16 YA Novels That Reenvision History | Summer Reading 2020

These immersive works of historical fiction surface events often omitted by textbooks, blend history and other genres, and urge readers to reconsider the past and look to the future.

These immersive works of historical fiction surface events often omitted by textbooks, blend history and other genres, and urge readers to reconsider the past and look to the future.

My Calamity Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, & Jodi Meadows. HarperTeen. Jun. 2020. ISBN 9780062652812.

In 1876 Cincinnati, Calamity Jane, her brother Frank Butler, and their father Bill Hickok hunt werewolves while using their traveling show as a cover. Though many historical events are altered, the story stays true to the spirit of these figures; the authors also acknowledge how many tales written from a white settler perspective have romanticized the Old West.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781599903194.

In 1864, teenager Mariah and other African Americans living in slavery are freed by Union forces and encouraged to follow General Sherman's march through Georgia. She meets Caleb, a young free Black man, and a relationship slowly evolves. Bolden, a renowned researcher and author of nonfiction, retells the little-known but devastating tragedy of Ebenezer Creek, conveying the ways in which Black lives were—and still are—marginalized.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. adapt. by Damian Duffy. illus. by John Jennings. Abrams ComicArts. ISBN 9781419709470.

This searing, painful graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s classic sci-fi work follows Dana, a Black woman in the early 1970s, as she is forced again and again back in time to a plantation in the antebellum South, where she rescues her white ancestor Rufus. Butler, Duffy, and Jennings examine systemic racism, survival, and oppression in this masterly work.

Lizard in a Zoot Suit by Marco Finnegan. illus. by author. Lerner/Graphic Universe. ISBN 9781541586956.

In 1943 Los Angeles, Latinx twin sisters Flaca and Cuata meet an oversize lizard named Chulito, who’s on the run from the nefarious Dr. James Rogers. Finnegan’s inspired graphic novel draws effective parallels between the Latinx community’s treatment of Chulito, whose family was displaced by humans, and the treatment of Latinx individuals by white communities.

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman. illus. by author. Lerner/Graphic Universe. ISBN 9781512440003.

The Confederate Army sees Grace, a young transgender woman, as a worthy soldier, but she has other plans, and when she meets up with Flor, a legendary bandit also known as Ghost Hawk, romance blossoms as the two bond over their shared yet different manifestations of gender nonconformity. A charming, poignant queer romance set against a Civil War–era backdrop.

They Went Left by Monica Hesse. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316490573.

After being liberated from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Poland in 1945, Zofia must still search for her brother. Hesse starts where many works of World War II fiction end, with liberation, intertwining fact with masterly storytelling that allows readers to readily relate to characters without forgetting the harsh realities of the period.

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Displacement by Kiku Hughes. illus. by author. First Second. Aug. 2020. ISBN 9781250193537.

Kiku, a biracial teen, is thrust back in time to the 1940s and forced, alongside her grandmother, into the incarceration camps where Japanese people and Japanese Americans were imprisoned. Hughes’s exceptionally designed graphic novel underscores the cyclical nature of prejudice and how those in power attempt to control the narrative to the disadvantage of marginalized communities.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062570604.

Slavery comes to a halt when the dead on Civil War battlefields begin to rise and eat their compatriots; North and South join forces and pass an act forcing Black boys and girls into schools that teach them to combat the undead. Ireland’s complex and engaging conception of history is a perfect blend of horrors real and imagined.

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. ISBN 9780062795328.

Despite Felicity Montague’s intelligence, the sexism of the 18th century prevents her from gaining admission to medical school, so she runs off to London, where she discovers the famed Dr. Alexander Platt is seeking research assistants—and is likely to hire a woman. Adventure ensues in this sharp, clever work of historical fiction; also direct fans to Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which centers on Felicity’s brother, Monty.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee. Putnam. ISBN 9781524740955.

Frustrated by the inequality she sees as a Chinese woman in 1890 Atlanta, Jo Kuan begins writing an anonymous advice column in the newspaper. The mostly untold history of the Chinese experience in the South sets the tone for Jo’s story, the secrets kept by those in power, and her drive and talent. The superb writing, deliberate pacing, and slow reveal of secrets make this a believable and enjoyable read.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. illus. by author. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 9781536204988.

The fates of a deposed queen and a lowly orphan raised by nuns intertwine in this lush graphic novel loosely inspired by Tudor England and the life of Elizabeth I. Meconis’s illustrations are delicate and sumptuous, and her blend of political intrigue and quotidian details makes for a vivid reimagining of 16th-century British history.

Hood by Jenny Elder Moke. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 9781368047456.

Moke’s debut stars the daughter of Robin Hood and Maid Marien, Isabelle of Kirklees, whose quiet existence is interrupted when she comes to the aid of innocent villagers who are targeted by the cruel King John. This twisty, fast-paced adventure is an excellent addition to all collections, especially where blends of historical fiction and fantasy are popular.

Girls Like Us by Randi Pink. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250155856.

In 1972, Missippi and Sue are sent to live with other pregnant girls in Chicago until they deliver while Ola relies on her younger sister Izella to help hide her pregnancy from their mother in rural Georgia. Pink highlights the innocence and strength of her indelible characters in gut-wrenching scenes, depicting a tight-knit community of women and exploring a highly relevant issue.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062317643.

In World War II–era Chicago, Frankie Mazza and her siblings are left at an orphanage. Frankie dreams of a more hopeful future, while her every movement is observed by Pearl, a ghost working through her own disappointments and grief. This stunning story of loss, tragedy, forgiveness, and survival explores all the ways girls are locked up, controlled, punished, and yet persevere.

The Paper Girl of Paris by Jordyn Taylor. HarperTeen. ISBN 9780062936622.

When Alice’s beloved grandmother Chloe passes away, she inherits an apartment in Paris that has been under lock and key since the 1940s. She and her family head to Paris to settle her grandmother’s estate, and Alice is moved to learn more about her grandmother’s life in Nazi-invaded Paris, including a sister, Adalyn, who Alice and her family never knew existed. Moving back and forth between Alice’s research in the present and Adalyn’s acts of espionage in the past, Taylor crafts a gripping exploration of history.

White Rose by Kip Wilson. HMH/Versify. ISBN 9781328594433.

This elegant verse novel tells the story of real-life activist Sophie Scholl, her siblings, and friends, as they work together to resist and bring down the Nazi regime. The dangers they face and the brutal punishment they endure result in a compelling read that resonates today.

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