Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reading on a Theme: Young Adult Books Set During World War I

In 2016 we are in the midst of the centennial of The Great War (1914-1918). When I was in college I did a study abroad in London. One of the classes I took there was "World War I and Modernism." We read war poetry, traveled to some of the battle sites, saw the remains of the trenches, and placed a poppy on the grave of an unknown soldier. It's an experience I won't soon forget, and I definitely want to commemorate the war's centennial years. One way I'm doing this is by reading books set during World War I. Here are five choices perfect for young readers.

A New Recruit:
Near the beginning of the Great War, Samantha Donaldson is recruited by La Dame Blanche to infiltrate the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Her mission is to extricate another LDB agent. Among the many complications is the the fact that Samantha only knows the agent's code name: Velvet. Velvet Undercover takes us behind the lines to Berlin and into the Kaiser's inner circle. If you are struggling with the unrealistic set-up, don't give up.  After a few reversals, I began to see that Teri Brown had me exactly where she wanted me. In other words, I was suppose to be uncomfortable with the situation. Pick up if you like spy novels or are interested in World War I. Out October 2015 from Balzer + Bray.

A British Nurse:
Set in 1914 England, Poppy gives up her place as a chambermaid in a grand house to become a volunteer nurse. Mary Hooper's Poppy reminded me in all the best ways of Eva Ibbotson's books. It's also perfect for Downton Abbey fans. Mary Hooper evokes the early 20th-century atmosphere so well. I was so engaged with Poppy's story. I loved reading about all the details of her training and life during The Great War. I loved how this book dealt with the beginnings of the breakdown of the class structure and told the story of an average girl doing her best to help the war effort. I absolutely flew through this book, and then (and this is rather uncharacteristic) I immediately purchased the sequel and read that book in one day too. Out in the U.S. on August 30th, 2016. Review copy from NetGalley.

A Belgian Spy:
After fleeing the invading Germans and working as a nurse for the British, Manon Wouters is recruited to spy for La Dame Blanche. She returns to her hometown in Belgium and begins gathering information. What I loved most about A Dangerous Game is that it is set in Belgium. I really enjoyed situating myself in this area of the world and thinking about how the war affected Manon's family and fellow countrymen. Belgium was pretty devastated during World War I, so it really is the ideal setting for a WWI spy novel. John Wilson's story is a quick read with a little bit of family drama, a little bit of nursing, and some dangerous espionage. Out September 13, 2016. Review copy from NetGalley.

A Great Pandemic:
Makiia Lucier's novel is about the Spanish Influenza pandemic that struck on the heels of World War I. When the influenza hits Portland, Oregon 17-year-old Cleo Berry's life is completely upended. A bit rudderless, Cleo finds volunteering with the Red Cross suddenly gives her the sense of purpose she's been craving. I found A Death-Struck Year to be an impressive little tome. It is clearly well-researched, but it's the characters that make the tale truly wonderful. Cleo's actions and motivations are well supported. The side characters, Kate and Edmund (a med student and war vet), will also keep you reading. A Death-Struck Year was out March 2014 from HMH Books for Young Readers.

A Steampunk World War I:
Leviathan is set during an alternate 1914. The world is on the brink of war. Alek, the son of murdered Archduke Ferdinand and Princess Sophie, must run for his life. Deryn is a Scottish girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can join the Air Services. The two cross paths aboard the Leviathan, the crown jewel of the British Air Force, a giant hydrogen airbeast, fabricated from the DNA of hundreds of animals. I love Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series. The books are a fantastical romp around the world, from England and Austria to Switzerland and the Ottoman Empire to Russia and the United States. I wish I could read more about this amazing setting and the characters who populate it.

Learn More:
The United States World War I Centennial Commission
The National World War I Museum and Memorial 
Imperial War Museums (UK)

All books reviewed by JoLee.

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