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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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The Pearl Thief

In this prequel to Code Name Verity, a teenage Lady Julia Beaufort-Stuart has just returned from boarding school headed to her family’s former ancestral home Strathfearn House that is being sold to become another boarding school to pay her grandfather’s debts, since the estate hadn’t been able to pay for itself in years. Upon her arrival two days earlier than planned, Julie decides to attempt to surprise her family and friends, but doesn’t run into any of them. Figuring she’ll run into them soon, she takes a walk along the river, knowing this opportunity will be forever gone soon, and is somehow attacked. When she comes to two days later, she’s in the hospital and believed to be a traveller, treated like she’s no better than an unwanted animal. She can’t remember the events around being attacked, and meanwhile, there are other unusual circumstances. A man has gone missing and is believed to be dead and other suspicious events have happened. Julie, together with new allies of the Scottish travellers Euan McEwen and his sister Ellen, tries to discover what happened and also clear the travellers of any suspected wrongdoing before someone is gravely injured.

This was so very different compared to CNV. It is basically more of a historical mystery taking place well before the war. Julie is also much younger at fifteen, and is determinedly trying to be older than she is. She sometimes acts as if she has the authority when her family is unavailable and she pretends to be older to attract older men too. Julie can’t wait to grow up, and though she tries, she still carries the naiveté and sense of entitlement that has yet to be challenged until now. Julie forms a number of new relationships throughout the novel that teach her rather different lessons, things that ultimately are helping her form her identity. When her hair is shaved off, she has a chance to explore what being a boy is like because everyone believes she is a boy rather than a young noble lady. This identity swap, however unintended, shapes her into exploring things she never was able to before, whether through her sexuality or her class standing. This is possibly one of the key changes for becoming Verity.

One of themes of the book is the prejudice against travellers. See this Wikipedia entry on Scottish travellers and who they were and here for more educational info. We might associate them more as gypsies, but for the most part, they were still regarded as undesirables even in this day and age. Today we could easily compare this with some attitudes towards the homeless, immigrants, or refugees (though actually a news station mentioned gypsies in the US fairly recently). However, during this novel, because the travellers are nearby, they are automatically thought to be suspects, subjected to any number of indignities, and even withheld from other privileges that are perfectly legitimate, like Julie showing them her family’s collection at the library. Julie’s family seems to be one of the very few who accept and defend the travellers, but they cannot stop the violence and prejudices that happen when someone powerful isn’t around (beatings, accusations, rape).

Other interesting things about this book are the history of Scottish pearls, Julie’s relationship with her grandfather and his family’s downfall during the wars (which happened quite a bit during this age), and bits and pieces of real Scotland (though Mary Queen of Scots pearls are actually invented in this story despite her having loved pearls and having possibly the most famous pearls in the world now passed down and even worn by Queen Elizabeth II).

While this isn’t an earth-shattering novel like CNV, it does show a lesser noticed side of history, namely the Scottish traveller abuse and prejudice. I found it to be much more subtle and to carry more gentle character development than her other works. I’m not quite sure what teen I would give this to, except maybe an older teen more interested in literary classics, historical fiction, mystery and identity crisis because it is fascinating from these standpoints or to make a full character comparison between Julie and Verity. Other fans blown away by CNV might find this underwhelming instead, though I enjoyed the read.

 

 

