Memorial Day Reading: YA Novels Featuring Soldiers and War (Updated)

During 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 that I’d like to share with you. Just like last time, I’d love to know if there are more books I need to add to this list.

Some of the books will have summaries and some will have commentary.

World War II novels:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This is always a popular novel in my classroom, even more so since the movie released. Being written from the point of view of death adds an intriguing layer to a beautiful, heart wrenching story.

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow: Karl’s story is interesting because he’s a Jew hiding in plain sight until the Nazi presence grows stronger. He wants to grow strong and become a talented boxer since he’s bullied. I really enjoyed the cartoons he draws throughout the story.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: The tenth grade teachers encourage students to read this novel during the independent reading war unit. They don’t have to try very hard since it’s almost always a favorite. Students are often very surprised to learn about the Lithuanian ethnic cleansing that took place during WWII.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads):

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner (Goodreads):

With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he’s sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII. Koji’s story, based on true events, is brought to life by Matt Faulkner’s cinematic illustrations that reveal Koji struggling to find his place in a tumultuous world-one where he is a prisoner of war in his own country.

Invasion by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads):

Walter Dean Myers brilliantly renders the realities of World War II.

Josiah Wedgewood and Marcus Perry are on their way to an uncertain future. Their whole lives are ahead of them, yet at the same time, death’s whisper is everywhere.

One white, one black, these young men have nothing in common and everything in common as they approach an experience that will change them forever.

It’s May 1944. World War II is ramping up, and so are these young recruits, ready and eager. In small towns and big cities all over the globe, people are filled with fear. When Josiah and Marcus come together in what will be the greatest test of their lives, they learn hard lessons about race, friendship, and what it really means to fight. Set on the front lines of the Normandy invasion, this novel, rendered with heart-in-the-throat precision, is a cinematic masterpiece. Here we see the bold terror of war, and also the nuanced havoc that affects a young person’s psyche while living in a barrack, not knowing if today he will end up dead or alive.

Non-Fiction War Novels:

BombBomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Goodreads):
In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

ImprisonedImprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler (Goodreads):
While Americans fought for freedom and democracy abroad, fear and suspicion towards Japanese Americans swept the country after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Culling information from extensive, previously unpublished interviews and oral histories with Japanese American survivors of internment camps, Martin W. Sandler gives an in-depth account of their lives before, during their imprisonment, and after their release. Bringing readers inside life in the internment camps and explaining how a country that is built on the ideals of freedom for all could have such a dark mark on its history, this in-depth look at a troubling period of American history sheds light on the prejudices in today’s world and provides the historical context we need to prevent similar abuses of power.

TrinityTrinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (Goodreads):
Trinity, the debut graphic book by the gifted illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, depicts in vivid detail the dramatic history of the race to build and the decision to drop the first atomic bomb. This sweeping historical narrative traces the spark of invention from the laboratories of nineteenth-century Europe to the massive industrial and scientific efforts of the Manhattan Project. Along the way, Fetter-Vorm takes special care to explain the fundamental science of nuclear reactions. With the clarity and accessibility that only a graphic book can provide, Trinity transports the reader into the core of a nuclear reaction—into the splitting atoms themselves.

The power of the atom was harnessed in a top-secret government compound in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where some of the greatest scientific minds in the world gathered together to work on the bomb. Fetter-Vorm showcases J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and General Leslie Groves, the fathers of the atomic bomb, whose insights unleashed the most devastating explosion known to humankind. These brilliant scientists wrestled daily with both the difficulty of building an atomic weapon and the moral implications of actually succeeding.

When the first bomb finally went off at a test site code-named Trinity, the world was irreversibly thrust into a new and terrifying age. With powerful renderings of the catastrophic events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fetter-Vorm unflinchingly chronicles the far-reaching political, environmental, and ethical effects of this new discovery. Richly illustrated and deeply researched, Trinity is a dramatic, informative, and thought-provoking book on one of the most significant and harrowing events in history.

The Nazi HuntersThe Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (Goodreads):
A thrilling spy mission, a moving Holocaust story, and a first-class work of narrative nonfiction.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the head of operations for the Nazis’ Final Solution, walked into the mountains of Germany and vanished from view. Sixteen years later, an elite team of spies captured him at a bus stop in Argentina and smuggled him to Israel, resulting in one of the century’s most important trials — one that cemented the Holocaust in the public imagination.

THE NAZI HUNTERS is the thrilling and fascinating story of what happened between these two events. Survivor Simon Wiesenthal opened Eichmann’s case; a blind Argentinean and his teenage daughter provided crucial information. Finally, the Israeli spies — many of whom lost family in the Holocaust — embarked on their daring mission, recounted here in full. Based on the adult bestseller HUNTING EICHMANN, which is now in development as a major film, and illustrated with powerful photos throughout, THE NAZI HUNTERS is a can’t-miss work of narrative nonfiction for middle-grade and YA readers.


The Effects of War at Home:

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson: I included this book on my previous list, but I hadn’t read it yet. I’ve read it since then and absolutely loved it. It’s not only a compelling story that deals with slut-shaming, but it also looks at life in a military-infused town.

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie: Kokie’s debut looks at what life is like for a military family when a son/brother has died overseas. Matt is dealing with grief, a strict father who won’t discuss Matt’s brother’s death, and Matt’s need to understand his brother more. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut and so do my students.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: Hayley’s father suffers from PTSD and consequently they move from place to place since he struggles to escape his past in Iraq. Sadly, Hayley is also basically suffering from her own form of PTSD stemming from her father’s outbursts and her troubled past. Laurie Halse Anderson fans waited a long time for a new YA novel and this was worth the wait.

Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Goodreads):

Her sister was captured in Iraq, she’s the resident laughingstock at school, and her therapist tells her to count instead of eat. Can a daring new girl in her life really change anything?

Angie is broken — by her can’t-be-bothered mother, by her high-school tormenters, and by being the only one who thinks her varsity-athlete-turned-war-hero sister is still alive. Hiding under a mountain of junk food hasn’t kept the pain (or the shouts of “crazy mad cow!”) away. Having failed to kill herself — in front of a gym full of kids — she’s back at high school just trying to make it through each day. That is, until the arrival of KC Romance, the kind of girl who doesn’t exist in Dryfalls, Ohio. A girl who is one hundred and ninety-nine percent wow! A girl who never sees her as Fat Angie, and who knows too well that the package doesn’t always match what’s inside. With an offbeat sensibility, mean girls to rival a horror classic, and characters both outrageous and touching, this darkly comic anti-romantic romance will appeal to anyone who likes entertaining and meaningful fiction.

It has been awarded the Stonewall Book Award-Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award for 2014.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (Goodreads):

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.


  1. bjneary says:

    Thanks for this antastic post! I really like the way you broke these books down into categories and I have read may of them, I can’t wait to dig into Personal Effects, Fat Angie, If I lie, Trinity, Gaijin. Bomb and Nazi Hunters are riveting and my favorite nonfiction titles and I will never forget The Book Thief, The Impossible Knife of Memory, Between Shades of Gray and Rose Under Fire.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I’m glad you like it! I really need to tackle my non-fiction list. It’s one of my weaker reading areas.

I love comments!

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