Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

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Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Harriet Reed
Reviewed by Harriet Reed
Summary: A powerful and compelling story of a black woman's determination to fly in the American Air Force during the Second World War.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Putnam Publishing Group
ISBN: 978-0399247095

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All Ida Mae Jones wants to do is fly. But in 1940s America where both gender and racial prejudice is rampant, her dream is impossible. That is, until the Women Airforce Service Pilots program is set up in 1943 and the opportunity for women to serve the army in the Second World War is available. However, as a poor, black woman she has little chance of being accepted into the programme. Ida Mae decides to pass over - to disguise herself as a white woman, using her unusually light skin colour and a fake licence. Consequently she is immediately enrolled into the program and throws herself into her training, making friends and fast becoming the best pilot at Avenger Field. But can she keep her devastating secret from the people around her, rescue her brother from the war, as well as continue to fulfil her dream as a pilot?

Flygirl is essentially a story about a woman's fight to live the life she wishes to lead in the face of the harsh prejudice of pre-Civil Rights America. Sherri L. Smith is not afraid to write about the everyday fears faced by black people during this time, describing the hopeless lives of Ida Mae's family and friend Jolene, and the fates delivered to those caught trying to pass. Even to a reader who has heard and seen enough of the racial prejudice that existed back then, these scenes are still shocking and extremely effective in making you sympathetic to Ida Mae's cause.

I really loved Ida Mae as a character. She was gutsy, hardworking, fiercely protective of her family, determined and not afraid to take any measures to follow her own dream and save her brother. You can't help rooting for her as she struggles to conceal her heritage, and her passion for flying almost becomes your own. Her two friends, Patsy and Lily are equally as fascinating and likeable. Smith gives them their own stories and, where other authors would just make them stereotypical white women to compare Ida Mae to, Smith breathes life and humour into them.

Sherri L. Smith writes with incredible detail that really brings to life the panicked and isolated atmosphere of America during the war. The feeling of detachment towards a war being fought so far away is beautifully described through Smith's description of dusty Alabama and the dull views of the Black district in New Orleans. Though some of the technical aeroplane vocabulary is confusing and occasionally seemed irrelevant, it does add realism to a subject that most readers will know nothing about.

The one thing that marred Flygirl was the ending. I found it dissatisfying after reading such a punchy and affecting novel and felt cheated in some way when issues were left unresolved. It felt rushed and preachy, something that really affected my overall opinion of the book.

However, this gripping and emotional read grabs you by the heart and won't let go until the final page. Though there is no astounding climax to speak of, I felt that this wasn't important. Flygirl, more than anything, is about the characters and their own personal challenges, and I highly recommend to anyone and everyone.

Thank you to the publishers for sending the book.

For another book which explored racial prejudice we can recommend Exposure by Mal Peet.

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