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

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The sequel to the much acclaimed Code Name Verity, reviewed here, takes place largely in Germany in the women’s concentration camp Ravensbrück. American Rose Justice, once serving as a British ATA pilot with her friend Maddie Brodatt (familiar to those of you who’ve read Code Name Verity), is captured by the Germans when she flies to France to deliver her uncle and, while on her way back, chases a German flying bomb plane so that it will not attack Paris. She finds herself over Axis territory and is forced to land where they automatically take her to Ravensbrück. There, she meets a courageous French prisoner, Elodie, who proves to be a great friend and asset to escaping the camp. After Rose’s group is quarantined, she is taken to work at the nearby Siemens & Halske factory, where she refuses to make the wire for bombs, subsequently whipped and thrown into the bunker where political prisoners are kept, including the group known as the Rabbits. The Rabbits were a group of Polish women on whom doctors performed gruesome experiments that were designed to test the possibility of death by leg wounds, to “predict” better outcomes for German soldiers injured in war. These women fought against their treatment by managing to send information out of the camp to the media and foreign governments, using their maltreatment to blackmail the camp’s director into not secretly killing them all and somewhat better treatment. Rose’s new family with the Rabbits consists of her camp mother, Lisette, and sisters: Roza, Karolina, and Russian taran pilot, Irina. The Rabbits’ mission is to tell the world of the horrors of Ravensbrück, and when Rose, Roza and Irina escape, it is their mission as well, even more so for Rose because she can speak English. However, the battle for Rose is not just about survival, but the courage it takes to speak of her experience and the moral dilemma when facing the perpetrators of such acts.

Really, just a phenomenal novel that sucks you into the time and place but does not get too descriptive (medically speaking) about just exactly how hellish it was. While I enjoyed the literary style of Code Name Verity much more, this book is still just as well-written and poignant a novel. I will be surprised if it doesn’t win anything in awards this year.

One of the things that struck me about the novel was how Rose (and other women like her) had to work at the Siemens factory because they used some of the more healthy prisoners as factory workers. The idea that Siemens, a factory group that still exists today which incidentally is about 5 minutes from my house, employed concentration camp prisoners just astounds me. That and the fact that they were instrumental in Germany’s war effort through manufacturing parts to make flying bombs that killed people. It just isn’t something we regularly think about…

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Historical fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak & Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This past weekend was the anniversary of Kristallnacht: the Night of Broken Glass during World War II, a series of attacks against the Jews, their homes, businesses, and worship places. While we remember with horror Hilter’s vendetta against the Jews, the Holocaust and the millions of Jews who were executed, we need to remember and be thankful for those who helped the Jews and other prisoners, and those who fought all over the world against the Axis powers. In honor of their memory, deaths, and sacrifices, here are two excellent YA works I’ve recently read: The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. The former has been made into a film which premiered last Friday.

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In this unusual narrative hosted by Death, Liesel Meminger copes with her losses and powerlessness by stealing books. After her mother is forced to abandon her and her little brother dies, she is adopted by German parents near Munich and suffers from nightmares. Her foster father helps her fear by teaching her to read and write when he discovers her first stolen book. As the war begins and the hardships multiply, Liesel and her family’s fate are put more into jeopardy with the arrival of Max, a young Jewish man whose father saved Liesel’s. They return the debt and stow Max away in secrecy in their basement. They live their lives in careful determination and terror of their rebellion against Hitler’s orders. Despite the suffering and pain, it is Liesel and the comfort of the books that touches Max and later everyone around her. It is a beautiful story of many who sacrifice themselves to save those who would otherwise be condemned, but most of all of a book thief who stole words, her happiness, and gave that happiness to others.

Be warned, this book has quite a lot of cursing, but it is not one to miss out on. You will be crying by the end for a great many reasons. Excellent read. I’m looking forward to the movie!

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Another excellent read, Code Name Verity follows a great story of friendship during the war. It begins with a captured spy, the narrator– Verity, who is held in France by the Nazis in hopes that she will reveal British war secrets. To escape torture, she vows she will write about what she knows, which essentially is a story about Maddie, a British female pilot, and her best friend. Since this is a story that is wholly dependent upon important secrets, the reader is led the same as Verity’s Nazi captor and must discover the important plot points for him or herself.roseunderfirebyelizabethweinbookreviewminifreakout Therefore, there’s not much more I can write, except to say that it is brilliant, captivating, and only reveals the beauty of the plot twists and ingenuity of our heroine narrator, Verity, and the strong love between herself and Maddie at the end of the novel.

This book was voted No. 1 of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten pick for 2013, and deserves the praise. While it isn’t a story strictly about teens, it does concern young adults who are faced with life-altering challenges, pressure, and the great bond of friendship; something teens can relate to. Excellent read!! Her other book is Rose Under Fire, also set during WWII, which I now really want to read!

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Historical fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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