The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408866617

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Julie Beaufort-Stuart - Lady Julia to you and me, if you please - has just returned to Strathfearn. It's 1938 and her grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn, has recently died, leaving a mountain of debt behind him. The family's ancestral home has been sold to meet the debt and the death duties and will soon become a school. But, as the contents of the estate and its treasures are catalogued and renovations are underway, there is time for Julie and her family to spend the summer making their goodbyes - to home and landscape and to friends, including the McEwans, a family of Highlands Travellers, loved by the family but hated by the authorities.

It doesn't start well. Julie arrives early and goes to sunbathe on the riverbank. She wakes up in pain, remembering only that someone cracked her on the head. The McEwans found her and brought her to hospital but got precious little thanks for it. And the hospital staff are unkind to Julie because they assume she is a Traveller too. She gets back to Strathfearn to find that an archivist working on cataloguing the estate has gone missing, as has her grandfather's hoard of Scottish river pearls. And the McEwans are under suspicion...

I defy anybody to be disappointed in a book by Elizabeth Wein. She's both a subtle and an expansive writer and she draws you in with great skill. The Pearl Thief is a prequel to the fabulous Code Name Verity, set a year before World War II broke out. It features a younger Julie as she moves from childhood to womanhood and so it fleshes out our heroine's background. On the surface, it's a mystery thriller. Who struck Julie on the head on the riverbank and why? Where is the missing archivist? Who took him? Is he still alive? And it works as a mystery. The plot twists and turns and there are plenty of red herrings. I wasn't sure about how the denouement would pan out until it actually arrived.

But underneath that is a complex and absorbing picture of the coming-of-age of a character we already know and admire from Code Name Verity. Julie grows up in many ways over the course of The Pearl Thief - she must come to terms with her family's loss of its ancestral home, deal with an awakening sexuality, and confront her own biases and prejudices. Outside that, the book also explores general prejudice against the Traveller community and the other problems the march of progress has brought to it, resulting in existential challenges to its traditions and lifestyle.

All these strands are tied together by a strong authorial tone, an elegant, lyrical way with words, and a host of intimate, accurate historical details. The Pearl Thief is a pleasure to read, it really is.

PS: I wish I could own a Scottish river pearl thanks to this book. But I wish more for the continued protection of the freshwater pearl mussels. Read about them here.

If you haven't read Code Name Verity yet, you really must. It's as wonderful as everyone says. The Pavee and the Buffer Girl by Siobhan Dowd and Emma Shoard also talks about discrimination against Travellers, this time in Ireland and is another wonderful story.

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Buy The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein at


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