Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778332046
Trade paperback, $16.99, 368 pages
Books set in WWII have become a popular genre of novels in recent years. Many of them center on how people faired through the war years in England and France. Sara Ackerman's Radar Girls takes us to the island of Hawaii just after the attack on Pearl Harbor to tell a lesser-known story of the women who went to work for the military learning how to read radar to aid the pilots returning from bombing runs.
Daisy is 23 year-old woman who loves working with the horses on the estate of a local wealthy landowner. Horses are her lifeblood. She cares for her mother, who hasn't gotten over the accidental shooting death of her husband. Daisy is the sole financial and emotional support for her mother.
When the Japanese bombs devastate Pearl Harbor, everything changes on the islands. Similar to what happened in England during the war, the men went off to fight in the war, leaving the women behind to do the jobs the men previously did. In England, many women were recruited to try to break the German coded communications in Bletchley Park.
In Radar Girls, Kate is recruited with other island women to join the Women's Air Raid Defense (WARD) to learn how to read radar signals. Kate surprises herself by scoring high on the test, and she and the other women painstakingly learn all about the new technology of radar. They pinpoint planes in the air, both friendly and enemy planes, and help guide the pilots back home.
They undergo intensive training, including learning how to shoot and fight fires. They are doing top-secret work, and must hide their real job from family and friends. It is a stressful occupation, and as in England, the women are housed on the base. Daisy bunks with Betty, whose husband is a pilot, and Fluff, an innocent young woman who catches the eye of one of her superior officers.
Daisy becomes friendly with Walker, the son of the owner of the horse stables where she worked and a hero pilot. All the women have eyes for Walker, including one woman who believes herself to be his fianceé, but Walker begins to spend more and more time with Daisy.
I didn't know anything about WARD, and the women who learned a new technology to read radar. I found that part of the story most fascinating. The story is told from Daisy's perspective, so we really only see the other women from through Daisy's eyes. Hawaii has such a diverse population- Japanese, Chinese, Philippino- it was interesting to see how they were treated differently than the Japanese-Americans in California, for example.
If you read and enjoyed Kate Quinn's The Rose Code about the women in Bletchley Park, pick up Radar Girls.
Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2021 Historical Fiction tour.