Historical fiction is not my go-to genre. I generally prefer literary fiction for adults that is set in the present day, and I am very picky about historical fiction for young adults. But because I like to be a well-balanced reader and I don’t want to discount an entire genre and miss out on some great stories, I occasionally will pick up a story set in the past.
I also think that historical fiction is one of the best genres for crossing over between YA and adult fiction. Especially readers who are interested in a specific time period, there’s a wealth of corssover appeal. Historical novels are often more sophisticated writing than many realistic YA stories, and also well researched, but have a quick pace and engrossing writing that will also appeal to readers who typically read adult fiction.
Crossover Historical Fiction
I really loved Meg Medina’s earlier novels, both The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind with its hints of magical realism and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass for its authentic characters and relatable teenage dilemmas. But when I saw her most recent novel was historical and set in 1970s New York, I was skeptical. Some librarian friends convinced me to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a thrilling coming of age story set against the wild summer when the Son of Sam serial killer was terrorizing the city.
Set in a similar time period but a world away is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This was a really solid debut I listened to on audio last year. It’s about family secrets surrounding the death of a favorite daughter, and like Burn, Baby, Burn, it’s a compelling look at gender, race, and family. It definitely has appeal to fans of YA—it was on YALSA’s Alex Award list for adult books that will appeal to teen readers.
There are approximately 15,843 WWII stories in young adult fiction. I’m usually quite wary of them. We read so many in school growing up, and while I think it’s an important topic to explore (and to never forget) the stories are almost always quite sad and depressing. But I highly recommend Code Name Verity. It’s told in a very unique way through an unreliable narrator, and is an empowering story of female friendship. The Nightingale is also a story set against German-occupied France during WWII, and follows two very different sisters.
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” – The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Ruta Septys has also written two amazing stories set during WWII that are based on parts of the war that are relatively unknown. Between Shades of Gray follows the Lithuanian occupation, and Salt to the Sea is based on the tragedy of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff. But my favorite of her novels is Out of the Easy, a murder mystery and coming-of-age tale set in 1950s New Orleans.
The characters are so well-drawn and complex. Josie is the daughter of a prostitute determined to escape her life and attend an elite college. One of the most compelling characters is the madam that runs the brothel where her mother works, and where she grew up. For a story that explores the world of sex workers in historical New Orleans, check out Madam: A Novel of New Orleans.
For more recommendations, check out other installments in the Crossover series.
Do you have favorite historical fiction novels, whether written for adults or YA? I’d love to hear your suggestions!