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Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Allure of Moral Ambiguity: Why Teens Gravitate Toward Thrillers that Push Ethical Boundaries


In recent years, the literary world has seen a surge in the popularity of thriller novels among teenage readers. Simply scroll Twitter or any social media site, really, and you'll see so many announcements for new thriller books. Or take a peek at the best seller list on any given week. 

Personally, I'm a huge fan of this genre! I've always loved the dark and spooky, and I will always choose a horror movie over a chick flick. Naturally, when the books started publishing, I started buying and reading. And I've read a LOT! 

But what, exactly, is a teen thriller, and why is there such a huge audience for them?

Often characterized by their dark, ominous looking covers, intense narratives, unexpected twists, intricate plots, and naive teenage characters, YA thrillers also frequently delve into complex moral landscapes. From exploring the fine line between right and wrong to presenting protagonists with ethically dubious motives, these novels challenge conventional notions of morality. But what is it about these morally ambiguous thrillers that so captivates the teenage audience? Or even an adult audience? 

The Thrill of the Unknown

Humans, especially teenagers, are naturally curious and often seek out new experiences and ideas. Thriller novels provide an exhilarating escape from the predictability of everyday life. The suspense and unpredictability inherent in these stories offer a safe way for teens to explore the unknown. The high stakes and constant tension keep readers on the edge of their seats, creating an adrenaline rush that can be both addictive and fulfilling.

In particular, thrillers that push moral boundaries add an extra layer of intrigue. These stories often present scenarios where the distinction between good and evil is blurred, forcing readers to grapple with complex ethical dilemmas. 

A prime example of this is in THE STRANDED by Sarah Daniels. There's a rebellion brewing aboard a stranded cruise ship, and the main characters have to decide if sacrificing one or two people is worth it to save thousands. Is one life worth more than another? Are the many more valuable than the few? Can you forgive those who have betrayed you? Is one person's way of life "better" than an other? This is an ethical dilemma the characters are faced with and have to overcome. 

The Appeal of Complex Characters

One of the most compelling aspects of thrillers is their rich character development. Protagonists in these novels are often multifaceted and morally ambiguous, making them more relatable and realistic. Teenagers, who are in the midst of forming their own identities, find these characters particularly fascinating. They see parts of themselves in these flawed heroes and anti-heroes, which makes the stories more immersive and impactful.

Characters who operate in morally gray areas challenge readers to think about the motivations behind actions. Teens are drawn to these characters because they reflect the complexities of real-life decision-making. In a world where they are constantly being told what is right and wrong, these novels offer a refreshing perspective that acknowledges the nuance and ambiguity of human behavior.

One of the best series I've read with some of the most complex characters is QUARANTINE SERIES by Lex Thomas. In this series, the characters are quarantined inside their high school with no adults. They must learn to live together and survive, even when food deliveries become less and less. This leads to a lot of violence. Friends turning on one another. Groups vying for power over others. Laying claim to certain areas within the building. All of this leads readers down a twisty, gray path of morality: how far would you go to survive? Is your survival more important than your friends? Would you kill to protect those you love? 

Navigating the Moral Landscape

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and moral development. Teens are beginning to form their own ethical frameworks and are keenly aware of the societal expectations placed upon them. Thriller novels that explore moral ambiguity provide a platform for teens to experiment with different moral perspectives in a safe and controlled environment.

These novels often present ethical dilemmas that do not have clear-cut answers. By engaging with these scenarios, teens can practice moral reasoning and empathy. They learn to consider multiple viewpoints and understand the complexities involved in making difficult decisions. This cognitive and emotional engagement helps them develop a more sophisticated and nuanced moral compass.

The Power of Empathy

Thrillers that push the boundaries on morality often evoke strong emotional responses. Readers are forced to confront uncomfortable truths and empathize with characters whose actions they might not agree with. This emotional engagement fosters a deeper understanding of human behavior and the factors that influence it.

