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No Color, No Gender, Nothing Can Hold Her Back: Flygirl By Sherri L. Smith

FLYGIRLSmith, Sherri L.  Flygirl.  $7.99.  Penguin Books/Speak: 2008. 978-0-14-241725-6.   Ida is one determined eighteen-year-old.  Tired of living on her family’s farm, collecting silk stockings, and cleaning houses, she feels the open sky calling her.  Flying is in her blood.  Her father flew crop duster planes when he was alive and taught her how to fly.  Her brother was already serving as a WWII medic.  It is her time to shine.  But race and color pose a problem.  Well, not for people like Ida.

Ida’s drive and determination enables her to devise a plan.  She would pass as white and join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) organization.  Ida succeeds and adapts to the culture and expectations of the organization.  But she realizes passing comes with a price.  She alienates herself from her best friend, Jolene.

She strains her relationship with her mother, especially when Ida has to refer to her mother as a housekeeper during a family visit to the field. Ida consistently has to stay in character and wear a mask.  Every part of her charade must be intact because one little slip-up could betray her real identity.  Can you imagine having to hold it together?  The lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” come to mind http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html :

                               Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

In the skies, Ida doesn’t have to worry about the farce.  Her ability to handle a plane is what matters.  The sky symbolizes freedom.  It provides the catalyst for her to be who she really is.

womanlutionpress logo(Clip art designed by Mike Smith)

Middle grade and adolescent readers will constantly wonder if Ida will be discovered as they engage in the storyline.  Through Smith’s deft development and description of Ida’s character, readers will want to emulate this strong teen.

Discovering Its Educational Value

Text-to-Text Connections

Here are just a few classic, contemporary, and young adult novels that could be paired with Flygirl:

  • Product DetailsTsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions–a postcolonial novel African novel set in Rhodesia that deals with a young girl trying to come of age under the scope of European expectations of beauty and gender. It can be tied into Ida’s ruse of trying to fit in with the WASPs by passing white and how it affects her and her relationships. http://www.wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/nervousconditions.html
  • Product DetailsSharon Flake, Money Hungry— a young adult novel that traces Raspberry’s ambition to earn money any way she can despite her circumstances.  Her drive and determination mirror Ida’s. http://www.sharongflake.com/books/money/

Educational Resources

These resources give additional information that ties into the historical connections within Flygirl:

What other novels, stories, and/or memoirs can you think of that feature women or young teens who have the drive and determination that Ida possesses?

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