Trying to condense 88,000 words into a one-page summary is hard work! Here’s a first attempt. Is it enough to make you want to read the book?
When nineteen-year-old Maggie Phelan leaves her family and the cornfields of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to live with her Aunt Rose in California during the spring of 1941, the war in Europe is the last thing on her mind.
But the world is in turmoil. As Maggie boards the train heading west to her new life, Adolph Hitler is ordering thousands of Jews to board trains heading east. Meanwhile, hostilities are building in the Pacific.
Once in California, Maggie meets Ben Noguchi and Tom Winslow, the sons of Aunt Rose’s close friends. On a dare from Tom, Maggie begins flying lessons and discovers she has natural talent. Meanwhile, Ben and Maggie discover their friendship is blossoming into something more.
For Maggie, the summer and fall of 1941 are all about learning to fly and learning to love.
But by winter Maggie’s life takes a depressing turn. Ben’s mother insists on keeping Maggie away from her son. She wants her son to find a ‘nice Japanese girl’.
Before the couple can choose between Mrs. Noguchi’s wishes and their hearts, Maggie’s world collapses. Her brother is killed during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. America formally enters World War II. Airports along the California coast close and Maggie is grounded. Tom leaves his studies at Stanford to enlist in the Army. And Mrs. Noguchi’s wishes come heartbreakingly true when Ben and his parents are relocated to Heart Mountain Internment Camp.
Torn between grief for her brother and love for Ben, Maggie returns to Iowa determined to join the Women’s Ferrying Training Detachment (later called the Women Airforce Service Pilots – WASP).
Compelled by a need to contribute, the need to honor her brother and the need to help bring the war to an end (and Ben home from Heart Mountain), Maggie is resolute in her decision to become one of the first women civilians to fly American military aircraft.
Maggie trains in Sweetwater, Texas, and eventually learns to pilot the P-51 Mustang – the fighter plane that changed the course of our air war in Europe. Internment for the Noguchi’s is harsh – Ben and his father are shot and wounded – and Heart Mountain teaches Ben to make decisions for himself. He reconciles with his parents and begins to appreciate his father’s love of the land. Tom flies over twenty missions into Germany but the death of several friends finally takes its toll. A breakdown brings Tom home to recover.
Maggie, Ben and Tom experience the same war from three perspectives. When they finally reunite, Maggie, Ben and Tom must reconcile the children they once were with the adults World War II has forced them to become.