Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven
by Elizabeth Wein
Read: March 
Published: March 31, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: NetGalley (Thank you, Disney!)
Category: YA, historical fiction, Ethiopia 1930s, aviation
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes-in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

Black Dove, White Raven is a beautifully written historical fiction set in 1930s Ethiopia and leading up to their war with Italy. It features lush landscapes, airplanes, the uncertainty of impending war and the fear and violence of battle. The story is told in essays and flight logs by siblings Emilia and Teodros. Although Em and Teo have different birth parents, personalities and look nothing alike (she is is white, and he is black and looks Ethiopian like his father, though they both identify as American like their mothers), they are brother and sister in every way that matters. 

As young children Em and Teo travel the US with their daredevil pilot mothers; side by side they face the darkness of the death of Teo's mother Delia and the resulting deep depression of Em's mother Rhonda; together they move with Em's mom (whom they both call "momma") to Ethiopia, following Delia's dream of living free under the Ethiopian sky. Through Em and Teo's voices we  learn their passions and their similarities and differences. Just like their mothers who were best friends, Em and Teo share a mind and heart and an incredible bond. One of my favorite aspects of this story is the focus on a sibling relationship and other family and friendship bonds that are formed by love and not necessarily blood. 

The central characters in this story are a sister and brother, but I'm always thrilled about author Elizabeth's Wein's focus on women and female relationships, several of which stood out to me. I especially loved Delia and Sindu's characters - sadly, they never meet each other. Although Rhonda was difficult to like at times she was complex and I grew to understand and respect her. Her friendship with Delia is a powerful force that drives this story.  

I love any book that explores a real time and place, and I enjoyed this story's focus on Ethiopia during a time where much of the world was in turmoil. It's clear that author Wein put care and sensitivity into creating her characters and telling their story, including working very hard to make the setting as accurate as possible. I had no idea that Mussolini and Italy decided they wanted to overtake this country, or the role this war played in the beginning of WWII. I learned a lot by reading and through the characters I came to love and care about this place along with them, which is one reason I adore historical fiction so much. 

However this book is written like a series of vignettes with very little momentum and as a result it took me a month to read.  It wasn't until at least 60% that I figured out the main conflict of the tale, and even after that the tension and urgency in the story never felt very high. All of this slowed down the pacing tremendously and I found myself taking long breaks while reading. Still these characters and this place have now been burned into my mind, and I'm glad I pressed through and finished their story.  

Love Triangle Factor: N/A (no romance)
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 


  1. Despite the slowness, I really want to read this book now. Like you, I had no idea that Italy and Ethiopia were ever in conflict. I think it's amazing for Wein to highlight that part of history; too often, historical tales are limited to the West, even though crucial things happened in Africa, Asia, and South America. I'm sold.

    Sarcasm & Lemons

  2. I haven't read a single book by the author *hides under bed* but I adore the sound of this novel. I am a little scared to hear that it took you an entire month to read it but I think I am going to add this to my TBR anyway because I REALLY love the sound of the relationships in the book!

    Lovely review, Lauren and I am sorry this wasn't as good as it could have been for you!

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

  3. As much as I love the setting of 1930s Ethiopia and the premise of a stunt pilot mother, I would have hoped that there would be more movement in the story. I can definitely see it taking ages to read, with all those little vignettes.

  4. Wein's style in writing these historical fictional novels really doesn't work for me. I don't have the patience to wait until the 60% mark to figure out what's happening in a book. I feel like her books are so important, though, and I love that she writes them! So glad you were able to persevere through this one, Lauren. Not sure I will be able to do the same but...maybe someday! ;)

  5. Great review Lauren. <3 I'm glad you ended up liking this book too, three stars like me, lol :) But when I think back at it, I'm really disappointed :( I wished for so much more from this author, ugh. This book was just.. boring. Nothing big ever happened, like you mention. Sigh. Anyway. Thank you for sharing your thoughts sweetie. <3 I'm glad you managed to finish it, lol :)


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