Ida Mae loves to fly. (Her daddy taught her how before he died in a tractor accident on their Louisiana farm.) But opportunities to be a pilot are limited–if not nonexistent–for someone who is Black and a woman in the South in 1941.
Then things change rapidly. Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese, the nation is thrust into the war, and Ida Mae wants to do more than collect silk stockings for parachutes and save cooking fat–especially with her older brother Thomas in the Army. Ida Mae’s chance comes when her little brother gives her a clipping about the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Hoping her light skin will not betray her racial background and determined to do whatever she can to keep her brother safe, the young woman applies–and is accepted into the WASP training program.
Facing grueling exercises, demanding instructors, and competitive co-trainees, Ida Mae finds herself in a world far removed from the one in which she grew up, where people of color would never associate as equals with those around her. She develops a close friendship with two fellow WASP, one of whom is the kind of person, the young pilot notes, whose house she would clean back home. In one particularly wrenching scene, Ida Mae’s mother makes the journey to her base to inform her daughter that Thomas is missing in action. Mother and daughter are compelled to act as servant and mistress during the visit, an ordeal that pains Ida Mae (even as she attempts to go through channels to locate her brother without revealing their relationship).
How Ida Mae reconciles the conflict between remaining true to who and what she is, and what she is determined to be, makes this a powerful, thought-provoking novel. Characterization is rich, and major and minor players are well-rounded and believable. The open-ended conclusion allows room for reader speculation as to what Ida Mae’s future holds. An author’s note provides historical information on the WASP program. This novel, which started out as author Sherri L. Smith’s master’s thesis, is one readers will not soon forget. 288 pages. Ages 14 up
Recommended by: Barbara Karp, Librarian, New York USA