I majored in History for my undergraduate degree. And though I really do love history, love it, I have a tendency to cringe away from books termed: "Historical Fiction."
It's a term that immediately sounds dry to me. Like a lesson waiting to happen. It also sounds suspicious, because what will I be reading? Something real? Something not so real? How good was the author's research? And on and on the questions go.
But this book—
Between Shades of Gray
(which has the unfortunate distinction of sounding very much like another series of books...)
—changed that for me. Ruta Sepetys creates a vivid world for me, a world I believe in. That doesn't mean I believe Lithuania—or Siberian Prisoner of War Camps—looked just like this in the early 1900s, but I don't think Sepetys, who did extensive, careful research, wants me to think that either.
It doesn't really matter as long as I know this book is fiction. She's dug into the past to create a world, and it is an outstanding world, a world that makes my heart ache and hope—and please, please, read this book. Sam is reading this book and he is loving it. He's out of town right now at a work conference with his brothers and cousins. It's his chance to watch sports on TV (we don't do that here) and ESPN's Sports Center (we really don't do that here), and he told me the other night that rather than watch those things, he really just wanted to be in the quiet of his room reading Between Shades of Gray.
You have to know Sam to know just how remarkable that is.
It's this book (as well as Sam's growing enjoyment of reading). You read even a few chapters and leave the pages a changed person, a grateful person, a more awake person to the world around you. You feel more passionately about what's important in life. You see truth—the truth about the resilience of mankind, the innate goodness of many, and the tyranny of the few, and for a moment, that truth shuts out all the voices that are telling you you're too fat, you're not rich enough, your home needs some new furniture, you aren't talented enough to do that thing, everyone around you is so much better at everything.
If by chance you've already read Between Shades of Gray, here are a few more books that do this for me. You have to tell yourself that these books are not Historical Fiction (unless you are head-over-heels for that term). You have to tell yourself that these books are fantasy, because that's what all fiction is. Fantasy. But some fantasy is richer and more meaningful than others.
The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (not really historical fiction, but I'm including it)
The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
To Destroy You is no Loss: the odyssey of a Cambodian family by JoAn Criddle
If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. I'm in the mood right now for fantastical historical fiction! (All of these books I would say are okay for kids twelve and up, but read them first and make your own decision for what you'll recommend for your kids!)