ABOUT THE BOOK
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.
Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.
As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gwen Katz is an author, artist, and retired mad scientist who lives in Pasadena, California with her husband and a revolving door of transient animals.
GWEN’S VETERAN’S DAY
Octavian Nothing diverges far from the YA formula, which may explain why it didn’t get more attention. A slave boy is raised in a cultish commune and given a classical education as an experiment, but his owners fail to account for his free will. The eighteenth-century voice could be a hurdle, but also lends incredible authenticity to this very unusual book.
Given the current attempts to rewrite the history of the Civil War, books about the slave experience are crucially important right now. Crossing Ebenezer Creek is told by a former slave girl and a freeborn black boy as they follow Sherman’s march. The newly freed slaves’ complex mix of emotions is beautifully captured, and it sheds light on the dark side of an important historical moment.
World War I
When the Great War breaks out and upends England’s social strata, a housemaid leaves her position with a rich family to become a nurse–and may even have a chance at romance with the family’s aristocratic son. While other World War I books are understandably bleak, this book has a surprisingly gentle tone, largely thanks to its sweet, naive narrator. That isn’t to say that it sugarcoats the war–as a nurse, Poppy sees the worst of the results firsthand.
World War II
I don’t know about you, but at some point I decided I never wanted to see another story about heroic American GIs storming the beaches at Normandy. Luckily, beyond that narrative, there are still many stories that haven’t been told to death. I got to explore women flying planes on the Eastern Front, for example. Another of these lesser-known stories is the Navajo code talkers. In his classic storyteller voice, Bruchac follows a Navajo boy through the attempts of American schools to strip him of his culture and then through the war, when that same culture became key to American success in the Pacific.
Korea is a void in the American memory. I wasn’t able to find a book about the war proper, but Girl in Reverse is a lovely story with the war as a backdrop. An adopted Chinese-American girl, bullied by her classmates because of hatred of communist China, decides to track down her birth parents and ends up on an exploration of Chinese art and culture. Being a former museum person, it’s easy to understand why I liked this book so much.
No list is complete without Walter Dean Myers.
This Romeo and Juliet story between a Pashtun boy and a Hazara girl is romantic, emotional, and deeply immersive. It does an excellent job of illustrating real people’s lives in a region that most Americans know only as that place we invaded after 9/11.
As a counterpoint to all the books on this list set during wars, this one explores the aftermath of war. Narrated by the daughter of an Iraq veteran, it explores PTSD, family, and how you deal with the kind of hurt that can’t fully heal.