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readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 2009: Sherri L. Smith

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

8 comments:

Melissa Walker said...

How cool to see those parallels, Sherri. In the end, that age is so universal, across time and place.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

I love this post, Sherri. Brilliant parallels!

Thanks so much for hanging out with us this month and your wonderful novel!

Jackie Parker said...

This is what I love so much about Reader's Advisory - how books that different on a surface level can really have so many similarities when you look deeper. Something we should be doing with every book.

Wonderful post, Sherri. LOVED Flygirl.

MissAttitude said...

This was so interesting. When I first saw this post Sherri, I was thinking the same way as you. how does historical WWII fiction compare to realistic fiction? I was curious as to what you were gonna say to compare Flygirl and Kendra. The comparisons really made me want to pick up Kendra and see for myself, especially since I loved, loved Flygirl!
Great post :)

Little Willow said...

Thank you, Sherri!

holly cupala said...

This looks like such a good book. Thank you, Sherri, for posting!

Shelf Elf said...

Sherri - I love what you say about books having the power to hold your hand when you look into the unknown. Wow. It'd be cool to get readergirlz to name some of the books that have done this for them at some point in their lives.

Dia Calhoun said...

Thanks, Sherri!