75 Years Later: World War II Books for Teens

World War II ended 75 years ago, on September 2, 1945. It was history’s deadliest war: an estimated 60 million people died, most of them civilians. Here are some of my favorite gripping reads for teens about this important moment in time. 

I still remember how riveted I was the first time I read Code Name Verity. After being captured by the Nazis, British spy Queenie buys time by telling her captors how she ended up in a fiery plane crash in France. Her story centers on her friendship with Maddie, the female pilot who died in the crash. This is an engrossing spy story, a touching friendship story and a look at the many women who risked their lives in the war. And if you like this one, check out Rose Under Fire and A Thousand Sisters, World War II books by the same author.

When he was 4, George Takei (yes, from Star Trek) and his family were awoken by armed soldiers telling them they had 10 minutes to leave their home. His family spent the next three years imprisoned in internment camps, solely because they were Japanese American. They Called Us Enemy is a powerful graphic memoir about this shameful moment in American history.

For a fictional depiction of the internment camps, try The War Outside. Two teenage girls—German American Margot and Japanese American Haruko—endure daily life in the Crystal City camp, manage family struggles like Margot's father being drawn to Nazism and become friends (and possibly more). This book shows how war and prejudice change people and how calling someone your enemy might just turn them into one. 

His whole time in boarding school, Ned Begay has been told his native Navajo language is useless. So he’s thrilled when the Marines begin recruiting Navajos to develop and use a code based on their language. Code Talker tells the true story of the Navajo code talkers who fought in the Pacific and celebrates the overlooked military contributions of Native Americans.

Of course, no list of World War II books would be complete without the incredible The Book Thief, our fall 2012 One Book, One Chicago selection. The titular “book thief” is Liesl, a German orphan. As Liesl grows up, the war rages on, and danger comes closer—especially when her foster family begins hiding a Jewish man in their basement. What stands out most about this book is the narrator: Death himself, whose voice you won’t soon forget.

These recommendations just scratch the surface—find more teen books about World War II.