It’s great being able to pick up a contemporary YA when you’re in the mood for some gritty modern-day reality, and a historical YA when you need those historical feels. But it’s even more awesome when you can pick up both in one. Here are five dual timeline YAs set in both the past and the present. They bring us different centuries, different countries, and different experiences, all juxtaposed with stories set right now (or close enough). Because sometimes, you really need the past in order to truly understand the present.
Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
Andi is angry. Really angry. Hulk-level angry. At her father because he left, at her mom for not being able to cope. She’s also being torn apart by grief over the loss of her younger brother. So when her father decides to drag her to Paris for winter break, you can guess how she feels about that (spoiler: angry emoji). It’s only after she discovers a very old journal that her mood starts to shift. Despite the centuries separating them, Andi connects with Alexandrine, the author of the journal, as Alex navigates (and narrates) her way through the tumultuous time of the French Revolution. Donnelly weaves a moving, emotional tale, bringing Revolutionary Paris to life and giving us a vivid, sharply drawn, and utterly compelling heroine doing everything she can not to fall apart.
In Darkness, by Nick Lake
It’s 2010. Wannabe gangsta Shorty is 15, and has just been brought into a hospital in Haiti with a bullet wound…when the hospital collapses in the earthquake that devastated much of the island. Trapped in the rubble, Shorty relives the moments in his life that brought him to this point. As Shorty drifts in and out of consciousness, he dreams he is Toussaint L’Ouverture, an eighteenth-century slave who led a brutal revolution against the French colonists. The narrative jumps back and forth between Shorty and Toussaint, who has visions of being a gangster in the future, trapped in the aftermath of a natural disaster. What is their connection? Why do they seem to share memories and experiences? It’s a richly depicted, gritty, violent, and powerful story, made more so by the twin narratives.
Crow Mountain, by Lucy Inglis
If you like your YA with romance, rugged cowboys, and historical narratives, you’re going to love this. When Hope arrives in Montana from London, she’s an unwilling passenger, accompanying her mother on a research trip. But when Caleb Crow (rugged cowboy alert!) picks them up from the airport, Hope reconsiders her position. As Hope and Caleb spend more time together (away from Hope’s disapproving mother), they discover a diary labeled Montana, 1867. It belonged to Emily Forsythe, another British teenager forced to travel to Montana. As Caleb and Hope read the journal, we see the ways Emily’s story mirrors Hope’s to a spooky degree. This is a Western about love, freedom, and finding yourself.
Far from Home, by Na’ima Robert
Two teens, separated by 35 years, live at the same Zimbabwean farm, staring at the same baobab tree, both happy…until their worlds get torn apart. In the past, Tariro loves her home, her family, the boy she dreams of marrying, and the baobab tree she was born beneath. But all that changes when white settlers arrive bringing violence, forcing her family to move far away and start over with nothing. In the present day, Katie, daughter of a white farmer, loves the farm and the tree and her fancy boarding school. But when something terrible happens (no spoilers!), Katie and her family are forced to leave everything behind and go to London. The novel tells the stories of these girls uprooted from their homes and ultimately connected by a much darker secret, against the backdrop of Zimbabwe’s violent and conflicted history.
Conversion, by Katherine Howe
St. Joan’s Academy, present day: Colleen and her clique are powering their way through their ultra-high-pressured final year of high school, keeping their GPAs as high as possible in the race to gain acceptance to top colleges, when something weird happens: One of Colleen’s friends collapses in class. Soon, other girls are developing violent tics, having seizures, and displaying all kinds of other unusual symptoms. Meanwhile, in 1706, Ann, a young teen from Salem, is seeing and experiencing the same things among girls her age. Ann is based on a real figure from the Salem witch trials, the only one who admitted she and her friends were lying about their accusations. Howe bounces us between Ann and Colleen’s stories as the truth begins to emerge: What’s really going on in Salem and St. Joan’s? Arthur Miller’s The Crucible features prominently in this spooky and intriguing novel.