• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 3, 2016)
This captivating, breakout novel—told in alternating viewpoints—brings readers from the skies of World War II to the present day, where a woman is prepared to tell her secrets at last.
Estranged from her family since just after World War II, Mary Browning has spent her entire adult life hiding from her past. Now eighty-seven years old and a widow, she is still haunted by secrets and fading memories of the family she left behind. Her one outlet is the writing group she’s presided over for a decade, though she’s never written a word herself. When a new member walks in—a fifteen-year-old girl who reminds her so much of her beloved sister Sarah—Mary is certain fate delivered Elyse Strickler to her for a reason.
Mary hires the serious-eyed teenager to type her story about a daring female pilot who, during World War II, left home for the sky and gambled everything for her dreams—including her own identity.
As they begin to unravel the web of Mary’s past, Mary and Elyse form an unlikely friendship. Together they discover it’s never too late for second chances and that sometimes forgiveness is all it takes for life to take flight in the most unexpected ways.
The Secrets of Flight alternated viewpoints between Mary, an 87-year-old widow and Elyse, a fifteen-year-old girl. Except Mary hadn't been 'Mary' her whole life. She had been born 'Miriam Lichtenstein'. Her husband, Thomas (aka Solomon) had been trying to get into medical school for sometime, but kept being turned down. It seems the 'quota' for Jews getting into medical school was filled. I know. It's something that seems foreign to us these days, someone capable being denied a job or schooling on the basis of his religion. But back then, it was practically an institution.
So what's a medical-school hopeful to do? Change his name to Thomas Browning and check the little box that said 'Christian'. Both Thomas and Mary's families wrote them off for this ultimate betrayal. It reminded me of the scene in Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye is trying to reconcile the fact that his daughter, Chava, has married a Christian. He finds this out when he is notified that a pogrom will happen in their town, and someone thought it might be spared because of Chava's marriage. From that point on, she is 'dead' to him.
Of course, no one's life is drama-free, even in modern times. Elyse's parents are getting a divorce, and her maternal Grandmother (who lives in Florida) is dying of cancer. And that's over and above the normal teenage angst-y sort of events.
So Elyse and Mary meet each other in a writing group. All of the other members are retirees. Mary decides it's time to write her memoirs of her days as a Women's Air Corps pilot during WWII, and asks Elyse to type it up for her. The further into the story they delve, the closer the bond between the two generations becomes. Mary buys a computer for her apartment for Elyse to use, since she is doing this project on the sly from her mother. Later, Mary pays for a first-class ticket for Elyse to fly to Florida and see her dying Grandmother.
The look back in time was fascinating. The prejudices that people held were many and varied. Townies looked suspiciously on women pilots because they dressed in trousers. (Egad!) Women were supposed to stay and tend the home, not 'take jobs away from men'. The quotas Thomas faced seem miniscule to what the Jews in Europe faced at the time, but the root prejudice was the same. Mary had a couple of close calls with aircraft while she was in training, and rumors circulated that some men sabotaged the planes (sugar in the fuel tank, that sort of thing) in order to cause accidents that would shut down the training program for women.
If I seem to get caught up in the story, it is because Ms. Leffler's writing allows me to do so. I did not just read a book, I was immersed in it. I was that proverbial fly on the wall that we'd all like to be sometimes...living the story along with the characters. Reading The Secrets of Flight was a pleasure and a most memorable experience. Add this one to your library.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links.)