I received an ARC of Flygirl ages ago and let it sit idly on my bookshelf. I procrastinated reading it thinking it was going to be a trite, stereotypically emotional book pounding its message into my head at the expense of good writing and good storytelling. Once I finally picked up the book and started reading, I was dismayed that I'd waited so long to read this book.
In some ways, the story and plot were what I expected to find. A black girl living in the south in mid-1900s…trying to find her own identity while having it constantly defined by those around her (by both whites and blacks). As the title and synopsis indicate, she finds her strongest sense of identity defined by her absolute passion for flying…and especially for the freedom and exhilaration it brings to her.
The synopsis explains that this story is about Ida Mae Jones and what happens when she decides to join the WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots). However, the first third of the book is about her life in Slidell, Louisiana. We meet her friends, her family and see a bit of her interactions around town. We also learn about Ida Mae's passion to be a pilot. The writing is smooth and believable and really draws you into what it might have been like to be a young black girl in Louisiana in 1941.
Before long, we are given historical notes about America entering the war and about the sacrifices that people had to make. Finally, we learn about the WASP program and see Ida Mae grapple with the difficult decision of what she should do. As you know from the synopsis, she decides to try out for WASP and she ends up being accepted into the program. But in order to do so, she finds herself needing to "pass" as a white woman. She never explicitly says to anyone that she is white…but she doesn't have to. By dressing herself more "white" and by moving into white circles, she is essentially silently telling people she is no longer "black."
I loved that this book was written in first person. By having it in first person it allowed us to get very close to Ida Mae and to feel her anxieties, her regrets, her successes and her fears. I was very worried for her safety many times through her training and missions…not just because of the military aspect, but because her "passing" would have gotten her into a lot of trouble.
I found this book not only very entertaining but very interesting and educational. It was clear that the author did a lot of research on the era, on the war, on the WASP program and on most everything she shared with us in this novel. I really felt like I was reading about true moments from 1940s America.
My only real problem with the book was how it ended…not that it ended bad, but the position in which it ended. The end of the book leaves Ida Mae with a difficult decision about what to do with her future. And while I felt the author handled the ending very well and had Ida Mae make the decision that best fit her character and her life, I really wanted to know what happened next…in the following months, years, etc. Granted, that sort of speculation would be a hard ending to make and would result in a lot of problems for a writer and a reader. So it's probably best that we're left not knowing what happened next and we're thus left having to assume what happened based on what's presented in our novel and our own knowledge of the history of the times.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick but very engaging read. The history, descriptions, characters, and actions were all vivid, entertaining and thought provoking. While not an action packed war novel, you did feel the anxiety of being in America during World War II as well as the stress and worry of Ida Mae as she struggled to find part of her identity while hiding another part. Even though this is a "young adult" novel due to its young characters and simpler writing/plot style, I found this to be a great read and could recommend it to teens or adults without problem. If you have any interest at all in WWII, black-white relations in the mid-1900s or aviation/air-force and women's place in it, then you'll enjoy this book. And if you don't have much/any interest in those things, I dare say this book may spark some interest for you. It's well written and very accessible even if you know nothing about those topics…and it's interesting enough that you may just find yourself wanting to know more.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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