9 Challenging YA Books Set Amid War And Global Crises

Global tragedies are, unfortunately, all too common. War, natural disaster, and political upheaval can affect everyone living in an area, including children and young adults. The nine challenging works of YA fiction listed here present these conflicts with compassion and realism and can give teens a better understanding of what it's like to grow up during times of war. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Young Adult Fiction About War & Crisis: Our 9 Picks

Title Author
1. Anna and the Swallow Man Gavriel Savit
2. A Land of Permanent Goodbyes Atia Abawi
3. Rachel's Secret Shelly Sanders
4. Chanda's Wars Allan Stratton
5. Karma Cathy Ostlere
6. The Bitter Side of Sweet Tara Sullivan
7. Miss E. Brian Herberger
8. Oranges for Christmas Margarita Morris
9. My Real Name Is Hanna Tara Lynn Masih

5 Ways to Get the News

If you want to help make life better for people in conflict zones, it's important to stay informed. Here are a few sources that can help you keep up-to-date on global events:

  1. NPR: Radio programs, podcasts, and online articles
  2. The New York Times: Print & online journalism
  3. BBC: Good source for international news
  4. The Wall Street Journal: Breaking news and economic coverage
  5. Associated Press: Investigative reporting and trusted facts

Literary Charities

If you want to spread your love of YA literature with those in need, then you should consider looking into these non-profit organizations that help kids and teens get access to books and high-quality education.

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health

In Depth

Growing up is always something of a struggle, but coming of age while surrounded by the tumult of a conflict or disaster is a uniquely painful experience. The books listed here explore the resourcefulness and courage of young people trapped in catastrophic circumstances beyond their control. Here, in no particular order, are nine poignant works for fans of gripping young adult fiction based on real-life turmoil.

At #1 is "Anna and the Swallow Man" by Gavriel Savit. It is 1939 in Krakow, and seven-year-old Anna Lania's father has just been taken by the Gestapo to a concentration camp. Left utterly alone, Anna makes a new friend: a stranger called the Swallow Man. An expert at going unseen by soldiers, he is also supernaturally proficient at languages, speaking not just human tongues but those of birds as well. Fascinated by his abilities, Anna leaves her home behind to follow the Swallow Man on a dangerous adventure through war-torn Poland.

At #2 is "A Land of Permanent Goodbyes" by Atia Abawi. When their city is destroyed by bombs, Tareq and his family are forced to go on the run. While evading Daesh soldiers and watching a public beheading, Tareq begins to understand that the Syria he knew has been utterly changed. He and his family leave their home country behind, searching for a new place to call home. Abawi, a journalist, uses realistic fiction to expose the heart-breaking struggles of Syrian refugees, as Tareq's family escapes from violence only to find rejection and danger everywhere they go.

He and his family leave their home country behind, searching for a new place to call home.

Coming in at #3 is "Rachel's Secret" by Shelly Sanders. Rachel is a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl living in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. When a Christian is murdered in her community, suspicion falls on its Jewish members. After an anti-semitic riot breaks out, Rachel's home and life are destroyed, and she is left on her own. Support comes in an unexpected form, however, from a young Christian named Sergei, who helps Rachel survive in an increasingly unfriendly world. As the bond between the two grows, so does the upheaval around them.

In the #4 position is "Chanda's Wars" by Allan Stratton. After her mother dies, Chanda is left to raise her younger siblings by herself. During a visit to her grandparents' village, a band of rebels attacks, killing Chanda's grandfather and kidnapping the children. Chanda is determined to find and rescue her brother and sister at any cost, and sets out into the arid and dangerous African bush country. Accompanied by Nelson, a boy her grandparents intended for her to marry, she must face the dangers of nature as well as the cruelty of humans in order to get her siblings back.

At #5 is "Karma" by Cathy Ostlere, a novel told in free verse. In 1984, fifteen-year-old Maya visits India with her father, Amar, and the ashes of her mother, who has killed herself. Unfortunately, she arrives in Delhi the night before Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, leading to an eruption of anti-Sikh rioting and violence. Amar is a Sikh, and in the chaos Maya is separated from him. She must depend on the help of a friendly stranger named Sandeep to find her father and escape the city.

Amar is a Sikh, and in the chaos Maya is separated from him.

At #6 is "The Bitter Side of Sweet" by Tara Sullivan. Fifteen-year-old Amadou and his younger brother Seydou are laborers on a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast. Each day they do dangerous, exhausting work in order to pay off their debt to the bosses so they can return home to their family. Everything changes, however, when a girl named Khadija arrives at the plantation. She is a free spirit, and her determination to escape inspires Amadou and Seydou. Together, the three of them hatch a plan to get out of their captivity and find freedom.

Coming in at #7 is "Miss E." by Brian Herberger. The year is 1967. When Bets' father is sent to serve in Vietnam, she goes to live with her mother in a new town in California. There, she encounters a mysterious old woman named Miss E., and the two become friends. At the same time, an unconventional history teacher gives Bets an assignment which forces her to confront the reality of the war that has changed her life so much. As Bets figures out the secret of Miss E.'s identity, she also gains a new political and social awareness.

At #8 is "Oranges for Christmas" by Margarita Morris. Dieter and Sabine are brother and sister, living in Berlin in 1961. When the Berlin Wall divides the city, Sabine ends up in the east, and Dieter in the west. As Dieter searches for a way to rescue his sister, she herself has to survive interrogation by the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany. The two must navigate the dangerous landscape of post-war Berlin, and somehow make it across the heavily guarded wall, if they are ever to see each other again.

When the Berlin Wall divides the city, Sabine ends up in the east, and Dieter in the west.

And finally, at #9 is "My Real Name is Hanna" by Tara Lynn Masih. Fourteen-year-old Hanna Slivka lives a peaceful life in Kwasova, a small Jewish village in Ukraine, until the Nazis arrive. When the Gestapo comes to their shtetl, Hanna and her family are forced to leave their homes for the system of underground caves outside of town. As the Gestapo searches for them, the Jews of Kwasova struggle to survive in their new circumstances. Things go from bad to worse when Hanna's father vanishes, and she must leave the relative safety of the caves to find him.