Sunday, November 18, 2012
While I had had my copy for quite some time, it wasn't until this weekend that I could sit and read. Any author who commits to bringing history to life is going to catch my eye. Any writer who recognizes that writing for teens is an opportunity to go wide, wild, and big has my favor. Wein, a pilot herself and a folklorist, holds nothing back in this complex saga about a bigger-than-life, multiply code-named Scot who buys herself time in a Nazi torture chamber by confessing (Sheherazade style) the story of her resistance. She's going to tell it all—every last detail. She's going to charm her captors with the many adventures that have brought her here, to Nazi-occupied France, in the seeming-last weeks of her life. Her tales are riddled with code—with place names, airplane names, revelations. They're profoundly and perplexingly particular. But mostly they're about the confessor's best friend, the pilot Maddie, and the many tangled lines of the two girl's adventures, the calculations and miscalculations that led straight to the torture chamber.
The Gestapo setting is grim. The torture is palpable. Planes will crash. Toes and fingers will vanish. Somehow, however, the story—pluckish and adventurous, daring and bold—never moves at anything less than an upbeat tempo. Even at the worst of times, Wein's characters are clever—infused with knowing, delightfully devious, so quick witted that I wanted to write "devilishly" quick witted, but no. These girls aren't devilish at all. These girls understand that the second best thing to do in the face of terror is to be bold. The first best thing is to remain utterly true to your very dearest friend, even if truth, which is to say verity, means contemplating the ultimate sacrifice.