18 Novels for Teens That Blow the Dust Off History | Summer Reading 2021

These genre-blending works of historical fiction highlight long-held truths and feel as immediate as any contemporary story.

The Awakening of Malcolm X / Luck of the Titanic / Daughters of Jubilation / The Silence of Bones

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These genre-blending works of historical fiction highlight long-held truths and feel as immediate as any contemporary story.

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.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee. HMH. ISBN 9780358131434.

Fourteen narrators, all born in the United States and of Japanese descent, provide viewpoints after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They and their families are no longer trusted, and the Exclusion Orders mean forced relocation. This novel is moving, personal, and well researched, with abundant curricular tie-ins and a realistic range of authentic character reactions, from “Don’t make trouble” to “How dare they require this of us?”

Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron. S. & S./Simon Pulse. ISBN 9781481459501.

Evalene is descended from powerful Black women who used magical powers, the Jubilation, to survive. One spring in the Jim Crow South, right before Juneteenth, Evalene saves a white family from a falling oak tree after inadvertently causing an earthquake with her powers. That summer, as Evalene juggles work, family, and her growing relationship with her longtime crush Clay, her growing powers manifest in a big, scary, and life-changing way.

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 Germany 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.

The Silence of Bones by June Hur. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250229557.

Sixteen-year-old Seol’s parents have died, and as the youngest of three siblings, she has been sent to Hanyang, the capital of the southern province of the Korean peninsula, to work and to look for her long-lost brother who is assumed dead.

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. 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.

Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee. Putnam. ISBN 9781524740986.

Lee’s revelatory novel uncovers the tale of eight Chinese passengers braving shipwreck through the travails of a resourceful heroine. Excitement abounds long before the Titanic hits an iceberg, and the twist ending aligns with the historical record.

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.

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.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed. S. & S. ISBN 9781534462724.

Los Angeles, 1992: While the city is consumed with protests after the beating of Rodney King, wealthy Black high school senior Ashley contemplates her own perceptions of her race and those of her classmates as she attends a predominantly white school—a realistic journey to action filled with detours and new discoveries. This is a nuanced and authentic coming-of-age story with pitch-perfect historical details and timeless themes.

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 Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Tiffany D. Jackson. Farrar. ISBN 9780374313296.

How did Malcolm Little, the son of a Lansing, MI, Baptist minister, become the renowned Malcolm X? When Malcolm is 20, he is caught up in the robbery of an empty house and is sentenced to eight-to-10 years in prison. During his incarceration, Malcolm reads, learns, and discovers his gift for public speaking and debate.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. Viking. (Logan ­Family). Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780399257308.

Cassie Logan comes from the resilient, proud, and dignified Logan family of the Great Faith community in Mississippi. Throughout her life she witnesses the Great Migration and World War II, and experiences Jim Crow in public and private. Taylor brilliantly weaves the fictional Logans and their communities with real historical figures and organizations.

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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