Book Review: Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky

by - 3:49:00 PM

 Title: Night Witches
Author: Kathryn Lasky 
Pages: 224
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Release Date: 28 March 2017

From Goodreads: "Fifteen-year-old Valya knows what it feels like to fly. She's a pilot who's always felt more at home soaring through the sky than down on earth. But since the Germans surrounded Stalingrad, Valya's been forced to stay on the ground and watch her city crumble. When her mother is killed during the siege, Valya is left with one burning desire: to join up with her older sister, a member of the famous and feared Night Witches -- a brigade of young female pilots. Using all her wits, Valya manages to get past the German blockade and find the Night Witches' base . . . and that's when the REAL danger starts. The women have been assigned a critical mission. If they succeed, they'll inflict serious damage on the Nazis. If they fail, they'll face death . . . or even worse horrors."

Thank you to Scholastic Press and Rockstar Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for review! All opinions are my own.

It's probably not obvious, but I'm a huge fan of historical fiction books. When I was in middle school, I absolutely devoured every possible book my library had in that genre because it was just so fascinating to me. Believe it or not, it's a genre that I still consider one of my favorites to this very day. So, when the opportunity to read and review Night Witches came up, I signed up immediately and crossed my fingers that I would be chosen. Quite obviously, I was, and I flew through this book in one night. While it wasn't the most spectacular book ever, I did still really enjoy it and can certainly say it revamped my love of the historical fiction genre!

This book follows Valya as she's living in Russia during World War II. She wants nothing more than to become a Night Witch like her sister, Tatyana, but was unable to due to her age. Now that the Germans have surrounded and begun to invade Stalingrad, Valya has no choice but to watch her city be destroyed from the ground. But when her mother is killed during the fight, Valya now has one goal: find and join with the Night Witches. But it's not as easy as it sounds. Having to fight her way through a blockade and narrowly evade a sinking ship sound dangerous, but that's just the beginning for Valya. When she finally arrives at the Night Witches base, the real danger begins. The Witches get a mission that will either inflict serious damage on the Nazis, or lead to certain death...or worse. Night Witches definitely suffered from a case of telling and not showing. It was very much a, "this happened, then this" type of book and while it may have made the book easier to read, it didn't make it very fun to read. You do get to read about Valya and her journey to become a Night Witch, which was a good plot, but something else that you get to see is how a large portion of people fighting back the Nazis were teenagers. It did kind of give me this sad feeling that kids were in trenches firing cannons to keep back tanks and up on buildings sniping invaders, because that's not something you really think about or want to picture. But Valya was only 15 and at one point, she encounters a boy that's 13 years old fighting in a trench. It was kind of sad, but also somewhat eye opening, because it made me think that maybe these kids didn't have much of a choice but to help protect their city instead of running and getting to safety. That was an element I definitely wasn't expecting, but I appreciated that the author chose to put that in there. This book moved very fast which made it quite easy to fly through, but I would have enjoyed a bit more description thrown in and a bit more when it came to the world building. I did feel like the plot was solid, however, and I did like it, but just didn't feel that it was overall a very strong book.

Unfortunately, I felt that all of the characters were pretty flat. None of them really stood out to me or made me think, "Wow, that's a good character!" Valya was driven and strong and determined to become a Night Witch no matter what. But I just felt that she didn't have much of a personality or really anything to allow me to connect with her on more than just a surface level. Tatyana was very much the typical big sister character, especially when it came to Valya and her desire to become a Night Witch. There was a scene when Valya was given more responsibility than Tatyana apparently felt she was ready for, and they fought about it, and ended up not talking for quite some time. I didn't like that she was so unsupportive of Valya and her dreams, but I did understand her point of view being a big sister myself. None of the other side characters really stood out to me at all and were honestly easily forgotten outside of the two sisters, and even they weren't all that fantastic. I liked them, but wasn't absolutely in love with them, and I really felt that they could have used a lot more development as the book moved on. You do get to see Valya's journey from nothing to becoming a Night Witch, but I would have enjoyed some more growth personality wise, I suppose. As I stated above, I really just felt that all of the characters were pretty flat and plain and I wasn't able to really connect with any of them, especially when it came to any of the side characters.

The writing was very easy to read and, again, the book moved very fast which allowed me to finish it in just one sitting. I think the book lacked some description to really allow the reader to dive deeper into Valya's world. I would have liked to be able to kind of lose myself in the world a bit more than just be told what was happening the entire time. The flying/fighting scenes and parts where Valya was piloting a plane were pretty fun and exciting to read about, but that was probably the highlight of the book for me. I needed more description and less "this then this and this" and definitely some more development when it came to the entire cast of characters. While it was easy to read, as I stated above, I just feel that it needed a bit more when it came to the world and characters.

Night Witches is filled with fierce female fighter pilots, a bit of history about the invasion of the Germans in Stalingrad, and a sisterly relationship. While I had my ups and downs about this book, I definitely think that if you're a fan of historical fiction, you'll definitely enjoy this read!

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