This book redefines heart-wrenching. Rarely do I get to read a book that packs so much emotional turmoil into a standalone story.
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.
Everything about this book is breathtaking. It’s hard to know where to start.
The characters are the most amazing part. I am head-over-heals in love with Emmy and Teo–they are the cutest and bravest sibling ever. Emmy is bold and daring socially, unafraid of standing out from the crowd or of standing up for those she loves. More reserved, Teo is constantly aware of the effects his race has on his life, but he still has a fierce determined streak. I completely understood each of their characters and my heart broke trying to keep them safe. I loved how they didn’t agree with each other 100%, but that they always stood by each other anyway. None of the motifs surrounding their relationship felt forced; they simply built upon a magnificent story to make it stronger.
Though I would categorize this book as YA, the characters start out very young. I loved watching them grow up; it was honest and believable. As teenagers, I could still recognize the kids that they used to be in their actions. I’m glad that there was never any romance between them–or anywhere in the story, for that matter-because it let their friendship take center stage.
Momma–Emmy’s mom and Teo’s adoptive mom–was a powerful characters as well. I usually don’t love parental characters in books because they get in the way, but Momma did the exact opposite: she enhanced the story. She’s trapped between conflicting loyalties and desires, but at the center of everything is her maternal need to protect her children. An American in a small Ethiopian village, with ties to both the Italian and Ethiopian governments, she was put in a position that had no right answer, but she somehow keeps her head above water. She is far from a perfect person, but she is the epitome of “making it work.” Rarely does an entire family get to be the protagonist of a book, but Wein did it perfectly.
The setting of this book is obviously the source of the most conflicts: Ethiopia on the verge of WWII. The conflicts surrounding the family’s ties to both Italy and Africa were emotional, and the scenes that involved mustard gas broke my heart. As historical fiction, BDWR does an incredible job of showcasing the struggles and horrors of Mussolini’s invasion, as well as all of the motivations involved.
As always with Wein, vintage planes play a major role in this story, and I loved every single scene that involved flying. The imagery was so vivid that I honestly felt like I was flying over Ethiopia with them.
However, the most emotional part of the book for me was its discussion of racism and sexism. Obviously, there was a prevalent discussion of racism, both in America and Africa. What killed me about this book was the catch 22 the siblings faced: they left America to save Teo from racism, but in Ethiopia, Emmy was constantly held back by the society’s sexism. I loved that Wein took the opportunity to make the book about more than the predictable racial conflicts and to highlight the heart-wrenching impossibility of living in a prejudice-less society in the late 1930s.
BDVR is a book that I honestly believe everyone should read. The writing is poetry, the story is powerful, and the characters are alive. This is the kind of book that sticks with you, the kind of book that your heart will always be scarred by. However, even with all the emotional turmoil, this book as a positive message of empowerment, and it left me with a smile on my face (and tears pouring down my cheeks).