Flygirl Summary & Study Guide

Sherri L. Smith


  • 48-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 26 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Flygirl Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 48-page guide for “Flygirl” by Sherri L. Smith includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 26 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Civic Duty During Wartime and Racial Identity and Segregation.

Plot Summary

Sherri L. Smith’s 2008 work of historical fiction, Flygirl, takes place in the United States during World War II. The novel begins in December 1941 and is told from the perspective Ida Mae Jones, a young black woman and recent high school graduate, who lives with her mother, grandfather, and two brothers in the town of Slidell, Louisiana. In addition to helping her family on their berry farm, Ida works full time as a housecleaner along with her friend Jolene. Ida is saving up to go to Chicago to take her pilot’s license. Her father, who passed away when Ida was 16, taught her to fly a crop plane, but Ida has always dreamed of getting her own pilot’s license.

As Ida and Jolene leave work one night, they learn that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States is entering World War II. Ida’s older brother, Thomas, who was pursuing his medical degree in Tennessee, decides to enlist in the army. Before he leaves, Thomas makes Ida promise to stay at home and take care of the family while he is overseas.

The novel then jumps forward to August 1943, at which point Thomas has been gone for more than a year and a half. Ida and her family have been rationing food and collecting silk stockings to donate to the war efforts, but Ida feels as though she is not doing enough.

One day, Ida’s younger brother, Abel, finds a newspaper clipping calling for women pilots to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, a new army initiative. Ida is excited, but soon realizes that the program will only accept white women. Jolene tells Ida that she could try to pass as white since she has fairer skin than everyone else in her family. Although the plan makes her nervous, Ida finally decides to forge her father’s pilot’s license, so it looks like her own, and apply to the program, passing as white. Ida is accepted to the program and invited to Sweetwater, Texas, to begin her training.

At Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, Ida quickly becomes friends with two other women, Lily and Patsy. The training is difficult, yet Ida makes it to her first test, which will allow her to move from basic training to intermediate training. She must fly to Baker’s Pond, a town about 30 miles away, and back. Ida gets along well with her instructor, Walt Jenkins, and passes the test.

That night, the women all go out to a local bar to celebrate. Walt Jenkins arrives and asks Ida to dance. Dancing makes Ida nervous, not only because students are not allowed to date instructors, but because it is illegal for a black woman to dance with a white man. Ida is reminded of how dangerous it would be if someone were to discover that she is black.

On Christmas, Ida’s mother shows up unexpectedly to tell Ida that Thomas has gone missing in the South Pacific. During their interaction, Ida must pretend that her mother is her maid so that no one will become suspicious, which makes Ida feel ashamed.

The novel then jumps forward again to February 1944. Thomas is still missing. Ida, Lily, and Patsy are assigned their first cross-country flight. If they pass, they will be able to graduate and officially become members of WASP. As they travel to Philadelphia, where they will then fly to California, Lily invites Patsy and Ida to her wedding. Her fiancé is overseas, but they plan to marry once the war is over. The three friends begin their cross-country solo flights to California. Ida and Lily pass the test, but as Patsy lands in California, her plane goes up in flames and she dies in the crash. Ida and Lily are devastated by their friend’s death, but they nevertheless graduate and become WASP.

Ida gets to go home for one week before she has to report for duty. When she gets home, she is surprised to see Thomas waiting for her. He is injured but alive. He has been honorably discharged and will live at home while he recovers.

Ida and Lily travel to various army bases around the country to ferry planes and fly planes for target practice. One day, they are called to Birmingham, Alabama, for a special assignment. They must fly the B-29 bomber, an experimental plane, and the biggest plane Ida has ever seen. As they are flying, three of the engines give out, and Ida and Lily struggle to land the plane. After they complete the flight, the colonel tells them that they were given the assignment because WASP had something to prove, and that many male pilots would have been afraid to fly that plane.

Lily discovers that her fiancé will be in Pennsylvania for a short time, and Ida and Lily decide to travel to Pennsylvania so that Lily can get married. After the wedding, Ida and Lily head to Delaware, where they then receive orders to report to the officers’ training school in Florida. Lily informs Ida that she is pregnant and will not be continuing on to Florida.

Ida arrives in Florida and discovers that she and Walt Jenkins are in the same class at the officers’ training school. Walt tells Ida that he plans to start a business flying charter planes after the war is over and invites Ida to come work for him. Ida is unsure whether to return home after the war or continue passing as white and pursue a life with Walt. But when she learns that the WASP program will be disbanded as soon as the war is over, she decides to return home. She writes Walt a letter telling him everything. The novel ends with Ida dropping the letter in the mail, and Walt’s response is never revealed.

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Chapters 1-3