Historical fiction is a fantastic genre that combines imagination with factual information from different time periods. It’s a perfect way to learn about the past, and it’s not just for adults. Teens can also benefit from reading historical fiction. In this article, we’ll explore 10 of the best historical fiction books for teens that connect them to different time periods and cultures.
Why Historical Fiction Matters for Teens
Some people might think that historical fiction is boring, outdated, or not relevant to modern life. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Historical fiction can be incredibly engaging and enlightening for young adults, offering a fresh perspective on the past while exploring universal themes that transcend time and culture.
Benefits of Reading Historical Fiction
There are many good reasons why teens should read historical fiction. It can broaden their horizons, help them understand how the world works, expose them to different cultures, and develop their empathy and critical thinking skills.
One of the key benefits of reading historical fiction is that it can help teens develop a sense of perspective. By exploring different time periods and cultures, teens can gain a better understanding of the world around them and how it has evolved over time. They can also learn to appreciate the diversity of human experience and the many different ways that people have lived and thrived throughout history.
Moreover, historical fiction can also help teens make sense of their own lives by highlighting the struggles and triumphs of people who came before them. Through historical fiction, teens can relate to characters who faced obstacles and overcame them, learning valuable lessons about perseverance and resilience.
Connecting with the Past through Stories
Historical fiction can transport readers to different time periods and settings, making them feel like they’re exploring the past firsthand. This is especially true for teens who are still discovering their sense of history and identity.
By reading historical fiction, teens can immerse themselves in different cultures, observe the nuances of daily life, and witness the events that shaped the world. They can also develop an appreciation for different art forms, such as architecture, fashion, music, and literature, and how they evolved over time.
For example, a historical fiction novel set in ancient Rome could introduce teens to the art of mosaics, the intricacies of Roman law, and the political intrigue of the time period. A novel set during the Civil Rights Movement could help teens understand the struggle for racial equality and the impact of nonviolent resistance.
Ultimately, historical fiction offers teens a chance to connect with the past in a meaningful way, while also developing their understanding of the present and their hopes for the future.
Diverse Time Periods and Settings
The following books offer a wide range of historical settings, from ancient civilizations to world wars and beyond. Each one provides a unique perspective on the past and will captivate readers with its richly drawn characters, intricate plots, and vivid details.
For teens who are fascinated by ancient history, “The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan is an excellent choice. This novel follows the adventures of two teenage siblings, Carter and Sadie, who discover that they are descendants of powerful pharaohs and possess magical abilities.
The story is set in modern-day Egypt but takes readers on a thrilling journey through the land of the dead, the ancient gods, and the secrets of the pyramids. It’s a great introduction to Egyptian mythology and culture, and it shows how the past can influence the present in surprising ways.
Another fascinating read for those interested in ancient civilizations is “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. This novel retells the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus, a young prince who becomes the companion and lover of Achilles, the greatest warrior of Greece.
Through their bond, Patroclus learns about the honor, glory, and tragedy of war, as well as the complexities of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. The book is a beautiful homage to Greek mythology and literature, and it portrays the humanity and vulnerability of legendary heroes.
“The Inquisitor’s Tale” by Adam Gidwitz is a fascinating look at medieval France through the eyes of three unlikely heroes: William, a young monk with miraculous powers; Jacob, a Jewish boy on the run; and Jeanne, a peasant girl with divine inspiration.
Together, they embark on a quest to save a holy relic from corruption, all while facing persecution from the church and the king. This book is a masterful blend of humor, suspense, and historical accuracy, and it examines themes of faith, tolerance, and friendship in a way that resonates with teens today.
Another captivating novel set in medieval times is “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco. This book is a murder mystery that takes place in a monastery in Italy in the 14th century, where a Franciscan friar named William of Baskerville investigates a series of deaths that seem to be connected to a forbidden book.
As William delves deeper into the secrets and intrigues of the monastery, he uncovers a web of political, philosophical, and religious conflicts that threaten to tear apart the Catholic Church and the whole of Europe. The book is a rich tapestry of history, theology, and literature, and it challenges readers to think critically about the nature of knowledge and power.
Renaissance and Exploration
“The Lie Tree” by Frances Hardinge is a gripping mystery set in Victorian England during a time of scientific revolution and moral upheaval. The story follows the adventures of Faith Sunderly, a teenage girl who is obsessed with natural history and desperate to prove herself in a male-dominated society.
When her father dies under suspicious circumstances, Faith sets out to uncover the truth behind his death by using a plant that feeds on lies and secrets. Along the way, she confronts gender stereotypes, class divisions, and the power of knowledge. This book is a perfect blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and suspense, and it challenges readers to question their assumptions and values.
