Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein

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?

Review: When Goodreads told me that there was a historical fiction book set in 1930s Ethiopia, I knew I needed it. When I found out that it was written by the same author who wrote Code Name Verity, I knew that I needed it immediately.

If you’re looking for a story with strong female characters, check this one out. It starts with two female stunt pilots, Rhoda and Delia, who may be closeted lesbians, but their relationship isn’t completely clear. (It is the 1930s, after all.) They run an air show called Black Dove, White Raven and travel around the world doing stunts in their plane. They also each have a kid. Em is Rhoda’s daughter, and Teo is Delia’s son. They’re raising the kids together as siblings, even though they look nothing alike. Em is white and Teo is black. The unconventional family is thrown into chaos when Delia is killed in a plane accident. Rhoda decides to move to Ethiopia with the kids because that was Delia’s dream, and being an interracial family is easier there. At first, the kids love Ethiopia, but when Italy invades their new home, Em and Teo are drawn into the war.

“I have nothing to lose. I am going to dare it. I will aim for the sun.” – Black Dove, White Raven

I have to admit that I had huge (and probably unrealistic) expectations for this book, and it didn’t completely live up to them. Honestly, I was bored for the first half of it. The story is told in diary format from Em and Teo’s points-of-view, and it took some time for me to get into the writing style. For a young adult book, it’s quite slow and dense. There isn’t much dialogue. There isn’t much action. There are descriptions of planes and flying. It just didn’t hook me. This is probably more my fault than the book’s. If I had to make a list of things I don’t care about, airplanes would be on it.

For me, everything got much better when the characters arrived in Ethiopia. Suddenly, I was motivated to pick up the book. I couldn’t get enough of it. The story taught me about a place and a part of history that I knew very little about. I loved seeing Ethiopia through Em and Teo’s eyes. It’s a country with a complicated history and a fascinating culture. Africa is full of danger, but the kids were free to be themselves there. They didn’t have that same freedom in the US.

I also like the themes. The book is about colonization and where people belong. Where is “home”? Em and Teo grew up traveling around the world with their mothers. They don’t have a real home until they move to Ethiopia. But, do they belong there? Or are they just as bad as the Italians who are trying to invade the country and take it over? Ethiopia is where Em and Teo live, but they don’t consider themselves Ethiopian. So, is home where you were born? Where you have citizenship? Where you’ve spent the most time? Or, is it the place you’re drawn to most?

“I wish you could go through life without ever caring about anything, without ever getting attached to people and dreams and inaccessible places. It just makes you sad when you can never go back.” – Black Dove, White Raven

The most interesting part of the book is actually the author’s note at the end. The research that went into this novel is astounding. I’m impressed that Elizabeth Wein was able to blend fiction and reality so seamlessly.

I guess I have mixed feelings about this one. I appreciate the strong female characters and the research. The story focuses on a family instead of on romance, which I always like. Getting past the slow plot was a struggle, though. I expected more from this book, but I learned a lot, so that made up for the difficulties. I think.

“Things became more civilized all of a sudden. Coffee does that. Or maybe it is women who do that.” – Black Dove, White Raven


  1. I read Elizabeth Wein's earlier work Code Verity and I also found myself bored. I'll probably skip this one since it's seems that her storytelling hasn't improved all that much. Very informative review!

    Crystal Book Snob

  2. Sounds interesting--I think I'd be mostly interested in the Ethiopian parts of the book, too.

    1. The Ethiopian parts of the book are great. I don’t know very much about that area of the world.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. I think this sounds interesting but I have trouble with slow moving books. I will probably pass on this one.

  4. I don't know how to feel about this book-- on the one hand, planes and the like aren't really exciting to me. On the other hand I definitely want to read more books set in Africa! Hm...I might give it a go?