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Sally didn’t care whether the WASP were civilians or soldiers.  Nor was she really concerned about the condition of the planes they flew.  WASP got advanced training and were paid to fly; that put being a WASP head and shoulders above anything she’d done so far except barnstorm with Tex.  “Not me!” she said.  “I won’t quit!  Any kind of flying beats anything else, any day of the week.”

(from Wings, page 17)

Karl Friedrich’s novel Wings:  A Novel of World War II Flygirls pays homage to the 1,074 women who graduated from the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, which operated from September 1942 to December 1944.  These women were civilians with pilot licenses who volunteered for training to deliver aircraft all over the country.  The U.S. Army needed their services because most of its pilots (male, of course) were fighting oversees in Europe and the Pacific.  They worked just as hard as any male pilot and oftentimes were better pilots, yet the U.S. government did not grant them the same benefits and did not award the WASP veteran status until 1979.

In Wings, Friedrich tells the story of Sally Ketchum, a young girl hoping to make a career in aviation.  Sally is rough around the edges, but it’s easy to understand where her anger and defensiveness come from, given that she grew up the daughter of a poor, alcoholic, and abusive farmer in East Texas.  She’s uneducated but bright, and the light of her life was Tex Jones, the boyfriend who taught her how to fly and how to love.  In the first chapter of the book, Sally’s life has come apart at the seams; all the fun she had barnstorming with Tex ends in a fiery crash that takes his life and forces her to return home to her father.

After her father’s death, Sally finds the letter inviting her to participate in the WASP program, and she heads to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, to begin her new life as a pilot.  She meets the beautiful, lively, and brusque Dixie, the intelligent Twila, and the snobbish Geri, and even though they see Sally at first as a “ragamuffin,” the girls become reluctant friends.  Sally also meets Beau Bayard, a flight instructor who is not nearly as adept as Sally at flying planes.  Despite their heated arguments, there is an attraction between them, but Sally doesn’t think she can love anyone like she loved Tex, whom she has placed on a pedestal that no one could ever hope to climb.  Meanwhile, she goes toe-to-toe with Ira Waterman, a ruthless attorney sent to Avenger Field by Congress to gather information about the WASP with the intention of disbanding the program.

Wings is a compulsively readable novel, with action in the skies, tension on the ground, a lot of heated dialogue, and a little romance.  Friedrich does a great job showing how the women in the WASP program were capable and ambitious and emphasizing the challenges they faced, from being forced to pay for their uniforms and room and board to dealing with men who believed the cockpit was no place for a woman.  The Army ordered these women to fly missions in weather that kept male pilots grounded, and there were reports of sabotaged planes and parachutes that kept the WASP on guard.  A handful of WASP lost their lives.

I found the story of the WASP program fascinating, and I admire the women who went against what society thought were respectable roles for them to do what they loved.  However, the characters lacked depth — the female characters were more stereotypes (the arrogant privileged girl, the flirty model with a big mouth, and the boyish girl with a chip on her shoulder) than real people.  I felt it difficult to connect with Sally and invest myself completely in her story.  She was always on the defensive in conversation, and she would go from being pleasant to shouting in the blink of an eye.  Her attitude got old after awhile, and even though I found the scenes where she was forced to use her natural talent as a pilot to get herself and others out of life-threatening situations entertaining, it seemed a little over-the-top that Sally — out of all the WASP in training — would continually find herself involved in near tragedies and always find a way out.   Yet no matter how much Sally and the other girls annoyed me, I found the book hard to put down.

The details of the WASP program and the flying of the aircraft is where Wings really shines.  I know nothing about airplanes and am not much interested in aviation; I wanted to read Wings because I had not heard of the WASP and am interested in all-things-WWII.  I can’t say whether Friedrich’s descriptions of the planes or Sally’s in-flight maneuvers are accurate, but it seems he has done his homework.  He does a good job balancing the technical terms with readability.  Overall, I’d recommend Wings for fans of WWII fiction who want to learn more about the contribution of women to the war effort, but they should be ready for more than just a history lesson.

McBooks Press would like to offer a copy of Wings to one lucky reader.  To enter, simply let me know in your comment that you are interested in reading the book.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, entries must be from readers with addresses in the U.S. or Canada.  This giveaway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, October 23, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for Wings. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Wings from McBooks Press for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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