Author Nancy Werlin


Nancy Werlin writes young adult fiction:

  • New York Times–bestselling fantasy

  • Edgar-award winning suspense

  • National Book Award-honored realistic novels

Comics: 3x a week!

Follow my Tumblr, where I'm working on "Draft 0" of a comics/graphic novel memoir about being young and making bad mistakes in love. New episode on Tumblr three times a week. It's also sent out on Twitter (@nancywerlin).

NEW! Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio in June 2017:

book cover

Five kids discover that their parents would prefer them dead ...  see the book trailer!

Preorder now at your favorite bookstore!


Unthinkable - paperback cover

"Unique and unforgettable." 
-Booklist, starred review.

Out now in ebook, hardcover, and paperback!

Upcoming Events

August 12-19, 2017. Teaching at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop, in beautiful Boyds Mills, PA. The Whole Novel Workshop offers writers the rare opportunity to have the entire draft of a novel read and critiqued prior to the workshop, followed by a week of intense, one-on-one mentoring and soul-filling communion with fellow writers. Superb food and your own little cabin round out the week. Description and registration information.

Here's a video about my teaching, and another video with wisdom from my fellow faculty member Sarah Aronson. Other faculty includes Jennifer Jacobson and A.M. Jenkins, and teaching assistants Nicole Valentine and Rob Costello. Limited to 16 participants, the Workshop fills up fast, so for your best chance, apply as soon as you know you want to come. 


About Nancy Werlin

Nancy Werlin, photo by Jerry Bauer
Photo by Jerry Bauer. Large version.

The author of 10 novels, Nancy Werlin grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts, USA. She decided to become a writer in the fourth grade when she realized that her beloved novels didn't appear by magic—there were actual, real, living people whose job it was to write books.

“I will become an author,” quoth she. “Like unto my favorite, Charlotte Bronte.”

(Not having gotten far into Jane Eyre, Nancy believed it was about a little girl in an evil Victorian orphange school, similar to Miss Minchin's in A Little Princess.)

Nancy did become a writer and today all her books are published by Penguin.

But the road was not smooth. During her senior year studying English at Yale, Nancy panicked about earning a living. She learned just enough programming to land a high-tech job. She still works part-time as a technical writer for a software company.

Nancy's first novel, Are You Alone on Purpose, surprised her by being realistic young adult (YA) fiction. Her second novel, The Killer's Cousin, shocked her more by being a YA suspense thriller, and it won the Edgar award. 



Nancy's suspense fiction (And Then There Were Four, The Killer's Cousin, Locked Inside (an Edgar award finalist), Black Mirror, and Double Helix) has been praised by Sarah Weinman: “The same depth and punch as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters… simply one of the best crime novelists going right now. Period.”

Nancy returned to realistic YA fiction with her sixth book, the National Book award finalist The Rules of Survival, and then moved to fantasy with Impossible. She's followed that up with two more fantasies, Extraordinary and Unthinkable (the three books form a loose trilogy).

She says, “I like writing about young characters in deep trouble and lots of pain, who are pushed into a transformative experience. I think this is why, regardless of genre, everything I write is always also YA.” Her books have been translated into Danish, German, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, French, Korean, Russian, Polish, and Turkish.

Nancy has served as chair of the judging panel for the National Book Awards in Young People's Literature, and as a judge in the YA category for the Edgar awards.

From time to time, Nancy also teaches the writing of fiction.

She's writing a suspense thriller now, and is also working on a draft of a memoir in comics,  which she publishes piece by piece on her Tumblr.

Nancy is married to life coach and birder Jim McCoy. They live north of Boston, though for better or worse, Nancy mostly lives right where she always has: in her own head.





And Then There Were FourPenguin/Dial 
(June, 2017)

Unthinkable. Penguin/Dial
(September, 2013)

Extraordinary. Penguin/Dial (September, 2010)

Impossible, Penguin/Dial
(September, 2008)

The Rules of Survival, Penguin Putnam/Dial (2006)

Double Helix, Penguin Putnam/Dial (2004)

Black Mirror, Penguin Putnam/Dial (2001)

Locked Inside, Random House/Delacorte (2000), reprint Pengin/Puffin (2009)

The Killer's Cousin, Random House/Delacorte (1998), reprint Pengin/Puffin (2009)

Are You Alone on Purpose, Houghton Mifflin (1994), reprint Penguin/Puffin (2007)

Short Stories

“Who Do You Like?” in the collection Can You Keep a Secret: Ten Stories about Secrets, edited by Lois Metzger (Scholastic, 2007).

“Rebecca,” in the collection Twice Told: Original Stories Inspired by Original Artwork, Scott Hunt (illustrator), Dutton / Penguin (2006)

“War Game,” in the collection Twelve Shots: Outstanding Short Stories about Guns, edited by Harry Mazer, Random House / Delacorte (1997)

“Shortcut,” in the collection On the Fringe, edited by Donald R.Gallo, Penguin Putnam/Dial (2001)

(#3 in the series)

Unthinkable - paperback

Characters from Impossible and Extraordinary 
come together in Unthinkable.

