This year, we’re going all in on the gorgeous, heavily researched historical fiction genre, with a preview of January–June books spanning several centuries, three continents, and including realistic stories and fantasy, prose and verse, and even a hybrid novel.
And check out the LGBTQAP previews for more great historical fiction, including A Place for Wolves, by Kosoko Jackson (April 2), An Impossible Distance to Fall, by Miriam McNamara (June 4), and Like a Love Story, by Abdi Nazemian (June 4), and the fantasy preview for some gorgeous genre mashups including The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi (January 15), and Enchantée, by Gita Trelease (February 5)!
Inventing Victoria, by Tonya Bolden (January 8)
Bolden’s no stranger to historical YA; her Crossing Ebenezer Creek was set just a couple of decades before this 1880s story about a Black girl named Essie living in Savannah, who dreams of a more glamorous past in post-Reconstruction America. She has all but given up hope that she’ll ever be a woman of means; Black girls just don’t get lives like that. Then she meets one who has: the wealthy and glamorous Dorcas Vashon, who’s willing to take Essie under her wing and remake her as a society woman named Victoria. It’s everything she ever dreamed, but does embracing becoming Victoria mean saying goodbye to Essie for good?
The Weight of Our Sky, by Hanna Alkaf (February 5)
You can already tell from the cover that this debut won’t be like anything you’ve read, and if that isn’t enough, the fact that it’s set during the 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, should do the trick. Melati Ahmad is sixteen, Malay, in love with the Beatles, and haunted. She’s certain there’s a djinn hiding inside her who forces her into obsessive-compulsive rituals in order to keep horrific images of her mother’s death at bay. As if the torment in her own mind weren’t bad enough, the city erupts in race riots between the Chinese and the Malay, with gangsters holding Mel and the other moviegoers hostage inside the theater. Mel is saved by a Chinese woman, but is forced to leave her best friend behind. With her city in shambles and the body count rising, Mel’s on her own while she searches for her mother. Will her brain cooperate long enough for her to put her family back together?
Between Before & After, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry (February 5)
This mother-daughter story follows fourteen-year-old Molly in 1955 San Jose, as she struggles with school, friendships, her parents’ divorce, and her mother Elaine’s growing depression. Elaine, a writer obsessed with other people’s life stories who can’t seem to engage with her own, feels like a ticking time bomb to Molly, and even as she needs her mother most, Molly spends the summer avoiding her while also taking care of her little brother. Then Molly’s uncle becomes famous, and Elaine is thrust out of the world of other people’s biographies, allowing Molly to finally dig into her mother’s past…and find a family mystery that dates back to 1918 New York and could make or break their family. The book alternates between both 1918 and 1955 timelines, for a tale of family secrets that spans the country.
An Affair of Poisons, by Addie Thorley (February 26)
There’s just something about French royalty, and about books with main characters who accidentally help kill them. That’s the situation Mirabelle Monvoisin is in, after she unknowingly helped her mother, a member of the Shadow Society, poison King Louis XIV. Now she’s trying to assuage her guilt by creating medicines instead of poisons, but none of it erases the past and what she and the society have done. Meanwhile, the assassination of the king and half the royal court with him forces royal bastard Josse de Bourbon to claim a position he was never meant to hold: prince. But how can he crawl from his hiding spot in the sewers to take the throne? It will take meeting Mirabelle, and even though technically they’re enemies, they both have a more immediate common enemy in mind: the Shadow Society. Now they must work together to unite the commoners and former nobility, but can they trust each other?
Lovely War, by Julie Berry (March 5)
Olympian Gods meet WWI in this unique historical fantasy by Printz Honor author Berry in which Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, shows her husband Hephaestus love’s true meaning and the ways it’s connected to art and war by telling him the story of two wartime couples. There’s Hazel, a British pianist, and James, a soldier; as well as Aubrey, an African American jazz musician, and Colette, a Belgian war orphan who happens to be a gorgeous singer. The couples’ stories intertwine when Hazel follows James’s report to duty and takes a wartime volunteer position in France, where she meets Colette and introduces her to Aubrey. As war ravages everything around them and threatens the relationships they’ve forged, Hazel and Colette cling together in friendship, faith, art, love, and the hopes that they’ll see their men again.
