Friday, January 8, 2010

Multi-Racial Read #2

Flygirl is a fictional account of a young light-skinned African American woman in Louisiana in 1941 who decides to pass in order to be accepted into the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). Her motivation is two-fold and powerful. She has a deep passion to fly, fueled by memories of flying with her deceased father who taught her how to fly his crop duster; and she desires to help bring her older brother home who enlisted as a medic.The core of this book, which is appropriate for 5th-9th grade readers, is the price that Ida Mae will have to pay to accomplish her dream.

I read this book looking for background information on Lillie Harris, my light-skinned African American character. I was not disappointed. Sherri Smith, the author of Flygirl, deftly depicts the conflicts which Ida Mae experiences because of her skin color. From the beginning when her best friend observes that she is “Little Miss Pretty Hair [with] Creamy White Skin” (p. 9) through the last pages when she is confronted by romantic attention from her white flight instructor—the book is full of the difficult decisions Ida Mae makes in pursuit of her goal.

As an author investigating the social and cultural context of the South before integration, the book’s key passages are those which show Ida Mae’s background and the tensions which she faces. Early in the book the reader discovers that Ida Mae’s maternal grandmother is a French-speaking Creole. Smith writes,

“My father’s people were town people, city folks who followed opportunity the way a compass follows north. Sometime back, one of them found herself with child by a white man. They steered that half-colored girl down a path that made each generation lighter than light, having children by white men and marrying those children to other mixed coloreds, lighter and whiter until my father was born.

“Daddy was destined to marry a white woman, to be a passé blanc and give his family a better lot in life. By daddy wasn’t an opportunist. He was a romantic, and his heart chose Mama. Grandmѐre Boudreaux never forgave daddy for his choice of a brown-skinned bride…” (p. 53)

Constantly fighting her fear that she will be discovered, Ida Mae passes into a world that is denied other African Americans. Although she is accepted into the WASP program and fulfills her dream to fly, there are heavy consequences. In a poignant scene her mother visits her at the training camp. Meeting her at the gate, Ida Mae pretends that her mother is her maid in order to have a simple conversation:

“Aware of the guard at our backs, we fall into the pattern of mistress and maid. Watching my mother play the role of servant, I feel a sour taste in my throat. I never meant for my own role-playing to bring her such humiliation.

“I don’t know this guard. He gives us a suspicious once-over, the look of someone trying to keep his status. “It’s all right,” I tell him. “She’s our housekeeper.” The word burns my throat…” p. 160-161.

Although more appealing to girls than boys, this account of one women’s struggle against both gender and racial prejudices would supplement classroom studies of African Americans and World War II. I learned a lot by reading it; Flygirl will provide thought-provoking lessons to students across many cultures. (G.P.Putnam’s Sons, 2008)
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Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Great review! I want to get my hands on this book. I've read other reviews but really didn't pick up on the social/racial context. Was I skimming before. Or is it because you are so into this subject?

Jean said...

Me, too. I added Fly Girl to my "to-read" list months ago. Now you've really piqued my interest.

Thanks, Carol, for sharing with us.


elysabeth said...

I've seen the book on the scholastic order forms and thought it had to do with Amelia Erhardt and so hadn't added it to my quest of books to read. I guess now I should. You are really doing a lot of research for your character and hopefully you will find the information you need to get your character down on paper and get the story written. I'm looking forward to your story being shared one of these days - E :)

JoyceHostetter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Ladies. Your question is a good one Joyce. I am definitely sensitive to this issue since that is what I'm researching, so I think it's a big theme throughout the book. But when I looked on Amazon, other reviews didn't pick up on that as much. In fact, one guy just went on and on about the details which Smith did or did not put in about the Airforce- which to me wasn't the point of the book at all! I guess reading a book is a little like taking an ink blot test- we each see something different in it!

elysabeth said...

A followup - I've posted a mini review/blog posting on my blog - - Very enjoyable book. I checked it out from the library last Friday and stayed up until about 4:30 this morning to finish it. I think I started on Saturday night when I went to bed (I try to read an hour or so every night so don't really know how long this book took me except that I did read about 2-1/2 hours last night have read longer than an hour the other times I read). I recommend this book to young girls wanting to join any branch of the military but especially if they are looking to be pilots and are in the minority. Come on over and check out the posting today on Flygirl - E :)

elysabeth said...

thought I was following this particular blog but guess not - E :)

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