World War II is one of the most often-chronicled historical events in literature and film. It seems that every year there are at least a few new stories that emerge of brave soldiers taking part in a great adventure. Jennifer Niven contributes a fresh take on the usual “fighter pilot” story with her novel Becoming Clementine, a book about a woman working as a pilot in the war effort.
Released in 2012, Becoming Clementine is one of several books about Velva Jean Hart, a young Southern woman with an adventurous spirit and the courage to match. Never one to let her gender hold her back, Velva Jean becomes a pilot and joins the war effort as a member of the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). While she has a real talent for flying and wants to contribute to the war effort, she’s also on a personal mission to track down her brother, who is serving in the military and has gone missing.
After surviving an ill-fated drop mission along with five men, Velva Jean becomes involved in the French Resistance while still working to track down her brother. Becoming Clementine blends history, spy thriller, family saga, and romance as Velva Jean takes on the alias of Clementine Roux and works alongside fellow agents including the mysterious, handsome Émile.
I greatly enjoyed this book, which I actually found in the book section at my local dollar store. A single buck for a read that I rated four stars on Goodreads… quite the steal! I hadn’t read anything else by Jennifer Niven prior to picking this one up, including the other Velva Jean books, though those are on my “to read” list now. I found Becoming Clementine difficult to put down.
Velva Jean is a wonderful character and her transformation into Clementine Roux makes for a fascinating read. Her adventures as a spy are thrilling, and her bravery is inspiring. The story isn’t totally devoted to historical accuracy, which the author admits in a note at the end of the book, but it’s still a great read inspired by the bravery of many women who took part in the war effort.
It also does a very good job of portraying the horrors of war, and the true dangers that were faced by people living in Europe during that time — both those involved in the Resistance and those who were simply trying to survive. That day-to-day uncertainty and fear is an element of war that we in the United States often forget, since our wars are typically fought on other continents. We experience fear in wartime, but the threat of death or imprisonment doesn’t loom over our doorsteps as it would for, say, someone living in occupied France, where much of this novel takes place.
It isn’t often that we see stories about female pilots, and while Velva Jean’s journey may not be rooted in the facts of one single real-life hero’s experiences, the world needs more diverse World War II narratives — on screen and on paper. For this reason, and for the simple fact that Niven has crafted a very engrossing tale, I’d love to see Becoming Clementine turned into a movie. A period setting, a strong female protagonist, a fascinating plot… it would make for a wonderful film. Though the book is part of a series, it can easily be read as a standalone, so a movie adaptation wouldn’t necessitate a series, either. Make it happen, Hollywood!