Mystery books for a 13-year-old.
December 6, 2005 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Book suggestions for a 13-year-old.

In this year's Christmas present pool, I drew my 13-year old cousin. She's an avid reader (all the Nancy Drews, Harry Potter, to name a few) and asked for "mysteries" for christmas. Any suggestions?

Oh, an added limitation: her mom's kind of a fundie. So nothing risky, or I'll get black sheep'd.
posted by graventy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Since you mention Nancy Drew... I didn't like her much when I was a kid, but I loved Trixie Belden.
posted by amro at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2005

It might be worth introducing her to the Sherlock Holmes stories. I think I was about her age when I started reading them, maybe a little younger.
posted by Gator at 1:28 PM on December 6, 2005

Two Minute Mysteries
posted by leapingsheep at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2005

On second thought, Trixie Belden might be for a younger reader, especially an avid one. But you know your cousin.
posted by amro at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2005

Make that "especially if your cousin is an avid one."
posted by amro at 1:31 PM on December 6, 2005

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Terrific book.
posted by JanetLand at 1:34 PM on December 6, 2005

I second the Westing Game. I've never gotten tired of that book.
posted by hopeless romantique at 1:37 PM on December 6, 2005

Also, Gregory Maguire writes a lot of books that are not exactly mysteries but have mysterious elements. I like The Daughter of the Moon.
posted by JanetLand at 1:39 PM on December 6, 2005

The Abhorsen Trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) by Garth Nix. Great fantasy series, all of the main characters are girls.
posted by Sara Anne at 1:41 PM on December 6, 2005

I think I started reading Agatha Christie around age 13 and loved them. They might be a little racy - I mean a little - but probably not too bad.

The Cherry Ames Student Nurse books are by the same creators as Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, etc. I loved them at around that age. They're about all kinds of nursing adventures, but there are also mysteries in every book. Should be perfectly acceptable to conservative parents. It's possible the Cherry Ames books are out of print, but I have since found them on ebay and
posted by Amizu at 1:46 PM on December 6, 2005

Maybe Phillip Pullman's "The Ruby in the Smoke". It's the first book in the Sally Lockhart trilogy.

His other trilogy, The Dark Materials books, are fantastic, but would certainly land you in hot water with your aunt.
posted by amarynth at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2005

The Great Brain series of books were fantastic when I was a kid. Great stories. I loved each book.
posted by TeamBilly at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2005

If she likes mysteries the Dorothy Sayers ones are great. Plus, the Wimsey/Harriet Vane relationship is a great model for equality without being overtly feminist.
posted by miss tea at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2005

We read Murder on the Orient Express as assigned reading the summer before 9th grade -- so only a little older than your cousin. I'll definitely second Amizu's recommendation -- 'twas a great book.
posted by SuperNova at 1:55 PM on December 6, 2005

Should've previewed -- The Great Brain was my favorite series of books ever. I don't remember them being mysteries but man, were they awesome.
posted by SuperNova at 1:56 PM on December 6, 2005

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud - very funny, and falls into the fantasy/mystery category.
posted by magwich at 2:06 PM on December 6, 2005

I think I started reading Agatha Christie around age 13 and loved them.

Oh, I second this. Like Sherlock Holmes, this could provide her with interesting mysteries and a touch of history.

I would also like to recommend Isaac Asimov's "Black Widowers" stories if you can find them. All the stories are about a bunch of guys who meet for dinner once a month in a private room at their favorite restaurant, and they solve a mystery in each episode without leaving the room (with the help of the quietly brilliant waiter, Henry). Awesome stories, and full of interesting factoids about all sorts of stuff.
posted by Gator at 2:10 PM on December 6, 2005

Another nod towards the great detective. Sherlock Holmes is out of copywrite and available through the Gutenbergs, but there are some really nice print editions out there. I discovered SH a little younger than 13 but I was a good reader as a child.

