Being a person that gets bored quite easily, I tend to hop around from genre to genre. I rarely ever stay in one genre for longer than just a few reads at a time. And lately, it would appear that I've been reading one specific genre and... it's been less than satisfactory. So I decided it's time to read something out of my comfort zone. Something that I haven't really read in years. Something that might make me want to curl into a ball and die. That being Realistic Fiction! I went to the library, browsed a bit, and found a few books that I felt was going to satisfy my curiosity and give me a well-earned break from the crap I was reading. The one I chose to read first is a heart-wrenching tale about a girl and her dreams... and how life doesn't really work the way you want it to.
The book I am talking about is called Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. It is about a young colored girl named Ida Mae with light skin who wants to be a pilot. However, being colored and a girl on top of that (gasp), she wasn't allowed to get her pilot's license. But after much work and dreaming on her part takes place, World War II happens. Her brother then enlists in the army and goes off to protect his country. Ida then questions what her role will be in protecting her country from this war. It's not until her younger brother shows her an article in the newspaper about the WASP, an all-female flying unit trying to get military status, looking for new recruits that she decides what she is destined for. However, it's not as easy as just enlisting. The army won't accept a colored girl in their ranks. Her solution: To try and "pass" as a white girl. After all, she has the skin for it, right? She can act like all the other white girls around her and, maybe, no one will notice her for someone of color. What follows is Ida's struggles and hardships about being a colored female in a world that won't accept her for who she is and how she is to overcome it by following her dreams... no matter the cost.
I must say that when I first got into this book, I didn't think I was going to like it too much. The type of books I enjoy reading are the ones in the fantasy genre. That is to say, I love reading stories that take place in different worlds with fantastical concepts. I am not too fond of stories that take place in our world because I find it to be a bit dull. However, I am not saying that I won't ever read books set in our world. If it's done right, then I will gobble that book right up. And that's what I did with Flygirl. Sherri L. Smith did an amazing job capturing the reader from the beginning with her setting. Taking place during war time, when racism and sexism was at its pique, lets the reader know that this is going to be a difficult read. A read that will make you angry, frustrated, sad, and hopeful all at once. You want to see Ida strive! You want to see her beat the odds and show everyone that someone who is of color, who is female, can do what any white male can do. That there is nothing wrong with being of a certain race or a certain sex. What matters is who you are as a person. What you decide to do, your actions, is what makes you who you are. Even then, it doesn't necessarily define you either. We all make mistakes. We all have done that one thing we wish we could take back. And here is where your true character lies. It's after all the mistakes, all the hardships, all the struggles, that shows who you are. How you deal with it. How you bounce back. How much stronger you are afterwards. That is who you are. And Smith was able to show that in her book and in her character of Ida.
Sherri L. Smith's writing is fantastic! There's not a lot of writers who can grab me the way she did. I love how her writing is straightforward. There's no bullshit to what she wants to say. She has a message and she is going to make sure the reader gets it. A lot of writers who have a lesson they want to teach tend to make their writing way too longwinded, therefore, losing its original purpose: teaching the reader. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have an incredible amount of details. I, myself, like it when a writer talks about the things they love. However, with a subject matter like this, it's best to keep it straight to the point and I believe Smith did just that. Her writing was by no means simple. How could it be? She tackled some heavy issues that we still see in society today! As I've said before, this book is not an easy read. Racism and sexism is not meant to be something you can just read about and then talk about the weather as if it's nothing. I think Smith's way of writing this book really helped the reader understand where we came from to where we are today to where we still need to go in the future. Sure, we're not as close-minded as we used to be, but there is still much we need to learn and accept about this world. (If you saw the Superbowl and the reaction to a certain ad that took place, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about.) I love Smith's writing and the story she told because it helps us realize that we, as humans, are far from perfect and there is still much left to do in order to finally have the peace we so desire.
With that being said, let's finally talk about the characters!
Ida Mae Jones, our main character, is a very talented pilot. She dreams of soaring the skies more than keeping to the ground. Her dreams are halted because of people's stupidity (she's a girl and black). Following her journey through the war and how she tries her best to prove she is so much more than her gender and skin color was an incredible experience. I loved seeing how strong she was and how she was willing to fight against all odds. I loved seeing when she lost heart and became venerable. I loved seeing how real she was as a character. There wasn't a moment I thought that she wasn't like a real person. She was brave, yes, but she also got scared and felt hopeless at times. We get to see her grow so much. We get a glimpse of her when she was sixteen, then we get to follow her all the way up to the age of twenty-one. Ida's story is spread out through all these years and I feel as if we really get to know her by the end of the book. We get to see her change and grow. We get to truly understand who she is. We want her to succeed! We want her to win against all of this segregation! We want to know that she will become the best pilot to ever soar the skies! It's this familiarity that Smith created with the character that brings the reader and Ida close. For us to sympathize and root for her. Ida is a brilliant character and I am glad I got to meet her.
This book also contains a few amazing side characters. Lily, a girl Ida meets in the WASP program, is rather shy, but if you mess with her, she will kick you in the groin! Patsy, another girl Ida meets in the program, is a badass from the get go. She takes no one's crap and is feisty! I really fell in love with Patsy because of how unconventional she is! She doesn't let her gender stop her from what she wants to do! Maybe her upbringing had something to do with that. (Before she joined the army, she was part of a circus group.) Either way, she was a great friend to Ida. Lily was as well. Ida's mother was an okay character... even though I felt she showed more love and affection for her son more than she ever did with Ida. She cared about Ida but... I don't know... always felt a bit flat to me. Thomas, Ida's brother, was a great character. He worried about Ida quite a bit in the book and I am a sucker for beautiful sibling relationships. Makes me feel all warm inside~ Grandy, Ida's grandfather, was tough a cookie with a good heart. I liked him. One character that I felt iffy on was Walter Jenkins, one of Ida's flight instructors. I don't know what it was... maybe I am just too suspicious with people when I see they are being nice. He was kind to her and all... but I was always scared he just wanted to do something horrid to her. But, by the end, my suspicions were just that. He's a pretty cool guy... even if his future with Ida is left unspoken.
In fact, that was my only problem with the book. The ending left much to be desired! I wanted to feel some sort of closure and I didn't get that. There's a lot of room left for interpretation but with a book like this, you need some answers in order to feel like the journey wasn't for nothing. It's a shame. I really like this book but I was not happy with the ending. I wanted to know what was going to become of Ida. I wanted to know if she was going to continue to be in the WASP or if she was going to live her life somewhere else. I just wanted to KNOW! But we are left hanging. We need to figure things out ourselves, I suppose, but considering how bleak the times were, how do you know if she ended up happy with her life or not? And that's just it! You don't know! It's just so irritating getting to see so much of Ida's life but not have any answers to how it turns out in the end.
I JUST WANTED TO KNOW, DAMMIT! DX
What I'm saying: This is all just me complaining because I wanted more. It's a good book! I really did enjoy reading it. It's just the ending leaves you feeling a bit empty. I still think you should read it! It has great writing, a good story, and educates the reader on how life used to be back in the day and how life is still very much the same way... unfortunately. Pick this book up. I think you might be able to learn a thing or two from it.