Historical fiction was my first genre love because from a young age I loved learning about history and life in the past, but I didn’t love that my history classes focused on men and major events. Reading about girls and every day life made history feel accessible to me, and good historical fiction books for teens are able to put readers in the shoes of the very real experiences of people throughout history. I continue to enjoy YA historical fiction in part because this genre is all about exploring stories that have long been overlooked by history books, whether it’s the experiences of people of color, queer people, or even just suppressed stories of those who resisted persecution.
While there is so much great historical YA out there to explore, we’ve rounded up fifteen newer historical fiction books for teens from the last two years that you definitely don’t want to overlook! These books will take you back as far as Jerusalem in the 12th century, all the way to 1980’s Romania, and you’ll learn about important facets of history along the way.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo’s National Book Award-winning novel explores the experiences of Lily, a Chinese-American girl living in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950s. When she discovers the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar that welcomes her and her white classmate Kath, Lily is finally able to put to words feelings that she’s long struggled to understand. But being herself in the midst of Communist scares and McCarthyism may prove to be more dangerous than she realizes.
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Ruta Sepetys has a talent for tellings stories about pockets of history that have been overlooked, and in her newest novel she looks to Romania in 1989. Cristian is a teen looking forward to the future, but when he is blackmailed by the Communist regime into reporting on his community he must decide if he’ll betray his people or risk his life by joining the resistance.
Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink
Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, this novel follows Isaiah, a teen boy with a reputation for being a troublemaker, and Angel, a rule follower whose family life is in turmoil. They’re chosen by their teacher to assist with her mobile library program and they discover there’s much more to the other than meets the eye…but their lives are changed forever the day a white mob attacks and sets fire to their community.
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
This award-winning novel tells the stories of 14 Nisei, second generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are forever changed following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and who find themselves in an internment camp on American soil. Growing up together in Japantown San Francisco, they must now band together for survival as they fight against injustice and call out racism.
Bluebird by Sharon Cameron
Following the horrors of World War II, Eva is a survivor of the concentration camps who arrives in New York City in 1946. While many are outrunning the past, Eva is fueled by a singular purpose: To tell the world about the Nazi’s Project Bluebird, pursue justice, and track down the one Nazi who escaped.
The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson
Hilde has grown up an orphan in 1930s Berlin, but when she turns 18, it’s time for her to finally strike out on her own. Life seems harsh for someone without any family to speak of, but before long, Hilde finds herself taken under the wing of Rosa, a waitress at Café Lila, where she finds a job, a family, and a place to belong for the first time in her life. As her feelings for Rosa deepen, political sentiments in Germany turn dark and Hide must contend with what it means to love a city that doesn’t seem to love her back.
Great or Nothing by Jessica Spotswood, Tess Sharpe, Caroline Tung Richmond, and Joy McCullough
In this retelling of Little Women, four YA authors each tackle the points of view of the different March sisters. But this iteration sees the little women facing a nation on the cusp of change during WWII as they each struggle to find their own paths, together and apart.
The Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee
While the story of the sinking of the Titanic is famous, few people know much about the fates of the Chinese passengers aboard the ship. Stacey Lee, a historical fiction writer known for bringing the stories of Chinese Americans to life, has written about Valora Luck, an acrobat stowaway who boards the Titanic to follow her brother and pursue a dream of a better future in America. But when the ship scrapes an iceberg, her dream becomes a struggle for survival.
Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu
Set in 1960’s Houston, this homage to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton follows Evie Barnes, a self-proclaimed bad girl who finds herself in a spot of trouble on a night out…and the person who comes to her rescue is the last one she’d expect: Pretty, popular, good girl Diane. As they both contend with the fallout of their actions, Evie must wrestle with what makes a girl good or bad, and the unjust society that governs these rules.
The Red Palace by June Hur
June Hur is the author of historical YA novels set in Joseon (Korea) and her latest is the story of Hyeon, a young woman working as a palace nurse who finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery at court. When she begins to investigate, she finds disturbing evidence suggesting that the culprit is none other than the crown prince. Set in the 18th century, this novel is loosely based on the real Crown Prince Sado.
A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia
This L.A. Times Book Prize winner is set in 1860 Louisiana and is about the many interwoven lives that are connected to a plantation. When the mistress of Le Petit Cottage decides to sit for a portrait, she sets off a string of events that will force a reckoning.
Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi
Set against the backdrop of the Third Crusade, this retelling of Robin Hoods follows the paths of a ragtag group of unlikely characters from various sides of the conflict who find themselves thrown together in the most unlikely of situations. They find not only community, but a sense of purpose as they attempt to outsmart a queen and bring peace to the land.
So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow
Another Little Women retelling, but this one keeps to the original time period in the days following the Civil War, recasting the March sisters as Black girls searching for their path and future in the Freedpeople’s Colony of Roanoke Island. Meg is a teacher, Jo is a writer, Beth a seamstress, and Amy a dancer. They look to the future as they forge new paths together.
Mazie by Melanie Crowder
Mazie may be a small town girl from Nebraska, but she dreams of big-city lights. So she leaps at the chance to spend six weeks in New York City, leaving behind a heartbroken boyfriend while hoping to make her mark. But standing out in a city full of hopefuls is no small task, and as Mazie sees the dark underside of show biz, she must decide if it’s worth sacrificing her integrity in order to pursue a dream.
The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann
Maxine, Rose, Alice, and London are four girls who find themselves with a lifelong prison sentence at the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded. The institution claims to be a safe haven for the disabled, criminal, and deviant girls of society, but it’s not a good place. The four of them become a sort of family, looking out for each other and shielding each other from cruelty. But when it becomes clear they must escape for their own safety, the girls will go to great lengths and risk everything for a better future.
Want more great historical fiction reads? Check out our list of 100 must-read historical YA novels.