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Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

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Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

I ordered Flygirl by Sherri L Smith because I thought it sounded like a “good strong girl book”. An antidote to the teenage romance novels so popular at the moment – leaving me looking for books that will convince girls that there is something better. Well, Flygirl is something better, and more.

Flygirl begins just as the United States is forced to enter the Second World War with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ida Mae Jones is a Louisiana farm girl. Her father learned to fly an airplane for crop dusting and taught his daughter to fly before his death. She has been flying on her own since then, but making a living cleaning the houses of white folks. Ida Mae is a very light skinned girl – daughter of a light skinned man and a dark skinned negro woman. She can “pass for white” and must do so in order to apply to join the WASP - Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP pilots, after rigorous military training, will fly new planes from factories to locations for shipment overseas, or will tow targets for artillery practice, they will test new planes and fly on weather checking missions.

It is tough to get into the WASP and it is not an option for a black woman, no matter how good a pilot she is. But, Ida Mae wants to fly badly enough to risk calling herself “white” – and she succeeds.

Ida Mae is uncomfortable with the deceit and she is frightened that she may do something to give herself away, she is constantly making an effort not to behave in a subservient manner to white people as she did at home in Louisiana. Back in Louisiana drinking from a white only fountain would get her a beating – here in Texas she must ignore the “white only” signs.

This is a novel about a young woman, still a teenager, growing up in ways she never imagined. At the WASP training base Ida Mae meets other girls of many different backgrounds from cities and farms across the United States – all are in Texas to fly airplanes and contribute to the war effort. Not many of them make it to graduation, but Ida does in spite of many challenges.

By the time she graduates, Ida Mae has grown into not only an accomplished pilot but a self-confident and mature young woman.

This novel is based partly on the experiences of Jackie Cochran, a female pilot who in 1940, with the war raging throughout Europe, wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to propose starting a women's flying division in the Army Air Forces. She felt that qualified women pilots could do all of the domestic, noncombat aviation jobs necessary in order to release more male pilots for combat.

Flygirl was interesting to read in so many ways – the history of the time, the story of the female pilots, and the lives of black Americans in the 1940’s – and a great book for teenage girls who need all the self-confident , determined female role models we can offer!

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