On My Bookshelf: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

July 16, 2018

Set in Scotland before World War II begins, The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein follows Julie on her misadventures the summer she returns to her grandparents' estate to help clear it out before it becomes a school. On the day she returns, Julie is knocked unconscious and spends most of the rest of the summer trying to piece together what happened to her. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: Before Verity . . . there was Julie. 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 what 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 firsthand some of the prejudices they've grown used to—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. This exhilarating coming-of-age story, a prequel to the Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, returns to a beloved character just before she first takes flight.
Set in Scotland before World War II begins, The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein follows Julie on her misadventures the summer she returns to her grandparents' estate to help clear it out before it becomes a school. On the day she returns, Julie is knocked unconscious and spends most of the rest of the summer trying to piece together what happened to her. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: I loved Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, so I was thrilled to find that  The Pearl Thief was a prequel to the two. Set in Scotland before World War II begins, the novel follows Julie on her misadventures the summer she returns to her grandparents' estate to help clear it out before it becomes a school. On the day she returns, Julie is knocked unconscious and spends most of the rest of the summer trying to piece together what happened to her. I loved how plucky Julie was, constantly curious and determined to get the bottom of the mystery, as well as her ability to enjoy life and good company. She is daring and welcomes new experiences, where another girl of her social status might be much more restrained and formal. I also liked that the novel had a mix of elements: some mystery, some romance, and some history.

Classroom application: The novel deals with class issues and sexuality in subtle ways. On several occasions, Julie is mistaken for a Traveller (an ethnic minority in Scotland) and suffers both physical and verbal abuse, which is in stark contrast to her usual privileges as a titled young lady. Comparisons could be made to the treatment of minority groups in America or other countries during any time period.

Julie takes great pleasure in the power she seems to have over an older man supervising the work at her grandparents' estate, but also relishes attention from Ellen, a Traveller close to her own age. There is a scene in the novel where she is mistaken for a boy and takes advantage of the opportunity to kiss another girl. These aspects of the novel could lead to discussions about gender and sexuality. What role does gender play in sexuality and who we are attracted to? How is our gender and sexuality determined?

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Pearl Thief for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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