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In our 1930s and 1940s months for the Decades Challenge, and on the Book Voyage Challenge reading lists for every region of the world, you’ll find books covering many unique, and often unknown, aspects of World War II. We try to balance out each of those lists with a variety of other topics as well, which means there are many important WW2 historical fiction books that don’t make the reading challenge lists.
We spent many hours this week researching WW2 novels and came up with more than 100 highly-rated options. That’s way too many for one post, so we grouped them into themes, and one quickly emerged as the topic we wanted to share with you first.
Our favorite Mr. Rogers quote is based on advice from his own mom. When news is bad, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
During WWII, that statement rang true throughout the world in the most incredible ways, large and small. Whether hiding or feeding a single person or working as part of a large-scale resistance mission, the characters in these WW2 books had a courageous resolve to choose good in the face of evil.
While the books on this particular list are all historical fiction set in WW2, many are based on real stories and real heroes who risked everything for the greater good. In a time when it’s easy to see the worse in humanity, we love the reminder that good is also all around. And perhaps even more important, we can choose to be the good in a wide variety of ways.
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The Best WW2 Books: The Resistance & Other Helpers
The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel
Setting: 1942 and 2007, France, Germany, United States
In 1942, Eve fled Paris after her father was arrested for being a Polish Jew. When she arrives in the Free Zone, she decides to help Jewish children escape by creating new identity documents for them. She doesn’t want their true identities to be lost forever, so she begins documenting them in The Book of Lost Names.
Sixty-five years later, in Florida, Eve is now a semi-retired librarian. She’s shocked when she sees a photo of the book in a magazine article about the looting of libraries in WW2. Only Eve knows that the code contained within the book, but she’s not sure if she has the strength to revisit this tragic time in history.
The Lost Vintage
by Ann Mah
Setting: 1940s and present, Burgundy, France
Kate is struggling to pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Exam. As she studies for her third attempt, she decides to travel to Burgundy to spend the fall working at the vineyard estate that has been in her family for generations.
While helping her cousin clean out the basement, she first comes upon boxes of family memorabilia, including a diary of an unknown relative. She then discovers a secret passage that leads to a hidden room filled with WW2 resistance pamphlets and hundreds of bottles of extremely valuable wine.
Against the wishes of her uncle, she begins digging into the family history hoping to uncover the truth about the diary keeper - her great aunt who was a teenager during the German occupation. As the story unfolds, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs.
The Book Girls Say... Angela just finished reading this dual timeline WW2 historical fiction and enjoyed learning about the role of the Burgandy region - near the Demarcation Line - in WW2, as well as learning a great deal more about wine and winemaking.
Girl in the Blue Coat
by Monica Hesse
Setting: 1943, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Eighteen-year-old Hanneke was devastated by the loss of her boyfriend, who died on the Dutch front lines when the German soldiers invaded. As a small act of rebellion, and unbeknownst to her family, she begins to smuggle black market, hard-to-come-by items, such as sugar, bacon, tea, and alcohol.
During one of her deliveries, she ends up getting pulled into much more dangerous work when one of her clients, Mrs. Janssen, asks her to help find a missing person - a Jewish teenager that Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, but who has now disappeared. Hanneke is reluctant, but agrees to help and finds herself drawn into the heart of the Dutch Resistance.
The Book Girls Say... This YA historical fiction is based on the real Amsterdam Student Group (ASG), a WW2 Dutch Resistance organization that helped to rescue thousands of Jewish children.
A View Across the Rooftops
by Suzanne Kelman
Setting: 1941, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Widowed math professor Josef is devastated by the occupation of his beloved Amsterdam by German forces. His former student, Michael, is Jewish and at risk of being whisked away to a concentration camp as Jewish raids began across the city. At great personal risk, Josef offers Michael a place to stay in his attic.
Michael can’t stop talking about his beloved, but forbidden Dutch girlfriend, Elke. She is equally in love with him and not sure what happened when he’s suddenly gone. Josef has memories of his own lost love and wants to help them have a chance at a life together, despite the unlikely odds.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars
by Kristin Harmel
Setting: 1941, Poland
The main character, Yona, was raised in the wilderness of eastern Europe by the elderly woman who kidnapped her as a toddler. However, when Yona is 21, this tragic beginning to her life becomes the saving grace of a group of Polish Jews fleeing the Nazis.
She had no idea what was happening in the world, but embraced the refugees and taught them to survive in the forest. It’s also said to be a great look into the forests of Poland, which is a different image from so many of the other WW2 books set in the area.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky
by Mark T. Sullivan
Setting: 1943, Italy
Pino is a typical Italian teenager who wants nothing to do with the war. He's much more interested in music, food, and girls. But when his home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, his innocence is lost. He joins an underground railroad helping Jews to escape over the Alps on skis.
His parents force him to enlist as a German soldier to avoid being drafted. This is a move they think will protect him, but he is injured nonetheless. No longer able to be in combat, Pino is recruited to become the personal driver to one of the Third Reich's top commanders in Italy. This new role gives him the opportunity to aid the Allies from the inside as a spy.
The Book Girls Say... The author based this novel on the true experiences of Pino Lella, whom he interviewed extensively. Since its publication, some have questioned whether Pino Lella was actually involved with the boys of Casa Alpina, who skiied refugees across the border of Switzerland. In either event, the underground railroad described in the book did exist, whether the real-life Pino was a part of it or not.
This novel is a bit on the longer side, coming in just over 500 pages.
This book is currently free with Kindle Unlimited.
The Paris Library
by Janet Skeslien Charles
Setting: 1939 and 1982, France and Montana
Based on a true story, this novel will transport you to two vastly different time periods and locations. In 1939 Paris, Odile worked for the American Library. When Nazis arrive in Paris and threaten the library, Odile and her fellow brave librarians join the resistance.
Forty-three years later, in Montana, teenager Lily becomes interested in her widowed neighbor. As they begin to form a bond, Lily tries to learn more about how her French neighbor ended up in Montana. They have no idea that a dark secret connects them.
by Kristin Hannah
Setting: 1939, France
The Nightingale tells the story of French sisters Vianne and Isabelle, who have always been at odds. Vianne is a rule-follower, and Isabelle is more rebellious and willing to speak her mind.
With WWII ongoing, Isabelle intends to fight for France, while Vianne simply wants to survive the war with her family intact - even if it means allowing an invading officer to live in her home.
Isabelle, who refuses to live passively under German authority, joins the French resistance and guides Allied airmen out of France through treacherous terrain- work for which she adopts the codename the Nightingale.
Meanwhile, Vianne finds her own way to quietly help children despite her initial reluctance to get involved.
The Book Girls Say... This is widely considered one of the best WW2 novels. Be sure to also check out our list of Books for Fans of The Nightingale.
The Paper Girl of Paris
by Jordyn Taylor
Setting: 1940s and present, Paris
Alice's grandmother, Adalyn, just passed away, and she left the sixteen-year-old an apartment in Paris - one that's been locked up for more than seventy years and that no one in the family knew existed.
Now Alice is spending the summer in Paris, and with the help of Paul - a Parisian student - she's determined to find out why her grandma never mentioned the family that she left behind when she left France during WWII. The more she learns about the past, the more she realizes that her family is also hiding secrets in the present.
This dual-time line YA novel also transports us back to the Paris of the 1940s. It's a city that sixteen-year-old Adalyn hardly recognizes as the Occupation brings new terrors daily. When she meets a young leader of a resistance group, she sees an opportunity to fight back, but she soon finds herself having to make more and more compromises.
The Book Girls Say... We know that some people are hesitant to read YA historical fiction, but Angela recently finished this book and found it to be an excellent depiction of the French Resistance. Additionally, many of our readers chose this book for the Book Voyage Challenge and gave it an average rating of 4.5 stars, with 100% saying they would recommend it to a friend.
The Baker's Secret
by Stephen P. Kiernan
Setting: 1940s, Normandy
Emma is a 22-year old baker in a small town on the Normandy coast of France. After her Jewish mentor is removed from his shop she has to take over the bakery.
Throughout the years of war, and under the watchful eyes of the enemy, Emma builds up a clandestine network of barter and trade, risking her life to make sure as many villagers as possible have bread and other food. In addition to helping the villagers meet their physical needs, she also helps restore their hope.
Code Name Hélène
by Ariel Lawhon
Setting: 1936, France
Based on the real-life of Nancy Wake, Code Name Helene takes you through four different names of this unlikely Australian helper.
As Lucienne, she smuggles people across the border to safety. Her success in those efforts leads to a bounty on her life and a new nickname, The White Mouse.
After training with Special Operations Executives in Britain, she gets assigned a code name of Helene. And when she returns from training and becomes an influential leader in the French Resistance, she becomes MADAM ANDRÉ.
A Picture of Hope
by Liz Tolsma
Setting: 1944, London & France
Nellie is a photojournalist who has spent most of the war in London photographing pilots taking off and landing. She's grown bored and is frustrated that women aren't allowed closer to the action. She devises a plan to travel aboard a medical ship traveling to France just after D-Day.
