An engaging, thorough novel about forgotten heroes of aviation history.

Willa Brown & the Challengers

Perez’s debut historical novel fictionalizes the story of three pioneering black aviators who changed the face of aeronautics.

When one thinks about America’s aviation heroes, the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart come to mind. Lesser known are Cornelius C. Coffey, John C. Robinson and Willa B. Brown, real-life African-American historical figures who revolutionized aviation from the late 1920s through World War II. Brown was a schoolteacher in Gary, Ind., with a mind for machines, while Robinson and Coffey were working as well-regarded but underpaid auto mechanics. All had a desire to fly, and their paths crossed at a Walgreens drug store, when Willa, working temporarily as a waitress and cashier, overheard the two young men talking about a plane they had built. They insisted that she come see it, and the rest is history. Coffey and Robinson studied for and obtained pilot’s licenses (despite a stated “no colored” student policy), becoming the first black men in the United States to do so. They ran their own hangar in Robbins, Ill., eventually relocating to Chicago and founding the Coffey School of Aeronautics in 1935 with Willa Brown as Director, making it the only integrated flight school at the time. With the support of powerful parties—including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt—the three continued to break Jim Crow–era boundaries, including the U.S. Army’s race barrier, by managing the first black-operated government-funded flight school during World War II. For all of their accomplishments, it’s hard to believe that more people don’t affiliate them with the history of flight. Perez, a filmmaker, paces the novel well, tackling more than a decade’s worth of change in the field of aeronautics and its place in a racially divided country. But he balances more serious matter with his characters’ joy of flying as they soar at more than 300 mph, doing barrel rolls and loop-the-loops. Although the mechanical detail can sometimes be tedious, the author keeps the story moving with ample dialogue and glimpses into his protagonists’ personal lives. Unfortunately, with so much buildup leading to World War II, relatively little literary real estate is given to the characters’ post-war years.

An engaging, thorough novel about forgotten heroes of aviation history.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0979088100

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Script & Post Script

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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