An extraordinary story, inspired by real events, of a female aviator who defies the odds to embark on a daring air race across the Pacific, perfect for fans of Great Circle and Her Last Flight.
1927. Olivia “Livy” West is a fearless young pilot with a love of adventure. She yearns to cross oceans and travel the skies. When she learns of the Dole Air Race––a high-stakes contest to be the first to make the 2,400 mile Pacific crossing from the West Coast to Hawai’i—she sets her sights on qualifying. But it soon becomes clear that only men will make the cut. In a last-ditch effort to take part, Livy manages to be picked as a navigator for one of the pilots, before setting out on a harrowing journey that some will not survive.
1987. Wren Summers is down to her last dime when she learns she has inherited a remote piece of land on the Big Island with nothing on it but a dilapidated barn and an overgrown mac nut grove. She plans on selling it and using the money to live on, but she is drawn in by the mysterious objects kept in the barn by her late great-uncle––clues to a tragic piece of aviation history lost to time. Determined to find out what really happened all those years ago, Wren enlists the help of residents at a nearby retirement home to uncover Olivia’s story piece by piece. What she discovers is more earth-shattering, and closer to home, than she could have ever imagined.
I do love a good dual timeline story, and The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West is a great one! I’ll own that it took me a minute to really get into it, but once it got going, I found it hard to tear myself away.
A flight from California to Hawai’i is commonplace today. I’ve never made it myself, but I reckon people get on a plane and don’t think twice about whether they’ll make it there safely. No such safe landing was guaranteed for Livy and the other competitors in the “Dole Derby.” The story is based on fact. The Dole Derby really happened, and a woman was among those flying (although as a passenger, not a pilot or navigator). Ackerman has tried to stay close to historical events in this fictional tale of a woman who is determined to be not just a pilot in a time where women simply didn’t do that, but an outstanding pilot. A history-making pilot. The Dole Derby is her opportunity to do just that, but she can’t qualify as a pilot, so she gets herself hired as a navigator. Turns out her pilot has some issues with open water, and if they’re going to survive the race, she’ll have to fly the plane herself.
The story moves from one era to the other and back again, starting in 1927, when Livy is trying to learn to fly. She’s learned navigation from her fisherman father, but the sky is where she really dreams of being. Fast forward to Wren in 1987, broke, boyfriend-less, and evicted for nonpayment of rent. Inheriting land seems like an answer to prayer, as she reckons to live on the money from selling it. By the time she realizes what’s been covered up in her barn all these years, the exploits of Olivia West are barely a footnote in history, her name forgotten,. But the clues Wren finds are enough to whet her curiosity, and she starts digging. As she traces the threads of a milestone in aviation history, she begins unraveling the mystery of her own family as well.
There is so much packed into this story! Ackerman gives us two heroines to cheer for – different at first glance, but much the same in their persistence when going after something they want. They are both women challenging what others think should be the done thing – Livy in becoming a pilot, Wren in reclaiming the wild land she inherited and making it her own. Livy is a great example of a woman not just bumping up against the glass ceiling, but smashing right through it. Family secrets kept and later brought to light, a lot of suspenseful moments on that long trans-Pacific flight, a touch of romance, there was plenty here to keep the pages turning.
If you enjoy well-written, well-researched historical fiction and want to learn something about an event you may not be familiar with, I highly recommend The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West. This is the first of Sara Ackerman’s books I’ve read, but it won’t be the last!
About the author:
Sara Ackerman is a USA TODAY bestselling author who writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.