Along the way, she comes upon an orphanage where nuns are sheltering children with disabilities. Can she help them get safely into Switzerland before it's too late?
The Book Girls Say... This book is listed as #5 in the Heroines of WWII series, but each book in this series is written by a different author and is a completely stand-alone story about a unique aspect of the war.
The Winemaker's Wife
by Kristin Harmel
Setting: 1940 and 2019, Champagne, France
In Champagne, France, Michel has the perfect storage space in the champagne house, Maison Chauveau, to assist the Resistance by hiding munitions. His new wife fears they’ll be caught, but the risk is even higher for the half-Jewish wife of their head winemaker.
- In 2019 New York City, Liv is surprised by a visit from her grandmother and her insistence that they travel to France together. Her grandmother is ready to share her tragic wartime history, and eventually, they end up in the cellars of Maison Chaveau.
The Room on Rue Amelie
by Kristin Harmel
Setting: 1939, Paris
This book follows the lives of three people whose lives intersect amid the French Resistance and the fight to survive World War II.
Ruby is an American newlywed who envisions that life in Paris with her French husband will be quite glamorous, but as France falls to Germany, her life takes a very different turn.
Charlotte is only 11 when the Germans take the French capital. This young Jewish girl is wise beyond her years, but her life is ripped apart when the mass deportations begin.
Thomas is a British Royal Air Force pilot for whom the conflict is very personal because his mother was killed in a German bombing.
The Book Girls Say... This historical romance is a lighter take thanlighter take traditional WW2 fiction books without lacking depth. The book is well-researched, and Ruby’s character is based on a real woman named Virginia d’Albert-Lake, who aided the French Resistance as part of the Comet Escape Line.
The Light in Hidden Places
by Sharon Cameron
Setting: 1943, Poland
This YA historical fiction is based on the true story of Stefania Podgorska. This heroic 16-year-old worked for a Jewish family in their grocery store until German soldiers arrived in town. The family is forced to the ghetto, and Stefania, who is Catholic, is left in the abandoned city and must care for her 6-year-old sister alone.
When one of her employer's sons jumps from a train headed for a WWII death camp, he shows up at Stefania's home. She agrees to hide him and eventually twelve other Jewish members of her town. However, when the enemy knocks on the door to billet in her home, she has to make some serious decisions.
by Jennifer Chiaverini
When Mildred Fish from Wisconsin married a German economist, they couldn't predict what would happen in Germany when they moved back to his homeland in the early 1930s.
As the Third Reich rose to power, they committed to gathering intelligence and developing a network of women dedicated to stopping the regime. Their critical work continued for years until Nazi radio operators detected an errant signal, exposing them to the highest risk yet.
The Book Girls Say... This book is based on true events and a great look at ordinary people doing extraordinary things to stop evil.
The Winter Rose
by Melanie Dobson
Setting: 1943, France and United States
This split timeline WW2 novel shares one of the ways the American Quakers assisted during the war through the American Friends Service Committee. Grace Tonquin is a Quaker who travels to Vichy, France in 1943 to rescue Jewish children. When she returns home, she brings siblings Élias and Marguerite, who are loved, but also have long-lasting impacts of what they survived before coming to Oregon.
The family disappears, but 50 years later, Addie is desperate to find them. Her mentor Charlie has a genetic disease and needs a bone marrow transplant. Addie knows he is connected to the mysterious Tonquin family, but she doesn’t know how. She’s determined to find them and give Charlie a chance to be cured.
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Liesel's life is changed when she picks up an object hidden in the snow at her brother's graveside. It becomes her first act of book thievery, and it begins her love affair with books and words. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read, and soon she is stealing more books - from Nazi book-burnings to the mayor's wife's library.
She shares her stolen books with neighbors, and with the Jewish man that her foster family is hiding in their basement.
The Book Girls Say… While the main character is a child, the book is not published as a YA title, and is on the long side with 552 pages. We also hear the first half can feel slow, but then things pick up and most readers rate it very highly.
The Black Swan of Paris
by Karen Robards
Setting: 1944, Paris
Genevieve is a beautiful singer in Paris who is being used by her manager, Max, as a smokescreen for his work in the Resistance. She's resentful for being used until she must get more involved after hearing about the arrest of her estranged mother, a Baroness who the allies fear will reveal too much information if she is tortured.
After reuniting with her long-lost sister, Genevieve must find a way to navigate Occupied France in time to save their mother's life.
