If you can’t get enough of World War II, you’ll love these historical novels:
1. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
This gorgeous book follows a Jewish Hungarian architecture student during World War II, and highlights an oft-overlooked region of Europe during the conflict. Andras is an educated Jewish man who is eventually deported from Paris and sent into the Hungarian labor service while helping his family plan escape. The book covers a decade of Andras’ life, in which he sees his fellow students persecuted and exiled, falls in love, loses close friends, and witnesses Hitler’s crushing political machine at work in Europe. Even though this is a longer book, I was captivated. The writing is absolutely exceptional, and after following Andras through love, joy, revolution, sorrow, despair, fear, and relief, I felt like he was part of my family. I can’t recommend this book enough.
2. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
This book made me cancel my evening plans for two days so I could sit on my couch and read. It follows three teenagers who are fleeing through occupied Eastern Europe to find safety: a deserting German soldier on a mission of revenge, a Lithuanian medical student, and a pregnant (and illegal) Polish immigrant. Their desperation to escape binds them together through narrow misses and unexpected tragedy. Each brief chapter is narrated by a different character, working together to form a gorgeous mosaic of hope, longing and nobility. While many WWII novels can leave me feeling slightly depressed or horrified, I finished Salt to the Sea with a resonant feeling of hope and gratitude. (This book is also appropriate for teenagers, and would be a great introduction to WWII for someone who is a bit hesitant about the historical fiction genre.)
3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
When British spy “Verity” is arrested by the Gustapo after a plane crash, she’s forced to confess everything she knows about the British War Effort or die in interrogation. She starts at the beginning, and what follows is an incredible tale of courage and friendship with a fellow British female pilot, Maddie. This book is her confession. Because it deals with German’s interrogating a young British woman, Code Name Verity was a bit gritty for me at times, but the true heart of the book is in the strong friendship Verity has with Maddie. (Maddie is a particularly fun character: a motorcycle-building, plane-flying Brit that brings levity in a somewhat heavy novel.) This would be appropriate for an older teenager.
4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and as a Francophile with an endless love of French Resistance stories, I ate it up. It follows two sisters who live in occupied France: Isabelle is young, fiery, brave, and smuggles downed Allied airmen out of the country. Vianne is more subdued, and when her husband is sent to war, she’s forced to house a German officer in her home. I loved the strength and flaws of these two women, and observing how the hardship of the war forced them to be more courageous than they thought possible. It has everything an adult may want in a WWII novel – romance, French spies, despicable German soldiers, harrowing escapes, and beautiful reconciliations.
5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My father called me about this book, saying that he had stayed up until 3AM to read it. The plot is unique and captivating: Marie-Laure is a blind girl living an enchanted life in occupied Paris with her father, a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. In Germany, orphaned Werner, a genius at building radios, is drafted against his will into the Nazi service. The story follows the lives of both young adults through the tragedy of war, and the misfortune that brings them together. Doerr’s prose is glimmering and gorgeous, as tragically beautiful as his characters.
Jessie Hawkes is a freelance writer who loves ending her day with a mug of tea and a good book. She’s a recent Peterborough resident with roots in Maine and Utah, and professional writing experience in the travel and outdoor industries. Check out her blog The Desert Bookworm for more book recommendations, or follow her @wildwilkey.