Esther Friesner on Historical Fiction

Y'all saw my review of Threads and Flames yesterday, but since that was part of a Teen Book Scene tour, I get to do something else too! I got to ask Esther Friesner ANYTHING I wanted. Squee! I was really proud of my question, and I really like her answer.

My question:
It is widely acknowledged that history is a very important subject in school. "Learn from the past" and all that. My question is: why is historical fiction important? Especially in the young adult genre.

Esther's Answer:

You already know it’s important to learn from the past so that we don’t make the same mistakes all over again. It’s also important so that we can recognize the repeated rise of harmful trends in our society and in our world and do something about them before they’re too big to be stopped easily. Search for “First they came for the Communists” written by Pastor Martin Niemöller about the rise of Naziism and remember that he wrote this even though he was anti-Communist. Just because something atrocious happened once does not mean it’s over forever, although the people who perpetrate such atrocities would like you to believe that just long enough for them to gain the power to do it again.

Smell smoke? You can say, “Well, yes, we had a little flare-up around here yesterday, but we got it under control and I’m sure it hasn’t been smoldering. Besides, I’m busy. Somebody else will take care of it.” Or you can reach for the fire extinguisher and start looking for the fire before you’re facing a towering wall of flame.

However, it’s one thing to learn your history lessons and another thing to remember them. You can memorize important dates and events, but will you retain that knowledge? That’s where historical fiction comes in.

By telling the story of a person who lived through certain times and events, you bring life and immediacy to the facts. A history book tells you what happened and when. A historical novel shows you thepeople to whom it happened, takes you along to live through their experiences and emotions, and lets you share the impact of what happened to them. If the author’s done her job right, you will come to care about the characters caught up in historical events, and when you care about someone—even someone who never existed in reality—it’s hard to forget their sufferings and triumphs.

It’s the difference between saying “246 people died on the planes that went down on September 11, 2001” and—as happened to me—working next to a woman who was friends with one of the flight attendants on one of those planes.

Authors of historical fiction like to turn cold numbers into living human beings.

I think you already know the sort of person who likes to turn living human beings into cold, disposable numbers.

Thank you SO much, Esther! Your answer gave me chills. Wonderful.

All review content © Enna Isilee, Squeaky Books 2007-2010


  1. Excellent answer! I loved Esther's first Helen book and can't wait to pick up Threads and Flames.

    Enna- if you liked this story one of my favorite books is Ashes in Roses by Mary Jane auch, about the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

  2. Fantastic post. I'm going to tweet about it!

  3. This was such a wonderful answer and post. I definitely agree and I can't wait to check out her books!


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