10 Recommended Historical Young Adult Books

So, here’s the theme I’m going with this week for Top Ten Tuesday as, I recommended 10s of books ALL THE TIME and thought, hey I should do today’s topic with a theme in mind. Note, not all of the books are based on real life history or have real life settings, however, they do all have a historical sort of feel to them.

10 Great Young Adult Books With Historical Elements | Good Books And Good Wine

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak | Good Books And Good Wine

Why?: Set in Germany during World War II, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of those books I would hand to non-believers. It’s flawlessly written, told by Death. This book is one I’ve read multiple times and honestly, every time I read it, I get something new out of it, and always, always feel the emotions. I love this book in that the feels do not diminish with time.

2. The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell

The Aviary, Green, Birds, Girl, Kathleen O'Dell, Book Cover

Why?: The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell is actually more of a middle grade book, but honestly it could straddle the line. Set in the nineteenth century, on the coast this book is a fantasy about birds, obviously, and magic, and secrets. It’s also about friendship and being brave. The Aviary is not really based on any historical event or anything, but it feels old fashioned, thus merits inclusion.

3. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly Book Cover

Why?: A Northern Light is one of my favorite books of all time and another one of those I am not sure I still love you if you haven’t read this sort of books. Basically it’s set in Upstate NY during the Grace Brown murder, so in the Catskills, you know that whole event An American Tragedy by Theodore Dresier is based on. Anyways, it’s the story of a girl who loves books and wants to stretch her wings and go to college. It’s so, so gorgeous. I treasure my copy and this is what I want historical fiction to be.

4. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner | Good Books And Good Wine

Why?: Looking for a great series to start that has some historical elements? So, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner has a setting that does not exist — Attolia. Yet, it blends elements of things that do exist like Greeks and Romans and such to make a brilliant adventure with twists and gasps and a crazy ending that will likely have you flipping back through. Again, there are parts of the book that feel like ancient history, yet also parts that feel modern.

5. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy Robin La Fevers Book Cover

Why?: Of course, nuns with magical powers who could spot death marques did not quite exist in medieval France, but the land of Brittany did and still does to this day. The whole fight for independence was/is a thing. That’s not pretend. And so, despite a lot of it you know, not actually existing, Grave Mercy makes medieval history utterly fascinating and exciting — not that it needed it, but it’s a historical fantasy that I found worked really well.

6. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein Book Cover

Why?: Be still my heart. I can’t even think about Code Name Verity without feeling a sob coming on thinking about best friends and kiss me Hardy and Peter Pan. And, okay it’s like I am sharing inside jokes that people who’ve read the book will get. But for real, if you are in the market for a World War II era historical fiction book featuring girls who do something, without a trace of romance, then you definitely need to read Code Name Verity. Just have someone on hand when you finish, because chances are you’ll want to share your emotions.

7. Gilt by Katherine Longshore

Gilt Katherine Longshore Book Cover

Why?: Y’all, Tudor history gets so much love in adult historical fiction, yet it seems woefully underrepresented in YA. Perhaps I am just reading the wrong books. Alas, Gilt is a fabulous read narrated by Kitty Howard’s best friend. It’s very… scintillating. Y’all I never use that word, but that’s totally what this book is.

8. Bloody Jack by LA Meyer via Audio

Bloody Jack by LA Meyer | Good Books And Good Wine

Why?: Okay, so lol Jacky Faber never existed.  However, the setting of Bloody Jack DID – the late 18th century. These books are about a girl who is orphaned and living in Cheepside. Rather than prostitute her body, Jacky Faber decides to chop her hair, bind her chest and try to get a job as a ship’s boy. It works. Hijinks happen. Basically this book is hilarious and fun and again, about a girl who does things. Note: When reading this, go for the audiobook version, Katherine Kellgren basically transforms into Jacky Faber with excellent results.

9. A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

a great and terrible beauty cover

Why?: Do you like boarding schools? Mean girls? Magic? Intrigue? Victorian England? Well, A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray is the start to an excellent historical fantasy trilogy. I remember getting the first book out of the library in high school, before the sequels were written and following Bray’s Livejournal for information. See, this was pre-goodreads. And I remember years later, still thinking about the first book and then my elation at discovering my sister owned copies of the sequels. Seriously, these are books that stick in your head in the best possible way.

10. Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Okay For Now, Gary D Schmidt, Audiobook cover, Doug Swieteck

Why?: Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt has the most modern historical setting on this list, but it deserves it’s place as 1968 was an interesting time period y’all. This book follows Doug Swieteck as his family moves from Long Island to Marysville in upstate NY. There’s Coke in a bottle, the Audubon Society books, Jane Eyre and so many other events to love in this book. Also, if you get the chance, listen to the audio – Lincoln Hoppe provides a grade A performance.

  • What historically-themed books would you recommend?
  • Have you read any of the books on the list? Loved it? Hated it?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke And The Bookish.

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Great selection.. I haven’t read very many historical fiction pieces so I didn’t partake this time. Maybe next year :p

    • Awww, well the theme was books you recommend the most without any genre constraints. I chose to give it a genre twist because it would be super hard for me to do this one otherwise.

  2. Oh my gosh, I haven’t read a single book on your list – and I think only The Book Thief is on my TBR.

    Hope you’re doing well, April! Here’s my TTT post for this week 🙂

  3. Oh my gosh, great list!! LOVE Code Name Verity and the Book Thief! They were both on my list, too! Gilt is a guilty pleasure of mine (see what I did there), I adored that book, so excited for Tarnish because I FANGIRL over Anne Boleyn! And I have been hearing so many amazing things about Grave Mercy I’m gonna have to move that up on my TBR list! 🙂

  4. Yes to The Book Thief! I don’t necessarily jump up for joy when thinking about historical fiction but this book sold me. It will always hold a place in my heart. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a great book as well, but I don’t think I ever realized it was considered historical fiction! (Of course, it’s been FOREVER since I’ve read it, same as you.)

    The one on this list I haven’t read but really want to is Grave Mercy. I’ve seen it on a couple of TTT lists today and I’m really intrigued. Definitely on my TBR list!

  5. I didn’t realize Okay For Now is historical! The cover totally looks contemporary on first glance.

    Okay so a lot of these, well all of the ones I haven’t read, are ones that I WANT to read. But I can absolutely agree with The Book Thief of course, the Libba Bray books, and GRAVE MERCY forever and ever.

    Love the theme!

    (sidenote: just finished Dark Triumph yesterday and OH MY GOSH what a series that is)

  6. I’m so happy that people know about and have read The Thief! This was one of my favourite MG books when I was younger. I remember reading the first two in a day when I was sick and being totally overwhelmed by how amazing it was. She just totally brings you around full circle. Another amazing historical book I just read was The Diviners by Libba Bray (same author as A Great and Terrible Beauty). That book took the worldbuilding from her previous series to a whole new level. Definitely check that one out if you haven’t already!

  7. No historical young adult list of mine would be complete without Eva Ibbotson. I love her.

    I’m glad to see A Northern Light on your list! I think it’s terribly underrated!

  8. Love your list! Bloody Jack is one of my all time favorite audio books. This series gets better and better. It’s our go-to series for long car trips.

  9. Code Name Verity is the only one of these I’ve read (and loved!), but the rest sound great. Lots of new additions to my TBR list, thanks!

  10. Excellent spin on the theme this week! 🙂 I do not read much historical fiction— but I do seem to enjoy them when I give them a chance! I’ll have to jot a couple of these titles down and fit them in. Thanks for the ideas!

  11. I am on board with ANY list that starts with The Book Thief. I will be looking into several of these. Thanks!!

  12. I have been meaning to read The Aviary for awhile. I ordered it for the library when it was released. The cover is super pretty, and I love middle grade. I should really read it.

  13. I totally still need to read some of these but I couldn’t agree more with A Northern Light and The Book Thief. Absolutely amazing. And I know how much you loved The Aviary so I went out and bought it after you reviewed it. It’s still sitting on my shelf. And I hate myself.

  14. APRIL. I need to read so many of these books!! I know you’ve shouted out your love for The Aviary and Okay For Now and A Northern Light before, so I KNOW they’re wonderful. But seriously, don’t friend-dump me!!! I haven’t read The Book Thief yet, either. I’ve been thinking of audio-ing that one. Have you listened to it?
    And obviously, I will find ways to manipulate every one of these lists so that Grave Mercy finds a spot. Every time. LOVE THAT BOOK.

  15. Oh my, you know I love seeing Code Name Verity, The Book Thief, Grave Mercy and A Northern Light on this list. All four are some of my very favorite YA historical fiction books! So glad they are books you frequently recommend 🙂

    You totally need to give Jennifer Donnelly’s adult historical fiction a try, too!