Back-to-School Thrills: A Dark Academia YA Book List

Fall is here and school is in session, which means it’s time to hit the books. Whether you’re a teacher, a student, or just someone who enjoys reading thrillers set in high school, we think you’ll love this list of YA dark academia books featuring murder, mystery, and mayhem in academic settings. All these thrilling titles make the grade when it comes to nail-biting suspense, so get ready to pull an all-nighter!

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series by Holly Jackson

If you’re addicted to true-crime books and podcasts, you’ve got to read the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series by Holly Jackson. The first book, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, features high school student Pippa Fitz-Amobi as she revisits a famous murder-suicide case in her small town as part of a class project. In book two, Good Girl, Bad Blood, Pip and her friend Ravi release a podcast about the case and put themselves in danger to help find a missing teen. In book three, As Good as Dead, Pip is getting ready to start college, but finds it hard to cope with the ghosts of her past and a terrifying stalker in the present.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

Admission by Julie Buxbaum

Admission by Julie Buxbaum begins with the main character’s mom being hauled out of their house in handcuffs. Her crime? She hired someone to falsify her daughter Chloe’s college test scores and application. This ripped-from-the-headlines story will have you in suspense until the very end as Chloe tries to cope with her mom’s arrest and come to terms with the part that she played in the fraud.



It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer–she has it all–money, privilege, and a ticket to the college of her dreams. Or at least she did until the FBI came knocking on her front door, guns at the ready, and her future went up in smoke. Now her B list celebrity mother is under arrest in a massive college admissions bribery scandal, and Chloe might be the next one facing charges. The public is furious, the headlines are brutal, and the US attorney is out for blood.

As everything she’s taken for granted starts to slip away, Chloe must reckon not only with the truth of what happened, but also with the examination of her own guilt. How much did she really know-or guess? Why did her parents think the only way for her to succeed was to cheat? And what does it really mean to be complicit?

The Babysitters Coven series by Kate M. Williams

If you love all things paranormal, you definitely need to read the Babysitters Coven series by Kate Williams. In book one, The Babysitters Coven, Esme and her friend Cassandra start a babysitting service only to learn that they have witchy superpowers. In book two, For Better or Cursed, the girls continue to learn how to use witchcraft to keep evil at bay. The series wraps up with Smells Like Teen Spirit, which finds Esme and Cassandra following a band that might just make their fight against evil hit a wrong note.

The Babysitters Coven

The Babysitters Coven

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She’s Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria cooking. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme’s babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.”

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.

The Ivies by Alexa Donne

The college admission process is stressful, especially if you’re a student at Claflin Academy. In The Ivies by Alexa Donne, the competition for college turns deadly. Claflin student Olivia is part of a group who call themselves the Ivies, five girls who will do just about anything to get into the school of their dreams. When one of the girls ends up dead, Olivia decides to investigate, putting herself and her future at risk. You don’t want to miss this YA dark academia bestseller.

The Ivies

The Ivies

Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. I would know. I’m one of them. We disrupt class ranks, club leaderships, and academic competitions…among other things. We improve our own odds by decreasing the fortunes of others. Because hyper-elite competitive college admissions is serious business. And in some cases, it’s deadly.

Alexa Donne delivers a nail-biting YA dark academia thriller about teens who will stop at nothing to get into the college of their dreams. Too bad no one told them murder isn’t an extracurricular.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

A dark, twisty thriller about a centuries-old, ivy-covered boarding school haunted by its history of witchcraft and two girls dangerously close to digging up the past. The dangerous romance and atmospheric setting makes it a perfect read for fans of YA dark academia.

A Lesson in Vengeance

A Lesson in Vengeance

The history of Dalloway School lives in the bones it was built on. Five violent deaths in the first ten years of its existence. Sometimes you can still smell the blood on the air.

