Good historical fiction engages readers with different times, places, people, and cultures while still resonating today. In young adult books, this means raising issues that are universal for teens of any generation: overcoming social expectations, coming of age amidst struggle, and understanding one’s identity and place in the world. Here are some recent YA novels — spanning centuries and settings, and all recommended in the spring 2013 Horn Book Guide — that are worthy contributions to a tried-and-true genre.
Assistant Editor, The Horn Book Guide
Flood, Nancy Bo No-Name Baby
106 pp. Namelos 2012 ISBN 978-1-60898-117-5
YA Set in rural America in the 1930s, this novel weaves two strands of family history — the birth of a premature baby and the revelation of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy — around the character of thirteen-year-old Sophie. Solidly grounded in the details of farming life and, in particular, the care of newborns, the story limns the themes of guilt and secrets.
Lynch, Chris Free-Fire Zone
187 pp. Scholastic 2012 ISBN 978-0-545-27025-0
YA Vietnam series. This series follows four friends who join different branches of the military, experience the excitement and horrors of war, and struggle to stay connected to one another and to their true selves. Rudi finds that as a Marine he can survive by following orders, but as the Vietnam War’s realities encumber him, he loses himself. A gritty story told with heart.
Marsden, Carolyn My Own Revolution
177 pp. Candlewick 2012 ISBN 978-0-7636-5395-8
YA Patrik is a typical thirteen-year-old: he’s in love with his childhood friend, Danika; he enjoys rock music and pulling pranks with his friends. Except they aren’t just innocent gags, not in 1960s Czechoslovakia, with the oppressive Communist party watching. Things heat up for Patrik and his family as longtime friends become untrustworthy. This historical novel is both accessible and tension-filled.
Marsh, Katherine Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
388 pp. Hyperion 2012 ISBN 978-1-4231-3500-5
YA Jepp never felt that his small size was remarkable. But then a stranger invites him to become a court dwarf for the Spanish Infanta. The posh surroundings offer only ridicule and humiliation, so Jepp escapes, soon finding an eccentric master in astronomer Tycho Brahe. The sixteenth-century European settings are richly detailed, historical figures are intriguingly represented, and Jepp is a likable and believably flawed protagonist.
Meyer, L. A. Viva Jacquelina!: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Over the Hills and Far Away
360 pp. Harcourt 2012 ISBN 978-0-547-76350-7
YA Adventurer Jacky Faber returns in a tenth fast-paced page-turner, which takes her to Spain to spy for the British during the Spanish War of Independence. True to her character, Jacky’s flirtatious personality gets her through several precarious predicaments and facilitates her procuring a job modeling for the artist Goya. Still, Jacky strives to reunite with her true love, Jaimy Fletcher.
Pearsall, Shelley Jump into the Sky
344 pp. Knopf 2012 ISBN 978-0-375-83699-2
LE ISBN 978-0-375-93699-9
YA When Aunt Odella sends Levi to live with his father at an army post in North Carolina, Levi, thirteen, is both hopeful and wary. World War II is winding down, but as Levi discovers, his father, leader of a segregated paratrooper division, has a secret mission that takes them both to — of all places — Oregon. This home front story is deliberately but steadily paced, and the Jim Crow era is well evoked.
Strauss, Victoria Passion Blue
346 pp. Amazon 2012 ISBN 978-0-7614-6230-9
YA Forced into a convent, seventeen-year-old Giulia relies on a sorcerer’s talisman to plan an escape. But as an apprentice in Maestra Humiliatá’s studio at the convent, Giulia’s passion for art sets her on a new and dangerous trajectory. Strauss’s depiction of fifteenth-century Milan employs a wealth of historical details, smoothly interwoven with magical elements and a compelling protagonist.
Wiseman, Eva Last Song
225 pp. Tundra 2012 ISBN 978-0-88776-979-5
YA When Isabel, the beautiful daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s respected court physician, discovers her family’s secret Jewish roots, her bold actions put the family in peril as the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada threatens torture and death. The characterization of historic figures is slightly over the top, but this is a powerful, dramatic portrayal of Spain’s brutal years leading up to the 1492 Jewish expulsion.
From the July/August 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, click here.