The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062427922
Trade paperback, $15.99, 339 pages
In The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler, Mary Browning is an 87 year-old widow who runs a writing group for senior citizens at her local library. One day, a fifteen year-old young lady named Elyse joins the group after seeing an ad in the newspaper. Elyse is unaware that it is a senior citizens group, but the members were more than happy to welcome the youngster to their group.
Mary and Elyse become friends, and Mary hires Elyse to type up her memoirs for her. Mary has many secrets from the group, from her real name (Miri Lichtenstein) to her former occupation. The group believes that Mary was a book editor in New York City, but in actuality Mary had belonged to the Women's Airforce Service Pilots during WWII, a group of civilian pilots who were trained by the military.
The book us told in two different voices- Mary's and Elyse's- and in two different time periods. I found Miri's story of her time training as a pilot, and her camaraderie with her female pilots to be the more interesting of the two stories.
One of the more interesting anecdotes (which according to the author's notes at the end of the book really happened) involved landing in bad weather. The ladies had to land their planes in a remote area. They found a restaurant in this small town, and of course these strange women, unaccompanied by any men, drew interest from the regulars.
A man came to their table and said that they were trying to guess who these ladies were. The women had been told not to tell anyone who they were, so when the man guessed that they were a baseball team, the ladies readily agreed. (Just like A League of Their Own!)
One of the sadder tales involved a pilot who crashed her plane and perished. The women had to take up a collection to send her body back to the woman's parents. As they were not officially in the armed services, the government would not cover the cost. That made me so sad and angry.
Another aspect of the story that intrigued me concerned the idea of Jewish people hiding their identity. Miri's boyfriend wanted to study medicine, but he had a difficult time getting into medical school because at that time, there was a strict quota for Jewish men in medical school. I had never heard of that, and found it so shocking that in the United States in the 1940's this blatant discrimination existed.
He had to decide whether to hide his identity to achieve his goal, when his relatives had to hide their identity in Europe to avoid being sent to concentration camps. The strain that this decision caused himself and his family was enlightening. (And I have never seen so many people just cut themselves off from family members as in this book.)
Mary had many secrets that she kept from those around her, and when we slowly discover them, it becomes easier to see why Mary was so lonely.
The Secrets of Flight will appeal to fans of The Orphan Train. Both of the books feature an older woman whose earlier life held a fascination for the teenage girl they befriend. Both books tell of two women of different ages and experiences and how they changed each other.
There is a twist of fate at the end of the story that is hinted at at the beginning. I personally found it to be a little too coincidental, but it does bring the story full circle. I recommend The Secrets of Flight to anyone who enjoys a story about strong women, and who find the time period of WWII interesting. I loved learning about the women flyers.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Maggie Leffler's tour. The rest of the stops are here: