It’s pretty common to read a YA dystopian with an oppressive government. But what about the stories where the hero/heroine joins a just cause in order to protect their country and those they love? Just in time for Veterans Day, here are our top YA picks with war/military themes.
Front Lines by Michael Grant
In this alternate World War II, a court decision allows females to be drafted and eligible for service. Three girls sign up to fight against the armed forces of Nazi Germany for various reasons, but none of them expect to actually see the front lines. Grant does not shy away from topics of racism, sexism and antisemitism, but with realistic and flawed characters, readers will be engrossed from start to finish.
Cold Blood: Yamabuki vs. the Swordmaster (Sword of the Taka Samurai #1) by Katherine M. Lawrence
Young Yamabuki disguises herself as a samurai in this YA novella reminiscent of Disney’s Mulan, and at the behest of her warlord father, she sets out on a mission, crossing dangerous territories and learning about the art of war and rulership. With elaborate details, political intrigue, and captivating characters, the Cold Blood series is one YA readers won’t want to miss.
The Novice (Summoner Series) by Taran Matharu
When Fletcher unwittingly summons a demon from another world, he travels from his hometown and joins the Adept Military Academy—a place where the gifted train to fight a war against orcs. Matharu depicts an elaborate world filled with magic, betrayal, friendship, and even racism. YA readers will be hard-pressed not to fall in love with this series and with the cutest most lovable demon, Ignatius.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Born into a family of child geniuses, Ender Wiggin is selected by international military forces to save the world from an alien enemy. His brother is none too happy about this, and Ender faces brutality and bullying before Colonel Graff saves him and takes him to Battle School. Orson Scott Card builds a world filled with cruelty and injustices, but with a sympathetic main character, action-packed scenes, and touching moments in between, YA readers will fall in love with this classic.
Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Among the Red Stars focuses on Valka, who’s homeland of Russia has been devastated by World War II. At the mention of an all-female aviation group, she is the first to sign up. Katz weaves a riveting and intelligent story with flawed yet fierce characters that readers will fall for right away.
Legend series by Marie Lu
Groomed to join the Republic’s highest military circles, at fifteen, June is a prodigy. On the other side is Day, born into the slums, and the country’s most wanted criminal. A twist of fate crosses their paths, and the two of them find themselves diving deeper into the secrets of the Republic. Alternating between June and Day’s point-of-view, Lu’s fast-paced action scenes keep readers invested and turning pages. A must-read for lovers of all things dystopian.
Shadow and Bone (The Grisha trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo
Alina Starkov is a young orphan and cartographer for the nation of Ravka’s armed forced. When a dormant power inside of her is revealed, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the Darkling. Bardugo builds a world filled with intrigue and relatable characters that will have you cheering until the end.
Leviathan (Leviathan #1) by Scott Westerfeld
Deryn Sharp disguises herself as a boy to serve in the British Air Service, and would-be heir, Prince Aleksander, has fled home. With growing hostilities across the land, their paths cross and they must come together if they want to survive. Stunning illustrations depicting the various war machines showcase Westerfeld’s imagination. Readers will be enthralled and captivated by the characters.
Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
Raised in the slums, Jaewon only desires to prove himself as a loyal soldier of the Neo State, so when he is recruited into the weapons development division, he’s eager to claim his military glory. But while there, he meets Tera, a test subject whose sole purpose is to pilot the massive robots, God Machines. With adrenaline packed scenes and heart-filled characters, fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pacific Rim will devour this epic tale.
Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
After her brother dies, Sam McKenna accepts his last dare and joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She must overcome adversity, bullying, and obstacles thrown her way. Hensley portrays a large yet engaging cast of characters with complex yet dynamic relationships. With a perfect blend of love, loss, and of course, girl power, this is a must-read for YA lovers.