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    10 Historical YA Fiction Books Set In 20th Century America

    Learn 20th century American history in the most enjoyable way possible: through great YA fiction!

    1. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

    Penguin Randomhouse, Via staceyhlee.com

    Release date: May 24, 2016

    What it's about: Arguably America's biggest single event of the first decade of the 20th century was the San Francisco earthquake, as depicted in brilliantly enlightening fashion in Lee's sophomore novel, about a Chinese American girl named Mercy Wong who finally carved a potential path out of poverty only to find herself surrounded by an entirely broken city when disaster strikes. Now Mercy has to use all the clever skills that first got her into all-white boarding school to help care for an entire school of girls and their families who aren't used to scraping by.

    For another glimpse at 1906, set on the other side of the country, try Jennifer Donnelly's Printz Honor-winning A Northern Light.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    2. Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

    Bloomsbury YA, en.wikipedia.org

    Release date: Jan. 14, 2020

    What it's about: Don't miss Bolden's earlier YAs if you want a glimpse at 19th century America, but for early 20th century, this is the one. Savannah Riddle is a wealthy Black girl living in Washington D.C. on the verge of 1919's Red Summer, and she's getting a little tired of all the trappings that come with her station. Then she meets Lloyd, a West Indian working class man who opens her eyes to all the ways the country could and should be different, sparking her activism in socialism, anti-racism, and women's suffrage.

    For more American history set during the 1910s, check out Shame the Stars by; Lovely War by Julie Berry, a mashup of historical fiction, Greek mythology, and romance about World Wars I and II; and Between Before & After by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, which is partially set during the 1918 flu epidemic.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    3. The Diviners by Libba Bray

    Little, Brown, en.wikipedia.org

    Release date: May 24, 2016

    What it's about: Bray's iconic supernatural mystery series takes readers into the heart of New York City in 1926, following with recent transplant (a nicer word for the newly exiled) Evangeline O'Neill. Forced to live with her occult-obsessed uncle, Evie is determined to keep her own power as a Diviner a secret. But when she realizes it could help catch a killer, she has to decide whether she's ready to be open about who she is and what she can do.

    For another book that captures the Prohibition era of the 1920s, try delightful queer murder mystery The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    4. All the Stars Denied by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

    Lee & Low/Tu Books, guadalupegarciamccall.com

    Release date: Oct. 9, 2018

    What it's about: YA historical fiction staple McCall gives the Great Depression of the 1930s an award-winner alternative gaze to Steinbeck in this companion to Shame the Stars, centering the growing racial divide between white farmers and Mexican Americans in the Texan dust bowl. It's told through the eyes of Estrella, a Tejana who's sick of her people being treated like garbage and decides to protest. But when that gets her family targeted for deportation, she'll have to fight her way back to a home that doesn't seem to want her.

    For more on the 1930s, check out Coretta Scott King Honor book X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon, on the early life of Malcolm X; Printz Honor book Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, about a romance threatened by segregation in Texas; and Starstruck by Rachel Shukert, set in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

    Get it from Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    5. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

    Penguin Books, sherrilsmith.com

    Release date: Jan. 21, 2009

    What it's about: There are a great number of YA novels set around WWII, but they're dominated by European settings that view the war from other fronts. Smith's award-winning historical stars an aspiring pilot named Ida Mae Jones who's desperate to join the war efforts, and who finally sees a chance when a branch of the air force is created specifically for women. But Ida Mae's father was Black, which excludes her from joining...unless she opts to pass as white.

    For more great YA on America's racially marginalized during WWII and its aftermath, check out Joseph Bruchac's notable Code Talkers, about Navajo heroes, and George Takei's graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, about his time in internment. For an entirely different glimpse of the 1940s, try Dead to Me by Mary McCoy, which is essentially what LA Confidential would look like as a YA novel.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    6. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

    Speak, Starowieyska Magda / Via rutasepetys.com

    Release date: Feb. 12, 2013

    What it's about: There's no making a post about historical YA fiction without including something by Sepetys, whose bestselling, award-winning works include Between Shades of Gray, Salt to the Sea, and The Fountains of Silence. But set in the U.S., we turn to this story of 1950 New Orleans and a girl named Josie who's determined to leave it for college until the investigation of a mysterious death keeps her trapped.

    For more of 1950s America, keep an eye out for Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, releasing January 19, 2021.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    7. Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Robyn Von Swank / Via sarvenaztash.com

    Release date: May 19, 2015

    What it's about: The '60s were an incredibly tumultuous decade in American history, but Tash's debut tackles one of its most fun parts: Woodstock, a three-day music festival at which Cora's volunteering as a medic and Michael's just trying to have a good time while he figures out his future. When the two meet, the chemistry is undeniable, but they've only got three days to have the time of their lives before they have to face what's next.

    For more on the 1960s, check out Kekla Magoon's award-winning Civil Rights-centric The Rock and the River; Sekret by Lindsay Smith, which kicks off a paranormal spy duology about the Cold War (the powers may be fictional but Smith's expertise on Russia is very real); and Pulp by Robin Talley, which is told in a dual timeline, half of which explores the Lavender Scare.

    Get it from Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    8. Burn, Baby, Burn by Meg Medina

    Candlewick, Penelope M. Carrington

    Release date: Mar. 8, 2016

    What it's about: Medina's critically acclaimed historical pulls readers into New York City's most notorious summer: 1977, also known as the Summer of Sam, when the city was terrorized by a serial killer and Nora was 17 and desperate to get out of her toxic home. When Nora meets a guy who could provide some welcome solace, she's faced with the impossible choice of getting the respite she needs at the risk of it making her Son of Sam's next target.

    See more angles of the 1970s from Kent State by Deborah Wiles, about the notorious college campus shooting, and Yellow Butterfly by Thanhhà Lai, which follows Vietnamese refugee Hằng's quest to save the brother she left behind while getting settled in Texas.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    9. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

    harpercollins, Marc Ohrem-leclef / Via harpercollins.com

    Release date: June 4, 2019

    What it's about: While YA has a bunch of books set in the '80s that capture the fun of the music and simpler technological times, few tackle the tremendous health crisis that was definitional for the decade, especially among the gay community. Nazemian does it beautifully in this novel set in 1989 New York City and starring three teens affected by the AIDS crisis in different ways. Art and Judy are best friends, but things get messy when closeted Reza moves to the city and begins dating Judy, only for him and Art to end up falling for each other in secret. Neither one wants to risk their relationships by sharing the truth, but with tragedy constantly looming, how can the boys give up a chance for true love while they've got it?

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    10. The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

    Simon & Schuster, goodreads.com

    Release date: Aug. 4, 2020

    What it's about: The LA riots and Rodney King come to life behind the coming-of-age of Ashley, a privileged Black girl in 1992 Los Angeles who's never given much thought to the world beyond her circle until racial tensions flare and she realizes just who has her back in this world. She also learns who doesn't, especially when her politically active sister jumps into the fray, and the rude awakening has her thinking hard about her choices for who belongs in her future.

    To further capture the '90s, check out the brilliant hip hop-centric Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson, Katie Cotugno's delightful snapshot of the boy band craze with Fireworks, and Jessie Ann Foley's wildly critically acclaimed and 1993-set The Carnival at Bray.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

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