Last time I discussed historical fiction on this blog, I specifically talked about how it sometimes seems like reading fantasy. Well, today’s historical fiction list definitely does not feel like fantasy. Perhaps it’s just because it’s a more recent period, or perhaps it is because as much as we might wish the events depicted were fantasy, we know they were not. But either way, there is a lot of fantastic historical fiction about World War II that does an incredible job of bringing past events to modern readers, and helping us understand all the horrors and complexities of that war. The list below highlights just a few of those books.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Part spy novel, part action adventure, and entirely a powerful exploration of friendship and strength, Code Name Verity is a seriously outstanding book. It starts with Queenie, a British spy, writing out her confession to the gestapo after she is captured in occupied France. Knowing she only lives until her story is completed, she makes her confession a long tale of her friendship with her best friend, Maddie, a pilot ferrying planes around England. The girls developed their friendship while working on the war effort, and maintained it throughout the years and as Maddie trained to be a spy. The second part of the book is from Maddie’s perspective as she worries about her friend. There are twists and turns, tons of historical info (especially about planes), and plenty of cry-worthy moments. Seriously, this book is just so good. It’s intense and powerful and captivating. If you end up loving it as much as I do, you’ll want to check out Elizabeth Wein’s other World War II historical YA novel, Rose Under Fire (warning: both books will probably make you cry.)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – You’ve most likely heard of this one, especially with the recent movie adapted from the book. But hearing about it and reading it are two different things. The Book Thief tells the story of Liesl, a young girl living in Nazi Germany with a foster family. It’s an interesting look at life for regular German people during a terrible time in the country’s past. The book explores Liesl’s friendships, troubles, relationship with her foster family, and habit of stealing books. Narrated by Death – an appropriate narrator for such a bleak period in history – this book is literary, beautiful, and completely heartbreaking.
Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis – Mare’s War takes place in two time periods – the present time, when Octavia and Tali are on a much-dreaded road trip with their grandmother Mare, and during World War II. As Octavia and Tali discover, there is more to their eccentric grandmother than meets the eye. Mare recounts how as a teenager, she was determined to join the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. To do this, she had to escape her life in the South and lie about her age. As she tells Octavia and Tali the story of her experiences in the Women’s Army Corps, readers can follow along with Mare’s World War II story as well as Octavia and Tali’s story as they ride with their grandmother.
Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet – Another book told in two time periods, Tamar tells the story of a granddaughter trying to learn more about her grandfather, and the story of two friends involved with the resistance in Holland during World War II. After his death, Tamar receives coded messages from her grandfather (also named Tamar.) She tries to follow up on his clues to learn the secrets of her grandfather’s past. And during World War II, two young British spies in Holland desperately try to stay one step ahead of the gestapo, while at the same time navigating their friendship and a powerful romance.