Our Most Anticipated Historical Fiction for the Second Half of 2019

Historical fiction is one of YA’s most underappreciated genres, as anyone who’s tried to research exactly how characters would’ve “turned on the lights” in a room in any given century can tell you, but with millennia of source material, there are some YA authors who just keep knocking it out of the park. This season, we get a couple of glorious titles from some of the biggest names in YA historical fiction, and a bunch of exciting new voices to join the crowd.

The Last Word, by Samantha Hastings (July 9)
Lucinda Leavitt may be be living in 1861, but as a fellow book lover, I can definitely empathize with her problem: the author of her favorite serialized novel has died before finishing the story, and she’s desperate to know how it ends. Thus begins a search that takes Lucinda and her father’s young business partner, David, traveling around England to find the author’s old haunts and maybe, just maybe, how the story would conclude. But for the pair, it seems their story is just beginning….

Ziggy, Stardust and Me, by James Brandon (August 6)
Always exciting to have a new voice in queer historical, so I’m very excited about Brandon’s debut, set in 1973 against the backdrop of Vietnam and Watergate, when homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. Jonathan is sixteen, anxious, asthmatic, and a frequent target of bullies, with few places to go for solace. His favorite of all is his own imagination, complete with a hero in the form of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and conversations with dead relatives, including his mother, that help get him through. As he undergoes treatment to “fix” his being gay, Jonathan hopes for success that’ll finally make him feel normal. That is, until he meets the mysterious Web, who makes him want to be similarly fearless, and who makes him want to be exactly who he is.

The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee (August 13)
My love for every single thing Stacey Lee ever touches is well documented, and she continues to earn my fandom in spades with her newest, about a girl named Jo who bounces back from losing her job as a milliner’s assistant to become a lady’s maid at the very house that let her go prior to that. The “lady” in question is none other than Caroline, a girl Jo doesn’t like much more now than when they were children. Luckily, she’s got another preoccupation: anonymously serving as an agony aunt for a paper run by the family who owns the basement Jo and her guardian secretly reside in. Jo isn’t looking for credit (nor can she claim it, as she knows people would never listen to her advice if they knew there was a Chinese American girl behind it); she just wants to help the Bells, the family that’s unknowingly helped her all these years. But “Dear Miss Sweetie” is lighting Atlanta up with its progressive messages about suffrage and segregation, and keeping her identity quiet is getting trickier and trickier, especially as she finds herself growing closer to Nathan Bell.

Butterfly Yellow, by Thanhha Lai (September 3)
The Việt Nam War is nearly over when Hằng makes her way to the airport with her little brother, dead-set on getting them both to America. Then her life changes in an instant when Linh is ripped from her arms and Hằng is left behind. It’s six more years until she makes it to Texas as a refugee, and there she meets LeeRoy, an aspiring cowboy who agrees to help her try to find Linh. But their success isn’t all she dreamed it would be when the siblings are reunited and Hằng learns Linh doesn’t remember a thing, including who she is.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, by Laura Ruby (October 1)
YA fans already know Ruby well from her Printz-winning Bone Gap, but she’s changing up genres with her newest, set in Chicago during World War II and starring Frankie, who’s living with her siblings in an orphanage after the death of her mother and disappearance of her father. Her dad was supposed to return as soon as he made enough money to take care of them, but when he shows up for a weekend visit that turns out to be his final goodbye as he takes off for greener pastures with his new wife, Frankie and her sister, Toni, are now on their own, forcing Frankie to figure out how to make a life in a world that’s burning to embers around them.

The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys (October 22)
I’m not sure anyone’s made as big a name for themselves in historical fiction as repeated New York Times bestseller Sepetys, so it’s always a thrill when she comes back with a new historical. Set in 1957 Madrid, under Franco’s fascist dictatorship, Fountains centers on wealthy Daniel Matheson, new to his mother’s birth country, and eager to learn more about it as a photographer. But when taking pictures leads him to Ana, he learns the country so popular with rich tourists and foreign businessmen like his father is filled with dark, oppressive secrets, some of which are well revealed by his photos. Now he’s torn between helping to shed light on the truth about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and protecting the people he loves.

Across a Broken Shore, by Amy Trueblood (November 5)
Willa isn’t interested in becoming a nun, but as the only daughter in an Irish-Catholic family in 1936, that’s exactly what her family has planned for her. Her own dream of joining the medical field is a deeply kept secret, though she manages to sneak to a medical clinic in San Francisco every day to help a female doctor there. But when Willa agrees to help the doctor at a field hospital near the Golden Gate bridge’s new construction, she falls for a young ironworker, throwing her family’s plans even further out the window. With a dangerous occupation and love on the horizon, how much longer can Willa stay safe and keep her secret?

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