Party Like It’s Prohibition: Historical Fiction of the ’20s
This list of historical fiction novels was originally published in our historical fiction newsletter, Past Tense. Sign up for it here to get historical fiction recs straight to your inbox!
It’s wild to think we’re a hundred years away from the Roaring Twenties–especially given the current state of the world. Not much roaring about the 2020s, yet, but then again we still have time. And just because the 2020s aren’t quite living up to the hype of the 1920s doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some great twenties historical fiction. In fact, that seems like all the more reason to dress up for no reason, stay inside, and read about the Jazz Age. You might enjoy mixing together a totally legal drink while you’re at it, because that is one advantage we can enjoy over the 1920s. And while you’ll see that it wasn’t all good times and flapper dresses by any means, these Prohibition-era historical fiction books will still whisk you away to another time–at least for a little while.
Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce
A film student is interviewing 110-year-old Honoree Dalcour, a woman he believes rubbed elbows with Louis Armstrong and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux in her time as a dancer in 1920s Chicago. But the Chicago of one hundred years ago wasn’t just full of flappers in glittering dresses and strong drinks, it was also a time of mobsters and murder. And Honoree isn’t sure she ready to let go of all her old secrets.
Josephine Baker’s Last Dance by Sherry Jones
Based on the life of legendary performer, activist, and spy, Josephine Baker’s Last Dance brings her incredible story to life. The novel begins with her early years impoverished in America and follows her rise to fame as a showgirl, showcasing her enduring spirit and passion for equality.
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
In 1921, mobs of white residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma attacked Black residents and destroyed more than 25 square blocks of one of the wealthiest Black neighborhoods in the United States at the time — so wealthy, in fact, it was also known as “Black Wall Street.” When a seventeen-year-old girl in present day discovers a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea the history it will reveal. Told in a dual timeline, following a twenty-first-century biracial Black teen and a white and Native teen, forced to make difficult choices on the night of the Tulsa massacre.
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
Murders are happening left and right in 1920s Harlem, and young Black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead. She’s doing her best to stay alive, though, spending her days working at a café and her nights at Manhattan’s hottest speakeasy. But then a body is found at the café and Louise is arrested with an ultimatum: help the police solve the murders or be made an example of by the judge. Now Louise is stuck between the law and a murderous mastermind in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Looking for more? Check out these 20 Must-Read Books Set in the 1920s.