13 is about the right time to want to feel more "adult" - I think that a nice edition of SH would be appropriate.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2005

I strongly second the Philip Pullman/Sally Lockhart suggestion.
posted by melissa may at 2:37 PM on December 6, 2005

I also second Agatha Christie. I read those a lot when I was 13. The ones with the characters (Ms Marple or Hercule Poirot) were my favourites (Some don't have them in it, those were boring.)
posted by easternblot at 2:49 PM on December 6, 2005

Monica Hughes's Invitation to the Game was one of my favorites at that age. I also recommend The Giver if she hasn't already read it.
posted by honeyx at 2:59 PM on December 6, 2005

If she hasn't heard of it, fundie mom wouldn't have too much objection to the Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. It's the first of a trilogy. If mom has heard of it, she might not be too happy about it. The trilogy incorporates a fantasy world where people's souls are visible beings linked to the person. The third book of the trilogy kind of unravels into an overthrow of God, so fundie mom might not be too crazy about that. But the first two books are fine, I think. They are written for teens, but I thought they were pretty good to read as an adult.
posted by Doohickie at 3:01 PM on December 6, 2005

Ooh! I have to second Dorothy Sayers. Not only are they great mysteries, but they have underlying themes that really resonated with me at that age. Plus, she wrote more than a dozen books. If your cousin is a voracious reader, she'll have plenty to keep her occupied.
posted by annaramma at 3:01 PM on December 6, 2005

Here are some ideas from my wife, seventh grade teacher and mystery/children's book fan.
  • The "Trixie Belden" series.
  • There's a new "Nancy Drew Girl Detective" series out that are in current times that my students really enjoy.
  • The "Pyrates" series by Chris Archer.
  • Also the "Island" series by Gordon Korman is really good but leans toward adventure.
  • The "Among the Hidden" series by Haddox.
  • The "Series of Unfortunate Events" books by Lemony Snicket.
Some are mystery, some aren't. All are good. ;)
posted by Mike C. at 3:02 PM on December 6, 2005

Ooooh, ooooh! The Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters! Totally awesome mysteries, historical (set in the 1100s in Britain), and since the protagonist is a Benedictine monk who solves crime/mysteries in his spare time, mom is not likely to object.
posted by Gator at 3:04 PM on December 6, 2005

Gosh, I come in here and see all my suggestions are "taken". Anyway, may as well second/third the following:

Sally Lockhart trilogy Great mystery with a great female protagonist
Dark Materials trilogy (same author as Sally Lockhart but as amarynth noted, not fundie friendly, but really, why limit a child's reading pool?)
Bartimaeus trilogy (yay, the third one is out!) (also borderline fundie-unfriendly as it features demons, and pentacles)
Westing Game - another amazing mystery with a young girl (maybe around 11??) as the lead character.

If she hasn't read it yet, The Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler is a never-forget mystery.

Not a classic whodunit mystery, but still mysterious none the less is the fantastic The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.

And if you're going to be talking about mysteries, what about Harriet the Spy?

And since I'm much past age 11 and not very hip to the reading scene for this age, here is the results of Mysteries for age 9-12 on Amazon. A quick glance makes it seem pretty spot on.

If she's an avid reader, perhaps she's mature enough for the teen list (Although having Laguna Beach as their first result makes me skeptical of its value).
posted by like_neon at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2005

OOps, I don't know why I thought she was 11! Anyway, I hope my list still helps.
posted by like_neon at 3:11 PM on December 6, 2005

I also recommend getting her hooked on Agatha Christie. If I remember correctly, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first book to feature the quirky and inimitable Hercule Poirot.
posted by invisible ink at 3:16 PM on December 6, 2005

The Abhorsen trilogy probably won't be a big hit. From the ten pages from Sabriel that I read when I was thirteen before my conservative mother confiscated it, I seem to recall raising of the dead.

If she's seriously fundie, she'll probably recognize Pullman's name and instantly ditch anything by him. Even if she just reads the books before her daughter does, she'll be upset by the Sally Lockhart trilogy. The first book is okay, but later, isn't there extramarital sex/pregnancy without negative repercussions?

I did love The Great Brain, but I seem to recall that the series is based in Utah, and the bits of religion that were included struck me as weird even when I was a kid. I also think the series might be a little young for her.

I can even think of possible objections to Holmes, although possibly the mother will hear "Sherlock Holmes," think "a classic," and pass it on without questioning.

