Into Thin Air

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
By Candace Fleming
(Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012,New York, $18.99)

Amelia Earhart’s disappearance is as much of her legacy as her record-setting flights. In Amelia Lost, Candace Fleming alternates between a chronological account of Earhart’s life and the events surrounding her vanishing over the Pacific Ocean. This approach lends the biography the feel of a suspenseful documentary film. Although audiences may be familiar with the details of Earhart’s last flight, Fleming’s cinematic retelling creates a sense of urgency about the aviator’s dubious ending.

Amelia Lost engages readers without compromising the book’s educational value. Textboxes provide additional information about early aviation, the era’s technology, and additional chapters of Earhart’s life. Nor does Fleming idolize her subject: she includes anecdotes that illustrate Earhart’s carelessness – the pilot did not take the time to learn to use the plane’s radio before her final flight – and her desire for publicity.

Indirectly, Fleming suggests Earhart may not have been the most talented female aviator of her generation. What she had in abundance, however, were ambition and daring – and an influential husband ready to advance her career by almost any means necessary. Earhart began a friendship with publisher George Putnam while he was still married to his first wife. Because Fleming is frank about this and other unsavory details of Earhart’s life, including the couple’s possible ruthlessness, Amelia Lost often seems more appropriate for young adults than middle-grade readers. Although the biography is aimed at eight to twelve year olds, children at the younger end of that age group may not comprehend the book’s ambiguity.

Although Amelia Lost is not a worshipful biography, it is, overall, an admiring look at a woman who pioneered uncharted territory in aviation and for women. A passage from a letter she wrote before her final journey still resonates: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

Dorothy A. Dahm

 

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