Ida Mae loves to fly and dreams of being a licensed pilot. But she has two big obstacles living in the American south in the 1940’s – she’s a woman and she’s black. When the US enters World War II and Ida Mae reads about the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, she decides to apply. Because she knows she has no chance to be admitted into the program as a black, she decides to try to pass as white (which she can thanks to her light skin), even though her family is against it.
This is a solid and inspiring novel about following your dreams no matter the risks (and what rules you have to break). Ida Mae doesn’t want to hurt her family by passing as white, and to allay her mother’s fears that she is turning her back on her heritage she says:
“I wasn’t hiding anything when I went into that room and face-to-face with an actual woman Army Air Forces pilot. And do you know what she saw? Not a negro woman, not a white woman, not a high yellow. But a pilot, Mama. A good pilot they need. Don’t you see? This is what daddy used to fly for. The chance to be everything other than the color of his skin.”
The race element is a theme which adds tension throughout, as once Ida Mae is accepted, she lives in fear of being found out. But we also learn a lot about what women went through to prove themselves as pilots and get to know the kinds of women who would take such a challenge on. It reminded me in tone and story a bit of “A League of their Own”, the movie about women who were allowed to play professional baseball while all the men were off to war, but who were unfortunately never going to be taken seriously outside wartime. It educates while it entertains, which is something I always look for in a historical novel.
Flygirl comes out in hardcover in one week on Jan. 22nd.