For teens, who are still developing their emotional intelligence, this can be a profoundly transformative experience. By stepping into the shoes of characters who face morally ambiguous situations, they learn to appreciate the complexities of human nature. This empathy extends beyond the pages of the book and can positively impact their interactions with others in the real world.

The main character in LYING IN THE DEEP by Diana Urban shows great empathy amidst a lot of morally ambiguous situations. For starters, her former best friend and her ex-boyfriend betrayed her in the worst way imaginable, and then the former best friend ends up dead. 

Despite the betrayal and hurt, the main character still has a lot of complicated and conflicted feelings. As the story unfolds, she's faced with even more difficult decisions that ultimately shapes who she is as a person. Will she maintain her empathy for others, or will she change who she is based on her circumstances? How would you handle the same situations? 

The Attraction of Rebellion

Teenagers have a natural inclination to rebel against authority and societal norms. Thriller novels that challenge conventional morality resonate with this rebellious spirit. These stories often feature characters who defy the rules and take matters into their own hands, which can be incredibly appealing to teens who are seeking autonomy and independence.

Reading about characters who break the rules and challenge the status quo provides a vicarious thrill. It allows teens to explore their own desires for rebellion in a safe and controlled way. This exploration of defiance can be empowering and validating, especially for those who feel constrained by societal expectations.

Almost every teen thriller I've read has some sort of rebellion, usually teens lying to their parents and sneaking around. Or when a murder occurs, they take it upon themselves to figure out whodunit and why. 

Recently, I read NO ESCAPE by Maren Stoffels and while the rebellion in this story isn't huge (no mutiny or war or murder investigation) the characters do rebel by doing something they shouldn't. 

The two main characters are cousins and best friends. They tell their parents they're going to a movie but really sneak off to a (shady) escape room. Why? Because they lost a friend and aren't dealing with that very well. They both need an escape, and the only way they truly know how to do that is by rebelling against the norm and taking control of their lives, even if it's just for an afternoon.

The Appeal of Intellectual Challenge

Thriller novels are intellectually stimulating. They often involve intricate plots, complex characters, and layered narratives that require careful attention and critical thinking. For intellectually curious teens, these novels provide a welcome challenge.

The moral ambiguity in these stories adds an additional layer of complexity. Teens are not only trying to solve the mystery or predict the next twist but are also grappling with the ethical implications of the characters' actions. This dual engagement with plot and morality provides a rich and rewarding reading experience.

ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen M. McManus
is probably one of the twisty-ist teen thrillers I've ever read. Lots of complex relationships not only between the teen characters, but among the adults, too. Everyone is a suspect and no one trusts anyone else. The teens even question the authorities, which makes them question their own morals and intelligence. The twist at the end of this book leaves all of them wondering what's real and what's not, who to trust, who to believe. If you haven't had the chance to read this book yet, I highly recommend it just for the thrill of trying to figure out what's going on. 

The Safe Exploration of Dark Themes

Thrillers often explore dark and disturbing themes that might be taboo in other genres. For teens, these themes can be both frightening and fascinating. Reading about violence, betrayal, and moral corruption in a fictional context allows them to explore these darker aspects of human nature in a safe and controlled way.

This exploration can be cathartic, providing an outlet for the darker emotions and fears that teens might be grappling with. It allows them to confront and process these feelings in a way that feels manageable and contained. This safe exploration of dark themes can be an important part of emotional growth and development.

I explore quite a few dark themes in my books, WARPED REGRETS and WARPED REMAINS. Both are YA thrillers that force the characters to deal with some very adult situations. A birth mother who wants nothing to do with the son who comes looking for her. A party that gets out of hand, resulting in arrests and a death. Surviving a plane crash. Who do you help save first? Who gets more of the very limited resources? What happens if help doesn't arrive? Do you look out for yourself first and others second? 

