Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Secrets of Flight (book review)

Title: The Secrets of Flight
Author: Maggie Leffler
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2016
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Plot: Mary Browning, an elderly widow who presides over a writers’ group of would-be memoirists, is estranged from her family due to secrets in her past. When a teenage girl who reminds Mary of her long-deceased sister joins the group, Mary hires her as a typist and is finally able to share her own story – that of a Jewish girl named Miriam who escaped her Pittsburgh home during World War II by enrolling in flying lessons and winding up in Sweetwater, Texas as one of Jackie Cochran’s Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). At 15, Elyse is an aspiring writer with secrets of her own, including a crush on a cute but unreliable high school boy* and parents going through a painful separation; however, her surprising friendship with Mary enriches both their lives by empowering each of them to confront their secrets and cope with difficult situations.

Audience: Enthusiasts of WWII fiction, books about female aviators, fans of books like The Orphan Train

What I liked: Historical fiction set during WWII is one of my favorite genres and I am especially interested in books about women doing war work.  This is an enjoyable and moving read.  The book shifts back and forth from the present day to Mary/Miriam’s youth before WWII, told from Mary's and Elyse's alternating points of view. Leffler does a good job capturing the three primary settings of this story: the small Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh where Miriam and Sarah live with their mother and stepfather near his shop; the training facility for the women flyers in Sweetwater, Texas; and the present day setting that alternates between Elyse’s family and high school and Mary’s life among the senior citizens. Because Jackie Cochran realizes there is no synagogue nearby for Jewish flyers, she arranges for Miriam to travel to Abilene for services, where Miriam will meet a handsome future medical student but, ironically, her relationship with this “nice Jewish boy” will result in estrangement from her family. This gesture by Cochran seems a little out of character but adds a nice element to the story.
What I disliked: I would have liked to read much more about flying and less about Elyse’s family. The relationship between Mary and Elyse was a bit too predictable (on several levels) and while Mary’s back story was convincing she did not come across as a particularly warm character and there was a lot of time unaccounted for between her marriage and her return to Pittsburgh. One nice touch (see spoiler below) . . .

Author: This is the third novel by Maggie Leffler, a family physician in Pittsburgh, and demonstrates her enthusiasm for historical fiction, including careful research on a variety of topics. I also liked the mentions of Ballet Shoes, All of a Kind Family, and The Secret Garden which show good appreciation of classic kidlit.
Source: I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review, and suggest that you visit other stops on the tour to enjoy other reviews.  Here are a few:

Wednesday, May 4th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, May 5th: bookchickdi
Friday, May 6th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, May 10th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, May 11th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, May 12th: Savvy Verse & Wit

* Note that whether in fiction or real life, it is always a mistake to dump your friend for a cute (or otherwise) boy. You will be punished and rightfully so.

Spoiler from above: It was a nice touch to have Mary pay for Elyse to visit her grandmother before her death, but if only she had accompanied Elyse Mary would have been reunited with her niece. The other characters did not seem to find this as sad as I did!


Unknown said...

Hi - I especially enjoy reading reviews for books I've already read. I agree with what you liked about the book. I just felt like there was too much about Elyse when I would have rather read more about Mary (Miriam). Great review! :)
@dino0726 from 
FictionZeal - Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

My grandparents met during WWII and they always told us stories about their experiences, so I really enjoy reading books set in this era.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!