Attempting to branch out from mysteries, I picked up some YA historical fiction from my library. I went for World War II, since that’s a topic I enjoy learning about. I have to admit, they’re not the easiest or most uplifting things to read one after the other. There’s not a lot of lightness or happiness, and it was kind of draining. Largely, though, they’re all good books and important – it’s just a good idea to take breaks with less substantial stories in between! It’s a very diverse subject, and I’ve tried to pick books with a variety of narrators and settings.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
It’s hard to rate a book like this. This is not the kind of book you read for fun. It’s very grim and dark, and not very hopeful. It’s a good coming-of-age story, well-written with very human characters, but the unrelenting suffering makes it difficult and sometimes unpleasant to read. Between Shades of Gray is an important book, though, covering a part of 1940s/WWII history that I don’t see talked about much. It’s not a light read, and I can’t see many teens picking it up to read for enjoyment. Young adults (and regular adults!) who like WWII history may enjoy it more.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
This, too, is not a terribly “fun” book, but it is more hopeful than Between Shades of Gray. It is quite grim, though. The harsh realities of a concentration camp – starvation and humiliation, medical experiments on prisoners and the constant threat of execution – are not an easy read. However, Rose Under Fire is told in a non-linear diary format that gives the reader the relief of knowing that some of the characters they’ve become attached to will survive. A few plot elements were less than believable (Rose is American and English and German and so on and so on. The escape toward the end had me raising my eyebrows.), which was only annoying because the rest of the book was so grounded. Rose Under Fire really took time to wind down the story after he climax, which I appreciated.
Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
I found this one rather disjointed. It skips very quickly in time, and the pacing is strange. Some chapters are told in different POV, which I’m not sure added to the story. The prose was very simple, more suited to a children’s novel than a young adult book. It didn’t have the gravity and sense of danger that the other WWII YA books I read did. Shadow on the Mountain is based very closely on the life of a real person, and it would have done better as an in-depth nonfiction book, rather than skimming through the basics as this book ultimately did.
Hunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salisbury
This one probably would have been a five-star book if it hadn’t started out so slowly. There’s a point about halfway through where the pacing picks up. This is another book that deserved to be longer. It easily could have added another hundred pages and not suffered for it. It’s a good adventure story, and I liked the main character, although I would have liked to know him better.
Invasion by Walter Dean Myers
This is a great war novel. It has great pacing, and Myers is excellent at drawing characters quickly (which is very important in a book where characters die and are replaced frequently!). It’s set during the D-Day Invasion and subsequent march through France, and makes it stark and real to the reader. It doesn’t add anything really new to the “naive kid goes off to war” narrative, but I don’t expect that in a YA novel. My main concern was the connection to Myers other books: he includes an ancestor of his other protagonists, but the character only shows up for a few pages and contributes nothing to the story. He’s even on the cover! The story really could have either done without him, or given him a real role. Other than that I believe it’s a great choice for anyone who likes a good war narrative.
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
This is…. not so much a novel as it is a nonfiction story being told by a fictional character. It’s not a character-driven book; it’s very much driven by the plot. And the plot isn’t so much a plot as it is the narrator teaching the history of the Navajo code talkers to his grandchildren. If it weren’t so obvious that Bruchac has done his research and is genuinely passionate about what he’s writing, I probably would have given it less stars. It’s an educational story rather than entertainment. It was shelved in the children’s section of my library, but I think it’s suitable for young adults as well.