Another fascinating novel set in the Renaissance is “The Birth of Venus” by Sarah Dunant. This book is a coming-of-age story of a young woman named Alessandra, who lives in Florence in the late 15th century and dreams of becoming an artist.
As she navigates the politics, passions, and prejudices of her family and society, Alessandra discovers her own voice and vision and learns to embrace her sexuality and spirituality. The book is a vivid portrait of Renaissance Italy, and it celebrates the beauty and complexity of art and love.
Revolution and Change
“Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein is a heart-wrenching tale of friendship, courage, and sacrifice set in World War II. The story follows two young women, Maddie and Julie, who become involved in a top-secret mission to aid the British war effort in France.
When Julie is captured by the Germans and forced to reveal her identity and plans, Maddie must risk everything to save her friend and complete the mission. This book is a powerful exploration of the bonds that connect us, the atrocities of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.
Another poignant novel set during a time of revolution is “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende. This book is a multi-generational saga of a family in Chile, spanning from the early 20th century to the military coup of 1973.
Through the eyes of three women – Clara, Blanca, and Alba – the book explores the themes of love, politics, magic, and destiny, and it depicts the struggles and triumphs of a nation and its people. The book is a masterpiece of magical realism, and it celebrates the power of imagination and memory to shape our lives and history.
World Wars and Beyond
“Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys is a hauntingly beautiful novel that sheds light on a little-known tragedy of World War II: the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship that carried thousands of refugees, soldiers, and civilians from East Prussia to safety.
The story follows four young adults from different backgrounds and nations who are brought together by the chaos of war and the hope of survival. As they face hunger, cold, and constant danger, they learn to trust each other and themselves, even as the fate of the ship and their lives hang in balance. This book is a deeply moving tribute to the forgotten victims of war and the power of empathy.
Another thought-provoking novel set in the aftermath of World War II is “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink. This book is a complex exploration of guilt, shame, and redemption, as seen through the relationship between a teenage boy named Michael and an older woman named Hanna, who is later revealed to have been a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Through Michael’s memories and reflections, the book raises profound questions about the nature of justice, memory, and forgiveness, and it challenges readers to confront the legacy of the Holocaust and the responsibilities of the present.
Top 10 Historical Fiction Books for Teens
Now that you’ve discovered some of the best historical fiction books for teens, it’s time to dive in and explore these captivating stories yourself. Each book offers a unique glimpse into a different time and place and will transport you on a thrilling journey through history.
“The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan
This book is perfect for readers who love adventure, mythology, and magic. It offers a fresh take on ancient Egypt and introduces readers to the fascinating world of Egyptian gods and goddesses.
“The Inquisitor’s Tale” by Adam Gidwitz
This book is a witty, thought-provoking exploration of medieval France, with a cast of characters that will keep you laughing, crying, and rooting for them until the very end.
“The Lie Tree” by Frances Hardinge
This book is a dark, suspenseful tale that will keep you guessing until the final page. It’s a feminist manifesto disguised as a historical mystery, and it’s a must-read for anyone who loves clever plot twists.
“Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein
This book is a heart-wrenching examination of the true cost of war, with unforgettable characters who will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
“Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys
This book is a poetic, heartbreaking tribute to the human spirit, with a focus on the forgotten voices of World War II.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
This book is a powerful meditation on the power of words to both harm and heal, set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany.
“Wolf by Wolf” by Ryan Graudin
This book is a thrilling, alternate history that imagines a world where the Nazis won World War II and explores themes of identity, courage, and rebellion.
“Flygirl” by Sherri L. Smith
This book is a compelling, emotional story about a young African American woman who poses as a white pilot during World War II and confronts racism, sexism, and self-doubt along the way.
“The Girl with the Red Balloon” by Katherine Locke
This book is a mesmerizing, time-travel adventure that explores the meaning of freedom, love, and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall.
“The Astonishing Color of After” by Emily X.R. Pan
This book is a lyrical, imaginative exploration of grief, memory, and identity, with a touch of magical realism and a beautifully diverse cast of characters.
No matter which book you choose, you’re sure to learn something new, feel something deep, and be inspired by the power of historical fiction to connect us to the past and to each other. Happy reading!
Why is it good to read historical fiction when you’re a teenager?
Historical fiction is a fun way to understand history in more depth, without trailing through textbooks. Although they are fictional, these books are almost always grounded in historical fact, so they’re technically educational too!
How old does a book have to be to become historical fiction?
A book has to be set at least 50 years ago for it to be considered historical fiction.
Who are the best historical fiction writers?
Ken Follet, Diana Gabaldon, Philippa Gregory, Bernard Cornwell, Hilary Mantel, and Sarah Waters are among the top names in this genre.