14: Peril Over the Airport

Peril Over the Airport by Helen Wells

Peril Over the Airport is part of the Vicki Barr, Flight Stewardess series. I saw it at the library book sale (not a library book) and picked it because I read a lot of these juvenile series as a kid, but I don’t think I ever read any Vicki Barrs. I did like Cherry Ames, though, which was a very similar series (same authors) except Cherry was a nurse.

So, anyway, when you think about it, these books are a little odd, because they’re obviously aimed at a pretty young audience but the main characters are in their 20s (at least) and they have jobs. I mean, can you imagine trying to pitch something like that today? “I have this story about a 23-year-old Starbucks barista. The target audience is 7-9 year-olds.” Somehow, I don’t think that would fly.

Anyhow, in POtA, the setup is that Vicki wants to learn to fly. A pilot she works with recommends she learn to fly from this nice WWII vet who has just happened to set up a small airport in her hometown. So she cuts back on her work schedule and goes home for the summer to take flying lessons. She does work some during the story, but those bits are skipped over, except for one incident where she runs into a character pertinent to the plot. I assume there’s more coverage of her stewardessing in other books in the series.

POtA was published in 1953, and at first I just assumed that was when it was set. Although, it was a little odd that everyone kept referring to Bill Avery as a “boy,” when he had to be closer to 30 than 20 (if it was 1953, and he was a veteran, the youngest he could be was 26, and given his war backstory, probably older). But, his sister appears later in the story, as a war widow with a 5-year-old son, so I think it was actually supposed to be set earlier (I do not think they were implying that she got pregnant after becoming a widow). It was kind of weird, because Wells makes obvious references to WWII, yet when it comes to dates, she very deliberately leaves them out. I mean, that’s typical for this sort of book, but it seems a little silly when you have a major historical event playing a large role in the story.

Wells frequently refers to planes as “ships.” I guess this is an abbreviation of “airship”? Either that, or it was considered cool to call planes ships at the time; maybe military slang?

Given the intended audience, the plot and the mystery to be solved are very basic. Vicki takes most of the book to solve a “code note” the solution of which is obvious on first glance. And the resolution  of the mystery is exactly what you’d expect. But in addition to the ostensible plot and mystery, there is lots of information on flying, both as a hobby (here’s how it works! you can do it too!) and as a career for women (no, women can’t be commercial airline pilots—yet! and yes, it does indeed say that—but they can do almost any other kind of flying! and you can too!). Despite the overtly feminist message, or rather, probably because of it, Vicki is otherwise depicted as being a very traditional female, e.g. she wants to wear high heels even when they are impractical, she’s obsessed with tidying up disorganized Bill’s office, she’s squicked out by dirt.

She’s also described as being tiny, and although it could be though of as just another way of feminizing the character, I liked it here because Wells got it right. Vicki complains of not being taken seriously, of people assuming she’s younger than she is, of the practical difficulties of being little—like not being able to able to reach the pedals, having to sit on a cushion, stuff like that. That was perfect. As a kid who was always stymied by height requirements, I would’ve loved to read about a short adult female who was doing cool stuff like flying in spite of being little.

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