June is history month, and while there’s a ton of great historical fiction for teens out there, it’s also a perfect time to start asking “What if?”
What if the American Revolution never happened?
What if the Axis Powers won World War II?
Alternate history books are a great way to explore these questions, and alternate history for teens is becoming increasingly popular. Here are a few books to get you started.
These stories can blend speculative elements with historical facts, which is perfect for prompting discussion about what is truth and what is fiction in the novels discussed. They can also prompt readers to explore more nonfiction about the time period.
White Cat by Holly Black (2011 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)
It wasn’t alcohol that was banned by the 18th amendment, but magic, and that ban created a black market for “curse workers” controlled by powerful crime families like Cassel Sharpe’s. In this urban fantasy with a twist of fairy tale magic, Cassel has always been treated like an outsider in his family because of his inability to perform curse work, but he soon discovers that he might be the most powerful player of all.
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
The Great Library of Alexandria survived the test of time and now governs the flow of knowledge to everyone in a society where privately owned books are banned. In this fast-paced story, Jess, who is in training for service to the Library despite the fact that most of what he knows is contraband knowledge from books that his family owns, finds his loyalties tested when his friend invents a device that could change society.
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger (2014 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)
In an alternate Victorian era where vampires and werewolves coexist alongside humans and mechanical servants perform housework, Sophronia Temminick is a great trial to her mother, who ships her off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Far from a normal finishing school, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is a floating dirigible that teaches Sophronia and her cohorts not just how to be proper ladies, but also how to be spies and assassins.
The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
In this steampunk series opener, the American Revolution never happened and the British empire is an ever-expanding, malevolent global power run by machines in the nineteenth century.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (2003 Alex Award Winner)
In a 1985 where the Crimean War still rages and clone-your-own-dodo kits can be purchased by the general populace, Literary Detective Thursday Next can read her way into the pages of books to fix problems in the fictional world. The first entry in Fforde’s smart, quirky series finds Thursday playing matchmaker to Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester while navigating her career and her own rocky love life.
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (2014 Printz Honor Book)
Under the government of a ruthless regime, Standish tries to fly under the radar. But that all changes when a football goes over a wall and Standish discovers that the government is about to fake a moon landing for publicity.
Front Lines by Michael Grant
In this alternate take on World War II, a law change in 1942 has made women and girls eligible for the draft. Frangie, Rio, and Rainy, three girls from different walks of life, sign up to fight against the Nazi war machine, the greatest threat the world has ever seen.
Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
The Amazing Race collides with alternate history in a 1956 where Hitler and the Axis Powers won World War II and plan to commemorate their victory at a giant ball. Yael, a former death camp prisoner, is on a mission from the resistance to win the race and kill Hitler once and for all. A sequel, Blood for Blood, is slated for publication this November.
The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
Fleeing a loveless marriage, noble-born Adelaide runs away to the Glittering Court, where Cedric Thorne promises to turn lowborn girls into royalty. But as Adelaide falls for Cedric, the Governor decides he wants her for his wife, and she risks becoming an outcast or even losing her life.
In a fantastical take on Victorian England, seventeen-year-old Dodger rescues a young girl from a beating, and her fate mixes his in with characters such as Charles Dickens, Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli, and Queen Victoria herself.
In this survival story mixed with fantasy, Mau, sole survivor of a tsunami, and Daphne, lone survivor of a shipwreck, overcome cultural barriers to protect their small band of refugees from danger.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (2010 Best Books for Young Adults)
At the outset of a World War I fought between the Axis Powers with great animal-shaped machinery and the Allies with giant floating ecosystems of genetically engineered creatures, Crown Prince Alek, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, runs for his life after his parents’ assassination and finds an unlikely ally in Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy fighting in the British Air Service. Featuring illustrations by Keith Thompson, the world-building in this series opener is not to be missed.
Don’t see your favorite on this list? Tell us about it in the comments!
— Elizabeth Norton, currently listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, read by Lin-Manuel Miranda