Black Dove, White Raven, by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White RavenSo continues my love affair with Elizabeth Wein. If she could just write YA fiction about every historical event, ever, I would know SO MUCH world history. I managed to learn new things about World War II in her first two books, but this book absolutely astounded me with all the history I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

See, it turns out that there were not one, but two wars between Ethiopia and Italy, one at the end of the 19th century and one right before the start of World War II. In fact, the second Italo-Ethiopian war may have helped give Hitler the confidence to go invade all the places, because it showed that the League of Nations was really bad at its job. Italy didn’t even bother pretending to play nice, bringing in planes to fight against spear-carriers and dropping mustard gas in spite of a little thing called the Geneva Convention.

Against this backdrop we have the story of Emilia and Teo, the respective children of White Raven and Black Dove, an interracial female barnstorming duo. Emilia’s dad is Italian, Teo’s dad was Ethiopian, and they and their parents lived together in the US until Teo’s mother died in a plane accident. Teo’s mother had wanted everyone to move to Ethiopia, where Teo and Emilia could play together without all the wonderful US racism, so when that option presents itself, Emilia’s mother moves everyone over. Then the war starts, slowly but surely, and things go very wrong.

The novel is written sort of end-first, opening with a letter from Emilia to Haile Selassie begging for a passport for Teo after these very wrong things have happened. Then, through essays and “flight logs” and diary entries we get the full story.

In that story lies all the learning stuff. There’s lots of history, of course, but also quite a bit of sociology. There’s talk about religion and spirituality and their role in each character’s life, and there’s also a look into the prejudices of society. It’s absolutely fascinating to look at racism and sexism and classism in both the US and Ethiopia at this time and see how they intersect. And then of course there’s flying and action and adventure and it’s all so exciting!

I do have to admit that the diary conceit only just barely holds this novel together, as I found myself constantly thinking, “Wait, why is she showing all of this stuff to the emperor? How does she think this particular story is going to get Teo a passport? How is she remembering all this heavy dialogue with such accuracy?” I like the immediacy and intimacy of the diary conceit, and I think Wein does great things with it, but it definitely needed a better frame story.

But, whatever, I loved the heck out of this book and I found myself between breaks thinking, “I hope everyone’s okay! I hope no one dies! Someone’s going to die, but I hope it’s not anyone I’ve grown fond of!” My coworker did not quite understand my concern, but I’m sure some of you do! I cannot wait to see what Wein’s got up her sleeve next.

Recommendation: For fans of Wein’s other work (Code Name Verity I love you!) and also history and planes and excitement.

Rating: 9/10

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fireomg, Rose Under Fire. omg, omg.

So I read this amazing book last year called Code Name Verity that could probably have literally knocked my socks off had I been wearing socks while reading it. It was fascinating and horrifying and tricksy and I loved it to pieces and right after I read it this quasi-sequel came out and I was like, oh, I’m totally going to read that. And finally, I did.

Part 1 of the book is pretty decent, with more awesome lady pilots being awesome and piloting, and our diary-writing hero this time is an American ferry pilot in the RAF called Rose Justice, which, fine, whatever, it lends itself to some good wordplay, I guess. Anyway, the war is reaching its peak in 1944 and there’s lots of flying to do, and Rose gets some good flights due to nepotism and finds herself in Paris, which she thinks is pretty sweet. She writes some seemingly innocuous words while there — “I hope I don’t forget [this journal] tomorrow morning” — and then my lunch break ends and I go back to work, looking forward to more flying adventures.

And then I get back to the book later and Rose has gone MIA! Nooooo! There are letters between her friend and her family and clearly things have gone horribly wrong! And then the diary picks up again, six months later, and Rose is writing about her ghastly stay in Ravensbrück.

And, okay, truth time, I almost stopped reading this book right there, because I’ve read a lot of World War II/Holocaust literature and I know from concentration camps, right? I loved Verity in part because there were no horrible death camps and I got to learn something new. So I was like, really, Elizabeth Wein, you can’t do better than that?

But of course she proved me wrong, again, perpetually. I certainly learned something new here, something that I fervently wish weren’t true: that there was a whole transport of Polish women who had bones removed and infections purposefully injected into them so that the Nazi doctors could simulate war injuries and figure out how to fix them. Spoiler: there wasn’t much fixing going on.

These so-called Rabbits and their plight are a big part of the story, but of course the real story is about Rose and her friendships with the other women in the camp, whether they were Rabbits or Russians or even Germans. Wein does a great job of making everyone fairly sympathetic; everyone just wants to survive, and the lengths they go to to do so are more of those new things I learned that I wish I couldn’t have.

In addition to writing her diary, it turns out that Rose is a pretty decent poet, so there are little poems sprinkled throughout the diary text. I’m not much for poetry, so I wasn’t thrilled about them at the beginning, but the ones written as part of the concentration camp section of the book are surprisingly gut-wrenching. One in particular, called “Lisette Waits”, had me tearing up even before things got really bad for everyone.

It’s a depressing book, for sure, but nearly as amazingly so as Code Name Verity. If you have plans to read Verity, definitely do that before reading Rose or you will be super spoiled. If you don’t have plans to read Verity, I do not know what is wrong with you.

Recommendation: Read Code Name Verity. Read this when you need another dose of Elizabeth Wein goodness.

Rating: 9/10