Historical Fiction

4 Thought-Provoking YA Novels

 

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A genuine and stirring work, Speak reveals the weight of being both an outcast in high school and a rape victim. Fear and loneliness muzzles and disconnects freshman Melinda, who hadn’t told anyone what happened at a back-to-school party. Realistically portraying how it feels to be a teenager elicits even more empathy for the main character. The novel reminds me how prevalent, harmful, and hidden sexual assault to both men and women continues to be in our culture. Being kind to others is vital-we may have no idea what people struggle with.

 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Four characters, each affected differently by WWII, fight to survive and eventually board the same ship. Sepetys skillfully juxtaposes her characters in order to highlight their brave, kind, or selfish acts. The reader gazes into the psyche of a Nazi soldier and sees an example of someone  drawn into a horrific army.  Based on a true and overlooked tragedy, the sinking of the MV Wilhelm- Gustloff killed more people on one vessel than any other recorded event.

 

 

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Once called “America’s Fattest Teen”, Libby has recovered to the point where she can attend a normal high school. There her life clashes with fellow student Jack, who suffers from prosopagnosia (face blindness).  Libby’s voice is inspiring, challenging, and complex. Although she still faces challenges, Libby’s self- acceptance represents hope and success to those struggling with mental issues. Her character made me evaluate how I view my own appearance and other’s opinions.

 

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

When a white man shoots an African-American teen named Tariq, everyone has a different perspective on the event. Was Tariq part of the local gang? Was he holding a gun or merely a candy bar? Was the act a hate crime?  In the aftermath, young men and women of Tariq’s community must decide how to react-in anger, grief, and courage. This novel highlights the fact that gangs and substance abuse still haunt neighborhoods today, and explores what happens in the weeks following a shooting like this one might see on the news.

 

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The Madman’s Daughter

In this retelling of H. G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, the daughter of a brilliantly dark surgeon follows her father to his secluded laboratory on a tropical island. On her journey, Juliet encounters two young men who both entrance and fill her with caution. Although Juliet faced trouble in Victorian England, her father’s island holds secrets and dangers of its own.

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The Madman’s Daughter
By: Megan Shepherd

My Rating: 4 of 5

Genre: Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi

Read this if you enjoy: Frankenstein by Mary Shelly,  The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

Although I barely gave this book 4, I enjoyed the plot and found some development of character. By illuminating the internal struggle between the desire to do good and to ignore morality, the novel moves beyond existing as a fun read only.Each of us have done things we felt like we couldn’t control or were later ashamed of. The book builds suspense with classic jump-scare fear tactics, but also uses setting and the unpredictability of a character to develop tension. While I am not familiar with the novel that inspired this book, I believe Shepherd accurately captures the feel of a 19th century Gothic. I have read other works by H. G. Wells, but  the mood of The Invisible Man or The Time Machine could translate to this work.

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A School For Unusual Girls

 

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The Regency era’s strict rules for proper society allow no place for Miss Georgiana and her uncanny knack for setting things on fire. Sent away to a finishing school in disgrace, Georgiana soon learns her prowess for alchemy and mischief could aid English spies.

A School for Unusual Girls

By: Kathleen Baldwin

My Rating: *

Genre: Historical Fiction

Read this if you enjoy: The Season by Sarah MacLean, The Mary Quinn Mysteries by Y.S. Lee

How did I find this book: Hastily grabbed off a library shelf

 

I didn’t finish this book. What? No, I haven’t gone crazy and I sincerely hope it got better after page 212. I’ve learned the hard way that most books trying to follow in Jane Austen’s footsteps fall spectacularly short of the mark. A School for Unusual Girls is no exception.

This book is confusing. Confusing in a bad way, not in a way that draws a reader in wanting to know what secrets will be revealed. You’ll be left with questions like the following;

  1. If Georgiana is supposed to be so smart, why does she never have an inkling about what’s going on? The every place she attends is called the “Stranje House”.
  2. If the Regency era is know for its decorum and restraining rules, why is everyone okay with men skulking around in the basement talking to female students?
  3. Is her roommate actually a werewolf?
  4. Why does Georgiana fall in love with a man who’s been nothing but rude just because he caught her falling off a balcony once?
  5. My personal favorite: Why does having curly hair make her ugly? Women actually curled their hair during that period before pilling it atop their heads, I believe.

The plot is unevenly paced, and the sentences are often choppy. Georgiana’s constant self-loathing overshadows moments of occasional humor. I think the original idea is interesting enough to expound upon.

*In light of the fact that this review is more scathing than most, I want to clarify that I mean no disrespect to the author or her writing abilities.

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The Game of Love and Death

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Flora, an African American singer and aspiring pilot, and Henry, a white boy adopted into a privileged home, would have rarely crossed paths in America during the 1930’s. But Love and Death have other plans. Henry and Flora’s lives are unknowingly thrown into a game of devastating obstacles and difficult decisions with the highest stakes imaginable.

The Game of Love and Death
By: Martha Brockenbrough
My Rating: 4.5 of 5
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Read this if you enjoy: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the 1930s
How did I find this book: The cover really stood out to me

First of all, do you see how I only have one book listed under “Read this if you enjoy”? This book is so  refreshingly original that I can’t think of many books like it.  In my opinion, fantasy should fall into two categories: either set in its own unique world, or set believably into the one we know. The Game of Love and Death seamlessly blends historical accuracy and the elements of fantasy brought by having Death and Love personified. They are powerful entities with their own distinct and very human personalities. Death takes on a more melancholy role than Zusack’s sarcastic version, and Love is a driven optimist who still sees hope in humanity.The premise of the novel drives the plot with suspense, and each chapter contains a new, richly described setting. Flora is strong and self-reliant in the face of loss and racial prejudice.

The book also touches on an existential crisis we all come to at some point in our lives.  At the end of chapter 41, Flora realizes,  “Someday, everyone you love will die. Everything you love will crumble to ruin. This the price of life. This is the price of love. ” But as a Christian, I know that death is not end. All those trust in Jesus for their salvation will be reunited in Heaven one day. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

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