Book review: FlyGirl by Sherri L. Smith

Title: FlyGirl

Author: Sherri L. Smith9780399247095h

Publisher: 2008, G.P. Putnam and Sons

Main Character: Ida Mae Jones

Ida Mae is growing up in 1940’s Louisiana. She’s a very light-skinned black girl whose father has modeled for her how to push the envelope and dare to be different. He was a pilot and he shared his love of flying with his daughter, something very unusual for Blacks or for women in the 1940s. Despite Ida Mae’s desire to soar, she still has to walk each day in the segregated south where her race and her gender are used to keep her in her place, even when war breaks out and all citizens are called upon to sacrifice for the good of the country. Ida Mae decides the call is her opportunity to fly. In deciding to answer the call, she decides to pass for white.

I think generations who didn’t live during this time period can be so unaware of all the intricacies involved in existing in a segregated, racist society. You had to always remember how to behave, how to react, where to go, what to say and how to say it. But Ida Mae made the choice to live the life of a white person so she could be a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilot). Although this is a fictitious story, this is something that some black people of that era chose to do in order to have a better job, better life or give up playing the game of race. My dad did it. This was not something that was easy for him to talk about and I didn’t really realize that he passed during WWII until he had died. I can’t be mad at him for getting over like that! I wish I could have asked him about the difficulties involved in doing this, discussed more about his war experience or just say ‘It was OK, dad’. Other Blacks could tell Ida Mae was black, but they couldn’t tell my dad was unless he told them.

I think Smith did a wonderful job of presenting the realities of this era without passing judgement on it. It was what it was and thank God it’s done and over. I especially remember the heart wrenching scene between Ida Mae and her mother.

Mama is sitting there on the little block of concrete that serves as a bench. She stands up when sh sees me, and we stand there, looking at each other like each of us has never seen another human being before.
“Mama,” I whisper.

Something, whatever it is that’s been building inside me all day, breaks in a great wave. I throw my arms around her, but she stops me. Her eyes dart over my shoulder and I understand. The guard is watching us. I force myself to laught and pat her on the back.
“Mama Stella, how are you?”

“Fine, fine, Miss Ida May,” Mama says in a voice so meek, so .  .  . Southern, it makes me sick to hear it.

There are so many who have gone before us who have fought good fights, some big, some little. Some for selfish reasons, some for the good of mankind. We can’t know the fears they felt, the pain in deciding to turn their back on their loved ones (even if temporary) or the strong desire to accomplish something that drove them to cross such a dangerous line. Smith’s book gives us a glimpse into this bravery.

themes: WWII, women in the military, racism, bravery, overcoming obstacles

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