Within These Lines, by Stephanie Morrill (March 5)
Life is pretty typical for Italian American Evalina in 1941 San Francisco, until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, who happens to be the son of Japanese immigrants. Then the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor hits, and racist sentiment against Japanese immigrants hits an all-time high, resulting in Taichi and his family losing everything and being forced into an internment camp. Manzanar Relocation Center is miserable for Taichi, with the exception of the bright spots in his days when letters come from his love. Evalina is determined to use her privilege to help Taichi speak out against the injustice happening to his community, but will camp infighting take him down before she can effect any change?
In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton (April 9)
You might not think a book set in 1959 could feel wildly relevant, but wow does this YA set in Atlanta that explores anti-Semitism in the south during the Civil Rights era feel incredibly on point after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In both cases, the synagogue was specifically targeted for being not just a place of worship for Jews but for being active participants in the eternal American fight against racism. In the case of Carlton’s poignant novel, the rabbi at Shir Shalom is a strong advocate for integration, something protagonist Ruth feels she wants to advocate for too, in any way she can. But she’s already a secret outsider in the south, keeping her Judaism a secret from her new friends and especially her new boyfriend, who assume that she’s as Christian as her mother, who was once their town’s social queen. They don’t know her mother converted to Judaism later, or that her recently deceased father was Jewish, and Ruth, who’s finally learning to be happy again since losing her father, knows telling them means risking everything. But then the synagogue is bombed, and Ruth thinks she knows who did it. She’ll have to pick a side, but which one will it be and what will she lose in choosing it?
Romanov, by Nadine Brandes (May 7)
The Romanovs are one of my greatest weaknesses, so I am dying of excitement for this fantasy take that finds Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov on the run with an ancient spell in her suitcase that might be the only thing that can save her family from exile in Siberia. With the leader of the Bolshevik army on her tail, Nastya has only two choices: release the spell, or get sexy soldier Zash to help her. What’s more dangerous: releasing the magic when she’s only a sporadic user? Or trusting a Bolshevik whose job it will ultimately be to see her dead?
Everything Grows, by Aimee Herman (May 7)
Yes, yes, the ’90s counts as historical fiction now, so get that grumbling out of your system and fire up some Nirvana and Bikini Kill! Despite having 64 titles in the LGBTQA previews, I still managed to miss one, so for lucky number 65, check out this one set in 1993 and starring fifteen-year-old Eleanor, who’s not sure how to react to the news that her bully has died by suicide. Cutting off her hair seems to be one way, and then there’s the class assignment to write a letter to someone who’ll never receive it…that lets her get out some feelings about James, too. Meanwhile, his death and her feelings about it aren’t all that are on her mind; she’s dealing with her mother’s mental illness and questions about her gender and sexuality, and it’ll take making and breaking relationships and forging a support system to help her find her way through.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany Jackson (May 21)
And speaking of new YAs set in the ’90s! This Weekend at Bernie‘s-esque story of three friends who team up to create a powerhouse hip-hop career for their slain best friend/brother by using boxes of his old tracks they found after his murder may seem like a departure from Jackson’s earlier work, and in a way it is—it’s definitely more comedic, it’s got multiple points of view, and the passion for music and hip-hop culture flows so strong, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and rhymes, especially if you happen to know just about every track referenced throughout. But fans of her first two novels will recognize both the way the plot is driven by headlines and a focus on those so often forgotten by the media and the rest of the world, whose lives are treated as disposable. Jackson’s care, knowledge, and passion shine through everything she does, and it’s clear that however much her work changes it up, it’ll always be worth a read.
The Language of Fire, by Stephanie Hemphill (June 11)
This novel in verse looks at the life of Joan of Arc, aka Jehanne, an illiterate peasant who never really fit in at home. Then she hears a voice calling her, telling her she’s destined for greatness, and realizes it’s God summoning her to save France. She runs away, disguises herself as a man, and convinces an army to let her lead them, promising a victory for France despite the odds against her. If you’re a fan of a category where teens are the heroes, how can you not love and read all things Joan of Arc?
Queen of the Sea, by Dylan Meconis (June 25)
Okay, this one is more of a reimagining than straight-up historical fiction, but look at those gorgeous graphics; could I possibly leave this one out, especially knowing it’s based on Queen Elizabeth I’s exile by her sister, Queen Mary? This hybrid novel details the life of Queen Eleanor of Albion once her sister takes the throne, banishing her to an island off the coast of her kingdom where she lives amid the nuns at a convent. But they’re not the only ones on the island; there’s also Margaret, a young orphan whose life changes in unexpected ways on Eleanor’s arrival. When the former queen’s life is endangered, Margaret will have to decide whether it’s worth risking her own life to save it.