Firebird, by Elizabeth Wein, is an excellent crossover book for children looking to sink their teeth into something a little more involved than what they might be used to. Those with a knack for history are sure to find plenty to love about this gripping World War II novel. Nastia is a prodigy fighter pilot in the Soviet Union. With the Third Reich knocking on Stalin’s doorstep, she finds herself leaving friends and family behind in order to fight for her country.
The story is narrated from Nastia’s point of view. The prose is neutral, frank and to the point, befitting of its highly militaristic protagonist. It also means that the plot kicks off at an electric pace and never slows down. Indeed, brevity is the name of the game and precocious readers will have little trouble in knocking this one out in an afternoon if they so wish.
Firebird pulls relatively few punches and we are left under no illusion as to what’s at stake. War is war, and its price is steep. Wein’s style really shines when it glimpses at Nastia’s inner conflict: a steely young woman utterly devoted to the nation, yet naively unequipped to deal with the personal cost of protecting it from the enemy.
It’s a dark book but subtly so, and I can’t imagine its content being too intense for younger readers wanting to give it ago. A slick and well-executed package and an excellent gateway for children seeking more mature fiction.