Thursday, November 03, 2011

Book Review: Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls

You probably think you know what a book tour is. I thought so too. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it's a series of visits to bookstores that a writer makes, especially when they have written a new book. Sounds about right. But in the age of the internet, that is SO passe. Instead of the author having to physically go to bookstores (also unfortunately becoming passe), the blog tour has an author going from blog to blog.   According to the Book Publicity Blog: "Depending on the author and the blog, coverage may consist of any of the following: book review, Q and A (either posted or live) or book giveaway ....  Blog tours, like traditional bookstore tours, will feature a designated number of “stops” — often 10 to 20 blogs — and can roll out over the course of a week or a month (or whatever other length of time that has been decided upon)."

I was contacted by TLC Book Tours who prides itself on creating a buzz and drive up hits on Amazon.  "For a minimal amount of money, time, and travel, an author can gain exposure to thousands of potential readers." I'm not sure I can help with the "thousands" of potential readers, but I was certainly interested in obtaining a copy of another book about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The WASP were the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft during World War II. Out of the 1078 women trained, only a few are left - and all of them over 80. However, every one I've ever met has been just as sharp as a tack and incredibly interesting to listen to. I count them among my heroes.

So it's kind of a risk to give me to a "fictionalized" account of their training. Remember, I adore these women. Plus, fifty years later I was in similar shoes, going through MY military pilot training. So in a way, this might be like taking a peek into my grandma's diary. Do I really want to know everything about her? And her let-loose-on-society days?


C'mon, although these weren't Victorian times, women during the 1940s were far from having equal rights, only a generation after the 19th amendment was passed giving them the right to vote. And now, they get to travel the country ferrying airplanes?  A freedom not many women their ages enjoyed. And like most people during the hard times of training, and then performing duties during wartime, there had to be times where they needed to burn off some of that stress. What's "the rest of the story" as it were? How do we get to know them not as just heroes, justifiably eventually awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, but also as women, and as fellow pilots?

For the most part, I believe the book stuck to the facts as far as the training the women underwent, the living conditions, etc. But thrown in was some drama so as to turn this into something folks would want to read. The main character is an already experienced pilot who tragically loses her boyfriend during the fiery crash of their Jenny (a WWI trainer). The story covers her recovery and entry into training. Along the way she meets colorful characters and experiences a wide array of adventures. This description of the book comes from the TLC website:

Sally Ketchum comes from dirt-poor farm folk. She has little chance of bettering her life until a mysterious barnstormer named Tex teaches her to fly—and becomes the first person worthy of her love. But Tex dies in a freak accident, leaving Sally to make her own way in the world. She enrolls in the U.S. military’s Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, and in a special school located in West Texas begins learning to fly the biggest, fastest, meanest airplanes the military has to offer. She also reluctantly becomes involved with Beau Bayard, a flight instructor and aspiring writer, who seems to offer her everything she could want. But many people see no place for a “skirt” in the cockpit, and Sally soon finds herself pitted against a high-powered Washington lawyer who wants to disband the WASP once and for all.  Their battle is a story of extraordinary women who broke society’s rules and became heroes, and of men who stood in their way.

I'd say I was pleased with the storyline, especially the first part, which dealt with their flight training. But this is a novel, and as such is a well written one, if historically inaccurate. But I hold anything about the WASP to a very high standard. If it encourages more people to find out about the WASP, so much the better. The author, Karl Friedrich, is a pilot, so his descriptions of the aircraft and associated procedures were spot on. He was also very complimentary of the abilities of the WASP and made a very strong case about their being treated as less than their male contemporaries.

Bee Haydu, also an author who I have blogged about previously (here she is at the Girls With Wings booth in Oshkosh several years ago), wrote a book entitled Letters Home 1944-1945. I greatly enjoyed her book as well. It is literally a collection of letters she wrote home to her mother and brother who was serving overseas. It is a wonderful way to gain insight into not only her life during training, but also the follow up campaign she launched to have the WASP officially recognized for their military service.

I have run into her several times and when I was asked to review Wings asked her if I could send her the copy to see how SHE felt about it. I was so flattered when she accepted. I sent her the link to the book on Amazon and an immediate comment was "I believe it is the back cover of the book that reads “Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.” It is not “Women’s.” It is “Women.” " They're very feisty, these WASP. I hinted to her about her "off time" and she said, "Most of us knew that some of the trainees did date some of the instructors in Sweetwater on our free time which usually was a week-end pass. Some got away with it and some were caught and washed out. I personally was a “goodie two shoes” since I did not want to wash out." Fair enough.

