Memorial Day Reading: Y.A. Novels Featuring Soldiers and War

Memorial Day is a day to be thankful for the soldiers, past and present, who have served to keep us safe.  I also know that many of us have today off, so I decided to feature some Y.A. novels that feature soldiers and/or war.  I have a mix of books I’ve read and want to read, books that have been around for some time, and also some that are releasing in the near future.  If you can add any titles to my list, I’d love it if you leave me those titles in the comments!  My male readers in particular love war novels, so I’m always looking for suggestions to add to my class library.

Novels I’ve Read:

Refresh, Refresh: A Graphic Novel by Benjamin Percy, James Ponsoldt, Danica Novgorodoff (illustrator) (Goodreads): I decided to start with a graphic novel since we just discussed them during last night’s #titletalk.  This is probably the most popular graphic novel in my classroom right now.  It’s about a group of boys whose fathers are all serving in Iraq.  They don’t have role models readily available, so they’re trying to figure out life and how to grow into adulthood on their own.  We see them constantly refreshing their email just in case they receive a new email from their father.

Heroes by Robert Cormier (Goodreads): This is historical fiction based during WWII.  Francis has returned from the war, but he no longer has a face after he fell on a grenade.  Heroes deals more with Francis trying to move on after the war, the mental effects of being severely disfigured, and Francis plotting to kill his childhood war hero.   Just like most of Robert Cormier’s books, he mixes character motivation and psychology into a blend that manipulates the reader because while we know killing someone is wrong, you can’t help but feel for Francis.

Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen (Goodreads): Soldier’s Heart is a historical fiction novel set during the Civil War that works for both middle grade and Y.A. readers.  It’s about a boy who enlists at the age of 15 because he doesn’t want to miss out on this experience.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read this, but I remember plenty of battle scenes as Charley tries to survive the war.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick (Goodreads): Patricia McCormick is one of my favorite authors because she takes so much time researching her topic, which is obvious in Purple Heart.  I like this novel because we watch Private Matt Duffy trying to recover from a war wound and also trying to regain his memory.  He receives the Purple Heart, but he doesn’t remember exactly what he did to receive it and something’s nagging at him to make him feel like he doesn’t deserve it.  We get a glimpse of how soldiers recover and are sometimes rushed back to the field to continue serving.  Purple Heart is a very real book that allows readers to see a different side of the war than what’s portrayed in the media.

While He Was Away by Karen Schrek (Goodreads): I’m including While He Was Away because even though we aren’t following a soldier, we’re following Penna’s life after her boyfriend, David, leaves to serve in the military.  I think this would be a good read for those who have a significant other serving and either want someone to relate to or maybe they want to know what to expect.  Penna’s story is a little different because she really only had David while they were dating, but now that he’s in Iraq, she has to branch out and start making friends and moving on with her life while she waits for him to return.  We do, however, get glimpses of what David’s going through via Skype chats, emails, and phone calls.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller (Goodreads) (My Review): I’ve read 40+ books so far in 2012, and Something Like Normal is still in my top three favorites.  It’s told from a guy’s point of view, it’s current, and it’s authentic.  Travis is home on leave from Afghanistan and not only is he dealing with troubles at home, he’s desperately trying to cope with PTSD after seeing his best friend die.  We’re not watching him fight the war, but we’re there for his nightmarish flashbacks.  We’re watching him fight himself.  This releases on June 19th, and I REALLY hope you buy it.  I plan on buying multiple copies for my classroom.

Novels I Want to Read:
I’m including the summaries since I haven’t read these books yet, but I will say that I’m pumped about If I Lie!

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads): Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads): An exciting, eye-catching repackage of acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers’ bestselling paperbacks, to coincide with the publication of SUNRISE OVER FALLUJAH in hardcover.

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren’t the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads): A powerful new novel about the heroics and horror of war from Walter Dean Myers, whose bestselling book FALLEN ANGELS celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, that’s the code name. But the young men and women in the military’s Civil Affairs Battalion have a simpler name for it: WAR.

In this new novel, Walter Dean Myers looks at a contemporary war with the same power and searing insight he brought to the Vietnam war of his classic, FALLEN ANGELS. He creates memorable characters like the book’s narrator, Birdy, a young recruit from Harlem who’s questioning why he even enlisted; Marla, a blond, tough-talking, wisecracking gunner; Jonesy, a guitar-playing bluesman who just wants to make it back to Georgia and open a club.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (Releases August 28th, 2012) (Goodreads): A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.



  1. I’ve been impressed this year with this theme — another one to add to your radar is EM Kokie’s PERSONAL EFFECTS (Candlewick, September).

    I think my favorite book about war/soldiers is Dana Reinhardt’s THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS. It’s a fantastic read alike to Trish’s book, too.

    I did a “display this” a couple years ago on war books, which might give you a few more titles, too:

    • I don’t think I’ve heard of Personal Effects, so thanks for bringing that to my attention! I can’t believe I forgot about The Things a Brother Knows b/c I just added that to my class library grant.

      Thanks for the link!

  2. Cathy Blackler says:

    Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am by Peter Lerangis & Harry Mazer is another good addition. Purple Daze by Sherri Shahan is a nice novel in verse centering around Vietnam War.

    • I love verse novels, so THANK YOU for sharing that title. I saw Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am at the store, but I was hesitant to buy it b/c I haven’t read any reviews for it. Thanks, Cathy! 🙂


  1. […] Memorial Day weekend in 2012 I wrote this post about YA novels featuring soldiers and/or war. Since then I’ve read and discovered even more […]

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