If you're looking for Historical Fiction for Teens, these are all books that my teen and I have enjoyed. From medieval France in the 1200's all the way to Romania in the 1980's, there's a great YA Historical Fiction book for you on this list!
Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres, so I am very happy that my teenager is enjoying so many historical fiction books lately too. It gives us a lot to talk about!
With my daughter's help, I put together this list of excellent Historical Fiction for Teens. We've tried to cover a wide variety of time periods and perspectives. That being said, there's definitely some historical and geographical gaps in this book list so we'll keep reading and updating as we find more great YA historical fiction books to add (share your recommendations in the comments!).
Some of these books are actually classified as YA Historical Fiction, but there are a few that are middle grade and even one or two that were written for adults. I don't worry too much about the age recommendation from the publisher, but rather what I think a teen will enjoy and relate to.
I have been mindful of age-appropriate content in these books, and I've noted any that may be PG-13. If you have any questions about a specific book on the list, leave it in the comments and I'm happy to answer. These are all books that my teens and I have read and enjoyed.
Note: (Updated August 2022) The books here are listed in descending order roughly by the time period they are set in. Also, the Amazon links in this post are Affiliate Links.
Historical Fiction for Teens
I Must Betray You
(1989) Once I wrapped my head around the fact that the 1980's now count as "historical," I really enjoyed this book.
Set in Romania, 17-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of being a writer in a country where no one is free to dream. Although communist regimes across Europe are failing, Romania is still being ruled with fear and isolation by the tyrannical dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. When Cristian is blackmailed into becoming an informer for the secret police, he decides to use his position to undermine the evil dictator. This is a gripping read from beginning to end!
The Wednesday Wars
(1960's) This is one of my favorite books to recommend because nearly everyone that reads it loves it.
Set during the Vietnam War, the story follows Holling Hoodhood, a young teenage boy who is convinced his teacher hates him. She makes him stay with her on Wednesday afternoons to learn about Shakespeare, which Holling thinks is akin to torture. But the more he learns about Shakespeare, the more he learns about himself.
The Fountains of Silence
(1950's) This is excellent historical fiction for teens set in Madrid during General Francisco Franco's fascist dictatorship. People are struggling with poverty while soldiers roam the streets ready to punish anyone who steps out of line.
It's a dangerous time in Spain, and yet, 18 year old Daniel Matheson and his family have arrived in Madrid for vacation. Daniel is hoping to learn more about the country of his mother's birth and take some pictures that he hopes will help him get into journalism school. And then he meets Ana. They're from two different worlds, but as they learn more about each other, readers learn a lot about 1950's Spain.
Salt to the Sea
(1940's) In 1945, a WWII nautical attack sunk the Wilhelm Gustloff, killing 9,000 of the ship's 10,500 passengers. It was an epic tragedy, but one most people know little about.
In this book, Ruta Sepetys tells the fictional, but historically accurate, story of the tragedy through the perspective of four voices: Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis; Emilia, a Polish girl nearing the end of her pregnancy; and Albert, a young Nazi who dreams of being recognized for greatness.
Ashes in the Snow
(1940's) This is one my teenager's favorite books. It's the story of a Lithuanian family who is deported to Siberia by the Soviets during World War II. It's book about the horrors of war and the atrocities of the Soviet regime, but it's also a book about courage and dignity. An excellent book! (Plus, there's a movie version now too)
(1940's) There are a lot of WWII books out there, but I appreciated the unique perspectives in this one. It's about D-Day and it follows four young people in the war and the way their different lives collide.
Dee is young U.S. soldier heading toward the French coast. Then, there's Samira, a girl behind enemy lines in France working as a spy trying to sabotage the German army. Meanwhile, James is preparing to jump out of a plane for a midnight raid. And while the battle rages, Henry, a medic, is looking for lives to save.
(1940's) This book, by one of my favorite authors of teen fiction, is about Nazi occupied Poland and the Jewish teens who looked "Aryan" enough to smuggle things in and out of the ghettos.
