I’ve always been fascinated by the literary technique of telling a story through fictional letters, diaries, and other documents. In fact, when I was in college, I created a box of “historical artifacts” (a diary, carte-de-visite photographs, and letters), supposedly from the Civil War, as a Christmas present for one of my little sisters. Together they told the fictional story of a girl named Sylvia. Composing her diary in a period style was quite fun, and I copied (half of it-- ran out of time) with a nib pen. To make the photographs, I found images of period carte-de-visites online and printed them out in appropriate sizes. I then yellowed my prints with tea and glued them to thin cardstock. They were all reasonably authentic looking!
I like novels told in this format as well. Here are five very good ones.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)
(Young Adult Historical Fiction)
This is not a fluffy or overly happy book (torture by the Gestapo is involved), yet it is such a good one. The format is unusual: it is the written confession of a young, female British agent who has been captured in France by the Nazis during World War II. She writes about England, about her friend Maddie, and about why she was sent to France. There is a resiliency to the spirit of this tale that is reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The humanity of the various characters is conveyed with more nuance than is typical in YA fiction. Wartime is not nice, and the characters deal with difficult moral issues that would provide excellent discussion in a book club or classroom. It is difficult to say much more without providing spoilers, so I’ll just close by saying that I am grateful I found this book (due to THIS review).
Mystery. Sayers. Epistles. Need I say more? As you read through these various letters and other documents, the story you think you know begins to change until the real solution is finally reached. I enjoyed this book, but some readers may find the lack of admirable characters a bit depressing.
(Young Adult-- I guess it's historical fiction by now)
When an irreverent young orphan is sent to acquire an education, she experiences life outside of an orphan home for the first time and writes her benefactor hilarious letters about her experiences at a turn-of-the-century women’s college. I love this character’s spunk and self-effacing humor. Basically, if she were real and alive today, she would be the most popular blogger ever. Parents might want to note that there are some brief, theologically incorrect references to religion.
Comparable to The Screwtape Letters in format, this book is the fictional collection of missives penned by a young college student as she abandons Christianity for atheism. She writes to a variety of prominent atheists with advice about how to win over more Christians. In the end, however, the reader discovers the pain that is really at the back of the protagonist’s disbelief.
I know that “everyone” has already heard of this masterfully satirical work, but I couldn’t leave it off of the list, could I? This book was a significant influence on me when I first read it as a teenager. I credit it with helping me see through a lot of erroneous ideas that would otherwise have appeared attractive. It is the kind of book that seems to hold something new each time one reads it. It's available to be read free online. For example, HERE.