In Alabama, 2005, fifty-nine-year-old Sookie Poole has just finished marrying off her last daughter. Her only concerns now are looking in on her stalwart mother and preventing blue jays from stealing food from the little birds in her backyard.
But when a package arrives with the news that Sookie was adopted, her entire world tilts.
Not only is Sookie a year older than she thought, but now she doesn’t have any idea who her family is. Sookie’s lifelong identity has been wrapped up in trying to fulfill the role her mother insists she must (to honor the family name, no less!), and now Sookie wants to learn her real identity.
And what does Sookie learn about her biological family?
In Wisconsin, 1930s, the Jurdabralinski family is expertly managing the filling station built by their industrious immigrant father. When a stunt pilot sets up a landing site next to the filling station, all five siblings—four of them girls—learn to fly.
As WWII calls the men away, the Jurdabralinski women continue running the filling station on their own, changing oil, checking tires, keeping the restrooms sparkling, and entertaining customers by roller skating and playing accordions.
And when the US military asks them to, one by one, the Jurdabralinski girls fly for their country.
This book covers an interesting, and mostly forgotten, aspect of WWII. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were the first women to serve as pilots and fly military aircraft for the United States Army Forces. They flew 78 different types of aircraft, freeing up their male counterparts for combat. But after the war was over, it would be another thirty years before another woman would fly a US military plane.
As one of the characters in The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion recalls:
“Then back in 1976, when ten women began flight training for the U.S. Air Force, a Pentagon press release touted them as ‘the first women military pilots,’ and I called Jamsie and Nancy and Dinks and they hit the roof. ‘Hell, no. We were the first.’ None of us were winners, but we knew what was fair. So a group of us got together again and decided we weren’t going to let all those gals who died, your mother or any of them, just be forgotten.”
Reader, there is so much to love about this story. Themes include family life during WWII, Polish immigrant culture, contemporary Southern small-town life (including a return to Fannie Flagg’s iconic Whistle Stop Café), 1940s Hollywood, stunt piloting—and the marvelous theme of women flying, literally, to new heights.
Parts of this book will have you laughing out loud. Others will bring tears. And, my guess is, this is one story you’ll want to talk about with friends.
Here with you,