Review: Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman

Review: Radar Girls by Sara AckermanRadar Girls: a novel of WWII by Sara Ackerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large Print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, women's fiction, World War II
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on July 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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An extraordinary story inspired by the real Women’s Air Raid Defense, where an unlikely recruit and her sisters-in-arms forge their place in WWII history.
Daisy Wilder prefers the company of horses to people, bare feet and salt water to high heels and society parties. Then, in the dizzying aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Daisy enlists in a top secret program, replacing male soldiers in a war zone for the first time. Under fear of imminent invasion, the WARDs guide pilots into blacked-out airstrips and track unidentified planes across Pacific skies.  
But not everyone thinks the women are up to the job, and the new recruits must rise above their differences and work side by side despite the resistance and heartache they meet along the way. With America’s future on the line, Daisy is determined to prove herself worthy. And with the man she’s falling for out on the front lines, she cannot fail. From radar towers on remote mountaintops to flooded bomb shelters, she’ll need her new team when the stakes are highest. Because the most important battles are fought—and won—together.
This inspiring and uplifting tale of pioneering, unsung heroines vividly transports the reader to wartime Hawaii, where one woman’s call to duty leads her to find courage, strength and sisterhood. 

My Review:

Like the author’s previous books, including last year’s Red Sky Over Hawaii, Radar Girls is a story that talks about World War II on a slightly different homefront from most.

The experience of the war was a bit different in both Hawaii and Alaska, as these two U.S. territories were considerably closer to the front lines than the 48 contiguous states. Alaska was vulnerable because of its large size and relatively small population, making it an easy target – except for the weather. Islands in the Aleutian chain were occupied during the war.

Hawaii, on the other hand, was a small, sparkling, isolated jewel in the middle of the Pacific. It was the perfect location for the U.S. to have a forward base in the Pacific – and provided a tempting target for Japanese forces to use as a stepping stone to the U.S. mainland.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 showed the U.S., and especially the Islands’ residents, just how vulnerable their paradise could be. In the wake of the attack, they were determined not to get caught with their defensive pants down a second time.

The centerpiece of that determination forms the heart of this story, as Hawaii mobilizes its men for war and its women for defense, armed with a new tool in their arsenal – RADAR.

This story of previously unsung heroines is wrapped around three fascinating threads. First, of course, there’s the war. But secondly, there’s the story of the sisterhood of women who were recruited to learn military communication, signal interpretations and vectorology, in spite of all the men who said they couldn’t do it. Daisy Wilder, her friends and her frenemies become the heart and soul of the Women’s Air Raid Defense of the Islands, watching for enemies approaching by air and sea, locating downed American pilots and piloting those in trouble safely home.

Daisy comes into the program as a loner, having been raised around more horses than people in the isolated cabin she and her mother have shared since her father’s death. Daisy has been her little family’s primary breadwinner, and dropped out of school in order to make a living at the stables where her father was once employed.

She doesn’t expect to become part of this group of women – after all, it’s not something she has any experience with. That two of the other women are upper class and look down on her for lack of education, her towering height and her practical, unfeminine wardrobe is what she expects. She expects to fail.

Instead she succeeds. Her supposedly “unfeminine” traits and interests make her a good fit for the WARD, and becomes part of this tight-knit sisterhood in spite of those expectations – and in spite of those frenemies.

So a story of unexpected sisterhood set amidst a story of rising to the occasion in the midst of war. But it wouldn’t be complete without the romance that weaves through it. A romance that might never have happened without the war breaking down the barriers between the son of one of the richest men on the island and the daughter of the man his father accidentally killed.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up because I enjoyed the author’s previous book, Red Sky Over Hawaii, in spite of one seriously over-the-top villain – as if the ordinary wartime conditions weren’t enough trouble for one woman to be dealing with.

I liked Radar Girls more than Red Sky because it didn’t go over that top and dump ALL the troubles of the world onto the same woman’s shoulders. Not that Daisy and her group of found sisters didn’t have plenty of problems, but they were a bit more evenly shared.

One of their training officers is a creeper, stalker and sexual harasser. One of their husbands is MIA and presumed dead. Another woman’s husband is a gambler who has lost their house. Someone else just has terrible luck with men – or makes terrible choices of men. Or a bit of both. Daisy herself is in love with someone she can’t believe could love her back considering their backgrounds.

And they adopt a kitten, who has kittens providing comfort and comic relief in equal measure. While someone in the neighborhood keeps stealing their lingerie from the clothesline.

And over all of it, the constant tension of interpreting radar signals that might, this time, be a second invasion, knowing that getting it wrong could have potentially dire consequences. It’s a stress that increases with each day and each potential sighting – and that never lets up.

Considering that WARD operated behind the scenes – or underground – this is a story where there aren’t a lot of really BIG events happening onstage. There are lots of radar sightings that have the potential to be a second invasion – but it never happens. The women are, by the top secret nature of the job, in an isolated environment. There are big battles, and they all listen to them on the radio, but the battles don’t come to them.

But in spite of all that, in spite of the big drama happening offstage, the story is captivating from the very first page, with Daisy on a remote beach seeing the Japanese planes screaming overhead. Daisy is a fascinating character who is just different enough for 21st century readers to identify with while still feeling like a part of her own time.

Also, I love a good training story, so the parts of this one where Daisy and her cohort get a crash course in their new duties and master them was a treat. It was easy to imagine oneself being part of that crew and doing one’s own bit to fight their war.

This author seems to be making a specialty of telling captivating stories about the homefront experience of her own home state during World War II. I’m looking forward to more – and I expect them to keep getting better and better!

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