Introducing reviews of noteworthy YA novels set in World War II, an article in School Library Journal summed up the appeal of World War II fiction beautifully:
Though textbooks are full of facts about World War II, historical fiction often offers up more teachable moments. By the time students get to middle or high school, many have been introduced to World War II and the Holocaust throughThe Diary of Anne Frank. Expand their knowledge of this global conflict and tragedy with these titles that look at the war from a variety of perspectives. –School Library Journal, 11/4/2009
Historical novels focusing on World War II can be full of adventure and intensity in pacing, tone and even imagery. The time period makes a good setting for fast-paced adventures incorporating some of the intellect puzzles of mystery, and sometimes a mood of suspense: helping with the war effort, uncovering spies, cracking codes, and even flying into battle. Teens are likely to read novels describing the harsh and brutal realities of deprivation and imprisonment during the Holocaust as part of school curricula, rather than as pleasure reading. Although teens are less likely to choose these novels for pleasure reading, they offer an important way to connect emotionally, and grapple with understanding a troubling time period.
Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis
Knopf, 2009, 352 pages. .An inter-generational storyline is the basis for “Mare’s War (Knopf, $16.99, 352 pp.). Two sisters’ cross-country trip with their sportscar-driving grandmother Mare alternates with Mare’s engrossing flashbacks to her service in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II. The WWII chapters are so compelling, and Mare’s story is so interesting that the modern interlude feels like an interruption.
Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac (Speak, 2005, 240 pages) tells a story not often covered in World War II history books or history classes. During the war, the U.S. government recruited Navajos as radio operators, to encode messages in their native language, which would be incomprehensible to spies. Told from the perspective of Ned Begay, a Navajo teen, it’s a fascinating window into the Navajo experience, as well as a less-well known aspect of World War II.
Books I Haven’t Read Yet that Really Look Good:
From the Adult Shelf:
Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery
by James R. Benn
Soho Press 2006, 294 pages.
Billy Boyle was just starting his career as a cop in South Boston when World War II broke out. Not wanting to risk his neck on the front lines, he used a family connection to land what he hoped would be a cushy job… But he’s in for a surprise: the branch of his family tree in the US Army turns out to be none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wants Billy to use his police skills and be a private investigator within the army, in this blend of World War II history with solid detective novel. The series continues across six books, with the seventh due out this fall.
Age rating: 15 and up, for wartime violence, murder mystery, and Billy doing some relatively chaste ogling of women, in a stereotype private eye sort of way.