Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: January 2009
(Also available in Electronic Format)
Age Group: Young Adult
Flygirl is an ALA 2010 Best Book for Young Adults
Flygirl is one of the Washington Post’s Best Kid’s Books of the Year
Flygirl is a 2010 Amelia Bloomer Project Selection
Flygirl is selected as part of the TASHA’s Reading List
Review: FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith will lift your spirits and make them take flight.
To me, books are like people. There are bad books, okay books, good books and great books. But then there are books so extraordinary that after you read them, you want to climb to the rooftop and shout to the world — READ THIS BOOK! Some books are so wonderful, you want to pass them on to family and friends because they make us better people. Such a book is FLYGIRL.
FLYGIRL is an emotional, awe-inspiring story and packed full of surprises. It takes place during one of my favorite times in history – the 1940′s and I enjoyed every word. Smith did extensive research on the subject and it shows.
Ever since she was a little girl, Ida Mae Jones, an African-American teenager, has loved to fly. But when her father, who taught her to fly, suddenly dies from an accident, Ida Mae takes over the reins of flying her father’s crop duster for the family farm — much to her mother’s chagrin. Yet, Ida Mae’s dream is to go to Chicago where she can hopefully fly for a living, but she knows deep in her heart that this dream can never become a reality because of the color of her skin and being female.
The story opens with the threat of WWII close at hand, challenging everything Ida Mae has ever wanted. And when the war finally hits American shores, along with rationing and volunteering, it also takes her brother, Thomas as an enlisted soldier to the Pacific Theater. Ida Mae then makes a decision that will change her life and viewpoint forever — she joins the Women’s Airforce Service Pilot’s aka WASP, a civilian pilot training program.
The WASP’s are elite group of female pilots. After their completion of military training, they are stationed at various airbases across the country. Their job is towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, transporting cargo, flying ferry combat aircraft from coast to coast so it can be shipped overseas, and other non combat duties.
Ida Mae wants desperately to join, so she figures out a way to get in — her light colored skin. Ida Mae knows she can pass for a white woman, but convincing the WASP that she is white will take all her courage to hide her racial heritage but in turn, to pursue her dream to fly and help her brother come home safely.
Against the advice of family and friends, and even her own conscience, Ida Mae, forges on. Upon acceptance into the WASP’s, she travels from Louisiana to Sweetwater, Texas to train with their base at Avenger Field. Her plan works and she finds her fellow WASP candidates and teaching staff do believe she is white. Ida Mae quickly falls into step with the other girls, making fast friends with the quick-witted Patsy Kake, a former carnival plane walker and Lily Lowenstein, a shy, wealthy Jewish girl from the East Coast. She, also, finds adversaries, including bigoted Nancy Howard, a fellow pilot.
I loved the characters, from Ida Mae’s strong-willed mother, to her kind and caring grandfather, her precious younger brother Abel, her duty-filled older brother Thomas and her misunderstood best friend Jolene. I especially cared for Patsy and Lily. Every single character is believable. FLYGIRL, also, features real life people, including Jackie Cochran who was the Director of the WASP.
Ida Mae is brilliant, fearless and independent. She will let nothing stand in her way to fly. But this often leads into dangerous situations of potential discovery. As a reader, you fear every second that someone will find out Ida Mae’s secret. FLYGIRL puts you right into the heart of the story and keeps you on edge of your chair until the final page is turned.
However, deep down you know that her friends, Patsy and Lily are aware of Ida Mae’s secret, including her favorite flight instructor, Walt Jenkins — even though she doesn’t want to admit it to herself. They love her for who she is — a great friend and pilot. Patsy and Lily have struggled with their own identities and dealt with discrimination in their lives. Just being a woman in a man’s world is hard enough. The girls soon learn that the hard way. Throughout the story, Ida Mae discovers that she must believe in herself and that you can’t hide from who you really are – inside and out.
FLYGIRL features terrific cliff-hangers and wonderful dialogue that often catches in your heart and gives you chills. I have so many favorite lines in the book, it’s hard to choose just one. But I love this paragraph:
“The war put an end to my flying days.
The stars twinkle down like giant fireflies, and the fireflies in the field hover above me like tiny stars. Abel’s newspaper story is still in my hands, the ink staining my fingertips. I take a deep breath and smile.
‘Daddy, I’m gonna be a pilot in the U.S. Army,’ I whisper. ‘Your little girl is gonna fly again. She is gonna fly.’”
FLYGIRL reminds us that even though we think we have come so far when it comes to race, sadly we really haven’t. Just look at the world around us today. FLYGIRL showcases friendship, love and family and that if you put your mind to something, your dreams can come true — despite an often uphill climb and odds that are stacked against you. We should never give up.
One thing I found ironic is that FLYGIRL is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. George P. Putnam was married to Amelia Earhart.
According to the U.S. Air Force, more than 1,000 women joined the WASP during WWII and 38 of them were killed in the line of duty. In 1977, the WASP were granted Veteran’s status and in 2009 awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Of the women who received wings, approximately 300 of them are living today.
Official White House photo/Pete Souza
President Barack Obama signs the bill awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to Women Airforce Service Pilots in the Oval Office.
I’m giving FLYGIRL 5 “Relaxing With a Good Book” retro pictures for being remarkable!
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