Fly Girls (O'Brien) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Talking Points to help start a discussion for FLY GIRLS … then take off on your own:

1. Overall, how were female aviators treated in the 1920s and '30s? How were all women defined during that era; what were society's expectations for them?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Did you find yourself becoming angry as you read of the fly girls' treatment at the hand of males? Consider the explanation about women crashing their planes (as did men): "Women are lacking in certain qualities that men possess." Or consider the debate about allowing women to fly while menstruating. What else did you find demeaning? If you came of age before the woman's movement took hold in the late 1960s and '70s, do any of those arguments sound familiar to you?

3. Spend time talking about the women aviators. Of the five—Ruth Nichols, Louise Thaden, Ruth Elder, Florence Klingensmith, and Amelia Earhart—whose story most engaged you? Are some struggles more impressive than others? Discuss the women's different backgrounds. Despite those differences, however, what did they share in common?

4. The women were all connected in one way or another. Talk about their relationships and the formation of the Ninety-Nines.

5. What was the state of aviation in the era between the two wars? Talk about flight technology and the dangers all fliers faced.

6. When Louise Thaden became the first woman to win "The Powder Puff Derby" (nice, huh?), Charles Lindbergh had little to say other than, well... "I haven't anything to say about that." What is your reaction to Lindbergh's response?

7. Author Keith O'Brien says of the fliers: "each of the women went missing in her own way." Why does he make that observation, and what does he mean by the word "missing" other than, like Amelia Earhart, missing literally over the ocean? In what ways did the other fliers go "missing."

8. In the New York Times Book Review, Nathalia Holt makes note of the book's title, Fly Girls, pointing out that "girls" is an often derogatory term used to equate serious, mature women with children. Do you think O'Brien used the term "girls" without thinking (as well as the fact that "girl" titles are a major publishing trend—see our LibBlog on the 200+ girl titles)? Or maybe he meant the title ironically?

9. Holt also notices the way O'Brien describes the women's physical attributes and the way their clothes drape their bodies or fit snugly. She posits that the focus on women's appearances goes against the very grain of the book. Is Holt overly sensitive …or has O'Brien fallen back on a standard sexist trope? On the other hand, perhaps O'Brien is providing the grainy details of good journalism—writing the same of these women as he does of his male subjects (you know, how a man's suit jacket drapes his torso).

10. How much has changed today for women? Clearly, females have been accepted into jobs previously restricted to males. But what about the choices women continue to struggle with regarding work and family? Has that changed?
  
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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