I Am Amelia Earhart, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
This book, and likely the entire series (which I will be reviewing over the next few weeks, as I requested all of the books in the series that my library system had), forces the reader to face the question of how much truth should kids know about those viewed as historical heroes. As far as historical heroes go, Amelia Earhart has always struck me as someone whose claim to lasting fame was a bit overrated. This book openly admits that she wasn’t the best pilot, but it gives a strangely selective account of her life that seems to present her as heroic simply because she was a woman. I don’t think that being a pilot makes one inherently heroic, nor does gaining records that are skewed because there are so few women involved in a given field. One wonders if the sort of undeserved fame that she received during her life was in part responsible for her end, in that she felt herself as a more competent pilot than she actually was and put herself in a place where her limited skills in flying and the riskiness of what she set out to do because others said she couldn’t ended up leading to her death.
A large part of this book is constructed like a bad feminist drama, where the subject is portrayed as recoiling in horror from the ladylike amusements that her parents want her to engage in. Indeed, the author seems to point out, as if it was a good thing, that the subject seems to have reveled in not being ladylike, in driving trucks and flying planes and deliberately throwing herself into dangerous situations, including flying while exhausted, because she did not want to concede that something couldn’t be done. Overall the author suggests that obstinance is itself a heroic virtue. Strangely enough, the author spends a great deal of time talking about the adventures that the subject had as a kid and the world records that she got as an early woman pilot, but says nothing at all about her death, which would vindicate at least some of the concerns that she was too risky and was not competent to do whatever she set her mind to. Likely not wanting to discourage the reader, the author neglects any mention of Earhart’s death, even if that was one of the key parts of her fame.
Overall, this book suffers from three major flaws. One of which has already been noted, and that is the unfortunate selection of events from the subject’s life, and the avoidance of discussing her death and its relationship to her stubborn refusal to address or admit her limitations as a pilot. Second, the framing of the character is problematic, in that it assumes that a hostility to traditional gender roles is itself laudable rather than being at best problematic. In addition, the illustration of this book presents the subject as a little kid with a big head, which tends to frame her sympathetically even as it makes her out of place when compared with the more realistically drawn other people. It is as if the illustrator wants to make it seem as if Earhart is narrating her story as a kid with some foreknowledge of her future life. Or perhaps we are supposed to be seeing the child inside of her? At any rate, the illustration style is jarring and it seeks to present a dishonest view of the subject that clashes with the verisimilitude of the rest of the material drawn. Overall, this book is not a total waste, but it is hard to recommend.