A few months ago, I gushed over Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and told you all to go and get it. If you did, I hope you enjoyed it because I have a new one to recommend. Black Dove White Raven was published just last year, and if you like historical fiction, I would highly recommend you pick it up. This story has the same feelings as her other works: serious, highly researched, and deeply emotional. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
In Black Dove White Raven, Emilia's (Em) and Teo’s lives are brutally interrupted when their mothers’ plane is brought down in a freak accident during a stunt show. Teo’s mother is killed, but Em’s mother, Rhoda, survives. As a result of the accident, and to fulfill a wish of Teo’s mother’s, Rhoda decides to move the family to Ethiopia where raising a white daughter alongside a black adopted son shouldn’t be as difficult as it would be in 1930s America. The family stays in Ethiopia for six years and is content with their lives there until in 1936, Italy invades, and suddenly the family is at a loss as to what they should do. With Em’s father being Italian and Teo’s father being Ethiopian, the family has to decide where their loyalties lie and if escape is even an option.
I really enjoyed the back and forth narrative of Em and Teo throughout the novel. Both of the kids were engaging storytellers, and I liked the distinct voices the author gave them. The ending...holy cow. Intense doesn’t begin to cover it. The ending became even better for me when I discovered that the events the author includes in her climax could have, and possibly did, happen (even though there is no “official” record). I also loved the way the author addressed the ideas of friendship, race, and war. There was no preaching, just a steady, wonderful story of a family trying to live together in peace.
While there are so many wonderful layers that add so much depth to Black Dove White Raven, there were times that the story seemed to drag. The parts of the story that seemed to move the fastest where the sections that took place in the United States. Perhaps this was because I was familiar with the time period, as well as the setting. When the story moved to Ethiopia, the narrative started to move a lot slower. I honestly think it was because I was not familiar with Ethiopia’s history or its involvement in World War II. That being said, I really appreciated the Author’s Note at the end of the book which told the real story of the beginnings of the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-36. I had no idea that a lot of historians believe this conflict was really the opening gambit of World War II. I wonder if knowing this before reading the novel would have helped the story to move more quickly from my perspective. With that in mind, I may have to I go back and read this book a second time.
One last thought: technically, this book is shelved in the young adult section of the bookstore, but I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that placement. True, our narrators are sixteen and seventeen years old, but I certainly didn’t picture them that way in my head. I think it would take a special kind of young adult to enjoy this book. In particular, one who is obsessed with history, flight, and doesn’t mind fighting through difficult-to-pronounce names, places, and technical jargon.
I have liked all of Elizabeth Wein’s young adult novels so far. I’m going to be very interested to see where she goes next!