Underrated YA: Historical Fiction Edition

I've probably talked about this before but in response to this crazypants Buzzfeed list, today I'm going to tell you about some actual underrated YA (in my humble opinion, anyway) that you should probably go get your hands on ASAP. This follows along the lines of Twitter's response to the same article which took place under #quietYA.

Note: Since I'm being all adamant about the fact that I want to shed light on truly underrated books here, I've put some rules in place for myself. 1, Nothing that's been on the NYT Bestseller list (because guys, that's not underrated). 2, Nothing that currently has a fancy (major) "Award Winner/Nominee" medal on its cover (like for the Morris Debut Award - sorry, In the Shadow of Blackbirds and Charm & Strange! I still love you!) because that can definitely help with exposure. 3. Nothing that I've seen talked about constantly on social media/blogs within my slice of the book world because I figure you're all exposed to similar chatter and then those books aren't really underrated to you anymore, are they?

I started writing this and realized that I had so many recs there was no way I could have fit all the books I wanted to rec into one post. So I decided to turn this into a mini-series type deal, hence the second part of the title. This is just the first post and will cover historical fiction. I'm also going to have installments for "genre novels" and for contemporary fiction.

With all that said, here are my historical fiction picks!

GiltTarnish, and Brazen by Katherine Longshore
These three Tudor YA stories centred around real figures in King Henry VIII's court are moving and authentic and only get better as they go on. I really enjoyed Gilt, I absolutely loved Tarnish, and I actually wept during Brazen. They take seemingly almost untouchable people and turn them into sympathetic and understandable characters that are so easy to relate to.
(My review of Tarnish here)

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
This one is basically a giant feminist romp through the early 20th century with art and romance and suffragettes (oh my)! How you could not want to let this book into your life is completely beyond me. Honestly, just take me at my word on this one.
(My review here)

Sekret and Skandal by Lindsay Smith
Soviet Russian psychic spies. Seriously, what more do you need? The settings are excellently grounded so that the interesting characters and all their psychic spy ways (and related adventures and mishaps) can send your mind reeling without it all being too much. Really great stories and both with exciting conclusions!
(My review of Sekret here; Skandal upcoming)

Maid of Secrets and Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan
This historical series set in the court of queen Elizabeth I focuses on a special group of her ladies recruited as spies for the queen herself. The first two books focus on pickpocket extraordinaire Meg and beautiful charmer Beatrice respectively and they're both such fantastic and unique narrators. McGowan really has a great grasp on both the objective view of her setting and of each girl's personality and position and she crafts these stories so well to reflect it all.
(My review of Maid of Secrets here)

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
This book has one of the most unique takes on the love triangle trope and on the idea of instalove that I've ever read. Put that into a historical period that hasn't been featured all that much in YA and this slower-paced, character based mystery is a real treat.
(My review here)

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
A magician who can do real magic is the daughter of a famous illusionist in 1920s New York. You're in already, right? This one explores the strained mother-daughter relationship so well, something that doesn't seem to get a ton of attention in YA. It also has a fun mystery plot to keep you hooked!
(My review here)

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
If you're looking for a seriously authentic feeling historical fiction novel, look no further. This one takes you right out of the present day and plunges you into late 1200s Wales with absolutely no holding back. The language, the setting, the details that make it come alive - they're all here. It also has two really interesting, complex, often unsympathetic and even frustrating female characters narrating, which was something quite different.

Unspeakable by Caroline Pignat
If you're fascinated by the story of the Titanic, you should give this book about the so-called "Canadian Titanic disaster" a try. At its heart is a slow romance between Ellie and Jim as Ellie recounts her story to a journalist who holds the last thing Ellie can find of Jim's after he goes missing when the ship sinks - his journal. You really get a sense of what it must have been like living and almost dying on that ship, and you can't help but root for the romance and hope against all hope that they'll find each other again.

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
This is an older one (2008), so I can see why a lot of people haven't read it or heard of it and aren't really talking about it. However, I wish they would. This was one of the first books I reviewed here on this little blog (so I'm not going to link to it... yikes) and I still remember it fondly as a story that placed me firmly in the time period (1940s in the USA) and immersed me fully in the main character's life and struggles and joy. Also, I described Ruby (the mc) as a "strong, outspoken, independent spitfire of a female lead," so that's a pretty great sign as well! 

As a bonus: an upcoming book that I truly hope doesn't slip under the radar:

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
I'm going to (try to) review this one in full soon but honestly, this is one of the most beautiful books I've read in a while. It became an instant new favourite and I sincerely hope that everyone gives it a chance.

What are your favourite underrate YA historical novels? Are any of these ones on your TBR?


  1. So much yes to Katherine Longshore and Sharon Biggs Waller, I love their books! The others I will have to check out though since I do love historical :)

  2. I really want to read GIRL sometime but never seem to get around to it!


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