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Updated by Jen Blair on Dec 06, 2021
Headline for Best Historical Fiction 2021
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Best Historical Fiction 2021

Historical fiction doesn’t necessarily mean stories about covered wagons. But it does mean that you will read about young people living without cell phones and still sharing their common experiences and emotions. Because some things never change.

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

All These Bodies - Kendare Blake

In a tribute to In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s nonfiction story of a shocking murder of an entire family, All These Bodies is the story of one young man’s attempts to understand the circumstances surrounding a serial killer in his small mid-Western town and coming to better understand himself in the process.

From the publisher:
Summer 1958. A gruesome killer plagues the Midwest, leaving behind a trail of bodies completely drained of blood.

Michael Jensen, an aspiring journalist whose father happens to be the town sheriff, never imagined that the Bloodless Murders would come to his backyard. Not until the night the Carlson family was found murdered in their home. Marie Catherine Hale, a diminutive fifteen-year-old, was discovered at the scene—covered in blood. She is the sole suspect in custody.

Michael didn’t think that he would be part of the investigation, but he is pulled in when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz

The Awakening of Malcolm X - Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson

This is the continuing saga of Malcolm X’s youth, written by his daughter and one of our greatest working YA thriller writers, Tiffany D. Jackson. And yes, you will see her name a LOT on my lists. Because she’s that good. This story is about Malcolm X’s teen years, the majority of which were spent in jail. There are many layers to this story, but the main thing that I took away from reading this book was the fact that so little has changed in America since the 1940’s.

From the publisher:
While in Charlestown Prison in the 1940s, young Malcolm Little reads all the books in the library, joins the debate team and the Nation of Islam, and emerges as Malcolm X.

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu

Bad Girls Never Say Die - Jennifer Mathieu

A retelling of The Outsiders, this is told from the female perspective, but the main story is still true, these girls might be from the “wrong side of the tracks,” but there is NO ONE else you would want on your side when things get really tough.

From the publisher:
In this gender-flipping reimagining of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders set in 1964 Houston, Evie must redefine what it means to be a bad girl and rethink everything she knows about loyalty after she is saved from the unimaginable by a good girl from the "right" side of the tracks.

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious, #4) by Maureen Johnson

The Box in the Woods - Maureen Johnson

Technically this is the fourth book in the Stevie Bell Truly Devious mystery series, but you can read it without reading the first three as this is a stand-alone story. It’s 1978 and there have been a series of unsolved murders at a summer camp. Who better to try and solve them than Stevie and her band of best friends? This installment is my favorite of the entire series. Perfection.

From the publisher:
After solving the greatest unsolved mystery of the century, Stevie Bell goes undercover as a camp counselor to investigate the strange going-ons at Camp Wonder Falls--the site of the infamous "Box in the Woods" murders.

Bluebird by Sharon Cameron

Bluebird - Sharon Cameron

A post-WWII immigrant from Germany arrives in NYC with her sister, wanting to put her past behind her. But she has too many secrets that she tries to hide, causing even more to come out with disastrous effects. Spies, Nazis, romance, this book has it ALL.

From the publisher:
In 1946 Eva arrives in New York City, from the rubble of Berlin, supposedly looking for a new life, but actually seeking justice against the Nazis that "escaped" with the help of the CIA; one in particular, the doctor who knows who Eva really is, because her identity is the product Project Bluebird, an experiment of the concentration camps involving brainwashing and mind control, which both the Americans and the Soviets would like access to--and Eva does not know if she can trust anyone she meets, least of all Jake Katz, the young man she is attracted to.

Concrete Rose (The Hate U Give, #0) by Angie Thomas | Goodreads

Concrete Rose - Angie Thomas

Who was my favorite character in The Hate U Give? Maverick. Without a doubt. So what a gift for me to be able to read this prequel that explains how he came to be the rocking-est dad (and human) ever.

From the publisher:
A gang leader's son finds his effort to go straight for the sake of his child challenged by a loved one's brutal murder.

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

I will read anything that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock writes. Even a short story collection. Which I usually avoid. But this series of interlocking stories will have you spellbound. Small towns are only small in size, their stories are large.

From the publisher:
In this book, the impact of wildfire, a wayward priest, or a mysterious disappearance ricochet across communities, threading through stories. Here, ordinary actions such as ice skating or going to church reveal hidden truths. One choice threatens a lifelong friendship. Siblings save each other. Rescue and second chances are possible, and so is revenge.

On the surface, it seems that nothing ever happens in these towns. But Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock shows that underneath that surface, teenagers' lives blaze with fury, with secrets, and with love so strong it burns a path to the future.

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray You - Ruta Sepetys

It is cheating to name this book, because it doesn’t come out until February 2022, but I have read it already and how can you include a list of historical YA without including the MASTER, Ruta Sepetys? Set in 1980’s Romania, under the authoritarian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, Cristian and his family struggle to find freedom when they aren’t allowed to trust even their closest friends or family members.

From the publisher:
Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He's left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves--or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

The Nobleman's Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks (Montague Siblings, #3)

The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks - Mackenzi Lee

I loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. I loved The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy even more. But the final book in this series brings all the Montague siblings together for the first time and simply blew me away with its tale of mental illness, integrity, love, and resilience, while still making me laugh out loud. Monty always makes me laugh. But I didn’t think he would make me cry. The best in the series. By far. Worth the wait.

From the publisher:
Desperate to escape his father's high expectations and his own grief in the aftermath of his mother's passing, sole heir Adrian Montague embarks on a search for his disowned siblings after discovering that he is not an only child.

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow

So Many Beginnings - Bethany C. Morrow

How can Little Women be considered a “universal story” if it doesn’t include any Black Americans even though it takes place during the American Civil War? It can’t. Luckily, we have this remix with all the universal themes of sisterhood, ambition, family, romance, and feminism, but in a way that doesn’t erase half of the American population. This is the only version you will want to read.

From the publisher:
At the Freedman's Colony of Roanoke Island, a haven for the recently emancipated, the four March sisters--Meg, Joanna, Bethlehem, and Amethyst--come into their own as independent young Black women together facing love, sickness, heartbreak, and new horizons.