Wednesday, August 28, 2019

'Tis 50 Years Since: 1969 in historical fiction

The Historical Novel Society's definition of historical fiction includes novels set at least 50 years before the writing, or those written by someone who wasn't alive at the time they were set. If you follow these guidelines, current novels taking place in 1969 are now considered historical fiction. So, for any readers who think the '60s are too recent to be "historical"... well, next year, the 1970s will start getting included under that umbrella (!!).

The final year of the tumultuous 1960s saw a number of iconic events, including Woodstock, the moon landing, the continued Vietnam War, the Manson murders, Chappaquiddick, and the Stonewall riots. It's also the year I was born, so I'm soon to become historical myself. For that reason, I'm especially interested in historical fiction set in '69. These novels re-create the world I was born into but didn't personally experience.

Below are ten historical novels taking place during 1969 (including some published a year ago or more; this is cheating a bit).  I'm looking forward to reading them.

And for further reading:: author Richard Sharp's guest post, The Sixties: The New Frontier in Historical Fiction, is one of my favorite essays on this site. It does a great job of putting in perspective why it's important for authors to continue examining the '60s and writing novels set back then.

America Was Hard to Find by Kathleen Alcott

Alcott covers events of the Cold War era (one plot strand takes place in '69) in her story of a couple, their brief affair, their son, and their involvement in major socio-cultural events. I love the cover design. Ecco, May 2019. [see on Goodreads]

Adamson's 1969 by Nicole Burton

A young Englishman attends American high school in '69 and gets caught up in many events of the day/year. Apippa, Oct. 2018. [see on Goodreads]

The Girls by Emma Cline

Searching for a place to belong, an impressionable California teenager gets drawn into the world of a dangerous cult during the summer of '69.  Inspired by the Manson murders. Random House, 2016. [see on Goodreads]

The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette

The coming-of-age story of a nineteen-year-old woman, recipient of a military scholarship leading to a nursing career, who finds her future in limbo after awakening to the antiwar movement. She Writes, 2018. [see on Goodreads]

Summer of 69 by Elin Hilderbrand

In this book described as the author's first historical novel, Hilderbrand presents the individual stories of the Levin siblings as they live through and experience pivotal events of that summer in Nantucket.  Little, Brown, June 2019. [see on Goodreads]

Cementville by Paulette Livers

The residents of a small Kentucky factory town face the aftermath of Vietnam when local soldiers' bodies return home, spurring seismic change in Cementville.  Counterpoint, 2014. [see on Goodreads]

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

The NYT bestselling epic of the Vietnam War, written by a decorated veteran who served in combat as a Marine overseas and based his first novel on his own experiences. [see on Goodreads]

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This top-selling print book for the first half of 2019, taking place in coastal North Carolina in 1969, is a story about a lonely young woman from the marshlands, her coming of age, the era's prejudices, and a mysterious murder. This one has been on my TBR since it came out.  Putnam, 2018. [see on Goodreads]

GodPretty in the Tobacco Field by Kim Michele Richardson

Richardson's second novel takes place in the rural Kentucky mountains in 1969 and traces the coming of age of a young woman with big dreams. Kensington, 2016. [see on Goodreads]

Summer of 69 by Todd Strasser

The Woodstock music festival and the Vietnam draft figure in this autobiographical novel that's pitched as taking readers on a "psychedelically tinged trip of a lifetime." Candlewick, 2019. [see on Goodreads]


  1. What a great list, Sarah. As someone who turned sixteen in 1968, I have a soft spot for the Sixties, and you mention a couple of books I hadn't considered but will now. I did review Cementville some years back (loved the premise, disliked the narrative, which I found fragmented and forced), and I've read Todd Strasser's YA because I'm trying to write one of my own from that era. But of those I've read, Matterhorn wins, hands down. He captures the era as well as anyone and the terror and confusion of combat. His second novel, Deep River, just came out recently.

  2. Thanks, Larry. That's too bad Cementville wasn't as good as expected - it had sounded promising. I'll have to read Matterhorn, although novels of wartime combat don't generally appeal. I met the author at ALA this summer and got an ARC of Deep River, which is on my list to read, too.

    1. I understand what you mean about Matterhorn and combat, though Deep River has its violence too, so be warned. I'm planning to post my review of it in three weeks.

    2. Thanks for the heads up. I'll look forward to reading your review.