In The Ack Ack Girl, author Chris Karlsen focuses on an amazing event in history that has received surprisingly little attention. As WWII drug on, some English women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS, a branch of the women’s army) served in crews of anti-aircraft fighters.
Author Karlsen focuses on one such woman, as she takes you into her day to day life. You learn about Ava’s family history and details of the sort of cake she prefers, the cat she saves in Coventry, and her favorite songs. Karlsen lets the reader follow her emotional journey as she faces her anger at the Germans, joins the ATS, and becomes attracted to a fighter pilot. The nonchalant sexism of the day (by both men and women) is presented through conversation, as are the fears and frustrations caused by the war.
What I liked most about this book was the way Karlsen made me feel as if I walked through life with Ava. This author has an incredible ability to include sights, sounds and smells to make a scene seem real. For example, Ava doesn’t just sit down. “Careful of the peeling paint and rough wood, Ava sat in the rickety bench in front of the barracks to wait for him.” See what I mean?
I also applaud the amount of research put into this novel. From details on the women’s uniforms (and shoes!) to specifics about the tasks the women were trained and allowed to perform, the breath of information is astounding.
I did struggled a little with the style of the book. The author inserts gaps in time, with no more explanation or transition that to say “Coventry-later that day.” To me, it gave the story a feel of walking through an art gallery, looking at related and beautifully done paintings. I’m used to a book being more like a movie, where the action flows and almost everything presented moves the story along. Here, a lot of the detail seems to only serve the purpose of immersing the reader in the immediate scene, well done though that scene may be.
I’d recommend this book to many sorts of readers. Those fascinated by modern history and particularly World War Two would enjoy it, as would those interested in stories of women being allowed to step out of traditional roles, particularly during wartime. It has a romance at it’s center, but it’s also a book about female friendship.
My strongest recommendation, however, would go to anyone wanting to leave this time and place for a while and thoroughly experience another. Go — be part of Britain’s war effort. Reading this book is as close as you’re likely to get to using a time machine.
For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Ack Ack Girl.