Raych’s CBR-III Read #20 – Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

You know when you know a lot about a thing and all the information rattling around in your brain-pan makes it hard to see objectively whether a book is too Behold! My Research or Just Enough to Go On?  My sister asked that I read this and bring my ignorant brain to the task (I paraphrase).


Ok so.  Ida Mae has dreams of flying a plane, but then the war comes and she’s all, The dreams of one little colored girl don’t matter to a world at war.  Which, true enough.  But when you say it like that, you may as well press your hand to your heart and gaze melodramatically out the window.  And then when you keep harping on it – Airplanes and fuel are for the war, not for colored girls who dust crops without their licenses – it is WARtime.  Airplanes and fuel are not for anyone to dust their crops, colored or otherwise.  I want to be sympathetic to your plight but when you make every wartime hardship about you being colored you prematurely drain my Caring Tank.

And because you know Ida Mae’s going to end up flygirling, the number of times it is reinforced that Mens Do The Fighting and Womens Stay Home makes you want to stab something.  I get it!  She is between a rock and a sexist, bigoted war machine.  Can we please move on to the good bits.

Because eventually it gets to the good bits and HOLY SHIT is it good.  I mean, at the level of the writing it stays all ‘Mama was lonely.  Airplanes were dangerous and she was scared’ (I think it’s middle-grade?  Or YA dumbed mightily down).  But the story is amazing.  Ida ‘passes’ as white so she can sign up for the WASPs and you don’t realize the stakes until a white man offers her a sip from his canteen and she’s like, This might be enough to get me killed.  Because it’s 1941 and Texas and colored people do not share canteens with whites, you may recall.

ALSO, the WASPs had a rough go, because as it turns out, tha dudes do not want pretty dames in their army.  Weird, right?  So the brass would be like, Here, fly this lumbering catastrophe of a plane and if you die, no big, but if you don’t die, then all our boys will be shamed into also flying it.  Win/win no one actually cares what happens to you.

And THIS is why all that earlier lampshading is unnecessary, because it is painfully and painstakingly obvious that ‘passing’ as a white is both dangerous and wrenching, and serving in a war that does not want you is demoralizing.  You do not need to say it with your words or underscore it with a Completely Unnecessary Manufactured Tragedy Wherein Someone Important (But Not The Protagonist) Dies (En Flambe).  As Jane Eyre once said, embellishing your tragedy makes me care less (again, paraphrase).

Re: my original reasons for reading it: it is a bit info-dumpy, but mostly along the lines of ‘”They don’t call it the ‘Big-Tailed Beast’ for nothing,” I say, referring to one of the A-25’s nicknames.’  I have no middle-graders in my life right now, but I think they can figure out that ‘they don’t call it X for nothing’ = nickname?  Correct me if I’m wrong, ye be-childrened folk.

On the whole, fiesty and brave and informative and if it had just stopped to take off a few accessories before it left the house it would have been fine.


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