The Secret Letter
by Debbie Rix
Setting: 1939, Germany & England
In Germany, 13-year-old Magda is devastated when her best friend is taken to a concentration camp. Magda secretly joins a youth resistance movement known as the White Rose movement, but when an English pilot lands near her home, she has to decide whether to save the stranger at the risk of endangering her family.
In England, fifteen-year-old Imogen is separated from her family and evacuated to the Lake District - a safe space away from the bombs and battles ravaging Europe. As she writes letters to her loved ones, little does she know that her fate rests on the actions of a girl she's never met.
The Book Girls Say... This WW2 historical fiction is inspired by the true story of the White Rose youth resistance movement. While the main characters are both young, this book is not YA - it is adult fiction that includes adult content.
This book is currently free with Kindle Unlimited.
by V.S. Alexander
Setting: 1942, Germany
While the French Resistance is the most talked-about underground network, it wasn’t the only important group fighting back against the Third Reich’s cruelty. Young Germans started the White Rose movement, speaking out against the escalating actions of their government. This novel is based on their stories.
The Traitor is about Natalya, who already witnessed the horror of war on the Russian front as a volunteer nurse. She’s a student at the University of Munich when she begins seeing White Rose leaflets hidden in public places. Siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends are responsible, and Natalya feels compelled to go all-in to support their efforts, even if it means risking her life.
The Woman with the Blue Star
by Pam Jenoff
Setting: 1942, Poland
In 1942 Poland, a group of Jewish citizens hid in the Polish sewer system to escape a fate that would have been even worse. The Woman with the Blue Star tells the story of 18-year-old Sadie, forced to hide in the sewer with her pregnant mother.
Above ground, affluent Ella is shopping at the outdoor market when she spots Sadie underground. Ella begins to help Sadie however she can, but the risky friendship will be tested as the war continues to close in all around them.
The Book Girls Say… There is a memoir, The Girl in the Green Sweater, written by one of the survivors who spent 14 months in a Lvov sewer with her family. The memoir also talks about their helper, Leopold Socha, who risked his life to provide food and medicine.
The Dressmaker's Gift
by Fiona Valpy
Setting: 1940 and present, Paris
This dual-timeline WWII historical fiction follows the lives of three young seamstresses who share a small apartment above the fashion house where they work in German-occupied Paris. While all three seem to be simply going about their daily lives, each is actually hiding a secret. Mireille is fighting with the French Resistance; a German officer has seduced Claire, and Vivienne's involvement can't even be revealed to her friends.
Two generations later, Claire's granddaughter travels from England to Paris and finds herself living and working in the same building her grandmother occupied. When she finds a box of old photos and letters, she begins to investigate.
Warning: There are some graphic descriptions of war crimes in this novel.
This book is currently free with Kindle Unlimited.
Number The Stars
By Lois Lowry
Setting: 1943, Denmark
Awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990, you may remember this book from your youth. Set in 1943, 10-year-old Annemarie and her best friend, Ellen, live in Copenhagen, where life is filled with school, food shortages, and Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are "relocated," Ellen moves in with Annemarie's family and pretends to be one of them to survive.
The Book Girls Say... Unlike many World War 2 books, this story is more subtle in its descriptions of the horrendous acts of war, while still allowing the reader to understand exactly what atrocities were happening. This is a perfect book for adults and children to share together.
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Books Like The Nightingale
Monday 13th of March 2023
[…] When looking for books similar to The Nightingale, we were most drawn to the different stories of women’s vital roles and experiences during this tragic time. If you like these stories, you may also like the books on our list of historical fiction featuring WW2 resistance workers. […]
Books Set in Western Europe
Friday 10th of March 2023
[…] WWI or WWII, you’ll find additional books on these lists: Best WW1 Historical Fiction Novels, WW2 Novels Featuring Resistance Workers & Other Helpers, Books Set in the 1910s, Books Set in the 1940s, and Books Like the […]
Monday 17th of October 2022
Kate Quinn is the Queen of this genre in my opinion. Check her out
Monday 28th of February 2022
The Book Thief is one of my all time favorites and I really liked The Nightengale. Great list - many are on my TBR list.
Friday 25th of February 2022
What a great list! The Book Thief is one of my, all time, favorites and I've already read 3 other books from this list. For readers who have seen the 60 Minutes special segment on the Ritchie Boys and any others who'd like to know more about these secret heroes of WWII, I'd like to suggest my award winning novel, Immigrant Soldier, the Story of a Ritchie Boy, by K. Lang-Slattery. This historical novel follows a German-Jewish young man as he evolves from a frightened and frustrated teenager looking for a place to belong into a confident and caring U.S. Army intelligence officer working under General Patton.