Flygirl

Once again we have a bit of a short column as I'm still house hunting, a process that I imagine is going to eat up a fair amount of time, then I'll have to move and unpack, blah, blah, blah, but don't worry, I won't let you down. I'll have something each week; it just might not be War and Peace. (And it definitely won't be the real War and Peace. 19th century Russian novelists frighten me much more than zombies.)

I ordered a bunch of books from my library because they're up for an award I can't even remember the name of. So far I've enjoyed most of the ones I've read (and I'd already read five or six of them) but a few I just couldn't make my way through. One with a title that worried me a bit ended up surprising me by how deeply I fell in love with it. It's called Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.

If you're older like me you might remember the flygirls that were on In Living Color; girls who danced in flashy clothes. I thought this book, which I knew nothing about, might be about girls like that but it turned out to be about a sassy light skinned black girl named Ida Mae Jones who wants nothing more than to fly a plane. Kept from getting a pilot's license by both her gender and her race, as the book begins she is working as a maid trying to save enough money to travel to Chicago where she can take her pilot's test at a colored flying school. It's December 1941 and when she returns home it's to the shocking news that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and America is entering the war.

Ida Mae's brother Thomas immediately enlists and asks her to make sure she takes care of her mother and her little brother, which means she has to give up her dreams of going to Chicago to get her pilot's license. She settles in to the war routine – rationing, gather silk stockings for the soldier's parachutes, cleaning and working on the farm but she feels there is more she could be doing. She feels stifled and worries incessantly over her brother Thomas, who has been sent to the Pacific Theater.

Then, in 1943, Ida's little brother Abel brings home a newspaper clipping from school, jumping out of his skin because his teacher told them about a program for women flyers where the women ferry planes from place to place, drag target for the boys to practice on and do other things that free up the male pilots for actually fighting the enemy. In the picture is an Asian girl, which leads Ida to believe they may just accept a colored girl. She alters her father's pilot license and makes and appointment to enlist in the civilian program, but runs up against a major dilemma – will she try and pass as white or will she go as herself?

Flygirl is a terrific story, with a wonderful heroine. She's brave, but not really, more that she'll do anything she has to in order to fly, which is her one true passion. The bulk of the story is about her training, which means we see how she gets along with other girls, making friends and enemies alike. She does things that terrify her and she does that exhilarate her. She does stupid things that endanger her and she does smart things that keep her safe during extremely dangerous times.

And through it all runs the thread of racial tension, which is beautifully done by Ms. Smith. She's never heavy-handed when showing the damages racial inequities cause. I'd recommend this book to any teen, even one that doesn't give a fig about flying.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Maid Marion who writes in to say, "Why don't you like Robin Hood? I love all the fighting and scheming. Everybody in my family loves it. Give it another shot. Maybe it will shoot an arrow straight to your heart." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.