Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

the pearl thief

Review by: Paige

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Review: I was incredibly hesitant to pick this up, considering that Code Name Verity is one of my favorite books of all time. However, I read some reviews which praised Wein for a proper return to Julie’s narrative, and for providing somewhat of an explanation for how Julie became the person we see in Code Name Verity. It was her explicit attraction to women in this book that really hooked me. While I wasn’t thoroughly pleased, and I don’t think this can hold a candle to Code Name Verity, I was glad I read this. I still won’t touch Rose Under Fire with a 10 foot pole, though!

The mystery elements of this novel weren’t necessarily surprising, and I kind of struggled with whether or not Wein intended them to be the focus of this novel. To me, the mystery took a backseat to exploring Julie’s character no matter what. It was a relatively lighthearted story, and I appreciated that more than I expected to, especially since Code Name Verity was such a heavy piece.

One reviewer noted something that I feel is appropriate to bring up, which is the very present feeling of Maddie’s absence. Not to say that Julie is incomplete without Maddie, just that when you compare her in the two books, her life is all the more vibrant when Maddie is in it. What made it even sadder was reading the last 60 or so pages of Julie and Ellen’s relationship, because it’s Maddie who really deserved that explicit attraction to Julie. That being said, I still loved Ellen. It was easy to see how she could leave a mark on Julie, helping her discover herself and eventually become Verity. I could see how easily this Julie could become that Julie, which is important for a prequel. It was also incredible to see explicitly queer characters in a novel set in the 1940s.

All in all, it was a very solid book and I was glad I got to spend more time with Julie’s narrative. It was a very true reflection of her character. It was slow until the end, but I expected it to be, so it didn’t really affect my experience. I could say a lot more about my disappointment that Maddie and Julie’s romantic attraction was brushed off by Wein for years, and then Julie was confirmed to have feelings for women, but that’s a discussion for another time. It wasn’t until the last four pages that I realized I wouldn’t get to discover new parts of Julie again, which saddened me more than I’d like to admit. But I’m glad I read this. I wish I had been able to judge it as its own work without constantly relating it to Code Name Verity, but I feel that’s inevitable for any reader.

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