Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wings by Karl Friedrich

Title: Wings: A Novel of WWII Flygirls
Author: Karl Friedrich

Genre: Fiction (WWII / Airplanes / WASPs)
Publisher/Publication Date: McBooks Press (4/1/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did, rather quickly.
One-sentence summary: Country girl becomes pilot during WWII, faces romance, prejudice, and bad weather.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's kind of adorable, but I mean that in a good way. It certainly captures the homey roots of the heroine's background

First line: Sally Ketchum peered over the edge of the cockpit.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow -- this has a sort of beach read feel for a WWII historical.

Why did I get this book?: I'm always interested in how women fare during wartime and have been curious about the WASPs.

Review: In the 1940s, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program was started to free up male pilots so they could fly in combat, and women pilots were given Army flight training to do routine, non-combat flying jobs, like hauling cargo, towing targets for live artillery training, and transporting planes. I jumped at this novel because I love, love learning about how women fare during wartime and I have so admired the WASPs (who shamefully were only recognized in 2009 for their war efforts).

It's clear Friedrich did his research: there are details that crop up that I presume are from first-hand accounts. Women applying for the WASP program had to pay to get to the school, they pay their own room and board, pay for their own uniforms, and work outrageous hours, flying in planes that were sabotaged by those who thought women shouldn't be in the cockpit, and in conditions comparable to combat. But they were seen as civilians, treated as unwanted jokes by many, and they worked thankless hours and shifts in situations that male pilots wouldn't and as expected, they had to maintain their femininity and remember their place.  It's a heartbreaking setup that promises disappointment, and I admire any woman who put herself in that situation -- they're stronger than me.

Sadly, this novel didn't meet my expectation and hope.  The writing is straight-forward and simple and the plot predictable -- but I found myself still wishing for the best (that the WASPs would be recognized for their skill and hard work).  The characters were a little flat -- predictable stereotypes (bitchy rich girl, gallant flight instructor, tough tomboy, etc.) -- which took away my ability to wholly care about what was happening.  You could see a mile away the coming 'romance' and the villainous conflict. 

I sometimes find that contemporary novels set during WWII are a little too intent on lionizing and commemorating the 'greatest generation' and as a result, the stories lack nuance or sophistication. I think this is the case with Wings: it's a really great premise, but I can't help but feel like the author is trying too hard to keep things noble, clean, and above board. Which works for some people, but is just too white-washed for me. (I found myself describing this as a family friendly, lady-fronted version of Memphis Belle.) 

This was a fast read, and again, clearly well-researched which is what kept my interest.  In the end, I found myself yearning for a novel about Sally after this one finished, a story about how she lived her life after having this freedom, adventure, danger, and romance.  Friedrich is right -- these women were amazing -- and his book has me desperate to learn more about the real life WASPs.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Wings to one reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 11/11.


  1. I have sort of avoided this book for some of the reasons that you mention, and also because this is a subject that just doesn't seem to get me all that excited for some reason. It sounds like although you liked it, there could have been more done with it to ensnare the reader. I really appreciated reading your review on this one. It was very revealing!

  2. Sounds like we had similar thoughts about this one. I enjoyed it for the same reason you did -- all the information on the WASPs. Despite the flaws, you manage to enjoy it because it's so darn readable. I agree that a book about Sally's post-WASP life would interest me. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  3. I'm sorry to hear this one disappointed. I find the subject matter intriguing too, but I'll hold out hope for a better offering. I've heard wonderful things about Flygirl by Sherri Smith, a young adult novel about the WASPs, so perhaps I should finally make time for it instead.

  4. @Heather: The subject is something I'm keen on but the writing style just didn't connect with me. I think it would suit many other readers -- it just wasn't my tastes.

    @Anna: Thanks for linking it! I definitely didn't put this one down even though I wanted more, because what I was getting was great. 'Readable' is exactly the right word for it.

    @Carrie: If you read Flygirl, I'd love to see your review. This was interesting enough, but too Hallmark-y for my tastes.

  5. I haven't read anything about WASP and it sounds interesting but I'll think about this now.
    Thanks for your review!

  6. I liked but didn't adore this book. The history itself is pretty darn cool. though!

  7. Beach feel...with WWII? Lol, I have certainly not head that before, so I would like to try it just cos of that

  8. I don't think I've read anything about the WASPS in spite of having quite a thing for WWII stories. I'm sorry this on didn't quite live up to your expectations but I'm still intrigued enough to give it a shot!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  9. That is a very interesting analogy you used about this being sort of white washed. I haven't read this book but I know what you mean.

  10. This interests me ever since I saw an exhibit at Arlington cemetery a few years ago. WASP was such an interesting program. Sorry it wasn't all you had hoped it to be.

  11. Do you know about the book Flygirl? It is also about the WASPS, and about a young light-skinned black woman who is dying to fly so she tries to "pass" as white to join. It ha its flaws, but the part about having to pass elevates it above the usual. I have a review here if you are interested: http://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/review-of-“flygirl”-by-sherri-l-smith/

  12. I reviewed this too - felt that Dixie somewhat stole the show!

  13. Thanks for the opportunity to win this book!