Non-fiction books all tell the same story of an event, just with different narratives or focus points. When you’re reading for the thousandth time about how the Titanic sunk after colliding with an iceberg, do you ever let yourself wonder what might have happened if that iceberg had never been there in the first place? That’s the idea of a book genre called Alternate History. These fictional stories explore what might have happened if famous events throughout history occurred differently, or not at all. While some books keep it simple with a few minor changes, others really shake things up and completely reimagine the world as we know it. I’ve rounded up a few YA alternative history books to share with you that I just can’t get enough of.
The Only Thing To Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond:
One of the most common alternate history sub-categories is the Axis Powers winning World War Two, and this series does that notion justice, with an added fantasy element. Set in present-day America, Caroline Tung Richmond imagines the Axis Powers winning the war with the creation of genetically enhanced super-soldiers who possess special abilities, like flight or controlling ice. After the war, these soldiers start families of their own, and their children are born with special abilities, passing the trait down through the generations.
In the first book, The Only Thing To Fear, Zara St. James lives in the German-controlled Eastern American Territories, and wants to join the resistance like her uncle. With the abilities of controlling wind and lightning, she knows that she can be of use. But because she isn’t an Aryan, she must keep her powers hidden or face execution. Still, she is determined to use them to take on the toughest challenge of all- killing the führer.
This book was my first taste of the alternate history genre, and I have to say that I quite enjoyed it. The novel takes the story of World War Two to our home court, and it’s not hard to imagine myself in the characters’ places. I also enjoyed the presence of supernatural abilities throughout the book. Taking on the Nazis with guns and explosives is one thing, but taking them on with special powers adds a whole new level of intrigue. The story is written in a way that makes the concept of powers an ordinary thing, and it fits in like it was there all along. The sequel to The Only Thing To Fear, Live in Infamy, focuses on resistance writer Ren Cabot in the Japanese-controlled Western American Territories, and displays the vast differences and similarities in the Japanese and German ways of rule while tying Ren and Zara’s stories together.
American Royals by Katharine McGee:
This book explores a much different but just as interesting what-if- George Washington being offered a crown at the end of the American Revolution. Also set in the present-day, with the House of Washington still on the throne, American Royals showcases the lives of four very different women. Princess Beatrice, first in line for the throne, is pressured by her parents to find a suitable husband to rule the country with; Princess Samantha struggles to find herself while being overshadowed by her older sister Princess Beatrice and twin Prince Jefferson; Nina, a commoner, and Princess Samantha’s best friend, is conflicted by her feelings for Prince Jefferson; Daphne, a minor royal, is expected to win Prince Jefferson’s heart to elevate her parents’ aristocratic status. These four teens all want different things, but have something important in common- they’re American, so they aren’t going to deal with their problems like anyone else.
This book was a page-turner, and I will confess to staying awake when I should have been sleeping to finish it. I was really able to get behind the characters, and better understand where they were coming from. The plots are entertaining, especially as the characters find love in the wrong people but try to make the relationships work. The book also spreads the message of being yourself, even when you’re being pressured to fit someone else’s standards.
While these books only represent a small sample of the ever-growing list of alternate history books, I strongly urge you to give alternate history a try. Who knows, you just might end up hooked! Hopefully you will also gain a new appreciation for historical events turning out the way they did. Though there are terrible events out there that we wish we could erase, the consequences of that could be far worse than the event itself.