Click here for the book trailer!

"Irresistible ... tension is palpable .... a unique and unforgettable quest." -Booklist, starred review.

"...weaves a twisting strand of faerie magic through the human realm, smoldering with sparks of romance and danger." -Horn Book.

Fenella was the first Scarborough girl to be cursed, hundreds of years ago; and she has been trapped in the faerie realm ever since, forced to watch generations of daughters try to break the elfin curse that has enslaved them. But now Fenella's descendant, Lucy, has accomplished the impossible and broken this curse. Why then is Fenella still trapped in Faerie?

In her desperation, Fenella makes a deal with the faerie queen: If she can accomplish three acts of destruction, she will be free, at last, to die. What she doesn't realize is that these acts must be aimed at her own family. If she fails, the consequences will be dire, for all of the Scarborough girls.

How can Fenella possibly choose to hurt her own dear family—not to mention a new beloved she never expected to meet? And if she doesn't betray them, how will she save them?

(#1 in the series)


New York Times Bestseller

Click here for the book trailer!

Lucy Scarborough is seventeen when she discovers that the women of her family have been cursed through the generations, forced to attempt three seemingly impossible tasks or to fall into madness upon their child's birth. But Lucy is the first girl who won't be alone as she tackles the list. She has her fiercely protective foster parents beside her. And she has Zach, whose strength amazes her more each day. Do they have enough love and resolve to overcome an age-old evil?

Inspired by the ballad “Scarborough Fair,” the New York Times bestseller Impossible combines suspense, fantasy, and romance to tell a story of love and family conquering all.

“A haunting, thrilling romantic puzzle.” —Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked

(#2 in the series)


An Amazon Best Book of the Month

Click here for the book trailer!

This is the story of two teenage girls. They are best friends, but they could not be more different. Phoebe is rich and from an important family. Mallory is poor; a nobody. Phoebe is ordinary in appearance; Mallory is stunning. Phoebe has loving parents; Mallory's single mother is mentally ill. Phoebe is kind and warm; Mallory is cynical and suspicious. Phoebe is open; Mallory lies about everything—except her love for her friend. That is real.

Also, Phoebe is human. Mallory, unbeknownst to her friend, is fey.

Mallory did not encounter Phoebe by accident. She was sent to her for a deadly purpose. She has dawdled, hesitating to act, but now time is running out, and the decision is being taken from her. When Mallory's handsome, sexy, amoral older brother, Ryland, suddenly appears, the smooth surface of their friendship explodes with all the hidden secrets, and the hidden truths, too.

Inspired by the song “For Good” from Wicked, Extraordinary tells a story about girls, friendship, vulnerability, betrayal, and the faerie realm. And also about love.

Teens Top 10 Book of the Year

Black Mirror

Black Mirror

“Not just a coming-of-age book but an edge-of-your-seat thriller.” —The Washington Post

Frances Leventhal refuses to look in the mirror; she can't bear to face her reflection. She has hidden from herself and everyone around her for such a long time, and now that her brother Daniel has committed suicide, she can't help thinking that it's somehow her fault. If she hadn't been so caught up in her own pain, maybe she would have noticed her brother's. It's time to stop hiding—to reach out to Daniel's friends at their private school. Daniel had been deeply involved in Unity Service, the charitable group on campus, and Frances is determined to join the group and to make amends.

But something's not quite right about Unity, and soon Frances finds herself in the middle of a puzzle too ominous to ignore. Exactly what are the Unity members trying so hard to hide? And why does no one else on campus, adult or teen, seem suspicious of them? This time Frances won't scurry away to hide. The memory of her brother is at stake.

The Rules of Survival

Rules for Survival by Nancy Werlin

A 2006 National Book Award Finalist

Matt has long since put himself in charge of protecting his younger sisters from their enemy.

Who is their enemy? It's their mother, Nikki O'Grady Walsh.

Matt's done okay. But secretly, inside, he's growing tired and hopeless. Then, suddenly, there's a possible ally on the horizon. Murdoch, his mother's ex-boyfriend, who maybe can help him get rid of his mother—for good.

The Rules of Survival spoke to me. I was there for every minute, reverse-wish-fulfilling as I read. The outcome made knots in my chest come undone.” —Tamora Pierce

A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

“This book is almost too scary to read. Nancy, could you put in a note to make sure everybody knows that mother is not based on me?” —Nancy's mother

→ A terrific  fan video

→ Another great fan video



Are You Alone on Purpose?

Are You Alone on Purpose by Nancy Werlin

“A wonderful first novel.” —VOYA

Though fourteen-year-old Alison Shandling is a brain, her twin brother, Adam, is autistic. All of her life, Alison's parents have focused on Adam and what he needs, while Alison has always felt she had to be perfect.

