Billie Swift Takes Flight

Iszi Lawrence (Bloomsbury Education)

Billie Swift Takes Flight

Review by Zara
I LOVED this book.

It is set during World War Two and is sooo interesting! I recently learnt about the women of the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force – Billie meets them too!) and loved it so this book made me so happy. Billie Swift sees a Spitfire crash and is really worried about the pilot. Billie joins the ATF (Air Transport Auxiliary) and finds lots of amazing women and a new world opens up to her.

I loved the characters, the history, the research.

I would recommend this book to others. 

Review by Alizay
I enjoyed the book and found it very good! Some aspects of the book which I thoroughly enjoyed was how it showed a bit of female empowerment. As the book is set during World War 2 you wouldn’t see many women in the ATA (only a couple) but I loved how Billie was determined to work her way to become one of the pilots in the ATA despite what other people said to her. I also love how her mentors were portrayed as strong independent women and also how Billie’s aspirations were high (to become the youngest women ATA pilot) and she had the confidence to speak what was on her mind. On the whole I did enjoy the book and found it interesting. 

Review by Francesca
This book wasn’t the best I have ever read but was alright. I say this as it had quite a slow start and most of the ‘drama’ if you will only really started quite later on in the book. The storyline was okay, and it also had a side story about her home life and Billie’s chickens which added suspense.

The character I found the most interesting was the main character: Billie. She was a young, naïve schoolgirl who put her mind to what she was interested in most, aeroplanes, and became a very talented young hero when her skills were put to the test. She skipped school to secretly take the flying lessons at the ATA instead. Her mother was unaware of this but knew she did something to do with helping the war effort in her free time. Her mother wasn’t keen on this idea as her son was taken as a prisoner of war (POW) and she feared that the same could happen to Billie.

There was one character: Stones, he was brought back to the ATA after being in the RAF and didn’t really like Billie as she was young and quite annoying in his mind. Billie already had so much knowledge on planes and was able to immediately differentiate the planes just by the sound, that’s when Stones gave her the nickname of ‘Dumbo’ like the elephant. There was always something suspicious about him but only Billie saw it, and no one believed her.

From this book, I learnt a lot about feminine roles during the Second World War. Women weren’t as privileged as men and didn’t have permission to fly some of the planes that men could, especially if they were solo. I also learnt a lot about the training people had to complete to learn how to fly.

The time it is set is interesting to me as it is recent and there are still people alive today from that time period. The fact it is set during WWII is that it is still relevant in today’s world due to all the significant changes it made.

I knew some information about this time period from what I have learnt in both primary and secondary school, but I didn’t particularly know much about this topic of planes and feminine roles when it came to flight.

The plot started off quite light-hearted and gradually gained intensity and seriousness. As the storyline increased in tension, it became a lot more enjoyable to read due to the progression of the plot and as the dilemmas start to kick in.

The book hasn’t really inspired me to research anything further but does encourage me to appreciate and applaud everyone in the war effort for risking their lives for our country.

I would rate this book a 7/10 and would maybe consider recommending it to other students. When the plot intensified, I became so intrigued but for the first 75% of the book, it was enjoyable but didn’t really glue me to it. It was rather slow and partially repetitive but other students may take more interest in it than I did but I wouldn’t NOT recommend it to someone. The chapters were fairly short and there were a lot of them which I found good, I rather that than fewer, longer chapters.  

Review by Yusuf
Well written, well structured, well researched. A solid choice for reading recreationally (liking the subject matter also helps to maximise enjoyment). It may take longer than usual because there's a lot of content here.

Opinions on (some) characters:
Billie: The excitable one. This character immediately took interest in me as she's lively and does a lot for the story. A highly relatable character – I saw a little bit of me in Billie and I hope older readers see a little bit of their childhood too. It's refreshing to have a female main character.

Tommy: The author decided to bless this character with the name of British soldiers. Honestly, I find him to be a likeable character and a respectable one (especially having ties with the British army in these trying times).

