Book Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Before Verity…there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In this coming-of-age prequel to Code Name Verity, we meet a much younger Julie — a privileged daughter of an aristocratic Scottish family, home for the summer from her Swiss boarding school. Julie and her siblings are converging on their late grandfather’s estate one last time as the grounds, manor house, and belongings are being either sorted for auction or repurposed into a boys’ school.

At the beginning of the summer, Julie is free-spirited and ready for fun. When Julie arrives earlier than expected (and ahead of her luggage), she grabs an old kilt that belonged to her brother and sets off to explore along the river that runs through their property — where she’s konked on the head and knocked unconcious.

As Julie recovers, she develops a connection with the Traveller family who rescued her, and begins to dig through her foggy memories to figure out who knocked her out, and what’s going on with the ancient and priceless Scottish river pearls that were a beloved part of her grandfather’s treasure trove.

Through Julie’s eyes, we get to know the family of Scottish Travellers and see the prejudice and cruelty they’re so casually subjected to, even by people Julie otherwise had respected. Likewise, through Julie, we meet a reclusive, disfigured librarian and gain an understanding of what it truly means to look beyond the surface.

The adventure and mystery of the story are quite entertaining, and there’s nothing here that would earn anything more scandalous than a PG rating. That said, Julie does explore her sexuality through a series of important kisses, and discovers that her orientation may be more complicated than she’d been prepared for. At the same time, we see the great love and loyalty that Julie is capable of, whether directed toward her immediate family, long-time acquaintances, or fast friends.

This is important to note, because of course this is Julie from Code Name Verity, and while The Pearl Thief is set earlier than that stellar book, it’s an interesting look at the young woman Julie was before her life was changed forever by World War II. In The Pearl Thief, Julie is still a half-formed woman, but she’s already well on her way toward establishing her outsized bravery, talent for mimicry and pretending to be someone else, keen mind that zooms in on details, and of course, the absolute devotion to her friends.

It’s not essential to have read Code Name Verity before reading The Pearl Thief, but I think it does add a great deal of meaning. Without the context of CNV, The Pearl  Thief is an interesting and entertaining adventure story, with a beautiful setting and a very neat interweaving of Scottish history and folklore within the more contemporary mystery plot. But having read CNV, The Pearl Thief is all above the above, plus.

It’s a beautiful look into the life of a young woman who we know will go on to be remarkable. For that reason, while The Pearl Thief itself isn’t a highly emotional story, reading it manages to be a moving experience. Here is Julie —  Queenie — in her early days, and it’s easy to see the roots of who she will one day be.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Pearl Thief
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: May 2, 2017
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.


Black Dove White Raven 2

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Rhoda and Delia are American stunt pilots who perform daring aerobatics to appreciative audiences. But while the sight of two girls wingwalking – one white, one black – is a welcome novelty in some parts of the USA, it’s an anathema in others. Rhoda and Delia dream of living in a world where neither gender nor ethnicity determines their life. When Delia is killed in a tragic accident, Rhoda is determined to make that dream come true. She moves to Ethiopia with her daughter, Em, and Delia’s son, Teo.

Em and Teo have adapted to scratching a living in a strange land, and feel at home here; but their parents’ legacy of flight and the ability to pilot a plane places them in an elite circle of people watched carefully by the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, who dreams of creating an air force for his fledgling nation. As Italy prepares for its invasion of Ethiopia, Em and Teo find themselves inextricably entangled in the crisis — and they are called on to help.

My Thoughts:

Sigh. I was so looking forward to this book, having absolutely loved (and been emotionally wrecked by) Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, also by Elizabeth Wein. Sadly, this new book simply does not measure up.

The synopsis is a bit misleading, for starter. Delia’s accident happens quite early in the story, and we get only a few glimpses of Rhoda and Delia’s friendship and flying adventures. Most of the book takes place in Ethiopia, after Rhoda brings Teo and Em there to start a new life. The book is told via Emilia and Teo’s flight logs, as they record their flying lessons plus their impressions of everything going on around them. While there are interesting snippets, in many ways the overall story feels disjointed and choppy. I didn’t feel that Rhoda’s plans were clearly established, and the ups and downs of their life in Ethiopia are conveyed in choppy episodes that don’t add up to a cohesive whole.

As an added distraction, the book seems to presuppose a certain amount of knowledge of the history of Ethiopia in the 1930s — and I’d guess that most of the target audience would have not the slightest clue. (I relied on Wikipedia to get a basic foundation for appreciating the geopolitics of the time, but how many YA readers would take the time to do this?)

There are some very interesting moments in Black Dove, White Raven, along with a series of dramatic and horrifying events toward the end of the book, but mostly it was a long haul that lacked a real sense of rhythm and flow.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Black Dove, White Raven
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Publication date: March 5, 2015
Length: 480 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/young adult fiction
Source: Purchased

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: Black Dove, White Raven

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week’s pick:

e wein

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
(US release date: March 5, 2015 )

With thanks and a big YAY to Andie of TheBookHeap, who made me jump and shout this morning while reading her TTT list which included this book! I was so thrilled to see that Elizabeth Wein has a new book coming out!

