Today's guest blog comes from Sherri L. Smith, author of Flygirl, one of this month's postergirlz recommended reads. (Read the August 2009 issue of readergirlz.)
Kendra and Flygirl: Crossing the Line to Adulthood
by Sherri L. Smith
I am a fan of Coe Booth. I devoured her first novel, Tyrell, in a matter of hours, convinced I was riding shotgun in the mind of a teenage boy. It was thrilling, and brutal, and inspiring, too. So much so, that I emailed Ms. Booth when I was done to congratulate her. Naturally, when Little Willow told me that my latest book, Flygirl was chosen as a Readergirlz recommended read and that Ms. Booth's second novel, Kendra, was going to be their book of the month, I jumped at the chance to read it. My goal was to see if it “tied-in” with my book, as Little Willow suggested it might. That seemed an impossible task at first - my book takes place during World War II and is about a black farm girl who pretends to be white in order to fly for the military. Historical fiction versus contemporary, World War II farmland versus inner city projects - my work was cut out for me. So you can imagine my surprise when I started to see the parallels.
Coe Booth's blunt biography of a young teen dealing with sex for the first time is literally worlds away from the considerably more virginal, wartime drama facing my own heroine in Flygirl, but at the heart of it, both stories are about crossing the line. For Booth's Kendra, the line is one between good girl and bad, virginity and sex. It is also about the line between parent and child - raised by her grandmother, shunned by her mom, more of a friend than a child to her father and aunt, Kendra is navigating a very rocky road to adulthood. But then again, so is Ida Mae Jones. In Flygirl, Ida Mae's road to maturity crosses gender and race lines. Her love interest is not a sexually experienced high school junior who might make her pregnant, but rather an older white man, her instructor no less, who could easily have her arrested, if not killed, for pretending to be white in a segregated, Jim Crow world.
Both Ida Mae and Kendra defy their families in pursuing their heart's desires. Ida must turn her back on her black relatives for a convincing masquerade. Kendra quite literally changes costumes when her grandmother is not around to see it, transforming into an older, more experience-looking girl. At what point does the masquerade become the person?
I suspect that we all start out pretending to be mature, play-acting at adulthood, whistling at the dark. But, at some point, the world agrees with our ploy. We become who we have pretended to be. Kendra ends up with a boyfriend, a mother who accepts her, a new life. Ida Mae becomes a pilot, and holds the affections of the man she has chosen. It costs these girls their closest friends, Adonna and Jolene, not to mention danger to themselves and a whole lot of sleepless nights. Crossing lines never comes without a price. But in the end, it's what it takes to make the transition from girlhood to womanhood. And that's what I love about Coe's books, and why I write YA myself. Stories can light up the dark and offer a hand to hold as you look into the scary unknown.
Kendra and Tyrell are just those sorts of books. They tell it to you straight - growing up isn't easy, but it's not impossible. And you don't have to do it alone.
- Sherri L. Smith