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Night Witches: A Novel of World War Two Hardcover – March 28, 2017
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"Lasky shines when describing the Witches' bombing missions and amplifies the suspense
when Valya is shot down behind enemy lines. The daring young women are all dynamically well rounded, particularly Valya, who oscillates between caring for and competing with her sister. Perhaps most thrilling of all is that the Night Witches were a real, all-women regiment, a fact that might encourage young readers to seek out the history of these daredevil heroes." --Booklist
"A rarely told story of sisterhood, passion, and survival during World War II . . . a fast-paced slice of history for younger teens." -- Kirkus Reviews
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I received an arc from the publisher for review consideration (thanks Scholastic!) this in no way affected my review, cross my heart.
I grew up on Lasky's books, her's are among the ones that that I've had since childhood, a bit bent and a little tattered from being read over and over again. I haven't picked up a book of her's in a while, I don't reread that much anymore and I've pretty much moved away from middle grade, the genre she predominates. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to review her upcoming novel came along, I immediately jumped at the chance. Reading Night Witches was a bit like revisiting my childhood, so if I start getting terribly nostalgic, oops.
As I remembered, Kathryn Lasky's writing is clear and precise, a great style for younger readers. Night Witches is in a bit of a weird spot between MG and YA. I ended up categorizing it as YA because some of the language used (ie. the word shit) and some of the events in the novel, though I'd still say it's aimed at the younger end of the demographic.
I read quite a number of Lasky's historical novels as a kid, specifically her Royal Diaries books. Each one always introduced me to a new, intriguing piece of history, and Night Witches is no exception. We (or at least us Americans) rarely hear about the Soviet side of World War II, so naturally, I knew zlich about the Night Witches, who were formally knowns as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. In case you're clueless like me, here's a short paragraph about them:
The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war. At its largest, it had 40 two-person crews. The regiment flew over 24,000 missions and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs. It was the most highly decorated all-women unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat. (source)
Aren't they so cool??? Speaking of history.... When ever I read historical fiction, I always end up hungrily devouring random articles about obscure topics from time period the book is based upon. In this case, I took an hour detour to look into the lives of Stalin's wives and children. Turns out pretty much all of their lives were terrible, and to my great surprise, Stalin was pretty much the reason behind all of their miseries (oh he was quite the swell guy, I'm sure). Anyways, I'm getting off topic....
Our main character Vayla loves planes and flying, she excels at it, and it's one of the few things she does better than her talented older sister. By the end of the book, the marvelous descriptions had me loving flying (almost) as much as her. Don't just take my word for it, here's a quote to prove it:
As we walk, the ghost of the rubber pedals brushes the soles of my feet, as if I'm about to initiate a turn. I love that feeling of slipping beautifully into a turn, finding that curve in the geometry of air and speed. One becomes a sculptor, carving the air like a bird, an eagle, an owl, a gull.
The story didn't really have a set purpose, the plot didn't feel connected all the way through, and it meandered at times. Night Witches reminded me a lot of the Royal Diaries books, which chronicled the day to day life of a certain historical person of royal blood, and often didn't have an overarching plot. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but some people might not like it.
There was a miniscule romantic element in Night Witches, and I really could've done without it. I mean the sorta love interest was cute and all, but it never went anywhere, and I'm just not a fan of plot lines that never do anything.
The relationship between Vayla and her previously mentioned big sister, Tatyana, could've been developed more. It later becomes a focal point of the story, and because of it's under development, the end falls a little flat.
If your looking for a quick historical, an interesting new perspective of the second world war, or just wanna see some brave women kick nazi ass, then you might wanna stick Night Witches into your hulking tbr, though if you love books with iron-strong plot backbones, then it's probably not for you.
Four stars only because there are some historical glitches... The author puts the main characters against the evil Komsomol and Communist Party. However, majority of those young women pilots were members of Komsomol. The father of the main character, as well as the Commander, would have to be communists too (to be historically correct).
Also, if we are discussing here female heroes, shouldn't we be using the proper female names in the story? Many times the author puts male versions of the girl's last names in the text.