I read a lot of historical fiction. It's a genre I enjoy, and these types of books often end up in my book clubs. Choosing five books is near impossible, so I'm breaking it down. Even breaking it down, don't be surprised if I do another "1900s edition" in the future. There's a lot there! I tried to give a variety here.
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
This book is about Addie Baum, born in 1900 to immigrant parents in Boston. Her family is poor, living in a one-room apartment, where everyone pays their dues. Addie loves to learn, but is taken out of school sooner than she'd like to assist in the family expenses. I found this book to be eye-opening to many topics I hadn't thought too much about. It explores the class struggles between immigrants and natives, the role of family expectations in one's life (a timeless topic), and how fast the times changed in that early part of the century. It covers a lot of ground and is quite memorable.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
I've talked about this book here before, and I am still a big fan. Since my first reading, I have reread it twice for book clubs, and caught new things each time. This is the epic story of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It covers their tumultuous love, Scott's rise and fall from fame, and a lot about the "roaring" '20s. I'm fascinated by these people, and this novel is very true-to-life. Worth your time, even if you aren't a big fan of Fitzgerald.
Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline
I'm ashamed to say that prior to this book, I knew nothing about the orphan trains. What a crazy practice that was! This book is partly placed in the present, but it is the story of an old woman telling her history to a teenage girl. The woman was placed on the train as a child, and she relays her story to the girl. It is at times hard to read, but an all-too-real representation of these lost children.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Naturally, there are many amazing historical fiction books on WWII (I'm sure I need a second list just for that!), but this one really stuck out to me. This novel is about a young Chinese boy during WWII, who lives on the West Coast. He befriends a young Japanese girl, and their friendship gets them both through the turmoil in their city and the country. The book discussed the Japanese internment camps of WWII, a part of American history that isn't discussed too often, and it did so in a very intriguing way. It jumps back and forth from the 40s to the 80s, so it is 100% historical, which I liked. Again, this is a novel that was read with my book groups, so I did my own research for it, which made the story even richer to me.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I know, I know. Everyone's already read this. However, on the off chance you haven't, please do. It's an amazing read that discusses race and work in the 1960s. It also shows the family and social roles that women were expected to fill. Beyond that, it is smart, funny, and heartbreaking. Read it!