It’s Victory Day here in Russia, a holiday that commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union during World War II. This is a huge holiday: a shut-down-the-city, parades-with-tanks sort of holiday. Since preparations for the celebration began weeks in advance, WWII has been on my mind quite a bit. I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some YA fiction based during the war. Please keep in mind that there are a lot of titles that fit this description; I’ve selected only a handful and would love to read your additions in the comments.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2013 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2013 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, 2013 Readers’ Choice List, 2013 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults selection, 2013 Teens’ Top Ten nominee)
After her plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, British spy “Verity” is captured, imprisoned, and forced to confess her mission. She uses these confessions to tell her story, much of which involves her relationship with Maddie, her best friend and the pilot who was flying when the plane crashed.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults selection)
Liesel Meminger stole her first book at the age of nine, shortly after her brother’s funeral. Years later, this same book allowed Liesel to bond with her foster father while living with him and her foster mother in Nazi Germany. As she continues to steal books, she finds comfort and inspiration in them, eventually finding also the ability to provide comfort and inspiration to others.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2012 Morris Award Finalist, 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, 2012 Readers’ Choice List, 2012 Teens’ Top Ten nominee, 2014 Popular Paperbacks nominee)
This is the story of Lina, a teenager living in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation. Her life is completely turned upside-down when she is sent to a work camp in Siberia with her mother and brother. Lina, an artist, draws messages, sending them out to her father, hoping that they find him at the prison camp he was sent to after being separated from his family. It is a story of family, love, and survival.
Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac (2006 Best Books for Young Adults selection)
After years of English-only education at a boarding school that would not allow him to speak his native Navajo language, Ned Begay enrolled in the Marines during World War II. As a code talker, he used the language that he was forced to silence at school to send coded messages. The story is narrated by Ned, as he shares the story with his grandchildren after his participation in the war is de-classified.
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (2010 Best Books for Young Adults selection)
Flygirl tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a young black woman in America during WWII. The daughter of a pilot, Ida follows in her father’s footsteps but knows that her race and gender will keep her grounded. When Ida sees an opportunity to use her light-colored skin to “pass” as white and join the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), she has to decide what aspects of her identity are most important.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2014 Popular Paperbacks nominee)
Bruno, the son of a high-ranking SS officer, lives with his sister and parents in Berlin until his father receives a promotion that requires the family to move to Auschwitz. Bruno’s loneliness after the move leads him to explore an off-limits area where he meets Shmuel, a Jewish boy about his age. The boys continue to meet, forming a friendship through the fence that separates their lives.
The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection)
As a member of a non-religious family, Karl does not identify as Jewish. The rest of Berlin does not see it this way, though. After receiving a terrible beating by a group of Nazi Youth, Karl accepts the deal that his father makes with champion boxer Max Schmeling to give him boxing lessons. While Karl’s training takes him from artist to boxer, violence against Jews increases in Berlin. Despite his relationship with Karl, Max’s status as a German hero forces him to associate with Nazi elites. Karl finds himself struggling to balance boxing and the necessity to keep his family safe.
Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet (2008 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults selection, 2008 Teens’ Top Ten nominee)
In 1995, Tamar, a teenage girl living in London, learns that her recently deceased grandfather left a box for her. Her exploration of its contents unravel a story from fifty years earlier. This story is that of another Tamar, a Dutch agent in Nazi-occupied Holland in 1945. The book tells the stories of both Tamars, bouncing between 1945 and 1995, with tales of war, love, friendship, and family.
For more war-related reading, check out these posts on The Hub:
- War-Torn Lives: Nonfiction by Diane Colson
- New Teen Reads About Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: A Post for Veterans Day by Kris Hickey
- Veterans Day booklist by Emily Calkins
- It’s February and War is on My Mind by Sharon Rawlins
— Jessica Lind, currently reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman at home and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan while commuting