I first came across Elizabeth Wein when Code Name Verity was published a few years ago. I love reading stories about complicated, daring female characters and World War II, and it had both. She followed it with Rose Under Fire, about another captured female pilot in World War II. Although both books had all you’d expect from teen fiction taking place in a war – action, bad guys, drama — they also had really wonderful characters, full of sass and insecurity, intelligence and stupid mistakes.
Now Black Dove, White Raven has arrived. Set in the U.S. and Ethiopia in the 1930s, it tells the story of two best friends and female pilots and their children, Emilia and Teo. As a barnstorming team, Delia and Rhoda are the Black Dove and White Raven. (Delia is black; Rhoda is white.) Delia flies while Rhoda wingwalks. When Delia is killed in an accident, Rhoda is left to raise both children. Segregation means that having an adopted black son is complicated for a white woman, and Rhoda decides they should all go to Ethiopia, the homeland of Teo’s father, whom Delia met while both women were living in France. Rhoda, Teo and Em eke out a living in Ethiopia for a time, until the Italian invasion brings a whole new level of trouble to their lives. Finding their way back to each other is challenging and dangerous, and everything has so fundamentally changed that when they reunite, nothing can go back to the way it was.
Told from Em and Teo’s perspectives, Black Dove, White Raven weaves a complicated story of power, race, and culture. Society’s expectations tied to gender and race bubble up again and again in ways that make it hard for the characters to simply rise above and overcome. Living their ideals and even surviving is not easy for any of these characters, but they struggle, adapt and grow as tragedies are thrown at them. A great read, and you’ll learn a little about Ethiopian history too – always a bonus!
Other authors who do a superb job of connecting strong characters with history:
Gennifer Choldenko – Al Capone Does My Shirts and others
Patricia Reilly Giff – Water Street and others
Richard Peck – A Year Down Yonder and others
Jacqueline Kelly – The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Pam Muñoz Ryan – Echo and others
Jennifer Holm – Our Only May Amelia and others
Rita Williams Garcia – One Crazy Summer and others
Christopher Paul Curtis – The Wasons Go to Birmingham, 1963
Clare Vanderpool – Moon Over Manifest and Navigating Early
Deborah Wiles – Revolution and others
Kirby Larson – Hattie Big Sky, Dash and others