A short and compelling war story with strong characters and a plot that might make you stop and reflect.
It’s summer 1939 and Polish twins Kristina and Leopold Tomiak are three months away from their nineteenth birthdays. Given they completed their pilot training together and they both now work as flight instructors, Leopold is a little put out when Kristina is called up to join the Polish Air Force – the White Eagles – before him. Then war breaks out and everything changes for both twins. The Nazis attack their airbase and Kristina is one of the few survivors, making a daring escape in her RWD-8 liaison plane. Only when she finally lands in a field an hour later does she learn she has a stowaway: an eleven-year-old Jewish boy, Julian Srebro, who is determined to persuade her to help him escape to England. Kristina promises only to take him as far as Budapest but, as their perilous journey continues, she finds herself going further and further.
This short book is an easy and compelling read. This is not surprising given it is part of the Barrington Stoke series that is know for clear and simple language as well as dyslexia friendly presentation.
The plot takes a simple linear structure with less twists and turns than some stories, but the powerful writing and World War Two setting make it hard to put down. Indeed, the only times I paused was to reflect on the accurate, and often disturbing, details (such as the mention of the mass murder of the staff and older students at Julian’s school or the description of the swathes of refugees fleeing from Poland).
The book is written in third person but from Kristina’s point of view. This makes her easy to identify with and I particularly enjoyed the ongoing conversations she has with her twin in her head. Interestingly, however, it is young Julian who I found most appealing. Julian manages to dominate every scene he is in. I especially liked his introduction to the story – he appears brandishing a pistol and adopting a deliberately gruff voice in a successful attempt to disarm Kristina by masquerading as a Nazi soldier. Despite having lost everything, Julian shows a resourcefulness and determination that is nothing short of inspirational. While he gradually builds a strong bond with Kristina, he never shifts from his goal and carefully controls the information he shares with her in order to get his own way. In other circumstances we might see him as manipulative but author, Elizabeth Wein, skilfully ensures we never lose sight of what he really is – a young boy who is desperate to escape and find what is left of his family.
If you enjoyed this, you might also like to try Elizabeth Wein’s other book from Barrington Stoke – Firebird. Alternatively, why not read her Carnegie shortlisted longer novel – Code Name Verity.
Publication Date: September 2019
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Author’s website: Elizabeth Wein