This is a very hard question because so much mystery revolves around no-no topics: Murder's usually the crime, and sex is usually the motive. The best I can do is second Asimov -- the Black Widowers are the mystery shorts, but maybe they'll get her interested in more of Asimov; he's pretty famously sexless with only a few exceptions. And look for old-school stuff, like Cherry Ames; there's also a matching flight-attendant series, but I'm blanking on the name. Good luck with all of this. It won't get easier as she gets older.
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:33 PM on December 6, 2005

If the kid was allowed to read Harry Potter, the "fundy" restrictions are probably not all that tight. Staying away from sex and gore is probably the main thing to keep in mind, no?
posted by Gator at 3:38 PM on December 6, 2005

For getting a girl started reading Agatha Christie, I highly recommend the Miss Marple short story collection.
posted by naomi at 4:17 PM on December 6, 2005

When I was a 13 year old girl, I liked Lilian Jackson Braun's "The Cat Who..." series; I think there are at least two dozen by now. Also, since she's a teenager she'll probably enjoy the fact that they're not written for children but probably won't offend her mother's sensibilities (i.e.- they're maturely written without overtly mature themes).
posted by Flamingo at 4:20 PM on December 6, 2005

Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell.

You can't go wrong with a book certificate either- she might have started some series and want the chance to buy the rest. Also by age 10 or so I'd read a lot of the books suggested here and she might have too.
posted by fshgrl at 4:57 PM on December 6, 2005

I second The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler
posted by matkline at 5:01 PM on December 6, 2005

Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt. It's a Newbury Award winner. It's tame enough to get past an uptight parent, but it encourages a girl independence. It's not exactly a mystery, but I'd put it squarely in the category of books she would enjoy, given what you listed as her likes.

A lot of these recommendations will depend on her emotional and mental maturity level, something we won't know, and something that you very well might not know.

If she is slightly mature for her age (and smart), I'd start her on older books. At her age Nancy Drew is way too young, as are quite a few of the current suggestions. So, if she's mature for her age, I'd stretch her mental capacity with some Sara Paretsky novels. Ms. Paretsky writes wonderful mysteries, involving interesting social issues. They're not at all gory, and they contain no explicit sex, and they're smart and woman-positive. On the other hand, if she's not bright for her age, she might not understand them.

The early Robert Ludlum novels (the ones not ghostwritten) were books I started on when I was 13, but they're violent intrigue. Might not get past her mother.

If she likes science fiction/detective fiction, the Glen Cook metals series could be fun. No explicit sex, or terrible violence (kind of parodies the hardboiled detective genre.

Rita Mae Brown writes some cute mysteries with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, and three animals end up solving the mysteries. These are much more well-written than most genre mysteries, and although written for adults, would be suitable for children.

Charles de Lint writes good fantasy. His books of short stories often contain puzzles/mysteries of sorts.

The Zelazny Amber series is adventure/sci-fi and would be about the right speed for a 13 year old, although that might not get past her mother.

Good luck!
posted by digitalis at 6:02 PM on December 6, 2005

I agree with the above poster about Asimov's Black Widower stories, although those can be hard to find (unless you order them online). Also, his robot mystery series is really good (I think there are three of those: Robots of Dawn, etc.).

Someone suggested Lilian Jackson Braun's books, and those are fun mysteries, but the dry sense of humor might go over her head at that age. On the other hand, they'd be good anyway.
posted by digitalis at 6:04 PM on December 6, 2005

I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but I also read it when I was eight. Although... Harry Potter & Nancy Drew are generally considered "kids' books" so I guess she wouldn't have a real hangup like some people that age do?

Myself, I'd go for Agatha Christie, though. Good stuff you'll be glad you read.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:24 PM on December 6, 2005

I agree with the person who said you should get her onto more challenging books. Stretch her. At 13 I was reading everything from DH Lawrence to Kurt Vonnegut. Admittedly I may not have been getting quite as much out of them as I did when I was older but it certainly expanded my mind and was a valuable education. Go for broke: couple religion and mystery and give her The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco. A cracking tale.
posted by Decani at 6:45 PM on December 6, 2005

I just wanted to bring the conversation back to The Westing Game. Every once in a while I still go back and reread it, and it's one of my most remembered books from that age.

Also a yay for challenging books, or adding new perspectives. She may be ready for books that incorporate other cultures like Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, or Chinese mystery author Qiu Xiaolong. Both of those authors incorporate parts of their culture's history, language, and culture (and, in Camilleri's case, culinary specialities!) in a way that can spur interest in new topics.
posted by whatzit at 8:26 PM on December 6, 2005

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card is fantastic. I wish I had discovered it when I was 13.
posted by Anizev at 9:16 PM on December 6, 2005

If you want some additional browsing material for more contemporary choices, you could probably do worse than the winners and nominees for the Edgar Awards in the juvenile category.
posted by nanojath at 9:33 PM on December 6, 2005

Lots of good suggestions...I second the recommendations of "Ender's Game" and "In the Name of the Rose"...both great, but I think "In the Name of the Rose" would be right up your cousin's alley. I would DE-recommend "Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell"...I really liked it, but I think it would put a 13-year-old to sleep.