A story of survival, subterfuge, espionage and identity.

Rhoda and Delia are American stunt pilots who perform daring aerobatics to appreciative audiences. But while the sight of two girls wingwalking – one white, one black – is a welcome novelty in some parts of the USA, it’s an anathema in others. Rhoda and Delia dream of living in a world where neither gender nor ethnicity determines their life. When Delia is killed in a tragic accident, Rhoda is determined to make that dream come true. She moves to Ethiopia with her daughter, Em, and Delia’s son, Teo.

Em and Teo have adapted to scratching a living in a strange land, and feel at home here; but their parents’ legacy of flight and the ability to pilot a plane places them in an elite circle of people watched carefully by the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, who dreams of creating an air force for his fledgling nation. As Italy prepares for its invasion of Ethiopia, Em and Teo find themselves inextricably entangled in the crisis — and they are called on to help.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire are two of the most moving and spectacular books I’ve read in recent years (and if you haven’t read them, drop everything and get to a library!) As soon as I heard about Black Dove, White Raven this morning, I went ahead and pre-ordered a copy. Can’t wait!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. You can find out more here — come play!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

17907041In 2012, no new release impressed me more (or made me cry harder) than Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. The author’s newest book, Rose Under Fire, is also set during World War II, and presents the horrors of war through the eyes of a fresh new heroine, Rose Justice.

When we first meet Rose, she is 18 years old, a feisty pilot from Pennsylvania who has volunteered to serve with the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), a civilian division supporting the Royal Air Force in England by ferrying aircraft back and forth between bases, airfields, and repair centers. The ATA was never intended to see action — but as we see in Rose Under Fire, things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to.

While shielded from combat, the ATA pilots face the danger of flying damaged or faulty equipment — and even deadlier, there’s also the danger of incoming German V-1 rockets, known as flying bombs or “doodlebugs”. When Rose pursues and knocks down a doodlebug, she starts a chain of events that leads to her capture by German pilots — resulting in unimaginable horrors as she eventually finds herself a prisoner in the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp.

The author doesn’t shy away from presenting the appalling, inhuman suffering of the Ravensbrück prisoners. Worst off of all are the “Rabbits”, Polish prisoners who have been used as human guinea pigs in cruel, pointless medical experiments which killed many and left the rest horribly crippled. Rose is adopted within the camp by a close-knit group of prisoners, among them several Rabbits, and they all swear to tell the world, one way or another, what truly transpired hidden away behind the camp walls.

Rose is an admirable and loveable main character. She’s not naive, but she does come from a nurturing family in the safe and cozy world of the US — so that while her camp mates recount the years of wartime terror they’ve already lived through, Rose can only recall her birthday parties and swimming at the lake on warm summer days. It’s Rose’s good memories and her gift with words that help them all to survive, as Rose creates poems and stories that the other prisoners avidly soak up, her fantasy worlds providing distraction from the unending suffering in the camp as well as a glimpse of what happiness might once have been.

Within Rose’s camp family, bonds are strong and fierce, and Rose and the others display courage and devotion beyond what we might imagine. Those who survive only do so because of the others’ loyalty and sacrifice. Meanwhile, in the midst of starvation, endless roll calls in freezing weather, rampant disease, and the threat of sudden execution or disfiguring punishment, all the prisoners can do is get through each moment, determined above all to never let the names of the lost be forgotten.

Rose Under Fire is powerful, disturbing, sad, and lovely. The writing is unflinching, and yet also contains the beauty of Rose’s poetry, which she creates first in her head in the camp, and later records in the journals she uses to tell her story when she can’t face the idea of actually talking about her experiences with outsiders. Her lengthy poem “The Subtle Briar” speaks to the prisoners’ clinging to life, even in the face of terror and death:

When you cut down the hybrid rose,
its blackened stump below the graft
spreads furtive fingers in the dirt.
It claws at life, weaving a raft
of suckering roots to pierce the earth…

Rose Under Fire is a companion piece to Code Name Verity. Chronologically, it takes place after the events of Code Name Verity and includes a few characters from the earlier book — but I wouldn’t consider it a true sequel, as Rose Under Fire stands perfectly well on its own. Both books are remarkable achievements, taking young heroic women and placing them at the center of war, and endowing them with courage and grace even in the worst of times and circumstances. If you’ve read neither book, start with Code Name Verity, simply because certain outcomes in this book are referenced in Rose Under Fire. Again, both books certainly stand on their own, but I’d recommend reading them in the order written if only to avoid spoilers for the end of Code Name Verity.

Rose Under Fire lacks the intricate plot twists and reversals that make Code Name Verity so breathtaking. Because the book is told from Rose’s point of view, her survival is never truly in doubt. However, her horrifying ordeal and the complex stories of her fellow prisoners make Rose Under Fire a harrowing and emotional reading experience, and I found myself unable to put the book down until I reached the sad but inspiring end.

Author Elizabeth Wein, with these two books, has taken a chapter of history that may not be as immediately familiar to younger readers today and has brought it to life in vibrant, tangible detail. These books deserve all the praise they’ve received, and I have no hesitation about recommending them, for adult and young adult readers alike.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased