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Friday, April 18, 2014

Velva Jean, the Jane of All Trades, Tries Her Hand at Flying

I love stories about characters from the Appalachians and about female aviators.  So I expected great things from Velva Jean Learns To Fly by Jennifer Niven.


One of the problems is that I found this to be a slow starter.  Velva Jean doesn’t start to learn how to fly until Chapter 13.  People uninterested in country singing, Nashville or Appalachian culture may become restless.  Her first solo flight happens on page 109.

As a novel about a woman pilot, it lacked the dramatic intensity of Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith or the unusual perspective of Call Sign: White Lily.  I’m interested in the Appalachian aspect, but once she started flying she didn’t seem identified with her culture in the way that Lilia Litvyak of Call Sign: White Lily was always Russian. 

I also was uncertain of this character’s focus.  Why did Velva Jean want to become a pilot?  She wanted to become a country singer in the first book and apparently switches her vocation to spy in the third book.  I wondered if she was really a sensation seeker who craved excitement rather than someone committed to a particular vocation.

I actually felt more interested in Velva Jean as a musician.  In Chapter 34, which is the high point of the book, Velva Jean goes to a juke joint with Butch Dawkins who knew her from her small mountain community.

Butch Dawkins was my favorite character in this novel. Not only is he a musician, but he is also half-Choctaw and a code talker.  I had thought that only Navajos were code talkers during World War II, but this is not the case. This book caused me to research code talkers.  From the Wikipedia article Code Talkers, I learned that Choctaws pioneered code talking in World War I.  I also discovered that there were Basque code talkers transmitting information in the Basque language during World War II primarily in Hawaii and Australia, but there was a shortage of Basque speakers.

I felt that Velva Jean Learns To Fly improved at around 75%, sad to say.  It was hard for me to wait that long for the content that interested me.

                         Carnival Masks courtesy of Salvatore Vuono            



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