Historical fiction is great because you get to read stories that mix real events with made up characters. One of the topics we tend to revisit in this genre is war. YA books about war are quite common. They teach us and remind us of the horrors of war while sometimes giving us hopeful messages. Like how love and friendship are so powerful they withstand some of the most horrible acts of violence.
Reading about war can be difficult, but it can also be hopeful and eye-opening. That’s why I present to you a list of eight YA books about war. So that you know the limitless horror some people go through. But also the inherent goodness that remains even in the darkest of times.
One last thing. If you like war stories, specifically from World War II, we’ve got you covered. And if you’d like to know why war stories are so popular here's a great article about it. But for now read on for a list of eight YA books about war.
8 YA Books About War
This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Fukuda
Beginning in 1935, Fukuda’s novel follows Alex Maki - from Washington - and Charlie Lévy - from Paris - as they become pen pals before World War II breaks out. Charlie’s Jewish, so she’s forced to go to Auschwitz. Alex is Japanese American which means he also ends up in a concentration camp at Manzanar. Through the horrors of war, the only thing they can hold onto is the memories of their letters and the light they share between them. The Light Between Us is a heartbreaking story that showcases the horrors of war in two different countries.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
“Verity” and her best friend crash their plane in Nazi-occupied France. Verity is arrested, and as a secret agent her captors give her a difficult choice. Either she reveals her secrets, or she can die a gruesome death. As she speaks her confession, Verity uncovers her past with her best friend Maddie and how they came to be in Paris. But it may not be enough for her to survive the prison she finds herself in. Code Name Verity is a gripping story about friendship, full of tragedy but also full of hope that will keep you immersed in the story until the very end.
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
Sun-hee and her brother Tae-yul live in Japanese-occupied Korea with their parents. They’re used to studying about Japan and speaking Japanese, as their Korean heritage is forbidden in their country. The only thing they could still keep was their names, until a law passed requiring them to take Japanese names. Sun-hee’s world turned around as she became Keoko and World War II came to her country. Even worse, Tae-yul - her own brother - enlists in an attempt to protect their uncle, who is suspected of helping the Korean Resistance. When My Name Was Keoko is a tear-jerking story about a part of WWII history we don’t really learn about at school.
Lovely War by Julie Berry
It’s the height of WWII and the Greek goddess Aphrodite has to recount the tale of four mortals or face judgement on Mount Olympus. The mortals are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette, and they live in the height of WWI. Their story is full of passion, heartbreak, prejudice, and hope. But most of all it’s full of love. So as Aphrodite weaves her tale she reveals to Hephaestus and Ares that war, no matter how formidable, is not match for the power of love. Lovely War is an engrossing historical romance with a backdrop of war that delivers a beautiful and hopeful message that will give you all the feels.
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Kiku was on vacation in San Francisco when she was pulled back in time. These displacements keep happening until she gets stuck. Now she’s in the 1940s, living alongside her grandmother Ernestina and other Japanese American citizens that were forced to relocate to an internment camp. There she witnesses how they still managed to create a sense of community and resistance as they struggled to survive. Displacement is an evocative and bittersweet graphic novel that explores the power of memory, our connections to the past, and the events that impact families for generations to come.
Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac
During WWII, Navajo code talkers were crucial to the United States military. They created unbreakable codes based on their language and culture so that they could pass undecipherable messages back and forth. One of those code talkers is Ned Begay, a 16-year-old boy. This book is the story of his grueling journey and how despite everything, he and the code talkers turned the tide of the war effort in the Pacific. Code Talker is a heartbreaking yet inspiring story based on real-life events. Plus it has impeccable writing that makes the story all the more realistic.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites
Dita is one of many people imprisoned at Auschwitz. She’s 14 years old, and all she’s trying to do is adjust to the daily terrors of her life at camp. But one day a Jewish leader asks her to guard eight books that the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards. That’s how Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. But she also notices Doctor Death paying close attention to her, so she must find the courage to protect her books at all costs. This book is based on the real-life story of Dita Kraus. It’s a terrifying yet hopeful story where books bring people courage and inspiration.
Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lại
Hằng would do anything to keep her brother Linh safe. So in the final days of the Việt Nam War she takes him to the airport to find safe passage to the United States. Except he’s ripped out of her arms and Hằng is left behind in a war-torn country. Six years later, Hằng manages to journey to Texas as a refugee to find her brother. She finds help in a boy named LeeRoy, but what she doesn’t yet realize is that Linh doesn’t remember her. So even if she’s come this far, she still has a way to go to bridge the gap between them. Butterfly Yellow is a beautifully written story about family, culture, and survival that doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of war.