LEAVING EARTH by Helen Humphreys

LEAVING EARTH

KIRKUS REVIEW

Canadian Humphreys debuts with the story of two women pilots who try, in August 1933, to break a record by staying aloft for 25 days—in a novel with plenty of period interest but less depth—or height—of psychology and character than could be wished. Famous Grace O—Gorman, known as —Air Ace Grace,— sets out to break the in-air record now held by her over-the-hill husband Jack—who’s not happy to see his wife trying to grab the last record he—ll ever set. But Grace pushes ahead, and, when her intended copilot breaks her wrist, takes on the younger and less-experienced Willa Briggs (Grace is 33, Willa 23).Up they go in a Moth DH60T, a one-engine biplane with wire struts and fabric skin, to begin 25 days of 10-minute circles over the neighborhoods, docks, and waters of Toronto. Once they—re up, Humphreys offers much that’s of considerable interest—how the women refuel in the air, get food (both from a plane flown by the not-quite-to-be-trusted Jack), how they stay clean, go to the bathroom, communicate, keep from falling asleep. But there’s unquestionably a sameness about things—and the book turns to one complication and another for its density: on the ground is 12-year-old Maddy Stewart, whose infatuation for the famous flier is almost boundless—even to the point of her imagining Grace to be her real mother, while her actual parents(Jewish mother a fortuneteller, nostalgic Scots father the operator of a merry- go-round)make their way through the homely, money-pinched days of a Depression August—and feel the wrath of early Nazis, members of —the Swastika Club,— who maraud when it suits them—as it does after Maddy’s prize-fighting uncle, Simon Kahane, wins over a boxer who’s German. Everything about the airplane—with its 40-gallon gas tank and top speed of 80 mph—is marvelously done, as are the locales of long-ago Toronto, but the tales and characters that keep the rest going just don—t hold their altitude, declining toward the tones of a YA.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5957-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998




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