Aviators Celia Dupre and Rhoda Menotti , aka Black Dove and White Raven, are barnstormers in post-World War 1 America, and travel the country with their children Emilia and Teodros. After Celia is killed in a bird strike accident, Rhoda takes the two children to Ethiopia to fulfill Celia’s dream of living in a country where Teo, whose father was Ethiopian, will not face discrimination. Arriving just as Haile Selassie is being crowned Emperor, the family soon settles into an idyllic life on a coffee farm. However, by the mid 1930s, when Em and Teo are in their mid-teens, storm clouds are gathering as Italy threatens to invade.
Ms. Wein has a terrific knack of bringing to life dusty corners of history with vivid characters and intricate plotting, woven into real-life events. This slice of history in this far away setting between the wars is untrodden territory for teen books, and is really what makes this book stand out. The beauty and charm of Ethiopia sings, as the trio fly over the mountainous and unspoiled country and become integrated into their community. And her passion about early aviation and aviatrixes, which we saw in Code Name Verity (2012) and Rose Under Fire (2013), adds weight and authenticity.
The novel is a collection of stories, theme essays and flight logs written over several years by both Em and Teo, and it gives the narrative of their lives, as well as the context of the country and its situation. Wein feels obliged to give a reason for these writings being bundled together, as she has done in her previous books, though it’s unnecessary and feels a bit tortuous and rather unrealistic.
Em, in particular, is a typical strong and feisty Wein protagonist, and Teo, who is more thoughtful and idealistic, seems a bit washed-out by comparison. They take the names White Raven and Black Dove as their alter egos, and write adventures of these two characters, complete with the powers that reflect their personalities, which symbolically reference their real lives too.
Overall, I don’t think this is as strong as CNV, but I think it still has lots of original, interesting ideas and elegant writing going for it. I think its audience is younger than CNV – more 6th to 9th grade – as though it is tragic and tense, it is much less explicit; and the lead characters are younger.
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
A note on reading this as an eARC. The formatting was a bit messed up, and in a few places, passages were in the wrong place. Typically this doesn’t worry me – it comes with the territory – but in this case it did occasionally heighten my confusion about which character was narrating at that point. I’m also wondering if the final published version would have a map (I love books to have maps!) as I’m unfamiliar with Ethiopia and the surrounding countries and, I suspect, most readers would be too.