Author: Elizabeth Wein
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content Appropriate For: Grades 7-12
Format: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Three adjectives that describe this book: interesting, slow, disappointing
I loved Elizabeth Wein's previous books, Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, but this one lacked the emotional heft and believability of those novels.
I really enjoyed the setting of this book. I learned so much about a time and place that I had never really thought about before, Ethiopia in the 1930s. The League of Nations politics were fascinating! And the Ethiopian landscape and people were lovingly and accurately depicted since Wein has traveled there several times.
However, this book didn't hold my interest like Wein's previous works and I truly considered abandoning it. I probably would have if I hadn't read and loved Code Name Verity, which taught me to be patient with Elizabeth Wein because all is not as it seems.
The problems come down to three areas:
1. Pacing - The first half (or maybe 3/4) was dreadfully slow. Almost no plot happened for huge sections of text.
2. Characters - I didn't connect well to the main characters. Em was awfully self-centered. She complained and bragged and generally annoyed me. On the other hand, Teo's quiet self-consciousness irritated me. And I kept wondering how he felt being in a white family and how he managed to skip right past grieving for his mother and accept Rhoda as "Momma." speaking of which, why wasn't this book about Rhoda and Delia? They were fascinating!
* Format - Like Wein's other books, this one is told through letters and journal entries. She also added in school essays and some character-written fiction. Unlike her previous novels, this format didn't work very well. My initial problem was that the character voices sounded too much alike. As I read on I became frustrated with how the writing was way too advanced to be believably written by young kids with little education.
Overall, I'm glad I finished this book because the historical setting was fascinating and completely new to me, but it did not live up to my expectations based on Wein's previous works.