When it comes to subjects I've studied throughout high school, I consider myself an equal-opportunity nerd; I've passionately read and analyzed novels in English, I've fallen into the soothing consistency of integrals in calculus, and I've been fascinated by the laws of matter in physics. However, my favorite subject of all may perhaps be history, which makes it no surprise that historical fiction, along with contemporary, is my favorite genre to read. And while I love a good novel set in World War II-era Germany, my favorite type of historical fiction is the offbeat kind—the kind that is set against less-commonly-seen places and time periods. As a result, today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is perfect for me, and I cannot wait to share my favorite stories with original historical settings.
Set first in a terribly cruel insane asylum in Boston, then in an ethical one in Ohio, this novel illuminates the regrettable condition of mental health treatment in the 19th century United States. The plot follows a sharp-witted and wrongfully-institutionalized protagonist who, with the help of a clever physician and detective, manages to transfer hospitals and assist with murder investigations—and the combination of mystery and social commentary makes for a fascinating story.
Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath
This novel opens on the tense-yet-deceptively calm months leading up to the Armenian genocide, introducing a large family of unassuming civilians. However, the plot soon turns deadly and dangerous as government forces begin destroying the bonds between the previously-developed characters and destroying readers' emotions in the process.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
In Cat Winters's debut novel, anti-German World War II tensions are high, and the Spanish Influenza is wreaking havoc from coast to coast. And in the midst of it all, one scientific-minded girl discovers the ability to communicate with the ghost of her killed-in-combat sweetheart and begins to question the line between life and death.
Complete with the author's signature piloting twist, this novel about Ethiopia on the brink of war with Italy describes a time and place I had never previously studied or read about. While I didn't enjoy the story quite as much as Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, I still learned something about the past and appreciated the world-building.
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
When Soviet forces seize Lina and her family from their home, her life as a 15-year-old Lithuanian aspiring artist changes forever. Separated from her father and forced onto a train headed to a work camp in Siberia, Lina documents her several-years-long experience through forbidden drawings, telling the story of a lesser-known World War II horror.
This tale's protagonist cannot seem to get ahead in life. The daughter of a New Orleans prostitute, she dreams of leaving the South for college, but her money-saving goals and carefully laid-out plans continually fall apart despite her unrelenting efforts. The ups and downs of her story are rich with Louisiana history and will resonate with anyone whose life has not run quite according to plan.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
I knew from the moment I stumbled upon this title that it would amaze me. It follows two girls—one black, one white—as they fall in love in the face of disapproval from their family and society. Set against the backdrop of a school in its first year of racial integration, their story had me cheering for both to remain strong despite the oppression of their time.
The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford
Laura Reid is spending a semester abroad in the Soviet Union when she meets an alluring Russian artist named Alexei. But as they form a relationship under the pretense of studying together to learn each other's languages, she begins to wonder if he truly cares for her or if he is simply searching for a ticket to United States citizenship. Shrouded in Soviet secrecy, the plot keeps readers guessing, half-paranoid and half-hopeful, about the nature of their romance.
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Run fast, trust no one, and always carry a knife are the three rules of the lawless city where this story is set. Although the backdrop is fictional, its inspiration was frighteningly real; the Kowloon Walled City, a real settlement without laws, stood in Hong Kong in the 1980s. The Walled City contains all the adrenaline and danger that the real city on which it was based surely embodied, making for a thrilling and emotional story.
Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen
Told in beautifully broken verse and set against the New York City AIDS crisis, this novel follows a girl whose father's health is rapidly declining due to the devastating disease. With honestly and emotion, Skyscraping poetically portrays the sadness and fear of an upsettingly recent period of history.
What are some of your favorite books with offbeat historical settings?