Similar to a lot of books based on history this has fast-paced events (just based on different topics than others). This time it was right in the get-go near the very beginning. They didn't last long though but consider it as a starter. A prelude to the main event. Like historical-fiction novels I've read; it takes time to transition into the next memorable event. Just a personal preference, I would have enjoyed the book more if it was shorter. I remember taking multiple breaks and re-reading pages and that was not very enjoyable for me.

Themes I enjoyed: 
Looking back I now appreciate how Billie's interest and curiosity have led her somewhere I wouldn't have expected. I didn't think much of it when reading but I feel like this is relatable for lots of people despite their different experiences. I love books where I can draw parallels with the real world but that's just my preference.

I 100% learned something new when reading this book. The author undeniably did her research on the ATA (I never knew it existed, to begin with). I have a newfound respect for the depth and complexity of the army (even though I usually couldn't wrap my head around it).

As I stated before, It's refreshing to have a female main character especially when everything else was of a high standard. 

Review by Jude
It is 1942 and the world as it was known stood on the precipice of war. The Nazis’ Blitzkrieg had seared a scorching destruction over mainland Europe, an avalanche that would eventually be from as far as Caucasus to Calais, that rained the full force of the Fuhrer down on any uprising or questioning of the regime. As German tanks rolled into the trampled fields of France, Britain and many other countries rose to combat this horrific foe. It is this that would spark a series of events that would leave a stain on the world.

Many assume that the efforts of the allies in aviation were all heroic acts from the myriad of fighter pilots that ruled the skies. Yet, while such efforts are deemed by us to be the spearhead of victory in the air, many do not consider the selfless acts of many civilians working in the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) based at White Waltham, Berkshire to ferry and transport planes to the frontlines of conflict. These daring, intrepid pilots risked their lives to help a cause like no other, one that would shape the future into peace.

Such an organization is the theme of the book: “Billie Swift takes flight,” where a 12-year-old girl called Billy faces tremendous battles against sexist societal prejudice to overcome her doubts, and to achieve a dream of flying in the skies. The story brings to light stories of many brave women who saved Europe from destruction, including notable figures like Pauline Gower, who, in 1943, led in a petition to strive towards equal pay for women, which was achieved.

On closer analysis of Billie’s character, we learn more depth about her personality and motivations. Her brother was captured as a prisoner of war, which gives her strength and perseverance to help out. She also takes inspiration from a Spitfire that she saw with her chicken. This prospect of flight is a trigger for her adventure. She even lies about her age to be accepted as a cadet. Her character is masterfully crafted in shrouds of development and change that simulates a human character brought to life; the intrigue brought from this feels particularly surreal. Props to the author for the writing of characters. She also has moments of self-doubt, a reoccurring trend that keeps donning itself in her mind. This allows empathy and sympathy from the reader, allowing them to better grasp the concept and struggles of this story. Her naïve decisions teach her impactful lessons that help further unravel subplots and enhance her character arc to further degree.

This innocent portrayal of Billie is actually reflected in another character, Stone. He was an egotistical character who would mock and taunt Billie for her ability of flight and for her gender. However, even he was tricked, for in an ambitious plot to warmonger from Gold and valuables stowed away in a liberator (painted in civilian colours for neutral air space), he was tricked by Wing Commander Cummings into helping the Nazis and causing many a death, all sprouting from his naïve acts of selfish gain, a plot twist to shock the reader. This serves as a catalyst to a turning of Stone’s disposition towards the war and to the world, returning him into the hero that he strived to be again. At the end, Stone becomes a brotherly figure to Billie, from her hiding on the liberator to catch them, to the valiant defending of the airbase. The context of the time delivers powerful emphasis to this, and solidifies the efforts of the unsung, heroic women of the Second World War. Sometimes, it is that which is obscure, that is what brings all else into the light.

Nancy (Billie’s friend) was framed by the traitors, yet the situation is resolved and the ending is happy. I have no criticism for this book, as I believe it to encapsulate all that I would wish for in quality Historical Fiction. 10/10 would recommend. One can learn a variety of factual knowledge from this book, paired with exciting entertainment and thrilling suspense. The humanity of the characters is what most stands out to me, personally.

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