Review posted May 1, 2015.
Hyperion, Los Angeles, 2015. 357 pages.
2015 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Teen Fiction
Wow. Once again Elizabeth Wein illuminates a historical situation I knew nothing about. In some ways, this combines themes from her two different series. We’re back in Aksum of Ethiopia – but this is not ancient Aksum. Instead, Aksum is combined with female pilots of World War II – actually, shortly before World War II, when Italy invaded Ethiopia. (Did you know about that? I sure didn’t.)
At the start of the book, Black Dove and White Raven are the airshow names for the mothers of Emilia Menotti and Teodros Dupré. Black Dove is Teo’s mother, Delia Dupré; and White Raven is Em’s Momma, Rhoda Menotti. They travel around doing airshows together in 1930s America, doing aerobatics and wing-walking. They met in France after World War I. They dream of moving to Ethiopia, where Teo’s father was from, where people won’t be shocked by a black woman and a white woman living and working together.
But then there’s an accident, and Delia is killed. However, the family still makes it to Ethiopia, and Teo and Em work on becoming the new Black Dove and White Raven.
Teo and Em grow up in Ethiopia, and Momma teaches them to fly – just in time to come of age when Italy invades Ethiopia in 1936.
This book is filled with historical details I knew nothing about, but mostly it’s the compelling story of two children with strong family ties, living in another culture, learning to find their place in the world and deal with all manner of people – and coming of age in wartime -- wartime that involved mustard gas against spearmen, and the need to protect ancient treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant.
As always, Elizabeth Wein’s writing is powerful and evocative. I'll admit that this is slower, atmospheric reading most of the way through, but these are distinctive characters you will remember long afterward.