In a subsequent email, Bee says, "I know this is a novel to be viewed differently than an historical paper.  However, I feel the author has strayed quite a distance from what it was really like.  I am concerned about the so-called “spy” sent by Congress.  We both know the real reason the WASP were disbanded (Chapter 14 in my book)."

When I asked for specific example of historical inaccuracy, she had to just base her feedback on what she had read so far. She lost power in the snowstorm and had gotten the electricity back on only recently. This is what she offered,"The largest example is that he is saying Congress sent someone. That is extremely doubtful.  Another is his description of the trainees arriving and THEN going through their physicals, etc. before being accepted.  All of this was done prior to going to Sweetwater.  You had to pass the physical and other items BEFORE being accepted in a class.  Too bad I did not get as far as his description of the actual flight training. I’m sure there would be many more examples.  To say he painted an exaggerated and not so accurate picture of the WASP would not be out of order."

 This doesn't necessarily make the book unworthy of attention. Many of the things we read, or watch, etc., are "based on historical events." I just think we should be aware that there is way more to the story.

As a side note, I happened to be in the library with my nephews and from across the aisle this other fictionalized account of the WASP caught my eye.

Flygirl is about an African American woman who successfully enters WASP training, but unfortunately has to hide her heritage by passing for a white woman. According to Wikipedia: There were two Chinese-American women in the WASP, Hazel Ying Lee and Maggie Gee. Hazel Ying Lee died following a runway collision, but Maggie Gee survived the war. Ola Mildred Rexroat, an Oglala Sioux woman from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, was the only Native American woman in the WASP; she survived the war and later joined the Air Force. All the other members of the WASP were white; no African-Americans were allowed to join the WASP. Although this book was written for ages 12 and up, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and again, think it is a great way to introduce more people to the WASP as well.


  1. Thank you so much for your review of this novel.
    I was planning on buying it and I wanted to first see your review.
    I love the storyline and timeline of this book.

  2. Thank you so much for your review of this novel.

    Tours and Travels

  3. Anonymous1:35 AM

    Hello. This is Karl Friedrich, author of WINGS A Novel Of World War II Flygirls.

    I want to thank you for your review of my book.

    Ms. Haydu did indeed catch an error. The inside flap of the dust cover refers to the WASP as Women's Airforce Service Pilots. I didn't write that copy, nor did I see it before the book went to press. My manuscript copy accurately refers to the WASP as Women Airforce Service Pilots. I didn’t know about the error until I received my copy of the book from my publisher.

    Ms. Haydu is also correct in saying there probably was no spy sent by Congress. That was my invention. I needed a bad guy to facilitate the story line and I created one. (Though in fact before becoming President, Harry Truman headed up a panel to investigate whether the government was wasting money in its training of the WASP…one of several such investigations.)

    WINGS A Novel Of World War II Flygirls is a piece of fiction, as reflected by the title which includes the word Novel. The plot is generally based upon events that actually happened to WASP, and a tremendous amount of research went into assuring that most of the detail is accurate (I did fudge in places, again to facilitate the story).

    But WINGS isn’t a scholastic history lesson, and no reader should hold it to that standard. No novel should ever be held to that standard. It’s unfair to the author. It’s unfair to the book. And it’s unfair to potential readers.

    WINGS is a fun read that intends to take the reader to a time that most Americans today know nothing about, when women of great courage and skill tried to help their country save the world, in spite of some men who were threatened to their bones by women flying airplanes.

    Lynda, I’m not a pilot (motion sickness). That you, a professional pilot (Citations?), would think I am, based upon my book, is a wonderful payoff to innumerable hours of research: The guy who gave me five minutes after climbing out of a P-38 at Chino, the retired United captain in San Diego who spent an hour talking about the Jenny, the WASP who shared her love for the PT-19 (she was almost crying), the pilot at the air show in Washington who stopped to answer my questions about his C-45, my own flight in the back of an AT-6.

    God, I had a good time researching this book. If I didn’t need both hands to hold a barf bag, I’d sign up in a minute to fly airplanes.


  4. Anonymous10:44 AM

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!