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Best Teen Historical Fiction of 2015

Artfully crafted, an engrossing and important collection of memories and moments from a pivotal time in American history.

MY SENECA VILLAGE

The little-known story of the settlement that preceded Central Park.

Newbery and multi–Coretta Scott King honoree Nelson here re-creates Seneca Village, a path-breaking 19th-century Manhattan community that included the first significant assemblage of African-American property owners living alongside Irish and German immigrants. In a series of poems, Nelson constructs the lives of more than 30 characters based on names found in census records. Their story is at once celebratory and tragic, highlighting the struggles and triumphs of this transformative moment as dirt-poor Irish immigrants escape the potato famine of 1845, German immigrants struggle to make it in the New World, and African-Americans negotiate the transition from slavery to freedom and property ownership: “Freed by a miraculous codicil, / I find myself the owner of one me, / two slightly swampy lots, one deeeep well, / one one-room palace, and opportunity.” This incredibly integrated society comes to an end when the city executes powers of eminent domain to create Central Park. Nelson chooses prose narrative to connect these 40-some lyric fictional portraits that include schoolchildren, a mariner, a bootblack, a hairdresser, a musician, bar owners, lovers, and a fortuneteller, among others, along with poignant snapshots of famous historical figures Frederick Douglass and Maria Stewart, the first African-American woman to lecture on politics and religion.

Artfully crafted, an engrossing and important collection of memories and moments from a pivotal time in American history. (foreword, notes on poetic forms) (Historical fiction/poetry. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60898-196-0

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Namelos

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s  haunting and masterfully...

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THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH

A lovingly realized Depression-era Seattle becomes the field of play for the latest round in the titular, age-old game.

In February 1920, Love and Death choose their newest pawns as infants: Love’s is Henry, a white boy of privilege (though influenza and grief rob him of much of it); Death’s is Flora, the soon-to-be-orphaned daughter of African-American jazz musicians. In spring of 1937, the game begins. Flora sings in—and actually owns part of—the family’s nightclub, but her heart is in the skies, where she flies a borrowed biplane and dreams of owning her own. Henry, a talented bass player, is poised to graduate from the tony private school he attends on scholarship with his best friend, Ethan, whose family took him in upon his father’s suicide. They meet when Henry and Ethan visit the airstrip where Flora works; the boys are in pursuit of a story for Ethan’s newspaper-magnate father. Brockenbrough’s precise, luscious prose cuts back and forth among the four protagonists, according each character equal depth, with Ethan playing a heartbreaking supporting role. The contrast between the youthful excitement of ardent Henry and pragmatic Flora and the ageless, apparent ennui of the immortals gains nuance as readers come to understand that Love and Death are not without their own complicated feelings.

Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s  haunting and masterfully orchestrated narrative. (Magical realism. 12 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-66834-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

Emotionally resonant and not without humor, this impressive debut about survival and connection, resourcefulness and...

UNDER A PAINTED SKY

Two girls on the racial margins of mid-19th-century America team up and head west.

As the book opens, Samantha, a 15-year-old Chinese-American violinist, yearns to move back to New York City in 1849, though her kind and optimistic father, owner of a dry goods store in the bustling outpost of Saint Joe, Missouri, has great plans for them in California. When the store burns down and her father dies, she is forced to defend herself from their predatory landlord. Suddenly on the run from the law, Samantha and Annamae, a 16-year-old African-American slave who covets freedom, disguise themselves as boys and head west on the Oregon Trail. Well-crafted and suspenseful, with more flow than ebb to the tension that stretches like taut wires across plotlines, Lee’s tale  ingeniously incorporates Chinese philosophy and healing, music, art and religion, as well as issues of race and discrimination (including abolitionist views and examples of cruel slave treatment), into what is at its center a compelling love story. “Sammy” and “Andy” meet up with Cay, West and Peety, three young, good-hearted cowboys with secrets of their own, who help them on their arduous, dangerous journey.

Emotionally resonant and not without humor, this impressive debut about survival and connection, resourcefulness and perseverance will keep readers on the very edges of their seats. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16803-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

The award-winning Almond poetically plumbs the depths of his 1950s and ’60s childhood to explore themes of violence, war,...

THE TIGHTROPE WALKERS

Dominic Hall is “a caulker’s son, a tank cleaner’s grandson” in the river town of Tyneside in northern England…but the boy dreams of writing.

It’s in Dom’s blood to work in and “breathe the bliddy fumes” of the hellish shipyards. Is it pure snobbery, then, to aspire to the exalted, creative life his artist friend, Holly Stroud, lives with her fancy, wine-drinking father? Dom is torn. Maybe he wants to be more like Vincent McAlinden, the black-souled bully who initiates him into “scary ecstatic afternoons” of killing helpless creatures for fun, thieving and brutal fighting that ends in kissing. Is Dom a “tender innocent” or a “brute”? Is God a sentimental comfort, as he is to the silent tramp, Jack Law, or is he a cruel joke, a “creamy shining bloody body” suspended lifelessly by thin cords at the local Catholic church? As they grow up from bairns, Dom and Holly are tightrope walkers, literally and figuratively, trying to find their balance, hoping the inevitable falls aren’t too painful.

The award-winning Almond poetically plumbs the depths of his 1950s and ’60s childhood to explore themes of violence, war, God, creativity, beauty, death, art, the soul, our animal selves, whether we ever grow up or can really know each other…in short, life. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7310-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism.

OUT OF DARKNESS

A Mexican-American girl and a black boy begin an ill-fated love in the months leading up to a catastrophic 1937 school explosion in East Texas.

The powerful story opens with the legendary school explosion in New London and then rewinds to September 1936. Naomi has begrudgingly left behind her abuelitos in San Antonio for a new life with her younger half siblings, twins, and their long-absent white father, Henry. Now a born-again Christian, Henry struggles to atone for his sins. The siblings struggle to fit into the segregated oil town, where store signs boast "No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs." The precocious twins read better than half the senior class, and dark-skinned Naomi is guilty of not only being Mexican, but also of being "prettier than any girl in school." Their one friend is Wash, a brilliant African-American senior from the black part of town. Pérez deftly weaves multiple perspectives—including Henry and "the Gang," the collective voice of the racist students—into her unflinchingly intense narrative, but the story ultimately belongs to Naomi and Wash. Their beautifully detailed love story blossoms in the relative seclusion of the woods, where even stepfathers can't keep them apart. But as heartbreaking events unfold, the star-crossed lovers desperately hope that any light can penetrate the black smoke cloud of darkness spreading around them.

A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4677-4202-3

Page Count: 408

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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