Review of Stateless, by Elizabeth Wein, read by Moira Quirk


by Elizabeth Wein
read by Moira Quirk

Little, Brown Young Readers, 2023. 10 hours, 38 minutes.
Review written February 27, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 Odyssey Honor

I shouldn’t be surprised by how good the books I’ve read lately are — because I’ve been reading award winners. Stateless won an Odyssey Honor, which is the award for best audiobook, and this audiobook was indeed wonderful. The book is also by the author of the amazing book Code Name Verity, so, yes, I expected brilliance.

This book is set in Europe in 1937, when the Nazis are already in power and there’s already war in Italy, but World War II hasn’t broken out yet, and people are still hoping for peace. So much so, in fact, that a young people’s air race across Europe is organized to promote peace. Competitors from many different nations are flying across Europe in timed flights, with stops in various places for socializing and promoting peace.

Stella North is representing England even though she doesn’t carry a British passport. Her parents were killed by Bolsheviks in Russia when she was three years old, and her aunt and uncle got her out of Russia. So now she has a refugee passport stating that she was born in Russia but the Soviet Union doesn’t claim her. She is essentially stateless.

And it turns out that Stella isn’t the only competitor in the Youth Air Olympics who is stateless. She is the only woman, though, and is hounded by the press. They’re not sure she’ll be able to handle the pressure of the race — so when she sees two planes far ahead of her come close together — and then one of them falls into the English channel, Stella tells about the crash, but she’s afraid to let anyone know she saw the other plane that may have been responsible for the crash. She’s not sure whom she can trust, even among the experienced chaperones.

And that’s not the only incident of sabotage and dangerous threats in an epic race that’s supposed to be for peace. Stella must learn whom to trust and whom to avoid — and then how to keep safe during their day and night in Nazi Germany.

There’s lots of tension, suspense, and drama in this amazing story, along with a sprinkle of romance and international friendship. And an author’s note at the back gives you key background details such as there were a higher proportion of female pilots in the early days of aviation than there are now. The only sad part is that it’s hard to imagine a good future for these young people with World War II right around the corner. But I was glad to share in this exciting part of their story. So good!

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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