Leaving Earth by Helen Humphreys

cover of the book Leaving EarthLeaving Earth by Helen Humphreys
Genre: Award Winner; Fiction
Copyright Year: 1997
Published: 2005
Publisher: WW Norton
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Format: Trade Paperback
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No. of Pages: 232
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No. In Series:
ISBN: 393326756
Award(s): Toronto Book Awards – 1998 winner
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‘The plane slips from a spool of blue, stitches a confident loop in the sky. Willa stands by the hangar as the Moth roars above her head, growl of open throttle. The single figure in the rear cockpit waves as the plane flies low over the harbor airfield and then pulls up into a vertical climb. Up and up, the line so straight it could have been drawn with a ruler, could have been a harp string, the plane a note ascending. ‘ Grace O’Gorman, the star-bright aviatrix of Helen Humphreys’s debut novel, Leaving Earth , adores her Moth–a two-seat, open-cockpit biplane. It’s the 1930s, and together they have wowed the world with stunts, solo long-distance flights, and other record-breaking trips. Glamorous ‘Air Ace’ Grace feels most at home aloft, as opposed to down on Earth, in Toronto, with her husband. That, along with her competitiveness and affinity for fame, is why she’s setting out to break the world flight endurance record. She teams up with a young female flyer, Willa Briggs, to circle Toronto for 25 days in August 1933. In a spare yet warm style, Humphreys unfurls the pair’s airborne life. She conjures the physical miseries it inflicts on the body–brought on by rain, cramped space, exhaustion–and makes the subtleties of that exhaustion clear as a cloudless sky. But beyond descriptions of physical discomfort is the emotional distress and elation Willa goes through, to which the author gives exquisite nuance. There’s loneliness that forces introspection, yet joy washes over Willa, too–joy for a stripped-down life in the sky with Grace, with whom she is falling in love. Over the roar of the wind Grace and Willa develop a poetic sign language. Around this and around the experience of the sky, Humphreys winds Willa’s highs and lows. Following the Moth’s flight is 11-year-old Maddy, whose father and Jewish mother work at a fading amusement park on the Toronto Islands. Maddy worships Grace and so naturally spends her August days tracking the circling biplane. Meanwhile her parents worry about work in the face of the depression and watch a growing anti-Semitism invade their home. From the earth and the sky Humphreys shapes a keen story about human frailty and potential, set when aviation was all about glamour, and World War II not so far away. Here, fear spreads and intimacy blooms. –Katherine Alberg
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