Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mock Printz 2010: Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Title: Flygirl
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Publisher: Putnam
ISBN: 978-0-399-24709-5
Starred review in: Booklist, Jan 15, 2009
Ida Mae Jones is a light-skinned African-American who lives on a strawberry farm in 1940's Louisiana. Her life would have been predictable except for her Dad, who before he dies, teaches her to fly a plane and dust the crops. This strong fascination with flying gives her an opportunity when the war breaks out. Her younger brother finds a recruitment ad for the WASP, a non-military group of women being formed to act in an auxiliary capacity for the army. Ida Mae dresses up in borrowed clothing and sneaks off on an interview. Not knowing she is black, they accept her into the program. Her adventures in the WASP about her and her colleagues, coming from all different backgrounds, have one thing in common, patriotism and an ambition to fly. It tells about their training with men who don't think women can do this. And even when they can, they make it difficult or make fun of them. I especially loved the story of one poor woman who fell out of the plane because she forgot to use her seatbelt. Then there is the story of Ida Mae who is told to keep her mouth closed or else it will fill with insects. The stories about flying back then are so interesting. The stories about the racial tensions astounded me. When her mother comes to the camp unexpectedly, she needs to say and act as if she is her maid. When Ida Mae finds herself involved emotionally with a white male instructor, things get dicy. Even her escapades into town and off the base get very hairy in segregated Texas. This book is so much fun and yet quite serious. I enjoyed the characters, such clearly delineated characters, and I enjoyed the stories of the early days of flying. Their fight to be able to fly and the added layer of racism is not easily forgotten. I got so interested in this book that I personally went and researched the WASP. In the end of the book, when the two girls fly the B-29, it was so suspenseful. I later read that that particular story was true. The army did that exercise simply to embarrass the men into flying the B-29. This book was one of the most interesting historical fiction for teens that I have read. By the way, as far as we know, there was no African-American who did fly as part of the WASP . However, Ida Mae is encouraged by a Chinese woman in the book and in reality, there were two Chinese women and one rumored Latina. One of the Chinese women was killed while flying. Sherri Smith deserves a round of applause for writing this story.
Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library

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