Author: Maggie Leffler
Genre: historical fiction
Published: May 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
This captivating, breakout novel—told in alternating viewpoints—brings readers from the skies of World War II to the present day, where a woman is prepared to tell her secrets at last.
Estranged from her family since just after World War II, Mary Browning has spent her entire adult life hiding from her past. Now eighty-seven years old and a widow, she is still haunted by secrets and fading memories of the family she left behind. Her one outlet is the writing group she’s presided over for a decade, though she’s never written a word herself. When a new member walks in—a fifteen-year-old girl who reminds her so much of her beloved sister Sarah—Mary is certain fate delivered Elyse Strickler to her for a reason.
Mary hires the serious-eyed teenager to type her story about a daring female pilot who, during World War II, left home for the sky and gambled everything for her dreams—including her own identity.
As they begin to unravel the web of Mary’s past, Mary and Elyse form an unlikely friendship. Together they discover it’s never too late for second chances and that sometimes forgiveness is all it takes for life to take flight in the most unexpected ways.
Maggie Leffler's newest novel is a rich, evocative, and detailed story; one that ties together the differing lives of an elderly woman with secrets and a15-year old girl with her own struggles, using history and creative writing to bring them together. Set both right after WWII and in more modern times, the plot intertwines and alternates between the solid POVs of Mary and Elyse. Though it doesn't seem like two such characters would have much in common or work as main character counterparts -- with Mary nearing the end of her life, and Elyse just figuring hers out -- this quiet novel makes theirs an impressive partnership.
There's a lot to enjoy over the course of The Secrets of Flight's almost three hundred seventy page length. The beginning stumbles a bit before establishing characters and connections and how they all relate to one another in the story, but finds its feet quickly enough to keep interest from waning before then. Flight and aviation are key themes and ideas that propel both the plot itself and Mary as a person, though far from the only themes or ideas explored. Mary's Jewish and Elyse's half-Jewish ancestry also connect the two, and open the novel to the secondary plotlines that connect both.
The Secrets of Flight is an interesting novel. It's a thoughtfully-crafted story full of long-held secrets, surprising reveals, and well-rendered characters, all of which coalesce into a quick but not forgettable read. The characters, especially Mary, can seem remote and hard to empathize with; this could be the nature of Mary's role -- she has the secrets that need to be revealed -- but it also kept me from emotionally investing in her as I might have otherwise with a less distant narration. Elyse's narration was far more scattered, but she was much more accessible and relateable for a POV.
Spanning decades and alternating between the two distinct voices of Mary and Elyse, The Secrets of Flight is a far-reaching but quietly clever novel. It slowly unfolds to tell the tale of Mary's life and secrets, ones that reap unexpected results, and explores the nuances of Elyse's life that make her such an excellent foil for the older woman. For fans of Kate Morton, The Secrets of Flight has a similar feel and approach to storytelling: careful, layered plotting that builds as the story unwinds.