Wings by Karl Friedrich
Author: Karl Friedrich
Genre: Fiction (WWII / Airplanes / WASPs)
Publisher/Publication Date: McBooks Press (4/1/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
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.
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