Review by Nita Delgado
What If You Fly by Camille Booker, is a historical fiction set in World War II, following the adventures of Frances ‘Frankie’ Davies as she goes from an Australian schoolgirl swept up in her first romance to a hardened spy and skilled pilot, codename: Funnelweb.
Booker has woven a romance, a spy thriller, a murder mystery, and more together into a gripping adventure, centring everything on the pivot point that is our heroine.
When her lover, Leonardo ‘Leo’ Farricelli, is taken away and her brother Thomas is MIA, Frankie decides that she’d rather go find them herself than wait for the story to come back to her.
Challenging topics are not avoided
It is important to note that What If You Fly? does contain discussions of topics that might be triggering or uncomfortable for some readers, such as graphic violence and implied/threatened sexual violence. Readers should be aware that this book is not one that glamourises World War II, or the 1940s. Racism, discrimination, and death abound, and the ugly side of humanity is on full display at a few points. Frankie, to put it lightly, goes through hell, but this story is, ultimately, one about overcoming adversity. Throughout everything Frankie holds onto the hope that things will get better, and she sets out to make it happen.
Travelling from Australia to Egypt first as a mechanic-turned-pilot, going undercover as a French singer in Europe and ending up a German mistress for information, to stealing a plane from a military base, Frankie finds herself embroiled in every point of the war.
While this hardens her, she refuses to let it break her. Her arc throughout the story is a complex discussion on morality, how far she’s willing to go, and leaves us with the sense that if there is a wall in her way, she’ll find a way through it, hell or high water.
When we first meet Frankie, her youth and innocence clash with a small-town murder mystery that she’s unable to handle, setting the stage for growth.
When we return to the mystery at the book’s end, because Booker is not going to leave a plot thread dangling like that, we get to see Frankie set her sights on the resolution at any cost, and it is delightful.
I’ve gushed over Frankie a lot, as this is her story, but the supporting cast is not without their own charm, or in the case of antagonists, memorable nastiness. Leo, our love interest, immediately endears with his kindness and how he expands Frankie’s worldview.
A floating cast of characters
An Italian immigrant in a tiny port town, he ends up suffering a series of cruel injustices, culminating in being shipped off to who-knows-where. Only appearing in the first section of the book and part of the third, he is the inverse to Thomas, who barely appears in the first section and ends up being an integral component of the third. Thomas is the perfect brother when we first meet him; cheerful, friendly, supportive, teasing. His role in section three is very different to the beginning, but very compelling.
The antagonists in What If You Fly? range from the downright evil Danny Fox, champion of the ‘most punchable face’ award through sheer assholery, to the tragic yet terrifying Colonel Christophe Heller, who spends most of his time having a reader biting their nails hoping he doesn’t catch on to Frankie’s secrets. Booker’s writing style is evocative throughout, with a touch of sincerity that connects to the reader. Definitely a good book for anyone who wants Australian World War II fiction from a different perspective.