Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: I’ve always loved biographies but I have a special admiration for the brave souls who take on much admired – and written about – subjects. There have been so many books about the fascinating Amelia Earhart and I started Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (Random/Schwartz & Wade 2011) with my fingers crossed. I needn’t have worried. Candace Fleming pulls it off once again, bringing to young readers a new and intriguing examination of one of America’s most famous women.
One of the elements that sets this book apart is the fascinating parallel structure. Chapters written on a gray background recount the desperate hours from July 2, 1937 when Earhart’s plane first failed to arrive at tiny Howland Island to July 7th-18th when the search is abandoned. Alternating with these tension-filled pages are chronological chapters detailing Earhart’s life as she sought, established and maintained both her career and her fame. I was fascinated by the story of how hard Earhart and her husband George Putnam worked at keeping her in the national spotlight. Flying was expensive and Amelia’s career was big business – sometimes at the expense of friend’s careers and reputations. Fleming explores all sides of this complex woman: her courage and unique spirit in a time when women’s roles were terribly restricted, her reluctance to marry, her competitive nature and her inattention to details. It is this last eye-opening factor that may have led to her demise and Fleming’s careful account is heart-breaking. If ONLY Earhart had taken the time to learn how to operate her radio!
Equally skillful is Fleming’s exploration of the important impact Earhart’s fame had on women and young girls both in her time and since. Wonderfully researched and documented and filled with fascinating photographs, maps and primary source accounts this biography is not to be missed.
Cindy: I had planned to accuse Lynn of being an Amelia fan girl basely solely on their connection of both being Purdue University graduates, but faced with the wealth of strengths she lists above, that hardly seems fair. Certainly Fleming expertly lays out the inspirational character traits that Earhart shared with her generation and that have continued to influence women and girls since then. I’m glad, though, that she didn’t flinch from providing some of Amelia’s shortcomings that not only make her seem more human, but help us to perhaps have more clues into what went wrong on that final unsuccessful flight. With the mystery of Amelia prominently in the news again when a team of researchers found 3 bones on the deserted Nikumaroro Island in Earhart’s flight path in the Pacific last December (in the same location as 13 bones found in 1940 that later disappeared), interest in the “rest of the story,” is sure to be high. The DNA test results announced in March 2011 prove inconclusive and scientists are awaiting newer testing technologies before using any more of the remaining bones although tests on ancient fecal matter have been promising. So the mystery remains. And, speaking of women I admire, it’s long been my goal to write like Jen Hubert when I grow up. Don’t miss her Reading Rants review of Amelia Lost that highlights what she learned about the celebrity aviatrix–it’s a great start to a fresh booktalk for your teen readers.
For younger readers, there’s a new picture book out this year. Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic (S&S 2011) by Robert Burleigh is getting great reviews, including a star from Booklist. Night Flight focuses on the 1932 solo flight over the Atlantic giving young readers a close look at the risk, danger, and achievement of this flight in poetic text accompanied by Wendell Minor’s bright paintings that put children right in the thick of the adventure.