It wasn’t until Felicity enrolled that she fell in love with the dark. And now she’s back to finish her senior year after the tragic death of her girlfriend. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of the five Dalloway students who died there—girls some say were witches.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no.

Dalloway’s occult lore is everywhere, and the new girl won’t let Felicity forget it. But when the past begins to invade on the present, Felicity needs to decide where she stands. The soil under her feet is bloody with Dalloway’s history. But so is the present. Is it Dalloway—or is it her?

One of Us Is Lying series by Karen M. McManus

This suspenseful YA duology takes place at Bayview High. In One of Us Is Lying, a student dies mysteriously in detention, leaving a roomful of suspects. In One of Us Is Next, a dangerous game of truth or dare could have a deadly conclusion.

If you love YA thrillers, be sure to also check out ALL of Karen M. McManus’s other books. In Two Can Keep a Secret, a teen tries to solve a decades-old murder that ties to a girl missing in the present. The Cousins is about a group of teens who shake up their family tree to get to the bottom of why their parents were disinherited. Finally, You’ll Be the Death of Me is about a trio of students who ditch school only to become suspects in a murder.

Karen M. McManus 2-Book Box Set: One of Us Is Lying and One of Us Is Next

Karen M. McManus 2-Book Box Set: One of Us Is Lying and One of Us Is Next

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

One of Us Is Lying
Five students walk into detention, and only four walk out. According to investigators, the last student’s death wasn’t an accident. He was planning to post juicy reveals about all four of his classmates the next day, which makes them each suspects. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

One of Us Is Next
A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year after no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts. Until now. This time it’s not an app, though–it’s a game. Truth or Dare. And if you’re smart, you’ll always take the dare.

Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus

From #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes a new page-turning mystery. Be sure to keep your friends close . . . and your secrets closer. Digging into the past is bound to shake up the present, and when Brynn begins to investigate what happened in the woods that day, she uncovers secrets that might change everything—about Saint Ambrose, about Mr. Larkin, and about her ex-best friend, Tripp Talbot.

Nothing More to Tell

Nothing More to Tell

Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favorite teacher—a story that made headlines after the teacher’s body was found by three Saint Ambrose students in the woods behind their school. The case was never solved. Now that Brynn is moving home and starting her dream internship at a true-crime show, she’s determined to find out what really happened.

The kids who found Mr. Larkin are her way in, and her ex–best friend, Tripp Talbot, was one of them. Without his account of events, the other two kids might have gone down for Mr. Larkin’s murder—but instead, thanks to Tripp, they’re now at the top of the Saint Ambrose social pyramid. Tripp’s friends have never forgotten what Tripp did for them that day, and neither has he. Just like he hasn’t forgotten that everything he told the police was a lie.

Prom House by Chelsea Mueller

Prom House by Chelsea Mueller explores what happens when the best night of your life turns into the worst. Prom is supposed to be an unforgettable part of the high school experience. But for a group of ten teens at a lavish beach house, prom weekend turns deadly. First one of their group turns up gruesomely dead, and then a hurricane hits, knocking out the power and trapping them. Can they survive the weekend and unmask a killer in this YA dark academia thriller?

Prom House

Prom House


When Kylie walks into the gorgeous beach house, it’s a dream come true. She still can’t believe she talked her parents into letting her spend the weekend down the shore with her boyfriend, Liam, after prom. Kylie, Liam, and their friends have rented the most amazing party house—and it’s all theirs. Prom was awesome, but this is going to be even better.

Except there’s a little problem. A violent storm hits the beach and the power goes out—with no sign that it’s coming back anytime soon. Roughing it with candles and camping lanterns isn’t the vibe they were going for, but everyone wants to make the most of it. Until people start disappearing . . . and turning up dead. Kylie is terrified. Is somebody’s prom date a killer?

Did you enjoy this article about YA dark academia back-to-school thrillers? Check out other book nerd articles here, and get social with us at @getunderlined!

Become a Book Nerd

When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.