Recently, an author friend on Goodreads posted about the recent scarcity of historical fiction in the YA category. After a swift perusal of my own “read” and “to-read” list, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that it’s true. With that thought in mind, I had a look at YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (PPYA) lists, which have themes every year. The last time a historical fiction PPYA list was done was in 1998, the second year PPYA was in existence. The theme was “Teens from Other Times” and featured familiar titles Catherine, Called Birdy, Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels, and Ann Rinaldi’s In My Father’s House. Of the twenty five titles placed in this category, few are regular familiars. If there are fewer pure historical fiction novels being written for a young adult audience, how do we determine the best ones to read? I am a history buff myself, and I usually find that fascinating characters, groups, or events from history can draw out the most compelling story. This is not, however, always the case. A fabricated historical figure, or one whose name might have been picked from a historical account and then fictionalized, can pull a reader just as well in any era. Every point in time had something going on; it’s up to the author to realize that event and make it palpable to the reader.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few books that might be on this PPYA list if it had been created today. This was actually a difficult list to put together, as there are no parallel plotlines, no magical realism or urban fantasy, and absolutely NO speculative fiction (that last was really hard; some of my favorite “Victorian” novels are actually steam- and dieselpunk). Also, more recent titles were considered; we’re going to stick to novels written in the 2000s or later. Finally, the parameters of PPYA–as seen in the title–indicate paperbacks, and therefore some of the great historical fiction that has come out in the past year would not qualify.
PPYA lists are usually 25 titles long; we’re going to do 10 of the historical fiction novels that have been incredibly popular from their hardcover release through to their paperback ones.