Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven

Velva Jean Learns to FlyDuring World War II, more than 1,000 women pilots ferried fighter jets and other military aircraft in a program started by Jacqueline Cochrane called Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). It is into this “hidden” world that Velva Jean soars. Having left behind a confining small town in the Appalachian hills of South Carolina and an equally confining husband, Velva Jean decides to move to Nashville to realize her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry.

Arriving in Nashville, she meets up with a woman who will become her friend and who shares her small apartment with her over a restaurant where Velva Jean finds work. After rejection upon rejection by the Opry, Velva Jean — a truly indomitable spirit — is beginning to become depressed and to do something she seldom does — doubt herself. It is at this point that her brother, Johnny Clay, comes to Nashville to visit her.

Johnny Clay is eager to enlist in the army as a paratrooper, and as part of his preparation for this role, he takes Velva Jean to an old hanger, where they meet a former flying instructor willing to teach them both to fly. Once up in the air, Velva Jean is hooked. Flying feels natural and liberating to her, as it takes her “beyond the keep.”

Convincing Cochrane to let her into WASP is no small feat itself, but her persistence pays off, and she soon travels to Texas to begin training. This novel is based on the true history of the women who ferried planes across the country and across the Atlantic in WWII. The history is as fascinating as its heroine, who was way ahead of her time in finding her way in what was then the very heart of a man’s world.

Velva Jean Learns to Fly is the sequel to Velva Jean Learns to Drive. You don’t have to read the first to become completely engrossed with the second, but once you meet Velva Jean, you’re going to want to!

Plume/Penguin; ISBN 978-0-45229-740-1; $15.
Velva Jean Learns to Fly: Reading Guide

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