Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief
by Elizabeth Wein

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family's ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather's death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. 

Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong.  

And then she notices the family's treasure trove of pearls is missing.

I was simultaneously excited and nervous to read this book for two reasons.

First, I rarely read books set in my country. Mostly because they tend to be written from an outsiders perspective and any I have tried have bugged me because of inaccuracies and lack of nuance (i.e. the author writes a Scottish stereotype rather than something that genuinely captures the heart of my home).

Secondly, I lovelovelove Code Name Verity so much (and the other books I've read of Elizabeth's) and I didn't think this book could possibly live up to the expectations that book set.

So I was wary going into it for those reasons. But also excited...because Scotland and more Julie.

My nervousness went right out the window with the first chapter. I loved this book. It wasn't quite the same emotional gut punch that Code Name Verity was, but it was really good and more than I hoped it would be.

It's one of the only books I've ever read set in Scotland that really felt right. Like you could just tell that the author either was Scottish or had lived here for years. She gets the people right, the way of talking right, the humour, the country...she got it all so right and that made me so happy.

As for the story...the story itself wasn't my normal kind of book plot-wise, but it was fun and entertaining. I mostly read the book for the characters and I loved the characters so much.

The book was also way more diverse than I was expecting it to be. It explores Julie's sexuality (which people had speculated about in some Code Name Verity reviews I've read) -- this book pretty much confirms she's not straight, and while the words aren't used she's pretty blatantly either bisexual or pansexual and I loved that, especially given the time period.

I love that there was subtle romance in the book, it was just a subplot rather than the focus. I love that it doesn't romanticize the age gap between a teenager and older guy, instead it highlights it as being creepy. I love that Julie's attraction to girls was treated no differently than her attraction to guys.

There was also disability representation in the form of Julie's friend, Mary, and I thought it was handled really well because the book didn't shy away from Julie's ignorance regarding Mary's disability and it didn't make Mary out to be this perfect person who was just there to inspire able bodied characters. Mary was flawed, kind, capable, ignorant -- she was complex. It felt more honest because of that.

I really, really loved that the book included some of the Scottish Traveller community too. Growing up in Scotland, Traveller's show up in town every now and then (usually annually) and my friends and I always loved it when they did. It was new friends for us to hang out with (and we did make a lot of friends and they were some of the kindest people I've ever known)...but their arrival was always met with suspicion from our parents and warnings for us to stay away. The ignorance and discrimination never really registered with me for what it was when I was younger, and it still doesn't make sense to me now.

My point was, I loved that Scottish Traveller's were represented in this book and it showed them in the positive light I've always thought of them. I loved that it showed the discrimination and hate they used to have to put up with, and still do put up with to this day. I love that the book didn't try to justify that unfounded and irrational hate and suspicion people have for them. Euan and Ellen were probably my favourite characters other than Julie.

Basically...there was so much I loved about this book. I loved the writing and the representation, I thought the story was fun and I really, really, really loved getting to see more of Julie (and Jamie) as characters, and what her life was life before she met Maddie in Code Name Verity.

I'd rate the book 4.5 stars out of 5. The only thing holding it back from 5 is because...well, it wasn't Code Name Verity, that book burrowed a painful hole into my heart and made itself at home there and so that's the story that Elizabeth's other books get measured against (so far, they've all held their own pretty well, even if CNV is still my favourite).


Side note: the book does include slurs against the Traveller's (though mostly they're called Travellers and the slurs are used in scenes where people are showing their ignorance and discrimination of the people, rather than casually or in a way that comes across as okay). I thought I should mention that because I know it does bother people.

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