When the rabbi's son, Harry Roth, begins taunting Alison about her brother, she does her best to stand up for herself. But when Harry is injured in a diving accident, Alison senses that he's hiding something that he wants to share with someone. And she begins to think that—strangely—she's just the someone he can share it with…

A Publishers Weekly Flying Start book.

“A moving portrayal of two remarkable teenagers.”—School Library Journal

The Killer's Cousin

The Killer's Cousin

Winner of the Edgar award

Recently acquitted of murder, seventeen-year-old David has moved to Massachusetts to complete his senior year of high school. His aunt and uncle have offered him shelter—escape from the media's questions and from the uncertain glances of his neighbors and ex-friends.

His attic apartment doesn't feel much like a shelter, though. He sees ghostly shadows at night, his aunt is strangely cold, and his eleven-year-old cousin, Lily, is downright hostile. And as Lily's behavior becomes more and more threatening, David can't help wondering why. What ugly secrets lurk within the walls of Lily's home?

There's one thing David knows with certainty. The more he learns about his cousin Lily, the harder it is to run from his own past.

“Utterly terrifying psychodrama, rich in complex, finely drawn characters.” –Booklist, starred.

→ A terrific fan video 

Locked Inside

Locked Inside

Finalist for the Edgar award

Marnie is tremendously wealthy, and tremendously alone. The sixteen-year-old daughter of a superstar who died years ago, Marnie refused to take part in her oppressive boarding-school community. Nor does she have any interest in returning to Manhattan to live with her guardian, a well-meaning but stiff man named Max. She would rather burrow away in the dark, comforting world of her favorite Internet adventure game. Especially now that she has started chatting online with one of the other players, an intriguing rogue who calls himself the Elf.

But closing herself off from everyone around her doesn't mean that she's safe, as Marnie soon discovers. Kidnapped, locked inside an empty basement cell, Marnie is forced to confront painful truths about herself and her famous mother as she desperately tries to escape her jailer. Oh, how little her cyber-adventure game has prepared her for this real-life dungeon! And how she longs for just one more battle of wits with her mischievous Elf!

“Another fresh and engrossing thriller with psychological depth underlying its clever plot twists.” —

Double Helix

Double Helix

"Mesmerizing..." —Publishers Weekly

Eighteen year old Eli Samuels has just graduated from high school and lucked into a job at Wyatt Transgenics — offered to him by Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the legendary molecular biologist. The salary is substantial, the work is interesting, and Dr. Wyatt seems to be paying special attention to Eli. It's almost too good to be true. Is there a catch?

Eli's smart girlfriend Viv doesn't think so, but his father is vehemently against his taking the job and won't explain why. Eli knows that there's some connection between Dr. Wyatt and his parents—something too painful for his father to discuss. Something to do with his mother, who is now debilitated by Huntington's disease. As Eli works at the lab, and spends time with Dr. Wyatt, he begins to uncover some disconcerting information—about himself.

“Even if the only thing you know about DNA is that it's used to catch criminals on CSI, you must pick up this book.” —

“An essential purchase." —School Library Journal (starred, best book of the year list).

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All of Nancy's books are published by Penguin.

Contacting Nancy

Rights: Nancy is represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Review copies: Free review copies are not available for Nancy's books once they have been published. However, you can download an excerpt for free from any electronic bookstore, and your local library can probably get any book for you. Ask about interlibrary loan if your library doesn't have the book you want.

Contact Nancy: To contact Nancy directly about other topics, email nancy AT

Speaking Engagements

"The students and teachers loved it! We have continued to receive great feedback and I even had a girl stop by today all excited to explain to me how she used your method to sit down and study in small chunks of time. Your presentation truly was a powerful encouragement and it is beautiful to see the effects ripple throughout our school." -Paige Rowse, Librarian, Needham (MA) High School

Nancy Werlin is available on a limited basis to speak to both teens and adults about the creative process and about writing fiction. 

A special program is available if you are specifically interested in Nancy's novel The Rules of Survival. This frank program is intended for teens (and, honestly, adults) who have experienced trauma of some kind. It discusses surviving tough times and the curves that fate throws at you, as well as how to pursue your dreams while keeping your feet on the ground. Finally, it's about hope. The program is intended for groups that have read The Rules of Survival in advance. Also, while it can be presented to a larger audience, it is best for a smaller group. Ideally, there should be time planned for Q&A and open discussion afterward. 

Logistics & Costs

Nancy's school and library visit program is suitable for middle-school and/or high-school students. This includes three sessions per day, with groups of any size. The cost is $1500 per day plus all travel expenses such as airfare and hotel if needed. No travel expenses are charged within a reasonable driving distance of Boston, Massachusetts.

A 50-minute Skype session with Nancy is $250.


Nancy is also an engaging, honest, and dynamic keynote speaker for conferences. Her honorarium for a keynote is $2500, plus  travel expenses. Nancy always tailors her talks to meet the interests of her audience.