Historical Fiction Suggestions

Looking for a good historical story? Maybe you will find a book to love on this list!

Colonial Period

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
(2000, Aladdin Paperbacks)

  • The History: In 1793, Philadelphia was struck with an epidemic of yellow fever that was one of the deadliest epidemics in US history.
  • The Story: Mattie Cook and her mother run a successful coffeehouse, but when her mother is stricken with yellow fever, Mattie has to shoulder responsibility in a world where everything has changed.
  • Reading Level: Young Adult.  My 12-year-old liked it.
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth): I thought Mattie seemed a little "modern" in her attitudes (I especially think it now that I've read Anderson's Speak), but the story was entertaining and taught me about some history I didn't know about before. 

Hannah Fowler by Janice Holt Giles 
(1956, Houghton Mifflin)

  • The History: Although technically this book is set during the beginning years of the Revolutionary War, the story takes place on the Kentucky frontier, which is so far removed from the war front it seems to fit better in this category.
  • The Story: After her father dies following an accident, gangly Hannah Moore marries Tice Fowler and works with him to create a farm in the Kentucky wilderness. They face many challenges, including Hannah being kidnapped during an Indian raid.
  • Reading Level: Adult (but I read it as a teen)
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth): This has long been one of my favorite books.

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent 
(2008, Back Bay Books)

  • The History: The story is set during the Salem witch trials.
  • The Story: The book is a fictionalized account of the real story of one of the author's ancestors, Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch. The story is told through the eyes of Martha's young daughter, Sarah (who is also jailed for months).
  • Reading Level: Adult, but appropriate for older teens
  • Other: There's a little sexual content that helps set up the problems that lead to Martha being accused of witchcraft.
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth): It's pretty awful to read about the way this family was persecuted and to think that sort of thing really happened.

The Serpent Never Sleeps by Scott O'Dell 
(1987, Ballentine Books)
  • The History: The book touches on a variety of topics from the early 17th century, including King James' personality, the travel experience to the New World, and the desperate struggle to survive in Jamestown.
  • The Story: The man Serena Lynn loves murders a servant and tries to escape by going to the Jamestown settlement in Britain's American colony. Serena follows him, living through a hurricane at sea, being run aground in Bermuda, and finally making friends with Pocahontas in Jamestown.
  • Reading Level: Young Adult.
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth): The book seemed to be lacking in emotional impact. While I did learn about the beginnings of white settlement in this country, the characters in the story were rather flat and underdeveloped, so I didn't especially enjoy the book.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare 
(1958, Houghton Mifflin)
  • The History: The story is set against the backdrop of Puritan persecution of Quakers and the suspicion of witchcraft in the early colonies.
  • The Story: Orphaned Kit Tyler comes from Barbados to Puritan Massachusetts and finds herself as out of place as a tropical parrot. She is eventually accused of witchcraft and is rescued by the bravery of Nat Eaton and the timid, young Prudence Cruff.
  • Reading Level: Young Adult (but my 12-year-old liked it)
  • Other: Newberry Award winner
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth): This is another of my all-time favorites.
Revolutionary War

The Big Knives by Bruce Lancaster 
(1964, Little, Brown & Co.)

  • The History: The book covers an aspect of the Revolutionary War that often is lost in the emphasis on the eastern battles - the campaign to secure the Northwest Territory for the new United States. The story follows the expedition led by George Rogers Clark that captured Kaskaskia and Vincennes in the Illinois Country.
  • The Story: Markham Cape, the wandering son of a Boston shipping family, is caught up in Clark's campaign and fights with Clark's Kentucky and Virginia volunteers to take the British fort in Vincennes.
  • Reading Level: Adult, but also appropriate for young adults
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth!): I thought this book was sort of ridiculous in its hero-worship of George Rogers Clark, and then I found out it's pretty well-deserved. Some parts of Markham's story seem a little draggy, but overall this is worth reading as an account of a nearly-forgotten aspect of history.

Independent Heart by Juliet Waldron
(2004, Hard Shell Word Factory)

  • The History: Set against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War in New York, this book introduced me to the Dutch settlers of the colonies and to the New York frontier.
  • The Story: Handsome stranger Jack Carter helps Angelica TenBroeck flees New York City to escape a forced marriage to a cruel British officer. Along their journey, they fall in love and marry, but Jack has secrets that may tear him away from Angelica.
  • Reading Level: Adult
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth): I like a good love story, but I'm not really a fan of romance novels. This book edges toward some of the cliches of romance novels but stays just far enough away to have kept my interest.

Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston in Revolt by Esther Forbes (1943, Dell)

  • The History: The book covers the period between the early stirrings of revolution and the battles of Concord/Lexington.
  • The Story: Life is turned upside-down for Johnny Tremain, a silversmith's clever apprentice, when a horrible accident leaves him unable to practice his trade. Destitute and desperate, he's taken in by a family involved with the spread of revolutionary ideas. Eventually, he discovers a secret about his own family and makes a choice that places him squarely alongside the patriots.
  • Reading Level: Young Adult
  • Other: Newberry Award
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth!): I love this book. Johnny Tremain is one of my favorite literary characters ever, and his fictional story is woven into historical events in a credible way.

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier (1974)
  • The History: This book begins with the battle of Lexington/Concord and continues through the first couple of years of the war. It takes place in a mostly Tory town in Connecticut. 
  • The Story: Tim Meeker's Loyalist family is thrown into uproar when oldest son, Sam, joins the rebels. The story shows how the war causes loss for the family, not only through economic troubles, but through disappearance and death.
  • Reading Level: Young Adult
  • Other: Newberry Honor book; some profanity
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth!): This book is a gritty and unblinking view of the toll war can take on the people living through it. 

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The History: This book is set during the British occupation of New York City during the Revolutionary War and includes a good picture of slavery in the colonial/revolutionary period. Although Isabel is a slave in a Loyalist household, she befriends Curzon, a slave to a patriot, and he convinces her to spy for the rebels.
  • The Story: Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are sold to a couple of Loyalists who take the sisters to New York City. Isabel struggles to keep from being pulled into hopelessness by the cruelty of slavery, especially after her sister is sold. Finally Isabel is put into a desperate situation in which escape is the only acceptable option.
  • Reading Level: Young Adult
  • Other: Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction, 2009
  • My Opinion (for what it's worth!): Although I'm not completely crazy about Anderson's description of Isabel's PTSD experience, I enjoyed the book and really got caught up in the story.