The teen characters are forced to grow up if they want to survive, and they are forced to make choices that aren't necessarily easy or that have a clear cut answer. When you're terrified, alone, and facing the unknown, you have to question everyone and everything--and that can be borderline impossible.


Thriller novels that push the boundaries on morality offer a unique and compelling reading experience for teenagers. These stories provide an adrenaline rush, complex characters, and intellectual challenges that keep readers engaged and invested. They also offer a safe space for teens to explore moral ambiguity, develop empathy, and grapple with real-world issues.

In a time of life marked by curiosity, rebellion, and self-discovery, these novels resonate deeply with teenage readers. They challenge teens to think critically, question their own beliefs, and explore the complexities of human behavior. 

While I'm well outside the target demographic for teen thrillers, I still enjoy them quite a bit. I like trying to figure out what's happening and how the characters will handle it. I also have teenagers myself, and I enjoy reading along with them and then discussing the books. I also tend to find that teen thrillers are more engaging than adult ones, and I know that's because the pacing is usually much faster. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Kara's Book Cravings: Quarantine Series

I found the third book of this series at a local book sale. (Let's be honest, that's where I find so many of my books. Ha!) As soon as I saw the cover and read the blurb, I knew I needed the rest of the series. So, I went to Amazon and bought the rest. I mean, an end of the world event, an enclosed setting, teens fending for themselves? You betcha I was reading this!

THE QUARANTINE SERIES by Lex Thomas is actually 4 books: The Loners, The Saints, The Burnouts, and The Giant. I've only read the first three. Why? Because the fourth book is more of a spin-off that follows one of the side characters. I wasn't that invested in this character to want to read an entire book about him. I'm sure it's as good as the rest, but by the time I finished the third book, I was ready to move on to something else. 

This is a YA series that starts on the first day of school. Upon arriving, there's an explosion, and all the students are now trapped inside. At first, they expect a quick rescue, but that doesn't happen. Turns out, there's a virus on the loose that is carried by teens but kills adults. (Cool, right?) And so the world has decided to quarantine all kids and teenagers who aren't of age until they can figure this out.

There's a major Lord of the Flies feel to this series as the kids fight to survive and to become leaders. They quickly form gangs and an entire community that's full of fights and parties and, of course, a romance. There's a love triangle in this series, too -- sort of. This one is more a necessity of circumstances, but it's handled very well. There are some pretty graphic scenes of violence, but I never felt any of it was gratuitous. A character death near the end really pissed me off, thought that's my largest complaint about the series. 

Overall, if you like YA end of the world, dystopian, romance then you have to check out this series!

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Join the Discussion: Do You Use a Book Rating System for Reviews?

Hello, and welcome to Tell Me Something Tuesday (TMST)!

Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly discussion post where bloggers discuss a wide range of topics from books and blogging to life in general. Weigh in and join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comments. If you want to do your own post, grab the question and answer it on your blog. Feel free to leave your links in the comments if you are participating.

If you are interested in participating in TMST or receiving periodic emails that list the upcoming TMST topics and questions,  please fill out this GOOGLE FORM.  Participation is optional and never required.

So, the answer to this question really depends on where I'm reviewing a book. If it's on my blog as part of Kara's Book Cravings, I just share my opinions on the book, characters, plot, and I talk a bit about how I found the book, too, but I don't use any sort of rating system. I want my book thoughts to be more relaxed, like I'm chatting with a friend about it as opposed to something more formal or professional. 

If I'm reviewing somewhere like Goodreads or Amazon or any other site that requires a star rating, then I'll use one. Personally, though, I think there's too much subjectivity to star ratings / grades. My idea of a 3-star will be different from yours, so I think written reviews expressing what you liked and didn't like is a lot more useful. 

How about you? 
Do you use a rating system for books you read and review? 
Why or why not? 
Share in the comments!

Monday, July 15, 2024

Kara's Book Cravings: The Ever Trilogy


Y'all know I'm a huge lover of anything teen paranormal, so when I saw THE EVER TRILOGY by Jessa Russo pop up in a recent promotion, I had to snag it. The series contains three books: Ever, Evade, and Entwined.