It's a fascinating look at the Jewish resistance and the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Code Name Verity
(1940's) This is one of my favorite WWII books! It focuses on women during the war and it's an excellent, complicated story. It follows two best friends, one an English commoner and pilot for the ATA, and the other a Scottish aristocrat and spy working for the SOE. Both women are doing their part for the British War Effort, but when a spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, one of the girls is captured.
This is a twisty, complicated story that will leave you guessing right up to the very end.
Girl in the Blue Coat
(1940's) Another WWII book, but this one is set in Amsterdam after the Germans invaded Holland. It's a good one!
Little do her parents know, but Hanneke spends her days delivering black market goods right under the Nazi's noses. But when she gets involved helping to hide a Jewish teenager, things get really complicated. A beautifully written book, and a definite page turner.
We Are Not Free
(1940's) After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1942, the United States evicted more than 100,00 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes and imprisoned them in camps without charges or trial.
In this award winning book, Traci Chee tells the fictional story of fourteen Japanese teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. Their lives are turned upside down when they are forced into camps but they are determined to stand up to the injustice together.
Orphan Monster Spy
(1930's) I loved this book, but it is dark (more so than your average WWII book), so I'd recommend this one for older teens.
Sarah is a blonde, blue-eyed, Jewish teenager in Nazi Germany. After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, she meets a mysterious man working as a spy. He recruits Sarah to join his mission and sends her off to an elite boarding school where the top Nazi officials send their daughters. It's an intense page turner!
(1930's, 1990's, Present Day) I love this book and highly recommend it. It follows three different kids in three different time periods.They're all refugees, one from Nazi Germany, one from Cuba, and one from Syria. The way Alan Gratz tells their stories and brings them all together in the present day is masterful.
(1920's) This one has some PG-13 content and I'd recommend it for older teens. That being said, it's stellar historical fiction.
It opens in the present day when 17 year old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton buried on her family's property. As she investigates, the story goes back to the 1920's and the racial tension, segregation, and Jim Crow laws that led to the Tulsa race riot in 1921.
(1917) This one is a romance set in France and London during WWI, but it has a unique twist: the story is told by the Greek gods -Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades.
It covers the birth of Jazz and Ragtime, the first African American soldiers, and the culture clashes between the different allied soldiers. (This one is excellent on audio because of the musical aspect of the book)
Hattie Big Sky (Hattie Series)
(1917) Hattie Brooks is a 16-year-old orphan. When she inherits her uncle's homesteading claim in Montana, she decides to leave her home in Iowa and make a new life for herself.
This book is based on the author's grandmother's experience as a teenager staking her own claim and farming her own land all by herself! It's so good!
Lines of Courage
(1914) This World War I story follows five young people from different backgrounds and nations (Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Russia) as they face the immense challenges and heartbreaks of war. It's a fantastic, fast-paced read and the way the author weaves together the five storylines is nothing short of brilliant.
Luck of the Titanic
(1912) You probably know all about the sinking of the Titanic, but did you know that of the 8 Chinese passengers aboard, only 6 survived? In this fictional account, 17 year old Valora Luck and her twin brother Jamie, are two of the eight.
Valora and her brother have managed to make their way onto the most luxurious ocean liner in the world. Valora dreams of a new life in America, but with the Chinese Exclusion Act in effect, she knows she'll be turned away when she arrives. But, she has a plan, if only she can convince her brother to go along with it too. The inevitable disaster adds a layer of tension to the story that really makes it a page turner.
The Hired Girl
(1911) I really loved this one! Joan Skraggs is fed up with her hardscrabble life on a farm in Pennsylvania, so she heads to Baltimore on her own and gets a job working as a hired girl for an upper class Jewish family.
This one is sweet and funny with the most plucky and endearing narrator.
A Fall of Marigolds
(1911) In this beautiful book, a scarf connects two women. One woman is a nurse on Ellis Island in 1911. The other is a woman working in Manhattan in 2011. Both women have experienced great loss (in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 and in the September 11 attack in 2001) , but the scarf helps tie the two women and their stories together.
Words on Fire
(1890's) This one takes you to Lithuania during the Russian occupation. After an uprising in 1863, the Russian Cossack soldiers instituted a 40 year ban on the Lithuanian language and books.
