Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Becoming Clementine by Jennifer Niven

It has been almost a year since I reviewed Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven.  As you may recall, Velva Jean married at 16, learned to drive and at 18, drove from North Carolina to Nashville by herself, leaving her husband and hoping to a sing at the Grand Ol' Opry.  Talk about coming of age.

But then World War II began and VelvaJean found herself in the WASP Program (Women's Airforce Service Pilots.)  Now, in Becoming Clementine, it is June 16, 1944, Velva Jean is 21 and a seasoned pilot.  So seasoned that she has just become the first woman to fly a B-17 Flying Fortress across the Atlantic Ocean to Preswick Airfield, Scotland.  Proud of her accomplishment, she also has an ulterior motive for accepting this challenge - her beloved brother Johnny Clay, a paratrooper, hasn't been heard from since October 18, 1943 and Velva Jean is on a personal mission to find him.

As luck would have it, Preswick has been short of pilots since D-Day, less than two weeks earlier and Velva Jean decides getting to Europe would be the best way to find Johnny Clay, so she convinces all relevant authorities to let her copilot a mission to France.  On July 13, she gets orders to fly to Roun, dropping supplies and a team of OSS agents and returning immediately to base.

Naturally, over France, the plane is hit by enemy ground fire and badly damaged though still flying.  Then, when they finally find the place to make their drop, they realize it has been compromised by Germans.  In an attempt to avoid them and singing "My Darling Clementine" to keep herself calm, the plane nevertheless crashes. Velva Jean's flight crew is killed.  The team of five she was to drop does survive, but, angry and disgusted, they want to leave Velva Jean behind and try to find their own way.

Well, they may have wanted to leave Velva Jean, but she was a woman with a mission and a strong will.  Eventually, the survivors meet up with a member of the resistance and that begins their journey through occupied France with the aid of the Underground, eventually ending in Paris.  Through all this, Velva Jean finds herself more and more attracted to the leader of the OSS team, Émile Gravais and eventually this becomes a mutual attraction.

In Paris, Velva Jean is given a new identity, Clementine Roux, an American who married a Frenchman, unable to return to the US after the war began and her husband was killed.  Now, she is pulled into the mission Gravais and his team are to accomplish - rescuing an important agent code-named Swan being held in a woman's prison in Paris.

Velva Jean alias Clementine's new mission: get herself picked up and sent to the same prison.  Is that what happens?  No, it isn't.  And don't think for a moment she has forgotten about Johnny Clay.

One of the things I found very interesting in Becoming Clementine was how difficult it was for Velva Jean to embrace her new identity as Clementine Roux.  It is a testament to her strong sense of who she is that made Velva Jean want to keep surfacing, even in the face of danger.

I did feel that some of the technical bits about planes and things like that could have used some editing, mostly because I have no idea what I was reading about.  Confession: I thought skipping those bits but actually read on, all the while realizing that my fear of flying was getting the best of me and that some readers would find this fascinating.

Becoming Clementine has something for everyone: excitement, espionage, romance (but not much sex, none explicit), action, but it also has violence, lots of it and cursing, lots of that, so be warned.  It is a gritty, fact-paced novel but I felt it may still have the same level of YA appeal that Velva Jean Learns to Fly had even since it is still a coming of age story of sorts.  After all she had been through, it was hard to realize the Velva Jean is only 22 by the end of this novel.

And yes, there will be a fourth Velva Jean novel in autumn 2013.

This book is recommended for readers age 18+ and sophisticated teens with an interest in WWII
This book was received as an E-ARC from Plume Paperback through Edelweiss

For another review of Becoming Clementine at So Much So Many So Few, followed by a wonderful interview with the author Jennifer Niven

This is book 13 of my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds interesting, but I am also afraid of flying so I'm not sure I would enjoy this. I have so many of your recommendations waiting to be read that I might give this one a miss. Excellent review as always.