing standard Stockholm syndrome fare here. In fact, nothing about Black Ice is standard, especially the romance, which leaves room for all kinds of questions. Specifically, whom should you trust?
And speaking of Stockholm syndrome…
April Henry is nominated for this year’s YA Edgar Award for The Girl I Used to Be, but her 2010 release Girl, Stolen is the one I like for romance. Cheyenne—blind, and down with pneumonia—gets carjacked while her stepmom runs into a store for meds. The carjacker is Griffin, looking to get in good with his criminal dad by bringing home a sweet SUV, but not with a girl inside. There’s a lot to love about Henry’s skill here in portraying blindness, both physical and metaphorical, but the attraction between Cheyenne and Griffin is what lingers.
Yup, serial killers. The first sentence sums this book up:
“It was a beautiful day. It was a beautiful field.
Except for the body.”
Unsurprisingly, the romance doesn’t hit you over the head in this story of the son of serial killers who joins the cops when a new killer comes to town. I mean, is there really room in this plot for romance? Actually, there is. One of the sweetest things about protagonist Jazz is his relationship with Connie; a relationship with the odds against it, including tensions around race and the fact that Jazz has bloodlust in his DNA. If you like Jazz and Connie—and you will—you can get more of their backstory in Barry Lyga’s excellent prequel, Neutral Mask.
At first glance, Tess Sharpe’s plot is familiar thriller territory: A potentially unreliable protagonist, Sophie, follows leads to discover why her friend Mina was murdered. Sophie is a former addict who struggles with her addiction, pain, and blame for Mina’s death every day. Her search for the facts of Mina’s death propels her, and the truth is complex and disturbing. But it’s the love story between the girls that will keep you reading, and it’s one of the most nuanced depictions of blossoming young love in YA.
How to Disappear is a fugitive story with a big, straight-up tantalizing romance. Nicolette is wily, resourceful, and in the wrong place at the wrong time: specifically, the scene of a murder. It forces her to go on the run from reluctant hitman Jack (It runs in the family. Sensing a theme?). Ann Stampler gives us both Nicolette and Jack’s vantages as they fall for each other, or at least who they think the other person is.
Which thrillers give you the swoony feels? Which romances thrilled you? Let me know. Meantime I’ll be hoarding chocolate-covered jalapeños and adding to my TBR for my next fix.
Kim Savage writes thrillers with romance (After the Woods) and romantic thrillers (Beautiful Broken Girls, coming Feb. 21). A former reporter who received her Master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University, Kim lives near Boston, where her third novel with FSG/Macmillan, In Her Skin (2018), is based. Yes, it’s a thriller, and—wait for it—it’s got some romance, too. Kim and her husband Gary (the romantic) have three children (all thrilling). You can follow Kim on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter, and visit her at kimsavage.me.