Book Review: Flygirl

December 4, 2009

“If you’re colored you get the short end of the stick.  If you’re a woman, you get the short end of the stick.  So what do we get for being colored and women?”

Jolene sighs.  “Beat hard with both ends of a short stick.”

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith has a very cool premise:  Ida Mae Jones wants to join the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), but, in order to do so, she has to pass for white.flygirl

What I Liked

– Like I said, the premise is very cool.  It’s a great way to introduce the history of World War II, race and racism, and also women pilots.  Women pilots!  That’s just cool by itself.

– The women characters.  I loved all of the women, and I especially loved all of their reasons for joining because they were so varied.  There is also a  fantastic camaraderie between Ida Mae and her two closest comrades:  Patsy Kake (LOVE that name) and Lily.

– Jolene, Ida Mae’s friend back home.  Jolene is awesome.

– The cover is fantastic.

What I Didn’t Like

– Sigh.  This book just didn’t sit well with me.  I love the premise, but my main issue with the book is that the issue of passing felt so surface.  I never felt that Ida Mae was ever in danger, and passing IS danger.  When I think of Imitation of Lifethe Lana Turner version–there are so many moments where the desperation of Sarah Jane and the threat of being black are so palpable, and in this story I never get that.  Part of it is the setting.  Because the training is so removed from any town, Ida Mae is only fearful of getting too dark in the sun or her hair curling up, but…several of the women protect their hair.

There is one scene SO PROBLEMATIC that I think it’s what derailed everything for me.  Ida Mae is in a store, and there is a black man there.  The man TALKS UNDER HIS BREATH to Ida Mae, and there are no consequences.  This is pre-Emmet Till, okay?  In what keeps being described as a deeply racist Texas.  I just cannot believe that there was no present danger in the story at all.  And then I found what Ida Mae does at the end with regards to a job opportunity so unfathomable that I just…yeah.

So, in conclusion, the passing aspect was poorly handled for me.  All of the dangers of passing were very tell instead of show.

– I also didn’t really care about Ida Mae’s brother Thomas, even though he is basically the reason she joins the war effort.  He’s so absent from the story that whether he came home or not really made no difference at all to me.  I…do not think I was supposed to feel that way.

– The story was very dry.  One of my favorite books is A Northern Light, which is also historical fiction, and I was very caught up in Maddie’s world and story separate from the historical focal point.  It felt like the point of Flygirl was the history lesson of WASP more so than anything else.  Which, honestly, is fine if that’s what you want in a novel.  But I wanted a story to latch on to.

– I also didn’t feel like the story ever really explored the breakout quote.  In some ways, Ida Mae’s choice is the very essence of the quote–hard, even impossible, choices–but, on the other hand, the lack of danger, and her ease at moving between worlds didn’t really give the story an opportunity to go all the way there.

In conclusion:  I have really mixed feelings about this book.  The writing is good, the premise is very cool, but I found the execution lacking.  I just wanted more.  More Jolene, more implications, more feeling.  The women are very kickass, though.  Very much so.

ETA:  I read this with the Women Unbound challenge in mind.  The book is definitely about the options available to women and the choices they make and how they’re treated once they make those choices.  One of the big issues in the book is the lack of respect the women get from men they encounter–some of whom are tapped to train them–and how they’re not given their due by the very armed forces they’re fighting so hard to help.  That part of the story, btw, did work for me.  It’s just the passing stuff that didn’t.

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  1. Heather

    Great review. I really wish it offered more; it sounds so promising.

  2. susan


    Love your honest review. So many people enjoyed it including friends’ whose opinion I value. I have this title and your review has me wanting to push it up the tbr.

  3. mclicious

    Yes. Agreed 100%. So interesting and yet so flat.


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