Captivating Historical Fiction for Teens
by Dena McMurdie
Historical fiction offers interesting peeks into the past that you don’t get from textbooks. One of the best things about the genre is that it can make you interested in learning more about the actual history of the time period. Often, after reading a historical novel, I end up jumping down an endless rabbit hole of information about the time period or characters the book was based on.
In this list of historical novels, you’ll find riveting stories about war, royalty, the quest for freedom, and events that changed history.
This Rebel Heart
This stunning historical fiction novel transports readers to 1956 Hungary during the revolution. Csilla grew up near a magic river, but when her country falls apart, and her world crashes around her, she must decide between fleeing her home or fighting to save it. War, resistance, romance, and magic collide in this captivating novel.
Luck of the Titanic
The infamous disaster is as captivating as ever in this historical YA novel. Unable to board the ship as a regular passenger, Val stows away. She dreams of getting a job at a circus in New York City, but she doesn’t expect to fight for survival along the way. If you read and loved The Downstairs Girl, you’ll want to pick this one up.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
This graphic novel seamlessly combines history, steampunk elements, and humor to bring to life the fascinating partnership between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. It presents an alternate reality where the Analytical Engine becomes a reality, making it a must-read for fans of historical fiction and technology enthusiasts alike.
I Must Betray You
You know Ruta Sepetys from her novels Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea. Now, she takes readers on another riveting historical adventure set in 1989 Romania. A young writer with big dreams collides with a communist regime, blackmail, and betrayal. Sepetys’s newest masterpiece will captivate YA readers.
A compelling look at the connection between Liberia and America, Dream Country explores the lives of five generations of a family searching for freedom. Heartbreaking and honest, this journey through history is about family, dreams, and the hope for a better future.
Great or Nothing
Historical fiction lovers will adore this retelling of Little Women set in 1942 when the United States gets pulled into World War II. Four YA authors write about the different March sisters’ experiences during the war. The four narratives combine into a heartfelt novel that you won’t forget.
Love & War
This New York Times bestselling trilogy is a must-read for anyone that loves the musical Hamilton. The three-book series follows the lives of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler as they navigate romance, betrayal, war, and tragedy.
The Diamond Keeper
The Hope Diamond is a legendary stone with a complex history. It’s now on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., but before then, it traveled, changed hands, and went missing. This historical young adult novel takes place during that time. When war forces Claudie from her quiet village, she gets caught up in the French revolution and works for the resistance.
The Book Thief
Keep a box of tissues nearby as you read this heart-wrenching historical novel set in Germany during World War II. Narrated by Death, it captures the beautiful and terrible moments of one of the worst wars in history. It’s utterly impossible to set down.
Visit Broadway in the 1950s with this acclaimed historical novel about a girl trying to make her dreams come true. Mazie abandoned everything for the chance to audition for Broadway plays in New York City. But life as an actress in the city isn’t what she hoped for, and she starts questioning who she is and what she truly wants.
The Silver Blonde
Step back in time to the glittering days of Hollywood after World War II. When Clara finds the body of a young starlet at the movie studio where she works, her entire world gets turned upside down. She goes from being an aspiring film editor to the center of a murder investigation overnight.
What the Night Sings
What happens after your life is torn apart? This is the story of a teen girl who survived the Holocaust and her struggle to rebuild her life after she is liberated from a concentration camp. This atmospheric book is perfect for YA readers fascinated by World War II.
And I Darken
You'll love this gender-swapped retelling of Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Empire. Romance, war, and politics combine into a riveting story of the struggle for power in the 15th century. This series is perfect for readers that love fierce female warriors and new spins on historical events.
The Peach Rebellion
In post-World War II California, three teenage girls from diverse backgrounds get bound together by hardship, secrets, and friendship. In this beautiful coming-of-age story, the girls weather the storms life sends their way, helping each other through love and loss.
If you were obsessed with the television series Turn, you’ll love this novel about the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolutionary War. Inspired by actual events and Agent 355, this novel captures the peril, courage, and passion of the people who risked everything in the fight for freedom.
Haunting the Deep
After receiving a brief visit from a ghost, Sam worries that trouble is brewing — and she's right. She starts having vivid dreams of being aboard the Titanic and needs the help of her friends to break the spell trying to trap her there. This spooky novel is a fantastic follow-up to How to Hang a Witch.Preorder from:
We Are All That's Left
Told in alternating viewpoints between Zara in the modern world and her mother in a war-torn 1990s Bosnia, this novel is at once educational, terrifying, and honest. It deals with heavy themes but also offers hope and healing.
A Secret Princess
If you love the classics, you’ll adore this mashup retelling of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden from two bestselling YA authors. Your favorite characters appear in a new feel-good story filled with romance, secrets, and friendship. And don’t miss the companion novel, Jo & Laurie, which retells Little Women!
This stunning novel-in-verse tells the little-known story about a group of people captured in Africa and brought illegally to the United States to be enslaved — long after the importation of enslaved Africans was outlawed. You’ll follow their lives, from the journey and arrival through the Civil War and beyond. Their stories will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
The Reckless Kind
Arranged marriage, an epic horse race, and LGBTQ+ themes combine into a riveting historical YA novel that readers will love. After an attack leaves Asta’s best friend Gunnar severely hurt, they flee to a remote cabin with Gunnar’s boyfriend, Erland. However, the locals’ prejudice and Gunnar’s injuries threaten their newfound freedom and happiness.
Ashes in the Snow (Movie Tie-In)
Fifteen-year-old Lina and her family are snatched from their home in Lithuania by Soviet officers and sent to a labor camp in Siberia. Refusing to give up hope, Lina documents her experiences in coded drawings she hopes will make their way to her father. Keep a box of tissues handy as you read this book!
YA readers interested in the history of the American South will love this unputdownable novel. Born into slavery, Willow can read and write, but she fears the ideas and actions of the people who smuggle enslaved individuals to freedom. But when she meets Cato, she learns there are many forms of captivity, and earning freedom is a complex process.
The Corpse Queen
If you crave historical fiction full of thrills and chills, add this novel to your “to read” list! Grave-robbing became a common way to satisfy the demand for cadavers in the 1850s. And as 17-year-old Molly finds out in this novel, grave-robbers sometimes go to unthinkable lengths to acquire dead bodies.
Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All
Each ill-fated wife of Henry VIII tells her heartbreaking story in this gripping book by a collection of outstanding YA authors. Politics, infidelity, a vicious court, and plain old bad luck play a part in each wife's downfall, making Fatal Throne an utterly spellbinding read.
Among the Fallen
Fans of Charles Dickens will enjoy this historical YA novel about an imprisoned teenager who gets a second chance at life. Set in Victorian England, this story gives readers a glimpse into the hardship suffered by the lower classes — especially women and girls accused of a crime.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2022.