Ida Mae Jones has always wanted to fly. Ever since she was put in the cockpit of her daddy’s Jenny and taught how, she knew that this was what she was born to do. Except that she’s an African-American and lives in the outskirts of New Orleans. Not only can she not get a pilot’s license because she’s a woman; she can’t get one because she’s the wrong color.
But when her younger brother spies an article about the Army’s WASP program (that’s Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), and that there was a Chinese-American woman in it, Ida gets an inkling of an idea. She forges her daddy’s pilot’s license, and since her skin is light enough to pass for white, she applies. And gets in.
Smith spends the greater part of the book detailing Ida’s experience in the WASP program. It’s a fascinating tale, covering not only Ida’s internal conflicts with “passing” and the other students’ attitudes towards blacks, but the instructors’ and the military’s attitudes toward the women. The strength of the novel is Smith’s details as Ida learns how to fly military planes, and how she deals with challenges posed by the program and the obstacles she had to surmount in order to succeed in a man’s world. It is not only historically interesting, but has a universal appeal: what woman hasn’t faced the “you can’t do it because you’re a girl” obstacle and fought her way to success in whatever that is?
It’s books like these that make one grateful for the pioneers, the women who were courageous enough to break the race, sex, or whatever barrier, and achieve their dreams. And it’s good to have a book like this to remind us of it — as well as being a cracking good story.
Rated: Mild for some mild swearing.