- Title: Radar Girls
- Author: Sara Ackerman
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Where to buy: Bookshop.org, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Apple Books, Books a Million, Target, Kobo, Google Play
- Would I recommend: If you want an engaging historical fiction read about an aspect of WWII that I’ve rarely seen touched upon, you’ll want to pick up Radar Girls.
About the book:
WWII historical fiction inspired by the real women of the Women’s Air Raid Defense, RADAR GIRLS follows one unlikely recruit as she trains and serves in secrecy as a radar plotter on Hawaii. A tale of resilience and sisterhood, it sees the battles of the Pacific through the eyes of these pioneering women, and will appeal to fans of Kate Quinn and Pam Jenoff.
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 saltwater 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 air strips 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 in love with 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.
Their shack, as Daisy referred to the house, was nestled in a cluster of bent ironwood trees, all by its lonesome. Set back far from the beach to protect it from a direct blast of onshore winds, it still took a constant battering and the salty air and elements had done a fine job reclaiming it. Windowpanes had been blasted opaque, you could see through the back wall, and flowers had taken up residence in the gutters. The siding had gone from forest green to pale green to peeling gray, the roof turned to rust.
When he had first started working up at the ranch, Daisy’s father had somehow persuaded Mr. Montgomery to sell him the small parcel of beachfront property for the price of a bag of sand. Most likely because it was in no-man’s-land between Waialua and the ranch. And because her father had been the best horse trainer in Hawai’i and everyone knew it.
She flung open the front door and ran inside. “Mom?” she called.
All quiet. She tiptoed across the lauhala mat in the living room, avoiding the creaking floorboards. Her mother spent much of her life in one of two states—sleeping or staring out to sea. The bedroom door was cracked and a lump lay under the blankets, pillow over her head. There was no point in trying to wake her, so Daisy ran back outside, hopped on her bike and rode for the stables.
The air was ripe with burnt sugarcane and a scratchy feeling of dread. She bumped along a dirt road as fast as her old bike would carry her. That plume of black smoke above Schofield caused her heart to sink. So many Japanese planes could mean only one thing. An attack or invasion of some kind was happening. But the sky remained empty and she saw no signs of ships on the horizon.
By the time she reached the stables, she had worked out what to tell Mr. Silva—the only person at the ranch who was even close to being a friend—and beg that he help her find Moon. Whether or not he would risk his job was another story. Jobs were not easy to come by, especially on this side of the island. Daisy counted herself lucky to have one. When she rounded the corner by the entrance, she about fell over on her bike. Mr. Silva’s rusted truck was gone and in its place sat Mr. Montgomery’s shiny new Ford, motor running and door open.
As far as old Hal Montgomery was concerned, Daisy was mostly invisible. She had worked for him going on seven years now—since she was sixteen—but she was a girl and girls were fluffy, pretty things who wore fancy dresses and attended parties. Not short-haired, trouser-wearing, outdoorsy misfits. And certainly not horse trainers and skin divers. Nope, those jobs belonged to men. There was also the matter of her father’s death, but she preferred not to think about that.
Should she turn around and hightail it out of there before he caught sight of her? He’d find out eventually, and he would be livid. Daisy pulled her bike behind the toolshed and slipped around the back side of the stables, peering in through a cloudy window. The tension in the air from earlier had dissipated and the horses were all quiet. A tall form stood in front of the old horse—Ka‘ena—she was supposed to ride. It was hard to tell through the foggy pane, but the man looked too tall and too thin to be Hal Montgomery.
Horsefeathers! It was Walker, Montgomery’s son. A line of perspiration formed on the back of her neck and she had the strong urge to flee. Not that Daisy had had much interaction with Walker in recent years. He was aloof and intimidating and the kind of person who made her forget how to speak, but he loved Moon fiercely. Of that she was sure. Just then, he turned and started jogging toward the door. His face was in shadow but it felt like he was looking right at her. She froze. If she ducked away now, he would surely catch the movement. She did it anyway.
She had just made it to her bike when Walker tore out of the tack room with a wild look in his eye. He had a rifle hanging across his chest, and he was carrying two others. He stopped when he saw her. “Hey!” he said.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Montgomery.”
He wore his flight suit, which was only halfway buttoned, like he’d been interrupted either trying to get in it or trying to get out of it. His face was flushed and lined with sweat. “Don’t you know we’ve been attacked? You ought to head for cover, somewhere inland.”
He was visibly shaken.
“I saw the planes. What do you know?” she said.
“Wheeler and Schofield are all shot up, and they did a number on Pearl. Battleships down, bay on fire. God knows how many dead.” His gaze dropped to her body for a moment and she felt her skin burn. There had been no time to change or even think about changing, and she was still in her half-wet swimsuit, hair probably sticking out in eleven directions. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I was worried about the horses,” she said.
“That makes two of us. And goddamn Moon is not in his stall. You know anything about that?”
Taking Moon had been about the dumbest thing she could have done. But at the time, it seemed a perfectly sane idea. The kind of thinking that got her into plenty of trouble over the years. Why hadn’t she learned? She looked at the coconut tree just past him as she spoke. “I have no idea. Perhaps Mr. Silva has him?”
“Mr. Silva went to town last night to see his sister,” he said.
She forced herself to look at him, feeling like she had the word guilty inked onto her forehead. “Looks like you have somewhere to be. You go on, I’ll find Moon. I promise.”
