Review: The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar

 

Title: The Flight Girls

Author: Noelle Salazar

Published: July 2nd 2019, Mira Books

Status: June 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar is a fascinating, fictionalised account of the role female pilots played on the home front during World War II.

With dreams of one day owning her own small airfield in her home town, Audrey Coltrane is one of a handful of female civilian flight instructors assisting in the training of airforce recruits in Hawaii as World War II rages in Europe. She’s content spending her days in the air, and her nights in the company of her roommates, determined to avoid any romantic entanglements which could jeopardise her future plans.

And then, on an ordinary day in December during a training flight with a new recruit, Audrey encounters a squadron of Japanese planes on their way to devastate Pearl Harbor. While Audrey narrowly escapes with her life, thousands, including a close friend and colleague, are not so lucky.

In the wake of the attack, Audrey returns home to Texas but soon grows restless and accepts an invitation to join the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Audrey Coltrane is a well developed character, the story unfolds from her first person perspective and I found her to be relatable, admiring her passion, courage and strength. The character of Audrey seems to have been in part inspired by Cornelia Fort, Like Cornelia, Audrey comes from a well off family, and graduated from Sarah-Lawrence College. Fort was the first aviator to encounter a Japanese pilot during a training flight on the day of the Pearl Harbour attack, and was one of the first women to join the WASP program, though tragically, Fort was killed during a mission in 1943, attributable to another (male) pilot’s error.

I was fascinated by the activities of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which were later combined and became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), though this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered it in fiction. Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion also tells the story of this group of female aviators. These women were incredible, coming from a variety of backgrounds, volunteering to serve their country. They risked their lives flying aircraft cross-country, testing both new and repaired aircraft, and towing targets for live artillery practice. They were required to complete intensive military training, but the government took little responsibility for their well-being. They did not qualify for any military benefits, and the women were required to pay for their own room and board, transportation, uniforms, and flight gear, and if they were killed (a total of 38 women died), all funeral expenses, including the return of their loved one, was at the family’s cost.

The women with whom Audrey served, and the bonds that formed between them, is definitely a strength of the novel. The supporting characters are well crafted with distinct personalities, and I think representative of the varied women who joined the WASP. Salazar creates a genuine sense of camaraderie between these women, who both live and work together. Their support of one another is heartwarming, and Audrey’s friendship with Carol Ann is particularly delightful.

There is a strong romantic storyline through the book. Though Audrey believes there is no room in her life for love, marriage or children if she is to achieve her dreams, her relationship with airman Lieutenant James Hart, whom she first meets in Hawaii, causes her to question her convictions. After the attack in Pearl Harbor, James is deployed to Europe and while the two write to each other, Audrey is unwilling to admit the depth of her feelings for him until she receives word that he is missing in action, presumed dead or captured by the Germans.

What dulled my enthusiasm for the story slightly was the imbalance between ‘showing and telling’, with a single first person perspective, at times the narrative dragged. In her enthusiasm, I also think Salazar occasionally got carried away with including too many details that didn’t necessarily advance the story, and glossed over more important issues. There is the odd anachronism too, but I think overall Salazar managed to accurately portray the sense of time and place.

The Flight Girls is entertaining, touching, and interesting. I think it tells an important story that recognises and appreciates the contribution these women made to the war effort.

++++++

Available from Mira Books or Harlequin

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository

Note: One of the reasons I requested The Flight Girls is because my grandmother served in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) during World War II. Unfortunately there is no mention of women having any role during that period as a pilot in either a military or a civilian organisation in Australia that I’ve been able to find, though the woman instrumental in the establishment of the WAAAF, Mary Bell, did have a pilot’s licence. WAAAF recruits worked in technical positions such as flight mechanics, electricians, fitters, instrument makers, meteorologists, and as signal and radar operatives, as well as in roles in administration, and the medical field.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kate W
    Jun 27, 2019 @ 21:20:39

    The balance between showing and telling is often my gripe with historical fiction. That and info-dumping.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Lisa
    Jun 28, 2019 @ 00:27:20

    This sounds like a terrific read! Despite the problems with the writing that you identify it, I think I’d like to read this one simply because of the subject matter. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Lloyd Russell
    Jun 28, 2019 @ 23:39:49

    I haven’t read The Flight Girls. But I sure did enjoy Flagg’s book. It was another facet of WWII that I knew absolutely nothing about.

    Lloyd (408) 348-4849

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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