Forget the good guys—sometimes the best characters in YA books are bad. This list of YA antiheroes includes characters who lie, cheat, steal, and sometimes even kill people they love. From comical plots of villainous deeds, to darker stories of love and loss, these books all examine the line between good and evil, and what constitutes a hero. With the publication of Michelle Zink’s Lies I Told in April and Paula Stokes’s Liars, Inc. in March, this is the perfect time to revisit our favorite rule-breakers and criminals of YA.
All Fall Down, by Ally Carter
Grace has a lot of questions after the mysterious death of her mother. She doesn’t let rules get in the way of answers—and when you’re an ambassador’s granddaughter, breaking the rules of the house often means breaking the law. Carter’s antiheroines can also be found in the Heist Society series where Kat Bishop and her friends flaunt law and order in their spectacular criminal activities.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Frankie Landau-Banks is a 15-year-old criminal mastermind. Single-minded in her pursuit of power, Frankie is not interested in the rules—neither the ones explicitly set by her traditional New England boarding school, nor the unspoken ones enforced by her dreamy, goofy new boyfriend’s secret society.
Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks
Cadel Piggott attends the Axis Institute for World Domination—a school for villains. As Cadel takes classes on embezzlement and other nefarious subjects, he strikes up a friendship that makes him reevaluate his life choices. A cartoonish adventure, Jinks’ novel still manages to ask serious questions about evil and what we expect of our heroes.
Liars, Inc., by Paula Stokes
Max Cantrell starts a lying business to help his classmates get out of things—excuses, forged notes, and the like—but then a friend goes missing after using one of his alibis. Suddenly, the FBI is interrogating Max on murder charges. It’s a slippery slope from a little white lie, one Max slides all the way down.
Lies I Told, by Michelle Zink
Grace’s adopted family are con artists who move around the world, scamming and stealing from the rich. Grace and her brother Parker aid and abet their new parents, but then Grace falls in love. Everything starts to fall apart, and Grace must reevaluate the life she’s been thrust into.
Sway, by Kat Spears
Jesse Alderman goes by the nickname “Sway” because he has influence to make things happen in his high school. His under-the-table dealings get his peers passing grades, alcohol for parties, and even dates. Sway answers to no one but his business deals, until he meets a girl who is as good as they come and who throws his misdeeds into sharp relief.
White Cat, by Holly Black
Cassel Sharpe has been raised on a life of crime. Even though he doesn’t do illegal magic like his curse-working family, since he killed his best friend Lila three years ago, he knows there is no good in him. Black’s Curse Workers series—which also includes Red Glove (2011) and Black Heart (2012)—kicks off with this story of cons and curses.