Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Ida Mae Jones is a true “flygirl” in this engaging historical fiction read for teens that examines issues of race, coming-of-age, and learning to fly.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. Penguin, 2010. 304 pages.

Reading Level: Young adult, ages 14-18

Recommended For: Ages 14-18

Ida Mae Jones, aka “Jonesy,” is 18, African American, and a wannabe pilot. She knows how to fly, but in the 1940’s, women rarely get their pilot licenses, African Americans (female or not) even more rarely. When the war comes along, poor strawberry farmers in Louisiana want to do their part; Ida Mae’s older brother enlists and heads off to fight. She’s left behind cleaning houses and saving nylons with her best friend, Jolene. Then younger brother Abel shows Ida Mae an advertisement about the WASP program. And Ida Mae hatches her daring plan: she’s light enough to “pass” for white, and she knows how to fly. One bold interview with a white woman, several arguments with her mother and grandfather about the dangers ahead of her, and a long train trip later, she lands at WASP training grounds in Texas, a state that is most unfriendly to African Americans.

Throughout this moving novel, Ida Mae wrestles with loneliness, with not being able to be fully herself with any of her friends or family, and with who she really is. Smith covers these emotional waters well, peppering the story with terrific details about the WASP program. Along the way, Ida Mae really grows up.

On top of the great story aspects, Smith handles the myriad racial and gender issues without bitterness, with wonderful honesty, and with historical appropriateness. So often, we read historical fiction that places anachronistic emotions into the main characters; in Flygirl, I felt like Ida Mae really could have lived and felt the way she did. She’s a character to admire: she stands up for herself, she’s brave, and she genuinely loves her family and friends. The open ending is perfect. Ida Mae handles this often tumultuous coming-of-age experience with respect for her family and friends, with her willingness to sacrifice, and with her desire to do and be what she was created to do/be–for the present time. There seems a clear realization that this may only be temporary (her ability to fly), but she is content nonetheless.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Every last part of it. If you’re looking for a great coming-of-age story, a story which deals with a seldom discussed racial issue, a story that shows an oft overlooked part of history, a story with a winsome and believable main character, a story with a hint of romance, a story with lots of adventure, a story with flying and military history–then this is the book for you!

Note: this review was written before our current ratings system and “considerations.” It’s one from the archives for sure! I’ve made a guess at what I’d rate this book today.

Overall Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Worldview/Moral Rating: 4.25 out of 5Literary/Artistic Rating: 4.25 out of 5Discussion Points:

Is it okay to lie about your identity for a good cause? No good answer here–you might talk about Bible smugglers such as Brother Andrew, missionaries with assumed identities in sensitive countries, and the like. When, if ever, is it appropriate to disagree with your parents? How does Ida Mae handle this dynamic? Is she respectful of her mother/grandfather even when she disobeys? (when a young adult is as old as Ida Mae, he or she must be making choices as an adult… and Ida Mae does this gracefully)Do you like the novel’s ending? What do you think happens to Ida Mae? To her relationship potential with Walt Jenkins? To her friendship with Jolene?Read more about our ratings here.

Related Reading From Redeemed Reader

A Review: The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith, another historical fiction read for teens.A Review: The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith, a novel-length retelling of The Nutcracker for middle grades and up (link is to a round-up; scroll down for the paragraph about this book).A Resource: Discover more books about WWII in our reviews!We are participants in the Amazon LLC affiliate program; purchases you make through affiliate links like the one below may earn us a commission. Read more here.

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