passing and being grown up and piloting and some other stuff

I’ve been trying to figure out why I wanted to read Flygirl so much, and it was probably a combination of a passing narrative and the mini-trend of girl pilots in YA that did it. I’ve given up on wanting New Adult to be a thing that means YA with characters whose ages better match the coming of age that they’re having, since you really don’t have everything figured out at 16, but I guess with things like Fangirl and Roomies (even if I wasn’t super impressed with either) happening and being called YA still, that will work for me. So this book works because it’s about a girl who is about 19. Also, since generally only fantasy and sci-fi work when you have a girl who is high school-aged but not having to live with her parents or anything, I think I like that girl pilots can be young but also autonomous and rather independent for teenagers.

Anyway. Flygirl. I honestly haven’t read many passing narratives – Nella Larsen’s classic, Passing, is the only one I can think of. I also don’t know what it’s like to pass, technically, even though I am given a lot of passes in social contexts, because I have a white parent and I’m educated and middle class and have “good hair” and I talk right and have grown up in a white community, as an adult I don’t actually have that fluidity in the world, so it was interesting to see into a world where you can be just invisible enough to learn the depth of how racist people can be, which was actually not too horrible in Ida Mae’s case, but also to live with that fear, because I can imagine the punishment for passing as white must be in some ways worse than just the general daily punishment of not having privilege. I don’t really have a lot of deep, scholarly thoughts on this book, but there were a few things I thought of, in addition to liking that Ida Mae was the proper age to be doing the stuff she was doing and she was still a true YA heroine, figuring things out and having to grow up while also having to stay a little girl in her family, in that sort of two-steps-forward-one-step-back thing that adolescence makes us do. This isn’t really a spoiler so much as an anti-spoiler, but I absolutely loved that the major climaxes and issues of the book were not drama about someone discovering Ida Mae’s secret. That would have been overdramatic, pandering to people who think “diverse narratives” (bullshit terminology, but it’s used, so I’ll use it) have to center around massive racial conflicts, not to mention untrue and unfaithful to a very real social phenomenon, since tons of people have passed and continue to pass, and tons of white people have no idea that their great grandmother passed and married into a white family, making them the white they are today.

While I don’t know quite enough about the period or about Texas to be sure, I did think it was strange that Lily didn’t face more prejudice for being Jewish. It may just be because I was seeing the acronym WASP everywhere, even though it was not the same acronym we use today, but I felt like even in the 1940s, she would have been a bit of an outcast, especially living in Texas. And since none of the other characters seemed to be Jewish, I would have liked to see Lily and Ida Mae either bond a bit more (they were already besties, but you’d think there would be a deeper connection) because Ida Mae would see something in Lily that she recognized, or that Ida Mae would pull away a bit, because being outsiders together can be just as dangerous as it is comforting.

This book did a great job with microaggressions, by which I mean it had a lot of them, which made it feel very truthful. The women in WASP put up with a lot of misogynist bullshit, and Ida Mae also has to deal with the other girls saying racist things to and around her when they have no idea she’s not one of them.

It’s maybe a bit slow and not for everyone, but all in all, this book is well worth reading, and I wish it would inspire a few more books about the Bessie Colemans of the world.

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One thought on “passing and being grown up and piloting and some other stuff

  1. Thanks so much for your review. This is one of my all-time favorite reads–I hadn’t thought about some of the points you make, but they feel very valid. I absolutely love, like you say, that the story is about more than just her passing–not that that doesn’t create some major tension and fear.

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