This is a YA paranormal romance unlike anything I've read before. It's not vampires, shifters, witches, dragons or anything like that. This has ghosts and Soul Collectors! Now, I'm sure this has been done before, but this was my first time reading about these types of beings, (soul collectors) and I was very intrigued. 

Each book is more like a novella, but despite the shorter length, each story is complete. Though, the first two do end in some wicked cliffhangers, so if you're going to take a chance on this, buy the boxed set so you can just read through all three at once. 

I enjoyed most of the characters -- there was one who I didn't like, but I know that was intentional on the author's part -- but overall, each of them were well rounded and likable. There was also a love triangle in this series, and I thought it was done very well, and like just about everything else in this series, there was a cool twist. So many twists and turns I never saw coming, and that really just makes this entire series that much better. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Writing Gripping Teen Fiction: 5 Tips for Captivating Young Readers


Despite being an adult in my 40s, I absolutely LOVE young adult fiction. I think it's fresh and fun. Characters that age aren't jaded or set in their ways. They're exploring life, love, the world around them. They can make mistakes and get away with it, whereas in adult fiction, the characters are expected to "act their age." The uncertainty and curiosity that is inherent in YA is what makes it so appealing to me. This is also the reason I write YA fiction! 

But writing YA stories isn't as easy and fun as reading them. So, today, I'm sharing five tips for writing teen fiction that will keep your young readers flipping the pages. 

Teen readers are at a unique stage in their lives, grappling with issues of identity, independence, and social dynamics. They are more likely to engage with stories that reflect their own experiences and challenges. But how can you do that, especially when teens today are dealing with things that we never had to?

  • Research Current Trends: Stay updated on what’s popular in teen literature, but don’t simply mimic existing works. Use trends as inspiration while bringing your unique voice and perspective to the story.
  • Interact with Teens: Engage with teens in your community, online forums, or through social media to get a firsthand understanding of their interests, concerns, and language. If you can, find some teenage beta readers to help you ensure your story is authentic.
  • Read Widely: Familiarize yourself with a variety of teen fiction books. Note what works and what doesn’t, and identify gaps or opportunities for new stories. 

Characters are the heart of any story, and this is especially true in teen fiction. Your characters should be multidimensional and relatable, reflecting the complexity of real teenagers.

  • Develop Authentic Voices: Teens have a distinct way of speaking and thinking. Pay attention to their language, including slang and idioms, but use it sparingly to avoid sounding forced or outdated.
  • Show Growth and Change: Teen years are a time of significant growth and change. Your characters should evolve throughout the story, learning from their experiences and developing new perspectives.
  • Avoid Stereotypes: Steer clear of clich├ęd portrayals of teenagers. Instead, create nuanced characters with unique backgrounds, personalities, and motivations.
  • Mirror the Real World: Teens live in a diverse world full of different races, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, lifestyles, etc., so make sure your books reflect that. Teens don't want to just see themselves on the page; they want to see their friends, too. 

Themes should resonate with your audience’s real-life experiences and concerns. Addressing those can make your story more engaging and meaningful.

  • Identity and Self-Discovery: Themes of identity, self-discovery, and personal growth are central to many teen experiences. Explore how your characters navigate these issues. How to they react to certain situations? How do they change over time?
  • Relationships and Social Dynamics: Friendships, family relationships, and romantic interests are critical in teen fiction. Delve into the complexities of these relationships and how they impact your characters. 
  • Challenges and Conflicts: Address real-life issues such as mental health, bullying, peer pressure, and societal expectations. Be sensitive and respectful in your portrayal of these themes.

A gripping plot is essential to keep teens hooked from the first page to the last. Your story should have a clear structure, with a balance of tension, conflict, and resolution.

  • Start Strong: Capture your readers’ attention with an engaging opening that introduces intriguing characters or a captivating situation. Make the reader need to know what's going to happen next.
  • Maintain Pacing: Keep the story moving with a well-paced narrative. Avoid long, drawn-out scenes that might lose your readers’ interest. Shorter sentences and chapters give the illusion of faster pacing.
  • Build Tension: Create suspense and tension through conflicts, obstacles, and unexpected twists. Ensure that the stakes are high, compelling readers to keep turning the pages. Do this by ending every chapter on a cliffhanger, make your reader have to turn the page.
  • Provide Resolution: While not all endings need to be happy, they should be satisfying and provide closure. Ensure that your characters’ journeys come to a meaningful conclusion.

Dialogue is a powerful tool in teen fiction. It reveals character, advances the plot, and brings authenticity to your story.

  • Keep It Natural: Listen to how teenagers talk. Use short sentences, contractions, and colloquial expressions to make dialogue sound natural, but be mindful of slang. Using too much can feel awkward and will date the book.
  • Show, Don’t Tell: Use dialogue to show character traits and relationships rather than simply conveying information. Let your characters’ words and actions speak for themselves. Utilize the five senses to engage your reader in the story.
  • Balance Dialogue and Narrative: While dialogue is crucial, balance it with narrative descriptions to create a well-rounded story. Use internal monologue to provide deeper insight into your characters’ thoughts and feelings. As with anything else, find a good balance.

Writing gripping teen fiction is an art that requires a deep understanding of your audience, well-developed characters, relevant themes, a compelling plot, and authentic dialogue. By following these tips and continually honing your craft, you can create stories that captivate and inspire young readers. Remember, the key to successful teen fiction is not just telling a good story but telling a story that resonates with the unique experiences and perspectives of teenagers. 

~ Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Kara's Book Cravings: Landry Park

I found LANDRY PARK by Bethany Hagen at a local book sale. The cover intrigued me, and so did the blurb. Figured it couldn't hurt to check it out. I mean, second-hand sales like this are how I often find new-to-me authors and books. I can't count how many times I've found one book in a series, loved it, and then went on to buy the others. 

This is a YA dystopian romance story about a young girl who is essentially royalty. And then she slowly -- and very reluctantly -- begins to learn the truth of her lifestyle, how she has what she does because others suffer and die for it. Like so many other YA books in this genre, war and rebellion are brewing. Our heroine gets sucked into it and now must choose between her family and lifestyle or doing the right thing for those less fortunate. 

The writing style is easy and engaging. There are lots of secrets and deception, along with some twists I hadn't expected. Oh, and the hint of a love triangle, which is so my thing! 

While the end is decent and isn't a cliffhanger, it does hint at a second book. Sure enough, when I looked this up on Amazon, there is a second book available. I haven't yet decided if I'm invested enough to buy it. I mean, sure, I'm curious about what happens next, but I'm not so entrenched that I need to know right now. Maybe someday I'll come back around to this series, but for now, I'm moving on to other things. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Join the TMST Discussion: Share Your Pandemic Hobbies and Discover New Interests!

Hello, and welcome to Tell Me Something Tuesday (TMST)!

Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly discussion post where bloggers discuss a wide range of topics from books and blogging to life in general. Weigh in and join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comments. If you want to do your own post, grab the question and answer it on your blog. Feel free to leave your links in the comments if you are participating.

If you are interested in participating in TMST or receiving periodic emails that list the upcoming TMST topics and questions,  please fill out this GOOGLE FORM.  Participation is optional and never required.

I spent a majority of the pandemic writing my Cursed Series, and while that's not really a hobby but my job, I have continued with that.  I did start doing adult coloring books in the evenings, and now I have an entire tote full of them, along with a huge container of colored pencils. I find it relaxing after a long day, and I can get comfy on the couch and turn on my favorite TV show. 

Did you start any new hobbies during the pandemic? 
What were they? Do you still do them? 
Share in the comments!