A Literary Tour of Historical Y.A.

The Atlantic Wire put together a list of their favorite historical YA novels and some of the most promising on the way, categorized by historical period or event.  Find them in our catalog!


Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter. (Arthur A. Levine, 2011).The imagined, totally engrossing story of Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony.


Gilt, by Katherine Longshore. (Viking, 2012). Longshore sets her debut novel during the reign of Henry VIII, in a court that was “a cutthroat world of gossip and wealth, a complex game of social hierarchies rife with jealousy and backstabbing.” She focuses on the story of the king’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, for this novel; her followup, Tarnish, out this June, tells the tale of Anne Boleyn.

Venom, by Fiona Paul. (Philomel, 2012). Paul’s debut in her Secrets of the Eternal Rose series is set in Renaissance Venice, and features the character of 15-year-old Cassandra Caravello, a privileged girl who wants to be free from the proper life that’s been planned out for her, and who is swept up in a mystery when she discovers a dead body. Book two of the series, Belladonna, is out this summer.



Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. (Ember, 2010). This book incorporates both the French Revolution and contemporary Brooklyn, weaving two girls’ stories into one with the thread of a New York Times article about the DNA identification of the heart of Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.


The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter, #1)

The Madman’s Daughter, by Megan Shepherd. (Balzer + Bray, January 2013). Another Gothic thriller, this one was inspired by the classic The Island of Dr. Moreau (the main character, Juliet, is the doctor’s daughter). It’s part one of a trilogy.



Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic, by Suzanne Weyn. (Scholastic, 2009). The tale of a family of sisters who all end up on board the doomed ship. (There’s lots of other history before they get there, though.)



The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen. (HarperCollins, 2007). Gaze into the world of the Manhattan elite in the late 1800s.

Something Strange and Deadly, by Susan Dennard. (HarperTeen, 2012.) Zombies rise in 1876 Philadelphia. Holy crap.

Dear America: A City Tossed and Broken, by Judy Blundell. (Scholastic, March 2013). The latest book in the Dear America series is a dramatic account of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The Betsy-Tacy books, by Maude Hart Lovelace. (1945-1955). The later books in the series, when Betsy is in high school and beyond, are some of my favorites of all time. Written in the ’40s and ’50s, they depict life in small-town Minnesota at the turn of the century and into World War I. Read for a depiction of what it was like to be a woman at that time in America (it’s a fairly inspiring portrayal, because Betsy happens to have a great, progressive family). Betsy’s dreams of being a writer with her own career as well as a wife and mother aren’t too far from Lovelace’s, who based the character on herself.



War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo. (Scholastic, 1982). The book that came before the movie, about Joey, a bay-red foal who is sold to the army and ends up in the war on the Western Front.



The Diviners, by Libba Bray. (Little, Brown, 2012). Book one of Bray’s latest series is set in New York in the 1920s and features the light as well as the dark sides of the era. The book is a hefty 592 pages, but it’s well worth the labor of toting it around.

The Flappers Series, by Jillian Larkin. (Delacorte Press; #3, 2012). Vixen, Ingenue, and Diva, the last of the series, take place in the early 1920s, featuring girls who bob their hair, speakeasies, jazz, booze, bad boys, freedom, and a lot of fun (if not always for the characters, at least for the readers).


Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. (Hyperion, 2012). One of the best books of last year, Wein’s story concerns a young female spy and her best friend, the pilot with whom she’s crash landed in Nazi-occupied France.

Berlin Boxing Club, by Robert Sharenow. (HarperTeen, 2012/paperback). Karl Stern, a 14-year-old living in Berlin in 1935, comes from a Jewish family that is not religious. As anti-Jewish violence escalates, he becomes the victim of a beating at the hands of Nazi Youth members at his school. As part of a deal with his dad, German national hero Max Schmeling gives him boxing lessons. “Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?”

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. (Speak, 2012). Lina’s family is torn apart when soldiers invade her home in Lithuania and she’s sent to a Siberian work camp. Booklist calls Supetys’ acclaimed book “a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939.”

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. (Knopf, 2007). This book about World War II and its aftermath, narrated by Death and focusing on a little girl who steals books but, at least initially, can’t read, is itself a must-read for the engaging, heart-rending narrative and unique portrayal of this particular time in history.

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