With Elizabeth Wein single-handedly dominating the YA category of gutsy female pilots in wartime, it’s tempting to compare her latest novel, Black Dove, White Raven, to its predecessors, Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity. Publishers Weekly remarked on the obvious: the main characters “share an avocation with those in her award-winning novels.” Meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews praised Wein’s ability to “plait together the historical record, her passion for flying and ferociously vivid characters to create a heartbreaking adventure that grounds readers in the moment even as geopolitical complexity threatens to knock them off their feet.”
Nevertheless, I’d like to celebrate an equally important but overlooked Wein trademark: friendship. This may not seem like a big deal, but how often do you come across a YA book where the main relationships are between two close friends?
In Black Dove, White Raven, there are two such friendships. And one stolen plane.
The first friendship belongs to barnstorming, daredevil pilots Rhoda Menotti (aka the White Raven) and Delia Dupré (aka the Black Dove.) They learned to fly together, star in an aerial show together, and even raise their kids—Rhoda has a daughter, Emilia, and Delia, a son named Teodras—together.
In the decade after WWI, Delia, who is black, dreams of leaving behind racially segregated America so she and Rhoda, who is white, can raise their kids together under the wide, promising skies of Ethiopia. When tragedy strikes, however, it is up to Rhoda to make Delia’s dream come true.
Emilia and Teodras–Teo for short–are also a double act. At the age of five, their mothers buckled them into the middle cockpit of the family plane, shared with them a secret hand signal, and took them up into the sky for a spin. They have been “in the soup” together ever since.
Upon moving to Ethiopia, Rhoda, Emilia, and Teo make their new home in a remote coffee co-op called Beehive Hill Farm. While Rhoda flies supply runs for the local clinic, takes stunning photos of the Ethiopian landscape to sell to Western magazines, and ferries game-hunting tourists around in her plane, Emilia and Teo amuse themselves with The Adventures of Black Dove and White Raven, a pretend game of daring-do and espionage written by and starring themselves as the titular characters. Teo, as Black Dove, can become invisible at will, while Emilia’s White Raven is a master of disguise.
With no formal school to attend and the rich Ethiopian culture and history at their doorstep, life is idyllic until tensions along the border escalate between Ethiopia and Il Duce’s regime. As war looms inevitably ahead, Rhoda walks the fine line as an American woman who is married to an Italian pilot, accommodating towards the Italians, loyal to Ethiopia, and above all, fiercely determined to protect her kids at all costs.
But despite her best efforts, Emilia and Teo find themselves drawn into a growing web of conflict and intrigue that The Adventures could not have possibly prepared them for. For Black Dove and White Raven to prevail against such odds, it will take every ounce of bravery, loyalty, and steadfast friendship they have.
In addition to extraordinary relationships, Black Dove White, Raven boats another Wein trademark: her signature ability to encapsulate entire scenes from previous chapters into a well-chosen reoccurring gesture or phrase. In Code Name Verity, it was “Kiss me, Hardy!” In Black Dove, White Raven, it’s Emilia and Teo’s secret handshake.
However, Wein fans hoping for a reiteration of Code Name Verity should know that Black Dove,White Raven is very much its own entity. If the Code Name Verity reading experience were like a spin in a sleek sports car capable of impossibly deft plot twists, then Black Dove, White Raven is akin to riding in the childhood minivan. It’s a more straightforward trip, but the drivers—Emilia and Teo recount their story through a collection of essays and flight logs—are reliable narrators. As for the engine, it’s one hundred percent Wein.