9 Young Adult Novels That Mine Truth From American History
Over the centuries, America has undergone a number of transformations and experienced several historical events that changed the world forever. The YA novels listed here all take their settings directly from American history, from California in the gold rush era to New York during the early 20th century. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.
YA Historical Fiction Set in the US: Our 9 Picks
5 Americans Who Changed History
- Claudette Colvin: Teenage civil rights activist
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Led the country out of the Great Depression
- Jane Addams: Nobel Peace Prize winner & suffragette
- Sojourner Truth: Abolitionist and women's rights activist
- Alexander Hamilton: Profoundly shaped America's financial system
Historical Films Set in the US
- Amelia (2009)
- Hidden Figures (2016)
- Newsies (1992)
- Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008)
- Pride (2007)
- Little Women (1994)
Where US Politics Came From
From the Wild West of the 1800s to the 21st century, the Y.A. novels included on this list find universal truths in events from American history. For teens excited to learn about different periods in the country's past, here are, in no particular order, nine works of historical fiction that enthrall and educate in equal measure.
For #1 we find "Gold Rush Girl" by Suzanne Lilly. On a wagon train to California during the 1849 gold rush, Lucinda York loses her parents to disease. Orphaned and dispossessed, the resilient girl is nevertheless steadfast in her mission to become a pioneering female doctor. Meanwhile, the handsome George Arnold has left his family in the hopes of striking it rich on the west coast. Settling in the rugged mining town of Diggers Flat, Lucinda and George develop a close relationship as they help each other through adversity.
Coming in at #2 is "Orphan Moon" by T.K. Lukas. After she loses her Texas homestead and members of her family in a fatal ambush, tenacious nineteen-year-old Barleigh sets out to rebuild her life. In order to earn money and save the ranch she's inherited from her father, she pretends to be a boy and joins the Pony Express, cutting a treacherous path across the frontier while uncovering secrets about her past. Along the way, Barleigh meets and falls for Texas Ranger Hughes Levesque, whose own secrets could cause trouble for them both.
Along the way, Barleigh meets and falls for Texas Ranger Hughes Levesque, whose own secrets could cause trouble for them both.
For #3 we get "The Caged Graves" by Dianne K. Salerni. Returning to her 19th-century Pennsylvania hometown for the first time since she was an infant, seventeen-year-old Verity is excited to reunite with her estranged father and meet her fiancee, with whom she's been corresponding. What she arrives to, however, is nothing like she imagined. Her father and future husband seem like strangers, and the town is awash in gossip about her. Even worse, she discovers that her late mother and aunt are buried under cages on unconsecrated ground. Determined to get to the bottom of what happened, Verity must confront her community's darkest impulses.
Arriving at #4 is "Speak Easy, Speak Love" by McKelle George. This witty reimagining of "Much Ado About Nothing" trades in Shakespeare's Messina for Long Island during the roaring '20s. Moving into her uncle's decrepit estate after being expelled from boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice finds that her uncle and his daughter Hero are operating a floundering speakeasy from their basement. Joined by a diverse cast of other young people, Beatrice and Hero coordinate a huge party to prevent the speakeasy from going under. In the process, they kick off a summer of intrigue and romantic confusion that will impact all of their lives.
For #5 we have "Nothing But Sky" by Amy Trueblood. In the post-World War I Midwest, eighteen-year-old Grace makes a living performing stunts on the wings of airborne planes. With her sights set on the upcoming World Aviation Expo and its first prize Hollywood contract, she devises new and more dangerous tricks to outshine her competitors. But when mechanic and traumatized former soldier Henry joins her team and objects to the danger of her thrill-seeking, Grace's resolve is tested. As the two grow close, the barnstorming daredevil must make her riskiest decision yet.
With her sights set on the upcoming World Aviation Expo and its first prize Hollywood contract, she devises new and more dangerous tricks to outshine her competitors.
At #6 is "The Conditions of Love" by Dale M. Kushner. A stirring blend of realism and fable-like odyssey, Kushner's book follows a young girl's rocky path toward adulthood. In provincial 1950s Wisconsin, Eunice lives with her self-absorbed mother and the bitter memory of being abandoned by her father as a baby. When a massive storm carries her away, she finds herself negotiating entirely new and unfamiliar territory. Through the maternal care of a reclusive nature enthusiast and an affair with an older farmer, Eunice experiences the love she has been deprived of, and learns how to endure even the toughest of hardships.
For #7 we come to "The Girl Who Fell from the Sky" by Heidi W. Durrow. Following a tragedy that claims the lives of her mother and two siblings, biracial teen Rachel goes to live with her grandmother in a largely African-American town in 1980s Oregon. For the first time, her light skin and blue eyes make her stand out, drawing criticism from a community that doesn't deem her to be black enough. Struggling to belong, Rachel is forced to wrestle with her identity, her society, and past family secrets that could explain her current misfortunes.
Showing up at #8 is "Between Before and After" by Maureen Doyle McQuerry. An anxious girl in 1950s California, Molly is doing her best not to stir up the vulnerable emotions of her depressed writer mother Elaine. To distract herself from her own feelings, Elaine immerses herself in the stories of the characters she creates. But when a family member's medical miracle captures everyone's attention, old wounds are reopened. As the curious Molly works to learn the truth about her mom's troubled youth in early 20th-century New York, both of their lives are thrown into limbo.
To distract herself from her own feelings, Elaine immerses herself in the stories of the characters she creates.
Finally, for #9 we get "Dancing in the Rain" by Lynn Joseph. Growing up as a jubilant child in the Dominican Republic, preteen Elizabeth has always been filled with spirit and imagination. But when her father is killed in the September 11 attacks, her carefree world is shattered. In her devastation, she finds solace in brothers Jared and Brandt, who have left New York with their traumatized mother to seek refuge on the island. As the children help each other heal through their grief, they attempt to show their respective families how to enjoy life again.