Breathtaking and important
Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz is the WWII feminist book you didn’t know you needed. Inspired by the true story of the Russian Night Witches, Katz takes the reader on an epic, life-changing journey with characters we can emphatically relate to today. From the very first page, I was drawn into this story and could tell it would be a 5-star book by the end of the first chapter.
Among the Red Stars is a tale of strength, aspiration, dreams, love and friendship. It’s the story of Valka as she struggles to prove her worth for the war effort, and it’s a story about Pasha, her best friend, through a series of year-long letters that show you the depravity of war and the hopefulness of growing love.
Even though this story is set during WWII and in a foreign land I couldn’t possibly understand, I found myself connecting deeply with every character in the novel and their circumstances. Read the above quote and tell me you don’t connect to that – I may not be a pilot and I don’t have to disguise myself as a man for my dream job, but I have had to prove myself time and time again simply because I am a woman. I too have had to move heaven and earth to get to where I am today, and it is a testament to Katz’s brilliant writing that women who read this book can see themselves in characters who lived in a different century. We may not have the same struggle as they do, but we understand it.
Valka has easily become one of my favourite YA protagonists and she now holds a position in my prestigious ‘badass ladies’ shelf on Goodreads. She’s ambitious, strong-willed, loyal and fierce. She wants to be the Red Army’s greatest fighter pilot and will stop at nothing to ensure her dream becomes a reality, but as the story develops, Valka comes to understand that war is not as glorious as she thought it would be. Valka’s weakness is her own hubris, but she overcomes it much like she overcomes the rampant sexism of the 1940s (which – surprise, surprise – is very similar to todays!).
I am enacting the ‘Protect-Pasha-2k17-Society’ because this boy is an actual angel and needs to be protected … although Valka is pretty good at doing that already. Pasha is one of the sweetest, gentlest characters I’ve ever come across in YA, and I sorely wish he were a real person so we could be friends. He’s Valka’s best friend, and he never treats her with disrespect due to her gender, unlike many of the other men in the novel. He is a pacifist at heart, and struggles with being conscripted into the Red Army, even as a radio operator. I was also very intrigued by his synesthesia, a condition where sound, letters, shapes, or numbers have a sensory perception, such as smell, colour, or even flavour. When Pasha hears people speak, he visualises colour.
The novel is told through a mix of narration from Valka, an ambitious 18-year-old girl, and of letters between her and Pasha. The letters were by far my favourite parts of the novel as the reader can physically see their friendship developing into so much more as through these letters they are brave enough to say what they can’t in person. But the letters are also significant as they shed light into what was happening at the Front with the war effort, and you learn how deeply unorganised and unprepared Russia was for war and all the poor souls who suffered for it. Katz’s writing is just superb as she vividly describes historical fact, while developing distinct and empathetic characters. At its core, this novel is about hope during the darkest times, and with every that is happening in the world today, I hope many people read it and learn from it.
But what I love most about Among the Red Stars is the fact that there is no girl hate! Yes, I’ve finally found a novel where, although not all the girls are friends, there is no unnecessary girl hate because of a guy or to create drama or just because!! Throughout this novel, I had that fantastic quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in my head: ‘We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man … We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.’ In Among the Red Stars, the female pilots are all in healthy competition with one another to prove themselves the best fighter pilot, but they all cheer and encourage each other too. It’s a fantastic representation of positive female relationships and I want more books to feature these friendships too.
Among the Red Stars is one of the best books I have read this year. It’s a riveting, touching story that will stay with readers a long time. Please do yourselves a favour and get your hands on a copy of this book the moment it’s released. You’ll thank me for it. I love the book so much that even though I received a free copy of it, I’ve already preordered a finished copy! If that doesn’t tell you how good this book is, I don’t know what else will.
Check out our interview here: https://thebookcorps.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/arc-review-among-the-red-stars-by-gwen-c-katz/