[ Image: A light skinned woman wearing the uniform — furlined jacket, white scarf, leather flying cap with square-lensed goggles — of a WWII military aviator. ]
During World War II, over a thousand women served as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in the US. The goal of the WASP program was to free male pilots for combat duty by enlisting female pilots for transport duty and service as test pilots. Although they enlisted and served under Army command, these women were not granted military status until 1977. Not only were they ineligible for military benefits until that point, the thirty eight WASP pilots killed while on duty were not even transported home by the government.
The WASP program was not strictly whites only, two Chinese American women served. However, no black women served and at least one black woman was rejected for service as a WASP based on her race. Sherri L. Smith uses this information to build a fictional story about a pilot named Ida Mae Jones who passes as white in order to join the WASP. In Flygirl, two historic themes are intertwined, the challenges of women joining Uncle Sam’s Army in World War II and the repercussions of a person of African ancestry pretending to be white in the Jim Crow South.
I’m interested in the WASP program, so this book had immediate appeal for me as a reader of historical fiction. The outline of the book isn’t as exciting as most military fiction since Ida Mae is never involved in combat, but Sherri L. Smith does a good job at keeping the reader engrossed in the challenges Ida Mae faces as a trainee, a pilot, and a black woman passing. Flygirl is a young adult novel, so it is a pretty quick read and a good choice for younger readers.