They do things differently there (L.P. Hartley).
Historical Fiction for teens and adults!
I love all kinds of books–that’s why I work in a library! Here are a few books written for or about teenagers that adults can also appreciate and enjoy. They are all set in the period between 1933 and 1950 or thereabouts.
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. . As the book begins, a young woman is being interrogated by the Gestapo. She is a captured spy, and they want all the information she has; she may live so long as she keeps writing her confession. In that confession, the girl tells us of her deep friendship with Maddie, a transport pilot for the RAF. But where is Maddie now? And will either girl survive? A tale of love and courage that illuminates a little-known facet of WWII.
Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein, is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. Like Maddie, idealistic young American Rose Justice is a transport pilot. She is captured by the Luftwaffe while trying to knock a buzz bomb out of the air. The pilots admire her and she’s promised good treatment—but when she refuses to help build bombs, she is sent to Ravensbrueck, the notorious concentration camp for women. The year is 1944. In the camp, Rose suffers and witnesses horrors. But she also encounters women of remarkable fortitude and character. With their help, she vows, she will survive and tell the world what she has endured.
Here’s another fine historical novel by Elizabeth Wein. Em Menotti and Teo Gedeyon are the children of two stunt pilots. When Teo’s mother is killed, Em’s mother decides she will take her daughter and her adopted son to a country where they can live as a family—for, in 1930s America, people look askance at a White woman raising a Black boy. So Rhoda brings her children to Ethiopia. For several years, the little family is happy. But then Italy attacks Ethiopia, and everything changes. Teo is now fifteen, old enough to carry a spear for his country—and the boy is in danger of more than death in battle. The book takes the form of a letter Emilia writes to the emperor, Haile Selassie, in her brother’s defense.
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, is based on the author’s family history. Lina is 16, growing up in Lithuania, when she, her mother, and her little brother are dragged out of their home and shipped to a forced labor camp in Siberia. Lina doesn’t know where her father is, or whether he is still alive. She is unprepared for the extreme cold and hunger she must endure. But she has her art, and that gives her a reason to keep on living, even when conditions grow dire. Sepetys is herself the daughter of a refugee, and her book is a tribute to refugees everywhere. It also tells a story many readers will never have come across before.
In Salt to the Sea, Sepetys again tells a WWII story you may never have heard of. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlof was the greatest maritime tragedy in history. The ship was carrying thousands of refugees from German-held territory in January, 1945, when it was struck by four torpedoes. Many of the passengers were children. Sepetys tells the story of the sinking in four voices; three young refugees and a German sailor. If you loved All the Light We Cannot See, you might like this book, as well.
An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden. In postwar London, children scratch out an existence on the streets, playing in the rubble of the bombed buildings. This might be Lovejoy’s story; she’s one of those street children. Lovejoy wants to make a garden, but, no matter how hard she tries, it doesn’t seem possible to make anything beautiful on Catford Street. Or it might be Tip Malone’s story, or maybe Sparky’s. The boys end up helping Lovejoy get good garden earth – even though they have to steal it from one of the rich houses in the square. Or maybe it’s Olivia’s story. She’s the quiet, elderly woman who lives in that house. No one notices Olivia. Is it finally her turn to act? How these lives, and others, intersect and how these characters change each other make for a lovely tale that will appeal to fans of Call the Midwife.