Sherri L. Smith
Putnam, 2009 (2009)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg
da Mae Jones wants nothing more than to be a pilot, just like her daddy. Learning to fly at his knee as a young girl, Ida Mae never feels more free than when she is inside the cockpit. When her father dies, she takes over his cropdusting business, but is refused a pilot's license because she is a woman. It is December, 1941, and the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. When her brother, Thomas, leaves medical school to enlist in the army, he makes Ida Mae promise him that she will help their mother on the family farm. But Ida Mae can't banish her dreams, and when she hears about the fledgling WASP program in the United States army, she can't stop thinking about it. There is only one problem - Ida Mae is not white.
he WASP, or
Women Airforce Service Pilots
, was started to train women to take over menial flying duties, so men could concentrate on the more serious business of bombing the enemy. However, during World War II, the country still had two armies - the black army, and the white army - and only white women were accepted into WASP. Ida Mae and her best friend Jolene hatch a plan, and Ida Mae, passing as white, with her father's forged pilot's license, makes it into the initial training program.
nce at the WASP training grounds, Ida Mae, soon to be knows as Jonesy, can't let her guard down for a second. Texas was a bad place for black folks, and anyone caught passing would be beaten - or worse. Even when she makes two close friends, Jonesy can't let them know her secret. WASP training is fraught with danger, and every day more of her classmates wash out and are sent back home. As Jonesy inches ever closer to her dream of being a
, she gets horrible news from home - her brother Thomas has gone missing and, because he is black, the Army won't waste their time trying to find him. Jonsey is faced with an agonizing decision - how can she convince the Army to locate her brother without jeapordizing her own secret?
herri L. Smith has written a fascinating and exciting young adult novel.
started out as her master's thesis, and the hours of research clearly paid off. Too little is known about the brave women of the WASP program, and Smith sheds much needed light on this integral part of World War II history. Her writing is clear and sharp, and will easily keep younger readers turning the pages.
da Mae is a wonderful young heroine, smart and full of spunk. Smith's treatment of the difficulties of passing as white is heartbreaking, and forces the reader to consider hard questions - How much of your identity would you be willing to give up to pursue your dream? How much are you willing to give to a cause that doesn't want your help? Ida Mae's struggle to find herself - as Ida Mae, as Jonsey, or as a combination of the two - will ring true to readers regardless of background. I highly recommend
- it's a wonderful story.
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