This book opens in 1893, during the ban, with Audra, a young teen who lives with her parents on a farm in Lithuania. When her parents are arrested and her home is burned, Audra flees with a package her parents asked her to deliver. She soon finds herself caught up in an undercover book smuggling ring. It's excellent!
(1890's) Toyo, a teenage boy, is caught up in the world of competitive boarding schools in Tokyo. At school he is trying to prove himself and wants to play besuboro (baseball) on the school's competitive team. In his personal life, he's mourning the loss of his samurai uncle and trying to understand why his father insists that he learn samurai ways. In the end, the old world samurai values teach him a lot about the modern game of baseball.
The book is a fascinating look at the time period in Japan when it was modernizing and embracing more western values and doing away with the older samurai culture. It's also a fun look at how baseball was received in Japan around the turn of the century.
The Downstairs Girl
(1890's) I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Note: there is some innuendo in the story, so it may be better for older teens.
17 year old Jo Kuan is a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of Atlanta's wealthiest men. But at night, she writes as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column that has all the Southern ladies talking.
The Journey of Little Charlie (National Book Award Finalist)
(1850's) This is a FIVE star book! Set just before the Civil War, young Charlie's father has just died and Cap'n Buck, one of literature's most terrifying characters, has come to collect a debt. Charlie agrees to help Cap'n Buck track down someone accused of stealing property from his boss, but when he discovers the fugitive's true identity, he's torn. Does he follow his conscience, or does he do what needs to survive?
Boston Jane: An Adventure
(1850's) This is a trilogy of books and they are so much fun to read! I absolutely adore this series.
16 year old Jane Peck has never fit in with the young ladies in Philadelphia. So, when a handsome man writes from the Washington Territory and asks for her hand in marriage, she sets off for the Northwest Frontier. But when she arrives, it's not really what she imagined (and neither is the handsome man). Luckily, she's plucky and ready to adapt to a new way of life.
(1793) This is great historical fiction for teens about the fever epidemic that hit Philadelphia in 1793.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
(1780's) This one is a lot like The Scarlet Letter, but without the infidelity storyline, so it may be a better choice for younger teens.
Orphaned Kit Tyler is new to the stern Puritan colony in Connecticut where she has come to stay with relatives. The only place she feels like she can be herself is in the cottage of an old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond. But when her friendship with the witch is discovered, trouble ensues.
The Seeds of America Trilogy: Chains; Forge; Ashes
(1770's) This is one of my all time favorite series! It's fantastic and powerful.
This opens as the American Revolutionary War begins. Miss Mary Finch has just died and in her will she freed her slaves. Unfortunately, the document is nowhere to be found, so Isabel and her sister Ruth, are sold to a malicious couple in New York City. I love these books that tell the story of the Revolution from the perspective of the slaves.
(1770's) I avoided this book for too long because I thought it was going to be boring. And then, after I realized that it was definitely not boring, it took a little time to disabuse my teenager of the same notion. Don't make the same mistake! This is such a fun book!
Johnny Tremain is a young apprentice to a silversmith in Boston in 1775. He gets caught up in the revolution drama, but there's also some romance, and some wonderful life lessons learned too.
The Scarlet Letter (Original Illustrations): Illustrated Classic
(1640's) I don't know if they still have teens read this one in high school, but it's definitely still a classic worth reading.
The Shakespeare Stealer
(1600's) I really enjoyed this 3 book series. It's an excellent look at Shakespeare's England.
Widge is an orphan with an exceptional talent for writing shorthand. When his master sends him to spy on the Shakespeare and steal his play, Widge doesn't feel like he really has a choice. But the more time he spends with the play company, the more his loyalty shifts.
The Passion of Dolssa
(1200's) This is exquisitely written historical fiction for teens. It does, however, have some mature themes, so it's probably best for older teens.
Set in medieval France, this book is set in the years after the bloody crusades waged by the Catholic church. Dolssa, a young girl, is marked as a heretic, but readers will fall in love with her as an obsessed friar hunts her down, determined to burn her at the stake.
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