I Was Amelia Earhart
Written By: Jane Mendelsohn
Published By: Vintage Books
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
I was assigned I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn to read as an assignment in my very first fiction class. I was given specific pages of the novel to read, as an illustration of an experiment we were being asked to participate in (more on this later). I read the pages that were assigned, got an idea of what the experiment would entail, and then allowed the novel to be buried in my bookcase somewhere, despite the repeated warnings of my fiction professor, which told me that this was a must read, and that we shouldn’t simply read the pages assigned and let the rest go. I didn’t listen. Not until 1 year or so later when I was at a loss for something to read. All I’ve go to say is that sometimes, your professor does really have your benefit in mind.
I Was Amelia Earhart is an amazing FICTIONAL tale which follows the famed flyer through her final mission and beyond. Told from a mixture of first-person and third-person point of view (the reason I had been told to read the book in the first place) to create a distance and closeness that kept you wondering whether or not the person telling you this story was a dead woman or was still very much alive. This being fiction and not bound by fact, we actually get to learn what become of Ms. Earhart – a luxury we never truly got in reality. Through a series of flashbacks, the tale tells of Mendelsohn’s fictional version of Amelia and her distant relationship with her husband, G.P. (George Putnam, but that’s what she called him), her hate of her navigator, Fred Noonan, her love of dying and her death wish. The novel is broken up into two parts. Part I is the tale of Amelia’s past, how she managed to become who she was, and how it came to be that she crash landed on that fateful day, when she was never heard from again. Part II takes place on the deserted island that she and Noonan crashed on, and follows her life there as she learns to live on and eventually love the island she has landed on more than her previous life – and learns to feel more for Noonan than she had ever previously thought possible.
Sure, there were some bad things about this book. The love story between Amelia and Noonan felt a little forced, being that she hated him passionately throughout the entire first half of the book, and the fact that their personalities couldn’t have been more different. My main gripe, however, would have to be the historical inaccuracies that could be found in much of the book. Despite this, Mendelsohn’s prose is a joy, mixing airy light descriptions with frank statements that really bring the characters to life. I thought that the point of view switches would be jarring, but, in actuality, they are an intriguing and well employed method to oscillate between life before and after the crash.
This book is not a true story. It may be loosely based on a character that existed, but it is completely fictionalized. One can not ignore the guts it must have taken Mendelsohn to create a character based on such a famous woman – it was an interesting, rare gamble for an author to take, and it was a winning one. This is not a book for someone who wants a history lesson. But, if you enjoy some good prose or a good romance, this is the place to look and, in that case, enjoy!