Monday, February 16, 2009
Sherri L. Smith
January 2009; Penguin Young Readers; 978-0-399-24709-5 (hardcover)
Summary: Ida Mae was born to fly. Ever since the first time she went up in her daddy's plane, she knew that she wanted the sky. But for a colored woman in 1940s Louisiana, there's not many opportunities, even before the war starts. And then, one day, Ida hears about the Women Airforce Service Pilots: a training program to teach women to fly and free up male pilots for combat. Could this be her chance to live her dream--or will it be the greatest danger she's ever faced?
Two Things to Know About Flygirl
#1: The homefront wasn't just about knitting and Victory Gardens.
Flygirl exposes readers to another facet of life in America during World War II. Many women were urged to take jobs in factories, allowing men to enlist. Yet while the WASP had that goal, it was viewed differently. Perhaps it was because female factory workers would obviously want to go back to their homes once the war was over. But if women were pilots, highly skilled and eager to travel, would they go back to being wives and mothers? Most people seemed to think no. Add in that women would therefore be "stealing" jobs from men, and it's little wonder there was a fair amount of resistance to the WASP. But the service this group performed can't be underestimated. While the United States was at war, every citizen needed to do their part. The WASP did theirs and more.
#2: Is color more than skin-deep?
The Army, like most if not all of American society, was segregated. The WASP was not open to African-American women, thus leading Ida to the dangerous decision to pass for white. Issues of light and dark, smooth or frizzy, "gonna" vs. "going to" dominate the novel. Ida is of course always worried that her secret will be revealed. But there's also all the different ways her choice impacts her life, and the lives of other people. From the fight that ends her friendship with her oldest friend to being warned by an older African-American man, Ida is never allowed to forget that she is passing for white. As she slowly navigates this new world, Ida comes to realize that her color does not definer her--but it is a part of her.
Flygirl is an excellent novel, juggling questions about race and gender during a time when America was facing its greatest challenge. Having been familiar with the story of the WASP for years, I thoroughly enjoyed Ida's story. For another novel about a woman questioning her place during World War II, try Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. There are also several book about the WASP, for readers interested in learning more.