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“The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West" | Reviewed by Susan Ferguson

This historical fiction tale of adventure and romance, by Sara Ackerman, is full of action. “The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West” is a story about pushing the limits and being lucky enough to get second chances. The dual timeline narrative switches between two strong female characters, Olivia West in 1927 and Wren Summers in 1987.

We first meet Olivia (Livy) when she is 16-years-old. She loves spending time at Ryan Flying Co. and School of Aviation, doing odd jobs for the owner and pilots in hopes of catching a ride in a plane. As a daughter of a fisherman in San Diego, Livy knows how to use compasses, maps, and how to read the weather and navigate by the stars. One day she meets Heath Hazeltine, a young pilot who not only takes her on her first flight, but teaches her to fly. Livy soon becomes a pilot for Ryan Flying Co., a rare, groundbreaking undertaking.

After the success of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, James Dole, Hawaii’s Pineapple King, decides to sponsor a race across the Pacific in 1927. Known as the Dole Derby, this nonstop flight from the west coast of the United States to Honolulu offers a first place prize of $25,000 and a second place prize of $10,000. Livy is disappointed that women pilots can’t register. Fortunately for her pilot, Felix Harding needs a navigator and Livy is chosen. There are a total of 15 entries.

Meanwhile we meet struggling artist, Wren Summers, who is broke when she learns she has inherited some remote land on the Big Island from her late Great Aunt Iwa. When she arrives to check it out, Wren finds a dilapidated barn and a neglected macadamia orchard.

Wren is planning on selling the property when she discovers some secrets in the barn. With help from neighbor rancher, Pono Willard they uncover an old pick-up truck and two planes. Wren’s curiosity is sparked and she is inexplicably drawn to the place deciding to stay. As Wren explores her newly acquired property, she finds clues to its past, including photos of her great Aunt Iwa and her husband Felix Harding. Having decided to stay, Wren manages to find a job at Malama Care Home. Wren befriends resident Mrs. Wagner and soon learns that Mrs. Wagner is the former Livy West. Through Mrs. Wagner, Wren learns the history of her property and her family, making the two timelines mesh smoothly and seamlessly. Both of these women manage to overcome the odds and push the limits.

Although Olivia West is a fictional character, she comes across as very real. The Dole Derby race was an actual event. Of the 15 entries in the race, only two planes safely made the 2400-mile trek from California to Hawaii.

I was fascinated with this story and the historical information it revealed about the early years of aviation. The description of the early planes and their flights across the Pacific was harrowing.    




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