Thursday, November 3, 2011

book review: I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

The backstory: I Was Amelia Earhart was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize. At 160 pages, it was the perfect read-a-thon read.

My thoughts:  If you read this blog, you might have noticed I have a fondness for fiction about real people. You also might have noticed I grew in Kansas. As a young girl in Kansas, I was rather enamored with Amelia Earhart. What's not to like? She was from Kansas, like me. She dreamed of travel and other places, like me. Her disappearance was mysterious (thankfully, not like me.) Unlike many of my childhood fascinations, I haven't outgrown Amelia Earhart.

That lengthy exposition indicates how high my expectations were, even though I didn't know quite what to expect. The title indicates the basics: it's the story of Amelia Earhart, narrated by email, after the fateful flight. Awesome, right? If you answered no, then it might not be the book for you anyway.

The book begins before the flight, and it does set the stage well. Some of the details will be familiar to those who know something about Amelia, but Mendelsohn's writing is so gorgeous, I welcomed the chance to remember things I once knew.
"Back then, a plane was called a ship. There were still cabins, and a sense of voyaging. There was a reverence for flight because it was so dangerous. People lost themselves. There was no safety."
Part of the magic of this novel for me was imagining what else might have happened. I adored Mendelsohn's idea of what might have happened, but she wrote it in such a way I savored every possible juicy detail while also wondering, 'what if?'

What shined most brightly, however, was Amelia herself. Mendelsohn completely captured the image I had of her:
"Because I want to. And because I think women should do for themselves the things that men have done, and have not done."
Ultimately this novel is about Amelia. It's a character-driven realistic fantasy. It's real enough to feel like an appropriate ending for Amelia, yet it's fantastic enough to make me marvel and imagine myself in her shoes.

Favorite passage: "Much later, when I looked back on the flight, it seemed to me that we had been two lost souls in an immense netherwold, traveling toward an arbitrary goal, wondering which of us was more forsaken: the navigator who didn't care where we were going, or the pilot who didn't care if we ever got there."

The verdict: I Was Amelia Earhart is a fascinating 'what if?' glimpse into a fascinating woman. I was as mesmerized by Mendelsohn's writing as I was by Amelia's story. It's a book that will stay with me for quite some time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 160 pages
Publication date: May 30, 1996
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy I Was Amelia Earhart from Amazon in paperback.

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6 comments:

  1. I came across this book a year or so ago and scribbled the title down somewhere... And then forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me! I'm putting it on my list (again).

    Great review!

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  2. The disappearance of Amelia Earhart is so fascinating in the sense that we still haven't figured out what happened to her. This book sounds interesting!

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  3. It is interesting to think about what really happened. Some day we'll hop on a time machine and find out. LOL.

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  4. For some reason, this book doesn't really appeal to me. Perhaps it is because I don't really have a fascination for the story of Earhart, but I can see where this book would be the perfect read for someone who does! It sounds like you had a great time with it, and I am glad that you enjoyed it. Very enthusiastic review!

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  5. For some reason I've never been that into history related to flying or planes, but I think I'd probably like this book anyway!

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  6. I keep eyeing this slim volume on the shelf: perhaps I should push it into Orange January's reading!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!