THE PEARL THIEF, by Elizabeth Wein, Disney-Hyperion, May 2, 2017, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief is a prequel to the Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity. I have not read Code Name Verity, but that doesn’t matter if you pick up The Pearl Thief.
The Pearl Thief opens with 15-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart arriving at her grandfather’s estate. Home from school a few days early, Julie hopes to surprise her family. Instead, she wakes up in the hospital. It appears Julie accidentally fell near the river, but as her memory starts to return, it becomes clear something more sinister was behind her injury.
As Julie begins to poke around, she learns that one of her family’s employees is missing, and he went missing the same day she got hurt. In an attempt to figure things out, Julie turns to Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his sister, Ellen.
The McEwen’s upbringing couldn’t be more different than Julie’s. As she befriends the family, Julie begins to truly understand the advantages she’s had because of to whom she was born.
When a body is discovered, Julie’s new friends are immediately suspected. Julie knows they’re innocent, but long-held biases against Travellers are hard for people to move past. Julie must solve the mystery before her friends pay for a crime they didn’t commit.
The Pearl Thief is reminiscent of a B-list black-and-white movie mystery. It’s as if the movie studio felt it was OK, but not strong enough to invest in Technicolor.
My problems with the novel center strongly around the main character — Julie. As much as I wanted to like her, I kept thinking, “In what world would a 15-year-old be able to get away with that?”
While I understand this is a period piece (sometime in the 1920s or ’30s? It’s never very specific), Julie seems more like an adult than a teen. And some of the situations she gets herself into really don’t seem to fit the time period. Someone of her station wouldn’t be openly bouncing around from boys to girls and back to boys again without some consideration of the consequences should she get caught.
The plot of The Pearl Thief features the confluence of several mysteries, but it takes a while for them to become connected, and I found myself getting bored in between. I honestly felt like I was slogging through each page and barely finished.
I had really hoped to find something redeeming about The Pearl Thief, but it never struck a chord with me.
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