Her next order of business would be scouring the coast and finding that horse before Walker returned. There would be no sleeping until Moon was safely back at the stables.
“I sure hope so. That horse is mighty important to me,” he said.
She was about to come clean, when he moved around her, hopped in the car and slammed the door. He leaned out the window and said, “Something tells me you know more than you’re letting on, Wilder.”
With that, he sped off, leaving her standing in a cloud of red dirt and sand.
In the stables, the horses knew the sound of her footsteps, or maybe they smelled the salt on her hair. A concert of nickers and snorts erupted in the stalls. Daisy went to the coatrack first, and slid on an oversize button-up that she kept there for chilly days. It smelled of hay.
“How is everyone?” she said, stopping at each one to rub their necks or kiss their noses. “Quite a morning, hasn’t it been?”
Peanut was pacing with nostrils flared, and she spent a few minutes stroking his long neck before moving on. Horses were her lifeblood. Feeding, grooming, riding, loving. She only wished that Mr. Montgomery would let her train them—officially, that was. Without being asked as a last resort by Mr. Silva when everyone else had tried. Lord knew she was better than the rest of the guys. When she got to Moon’s stall, all the blood rushed from her head. The door had been left open and two Japanese slippers hung from the knob. She had hidden them in the corner under some straw—apparently not well enough.
Just then she heard another car pull up. The ranch truck. A couple of the ranch hands poured out, making a beeline to the stables. Mr. Montgomery followed on their heels with a machete in his hand and a gun on his hip. Daisy felt the skin tighten on the back of her neck. His ever-present limp seemed even more pronounced.
When he saw her, he said, “Where’s Silva?”
No mention that they were under attack.
“In town,” she answered.
“What about Walker?”
“Walker just left in a big hurry,” she answered.
One of the guys had his hunting dog with him. It was a big mutt that enjoyed staring down the horses and making them nervous, as if they needed to be any more nervous right now. Daisy wanted to tell him to get the dog out of there, but knew it would be pointless.
“The hosses in the pasture need to be secured,” Mr. M said.
“Do you need my help?” she offered.
“Nah, you should get out of here. Get home. Fuckers blew up all our planes and now paratroopers are coming down in the pineapple fields. Ain’t no place for a woman right now.”
Daisy wanted to stay and help, but also wanted to get the hell away before he noticed that Moon was not here. “Yes, sir.”
He stopped and sized her up for a moment, his thick brows pinched. “You still got that shotgun of your old man’s?”
“Make sure it’s loaded.”
On her way home, Daisy passed through Japanese camp, hoping to get more information from Mr. Sasaki, who always knew the latest happenings. A long row of cottages lined the road, every rock and leaf in its place. The houses were painted barn red with crisp, white trim. On any given Sunday, there would have been gangs of kids roaming the area, but now the place was eerily empty.
“Hello?” she called, letting her bike fall into the naupaka hedge.
When she knocked and no one answered, she started pounding. A curtain pulled aside and a small face peered out at her and waved her away. Mrs. Sasaki. She was torn, but chose to leave them be. With the whispers of paranoia lately, all the local Japanese folks were bound to be nervous. She didn’t blame them.
This time when Daisy ran up to the shack, her mother was sitting on the porch drinking coffee from her chipped mug.
She was still in her nightgown, staring out beyond the ocean. When she was in this state, a person could have walked into their house and made off with all of their belongings and her mother would not even bat an eye.
Daisy sat down next to her. “Mom, the Japanese Army attacked Pearl Harbor and Wheeler and who knows where else.”
Her mother clenched her jaw slightly, took a sip of her coffee, then set it down on the mango stump next to her chair. “They said it would happen,” she said flatly.
“This is serious, mom. People are dead. Civilians, too. I don’t know how many, but the islands are in danger of being invaded and there are Japanese ships and planes all around. They’re telling us to stay inside.”
A look of worry came over her mom’s face. “You should go find a safer place to stay, away from the coast.”
“And leave you here?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
Her mom shrugged.
She knew Louise couldn’t help it, but a tiny part of Daisy was waiting for that day her mother would wake up and be the old Louise Wilder. The mother of red lipstick and coconut macaroons, of beach bonfires and salty hugs. The one who rode bikes with her daughter to school every day, singing with the birds along the way. The highs and lows had been there before, but now there were only lows and deeper lows.
After some time, her mother finally spoke. “Men, they do the dumbest things.”
“That may be true, but we’re at war. Does that mean anything to you?” Daisy said, her voice rising in frustration.
“Course it does, but what can we do?”
She had a point. Aside from hiding in the house or running away, what other options were there? Used to doing things, Daisy was desperate to help, but how? Their home was under attack and she felt as useful as a sack of dirt.
Louise leaned back. On days like these, she retreated so far into herself that she was unreachable. You could tell by looking in her eyes. Blank and bottomless. Mr. Silva always said that you could see the spirit in the eyes. Dull eyes, dull spirit. That Louise looked this way always made Daisy feel deeply alone. The onshore winds kicked up a notch and ruffled the surface of the ocean. She knew she should stay with her mom, but more than anything, she wanted to go in search of the horse. Moon meant more to her than just the job. She loved him something fierce.
Only one thing was clear: their lives would never be the same.
Excerpted from Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman, Copyright © 2021 by Sara Ackerman. Published by MIRA Books.
About the author:
USA Today bestselling author Sara Ackerman was born and raised in Hawaii. She studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.