"The Once and Future King" was one of my favourites when I was around 13. It's a really fun, accessible entry point into Arthurian legend (it's the book that "The Sword in the Stone" was based on). Two more GREAT GREAT series: Lloyd Alexander's "Prydian Chronicles" (the first book is "The Black Cauldron") and Ursala Le Guin's "The Earthsea Cycle" (the first book is the "A Wizard of Earthsea". Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" trilogy (only 2 books so far, "Eragon" and "Eldest") would probably be good, too.
posted by johnsmith415 at 10:39 PM on December 6, 2005

It seems worthwhile at this point to reiterate that the poster is looking for mystery books specifically.
posted by nanojath at 12:25 AM on December 7, 2005

I would recommend the Lemmony Snicket book series "A Series of Unfortunate Events". There are 13 books now. My kids absoultely love them. I've read a few myself and they even kept my interest. The author has a way of introducing some higher vocabulary to the reader without talking down to them, which I really liked.

When my son first told me about them, I thought the books sounded pretty "dark" because they are about a trio of siblings who lost their parents in a house fire. After that, the kids are sent from one foster situation to another, always being chased by the bad guy, who is after their family fortune.

The books show how the kids can use their smarts and individual talents to work through the situations together. They promote family and the strength of being in a good, loving relationship with the siblings.

I would also agree with the multiple suggestions for Agatha Christie books. I loved them when I was about that age. The bookstore gift card/certificate was also a good one!
posted by Mrs. Smith at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2005

...books that incorporate other cultures like Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, or Chinese mystery author Qiu Xiaolong...

Per nanojath's reminder: The above authors write mysteries in which their cultures figure prominently.
posted by whatzit at 7:19 AM on December 7, 2005

I second digitalis, in that many of these suggestions are much too young. At 13, she's probably outgrowing Nancy, and Trixie and especially Lemony Snicket would be way too young, if she's reading at or above her grade level.

And johnsmith415's suggestions in his second paragraph are all fantasy, not mystery.

I like the idea of getting her started on classic mysteries like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I was around that age when I discovered those, and they've stuck with me, especially Sherlock Holmes. The short story collections are great because you can read them straight through or pick them up and put them down--challenging but not overwhelming for a 13-year-old, and a nice hardcover edition could be something she'd keep her whole life.
posted by lampoil at 8:23 AM on December 7, 2005

Sorry about the fantasy tangent...I saw "Harry Potter" and ran with it. I'll reiterate that "In the Name of the Rose" is a good choice, though. Mystery AND history...sweet.

I would de-recommend Sherlock Holmes for a 13-year-old...Agatha Christie would probably be OK, but Doyle's work is a little antiquated, in my opinion. Good stuff, but boring. Although, I guess if she likes Nancy Drew, it might be OK.
posted by johnsmith415 at 12:07 PM on December 7, 2005

I love The Name of the Rose, but I think it's a little hardcore for a 13-year-old. That is, while the mystery part would be interesting to her, she would probably find it difficult to slog through all those lengthy dissertations on the church politics of the period. Unless she's Catholic and/or interested in that stuff, which the OP would know better than I.
posted by Gator at 12:30 PM on December 7, 2005

Hmm...maybe you're right. I also just remembered that whole sex scene with that peasant from the town...might be a a little racy if the kid's mom is a "fundie".
posted by johnsmith415 at 3:19 PM on December 7, 2005

Another vote for The Westing Game. A few people have mentioned Asimov; in that vein I'd go with the first three Robot novels (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn), which Asimov wrote to prove that science fiction ideas could be applied to the mystery genre. I loved Sherlock Holmes as a kid and continue to do so; maybe your cousin would be interested in Discovering Sherlock Holmes which was posted on the blue a little while ago? My own cousins were also big fans of the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton when they were growing up, although I wasn't so much. There's 21 Famous Five books, so if it is something your cousin would like, there's plenty to keep her occupied for a while.
posted by Errant at 3:32 PM on December 7, 2005

Whoa, the Famous Five?!? I totally forgot about those! I'll second that recommendation, but they MIGHT be a little on the young side for a 13-year-old...
posted by johnsmith415 at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2005

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